Catching Up With… Damien Jurado

Music Features Damien Jurado

A Pacific Northwest indie staple, Damien Jurado has amassed a huge following regionally but has yet to receive widespread recognition. Although his career began in Christian hardcore, he’s since put out albums under his own label, then with Sub Pop, and most recently with Indiana-based Secretly Canadian. His dabblings in folk, found sound, rock and pop recently led him home to his signature ballad style, which features prominently in the new album. He’s known as a storyteller, but has rarely delved into the lyrical realm of confessionalism. Until now.

Jurado hopes his new album, Caught in the Trees, will be the one “to gain a whole bigger audience, as I’ve been feeling so stagnant in the last few years being where I’m at,” he told Paste from his home in Seattle, where he was enjoying a few days’ rest before the American leg of his tour. “I hope that with every record.”

Paste: I understand you were recording Caught in the Trees for about a year, the longest you’ve spent working on any album. What was different about this creative process?
Jurado: It was more of a collaborative effort than any other record I’ve ever done. So when you have more people involved, it takes longer. Plus I just wanted to take my time. I didn’t want to rush anything.

Paste: Brian Howe, whose review of Caught in the Trees appears in the November issue of Paste, writes “With his pair of friends and regular bandmates [Eric Fisher an Jenna Conrad] by his side, Jurado sounds less alone than ever before.” How has the evolution of the band worked to create this fuller sound?
Jurado: It was really important to have them with me because a lot of the subject matter I was thinking about, because it comes from a real personal standpoint this time around, which I’d never done before. And they were around for most of that happening so having them contribute the way that they did was really important. And also, like, collaborating more, I think, on songs with Jenna–I had never really done much collaborating before with songwriting, so there were even points when I thought to myself, “I’d just rather have her sing, like, half the record.” You know?

Paste: Why was that?
Jurado: For me, it’s like I would get sick of singing all the time, and I think that some people can sing my songs better than I can. It’s actually a proven fact because I’ve heard people do covers of my songs that are more amazing than I could ever do, you know what I mean? So I don’t know, I think there was a part of me that was like, “I can play these songs sort of, and I can write them really well but I can’t really sing them and play them very well.”

For example, we had this interesting thing happen the other night in London. We were doing sound check, and Jenna was sound-checking her piano. She was sound-checking the song “Dimes,” off the new record, and it was just her on the piano. That’s all it was, and I was just like, “God. That’s great. That sounds so good.” I never thought it was a good song until I heard her sing it and play it on the piano. I was like, “Well, that’s actually a pretty good song.” She was like, “Yeah dude, you wrote that!” You know what I mean? It was very interesting hearing her take on some of the songs. I don’t know what’s going to happen with the next record, but I think I’d like to take more of a back seat vocally. I think I’ve already hinted at it. Like, I had Thomas sing on an entire song on the Ghost of David record years ago. I think it’s something I’d like to lean toward, but I think it might just confuse the press, and also my fans, so…

Paste: You’ve talked a little bit about how this record has been a more personal experience for you. In 2005, you told Paste, “I just wish more people would take the focus off themselves and turn it to something else. They should turn it to the outside instead of the inside.” Do you stand by that? And how would you reconcile this belief with the more personal direction your music has taken, lyrically?
Jurado: I do still stand by it. However, with this record, I think it was just more going toward personal things. It’s really weird because the situations that I was in, between the last record and this record, personal-wise, put me in this position where I had to sing. It’s like, you have no other choice. It was like my own self was taking me hostage, you know what I mean? Like my personal situations were taking my songs hostage, completely.

But I do still stand by that. For instance, the newer songs I’m writing have nothing to do with me at all. The other thing that’s weird about that, too, is that, like, I think originally even with Caught in the Trees it started out the same way and I didn’t even realize that these songs were about me until I was doing the vocals for the record. I had no idea. And then when it dawned on me, it was really heavy. Because, then you realize, “Oh! These songs are about… me.” It’s really heavy, you know? So much so that it was hard to even make vocal takes because… you just keep breaking down. There’s even a line in one of the songs, the song “Coats of Ice,” when I say, “How does it feel to be what you sing about?” That’s about me, you know? But I do still stand by that. The next circuit will be nowhere near my personal standpoint at all, because I enjoy writing stories.

Read Paste‘s review of Caught in the Trees here.

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