“I Went from the Light Really Into the Black”: Damien Jurado Opens Up About Depression
The singer also gets candid about his new album, touring and the GrammysMusic Features Damien Jurado
Damien Jurado has now composed a trilogy. What started as a dream he had turned into the beautiful album Maraqopa. Instead of just a beautiful concept record, it would mark the beginning of a creative high when he found himself furthering the story with the follow-up, 2014’s Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son, and now this year’s Visions Of Us On The Land, an excellent exploration that goes further down his psych-folk sci-fi rabbithole. But none of this came about without a few sacrifices and dark moments as he tells us all about in this candid interview.
Paste: It sounds like everything is ramping up and you’re about to head on a pretty long European tour, right?
Damien Jurado: It’s gonna go even further. I’ll go to Europe and then America, and I go back to Europe and then that brings me to August. I have August off and then it goes into like September and October, we’re talking to go to places like China and Indonesia and Japan and Australia.
Paste: Are you mentally prepared for this?
Jurado: God no. I seriously don’t know how I’m going to do it. The first European Tour and then the US tour will be with a full band.
Paste: I feel like there was a time recently where you said “I’m not going to do any bands anymore.”
Jurado: No, that’s correct. I think what it was, I began to feel kind of guilty. People would ask “When are you going to come out with a band?” So I did an American tour the band and you know it wasn’t received that well. A lot of my fans just didn’t really care for it which I thought was really weird, because you know, I mean I don’t make acoustic records. I never have made an acoustic record.
Paste: But there’s that image of you, I guess. You’re just a solo name.
Jurado: Yeah, it’s a weird thing, man. I had a chance to have a band on the last record, but I didn’t feel it was time and I didn’t feel right about doing it. It’s also expensive to fly 10 people to Europe.
Paste: Right, because it’s not just a band, it’s a choir too, right?
Jurado: It’s a condensed choir. It’s three or four singers. But I do want to do a full choir at some point. Sort of like what I did with the Sisters album. I think that would be pretty cool.
Paste: Do you do it with a visual component like Polyphonic Spree with the robes and costumes?
Jurado: We did the robe thing for the last record release. We were all silver. But I don’t know. The robe thing is kind of funny. I saw Polyphonic Spree in concert and thought it was cool, but I don’t know that I’ll do it again. The outfit thing is a funny thing. I think it does work, but at the same time, it’s also kitsch. Don’t get me wrong, I love bands that dress up in costume. That’s what I love about garage music so much. But I think bringing that element into the psych-folk world, it’s been done. Sufjan did it. I think if I did it, it would be me in a matching color thing. I don’t know.
Paste: So for this record, what we’re talking about now is a trilogy. No point when we spoke in earlier years did I know this would be a trilogy, but I guess you didn’t either.
Jurado: No. In fact, if I remember correctly, you may have asked me the last time we saw each other if there would be another chapter and I think I said no.
Paste: Because everything comes in threes.
Jurado: That wasn’t my plan to do a third.
Paste: When did that occur to you that this would be that story continued?
Jurado: As soon as I wrote the first song on the new album. Apparently it wasn’t done. It’s what happened with Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son. The first song I wrote off that record was “Return To Maraqopa.” That’s when I knew there would be a follow-up. But I really do believe that this is the last one. That being said though, I came to a realization this morning, so the timing of this question and conversation are very interesting, that is I think that I am embracing my, I don’t even know if it’s a genre, but it’s like I’m embracing my sci-fi nerdiness. I think there will be other records that will be just as spiritual and sci-fi thematically based. I’m sure that will happen. I don’t doubt that’s going to be the road I take only because of what I watch and read. And I mean that not on the level of Star Trek or Star Wars…
Paste: Alligator Vs. Shark.
Jurado: Right. Not that level. But really on the level of people like Rod Serling, who I am just absolutely amazed by. I just picked up on his second show that he did after The Twilight Zone called Night Gallery. It was done not too long after the last Twilight Zone episode. When he was on Twilight Zone, he did this whole lecture series at colleges. And then he eventually did this new thing called Night Galley. If you see it, it’s really, blatantly ‘70s. If you can get past that, it’s really great writing. He wrote a lot of it. He is a major influence on how I am writing now and seeing things. Sci-fi is smart, but I think a lot of it is being dumbed down.
Paste: By Alligator Vs. Shark.
Jurado: Totally! Or even Star Wars.
Paste: I wonder outside of being a sci-fi fan as you are, how much of that is reflective of your own life and journey, because as you’re writing Visions of Us On the Land, and here’s this continuation of the story that plays two albums before it, what point are you sticking to a script and what point are you letting your own personal story intertwine within this? Or a spiritual journey or whatever it might be?
Jurado: I got in an interesting talk with a guy the other day where he asked me “how much of this character resembles you?” My answer to that was that my girlfriend actually believes that the character in this story or dream does represent me. I still don’t know if I’m convinced of that. What I will say is that since having this dream, since delving to whatever this story is, it really has consumed my life in a really weird way.
Paste: Much like a successful sci-fi artist would have to live through whatever creation they conjured.
Jurado: Yeah. And another interesting thing he brought up is that the character in this story, Silver Catherine, in this record, in this part of the story, she makes the decision to not go to heaven. She decides to not go with the ship. She stays here on Earth with him and this entire record is about what happens when the ship leaves and they’re left at the own devices on this planet that is now vacant. Could you imagine the entire earth as a ghost town? I can’t even wrap my brain around that, but that’s what’s happening in this part of the story. But the interviewer made this interesting comment to me, “Have you ever thought that Silver Catherine would represent your girlfriend?” I said that’s interesting because she came into my life at such an interesting time. I mean, to give you a timeline, I had the dream, I was on this crazy spiritual high. I thought I was nuts. I thought I was crazy. Like committing myself to a hospital crazy, you know? I had this crazy moment and then what happens is that, directly after that, my life just took a total nosedive. I went from the light really into the black. That was in the fall of 2012 where things went dark. And then around that time, September, maybe two weeks before my latest son was born, I tried taking my life.
Jurado: I tried taking my life. I’ve had a few suicide things. My dealings with that in my life before, which is also why I thought I was nuts when I initially had this dream. My entire family has a history of mental illness. So in the fall of 2012 long after I had this dream, I’m like “I’m in love with Jesus! What if he does come back in a spaceship?” Just sounding really nuts. Then I went to this real dark period where I realized a lot of things about myself that weren’t right. I needed to change them. But because I’m changing those things, life really got bleak and friends were no longer around and I found myself in this really dark place and that led to this suicide thing. I didn’t go through with it, I think because of guilt believe it or not, because I’m going to have this newborn son. But it was around this time that my now girlfriend entered my life in a big way. We’ve been friends for over 20 years. She saw me go through two marriages and kids. My life went to shambles. But she was there. It was not long after that attempt, I went on tour with Sharon Van Etten. I didn’t know what I was going to do. Her only job on that tour was to just come keep me company. We hadn’t spoken in over six months at that point. I just said “Hey, I know I haven’t talked to you in a long time and this sounds crazy, but I’m going through some really rough times. I’m going on this tour and I don’t want to be alone. Can you come with me and just hang out? You don’t have to work. Just hang out.” She said “I’ll think about it.” But she did. She came on tour with me. But long story short, this interview with this guy the other day, he said, “Could it be possible that your girlfriend would represent in some sort of prophetic way,” if I am the character in this journey, then she is the Silver Catherine character. But I didn’t know it was going to happen.
Paste: That’s what I’m getting at, here you are writing a record and lyrics, and maybe you have a specific story in mind, but at some point, even if it’s personal beliefs, and maybe more specifically life moments, would have to eventually find their way in even if it’s stream-of-consciousness. At what point do you say “That’s me. I don’t want to write that. I want to write a character.”
Jurado: I don’t know. It’s something that I’m still sort of on a fence about, whether it is me or not. Right now, I’m saying that there are similarities. He’s a musician and I’m a musician.
Paste: Sure, you write what you know.
Jurado: Totally. But other than that, I don’t know. It isn’t like I’m single and fancy free. I have a life and responsibilities.
Paste: In the press release, you were talking about it being a record about disappearing from society to explore universal truths. I’m a guy who reads the news obsessively and I’m thinking, yeah, well-timed. I think that’s what a lot of people are trying to do right now. And maybe the world’s always been a crazy place, and maybe it’s always the present tense that you think the world’s a crazy place no matter what era you’re in. But you look around right now and it looks really fucked up. And this record makes sense in that respect.
Jurado: Yeah, it’s weird that at the same time it’s also a record I believe is saying “Unplug yourself and get out” in some way. There is this interesting line in “Return To Maraqopa” where I say “Out there is nowhere and inside is endless.” I really do try to live by that line. Out there it really is nowhere. I mean it’s all, especially today, it all seems like we’re so plugged in and connected, but we’re not connected at all. It’s an illusion that we’re connected. And the inside is endless. I often think about that word Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is within you. When I hear the word Kingdom, it just sounds massive and endless, you know? And I think there is a lot to be said about, and not just in Christianity, I would say this about other religions, especially Hinduism and Buddhism where they talk about meditation, there really is a lot to the inside world. What’s going on in the inside. I don’t think there is enough exploration to the inside, because we’re so out there. It’s so weird. I was thinking about this the other day when I was watching the Grammys of all things.
Paste: Watching the Grammys will definitely put thoughts in your head.
Jurado: Right! But I was thinking how strange it is, the Grammys. What makes up this Academy? Who’s to say that this is the best music in the world? I had such a hard time with it. I think it does represent something or someone. I don’t know who these people are. Maybe I’m just totally prude and fickle. I grew up listening to bands like Minor Threat. My eyes are not on the commercial. My eyes are not on the latest whatever-whatever. I’ve got to be doing what I feel like is the right decision for music, making these kind of records that I make. I can’t worry about if sci-fi is cool. I can’t worry if following Jesus is not hip. I can’t worry about that stuff. I can only speak and think for me. I’m having a really hard time right now connecting. I want to connect. I want to understand and I want to relate, but at the same time, I feel like I’m on this weird island.
Paste: Outside of your album, I want to ask you about working on the score and soundtrack to the movie Tumbledown. Were you working on it the same time as your record?
Jurado: I started working on it in the summer of 2014. It took me six months. My experience was awful if I’m going to be completely frank and honest with you. It was horrible. I probably will never ever ever do a soundtrack again.
Paste: What was so bad about it?
Jurado: It took a long time. There were politics and dealing with investors. Nothing about creativity or music. It was just about money. I’m happy for them, and I’m glad it worked out great.
Paste: It’s compromised art.
Jurado: It’s compromised art. It didn’t turn out exactly how I wanted it to be.
Paste: Hey, good luck on the tour. I’m happy you’re alive. I’m so happy you’re still alive and we’re not talking about you like Elliott Smith because I would much rather have your music than your legacy.
Jurado: I often think about that, musicians who are no longer here or just left with all they had. Maybe it’s one or two records and that’s it. I often do think about people like Elliott or Jason Molina or Kurt Cobain. Great people. I wish they were still around to make good records. It’s a bummer. I’m glad I’m still here. At least for the sake of my kids.
Paste: You be selfish that way. I’ll be selfish in the way that this means I keep getting new Damien Jurado music.
Jurado: It’s a deal.
Watch Damien Jurado perform “Gasoline Drinks” in 2007 in the player below.