Stuck At Home, Damien Jurado Says He's Written 3 New Albums

May 22, 2020
Originally published on May 24, 2020 2:27 am

Damien Jurado will admit he has a bit of an addictive personality. In the past two months while stuck at home in Washington state, he's channeled that energy into songwriting. Jurado says he's already written three distinctly different albums in isolation, and that's on top of What's New, Tomboy, the record he already had in the can and that just came out on May 1.

"I don't know what moderation is," he explains.

Over a 15-album, nearly 25-year career, Jurado has built a devoted fan base that includes such fellow musicians as Jason Isbell and Nathaniel Rateliff. He got his start in Seattle in the 1990s, when grunge was in its heyday, with a much quieter sound that he says he doesn't try to overthink.

"I don't try and nitpick over it," he says. "I don't try to dictate what's being said or what's being conveyed to me at that moment."

The songs that he's created have inspired other musicians, including fellow singer-songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews, who played in Jurado's touring band.

"Some of his songs should be in the American Songbook," she says. "He's kind of like this cult figure, but I feel like he should be more widely lauded because he's such a great songwriter."

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In his songwriting process, Jurado says his lyrics don't have to make sense to him. It's more about making sure they are packaged right in the music.

"I've always said I feel like a mailman," he explains. "I'm not responsible for what I'm delivering here, but I'm gonna damn sure do my job and deliver it right."

Kristian Matsson, better known by his stage name The Tallest Man on Earth, remembers watching Jurado open for him at Royal Albert Hall in London four years ago.

"He starts to sing — and I'm not exaggerating here, because it had also been a very stressful day before that and a lot of nerves, "Matsson says, "and he had started to sing and I started to cry standing side-stage," Matsson says.

Damien Jurado has worked with a number of producers over the course of his career, but in 2010, he hooked up with Richard Swift. In a 2015 interview with Iowa Public Radio, Jurado said Swift had a very different process from his other producers.

"I show up. I sit in a chair. There's one microphone. I play the songs front to back," he says. "He almost took this sound and it was like Silly Putty and he just stretched it."

Jurado says they became like brothers.

"He would call me about really intense personal matters, with his family or his own personal struggles with anxiety," he says. "I remember getting calls from him in like mid anxiety attack"

Swift died two years ago of complications related to alcohol addiction. Jurado remembers one of their last conversations, when he'd finished a batch of songs and it was time to get back in the studio.

"He said 'You should produce this record by yourself,' " Jurado says. "[I said 'I don't know if I could do that.' And I remember he looked at me and he said, 'Yeah, you can.' And I never forgot that. I never forgot that."

For now, equipped with the confidence he gained from Swift, Jurado is content in isolation. He says he's not too worried about when he'll be able to get back on the road, because when he does, he'll have a lot of new material for his fans.

"And depending on how long this goes, who knows what I'll be left with at the end of this," Jurado says.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The singer and songwriter Damien Jurado has built a fan base that includes high-profile musicians like Jason Isbell and Nathaniel Rateliff. Jurado has released 15 albums over his career. And as Clay Masters reports from Iowa Public Radio, he's cranked out a few more in lockdown at his home in Washington state.

CLAY MASTERS, BYLINE: Damien Jurado will admit he has a bit of an addictive personality.

DAMIEN JURADO: By the time I quit smoking in 2013, I was a two-pack-a-day smoker, right? And I'm an alcoholic in recovery. So I don't know what moderation is.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAMIEN JURADO SONG, "ARTHUR AWARE")

MASTERS: So in the past two months, stuck at home, he says he's written three distinctly different albums. And he already had one in the can that's just come out.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ARTHUR AWARE")

JURADO: (Singing) I keep all of my prized reflections in glass jars from the coroner. And when I get bored of looking at myself, I trade the gray for the shade of someone else.

MASTERS: Jurado got his start in Seattle in the 1990s, when grunge was having its heyday, with a much quieter sound. But he says he doesn't try to overthink.

JURADO: I don't try and nitpick over it. I don't try to dictate what's being said or what's being conveyed to me at that moment.

MASTERS: And the songs that he's created have inspired other musicians, including fellow singer and songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews, who played in Jurado's touring band.

COURTNEY MARIE ANDREWS: I feel like some of his songs should just be in the American Songbook. He's kind of, like, this cult figure. But I feel like he should be (laughter) - I don't know - more widely lauded, because he's such a great songwriter.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WORKING TITLES")

JURADO: (Singing) You could mess up my life in a poem, have me divorced by the time of the chorus. There's no need to change any sentence when you always decide where I go next. Many nights, you would hide from the audience when they were not in tune with your progress. In the end, you’re a fool like the journalist who turns what you sing into business.

MASTERS: Jurado says his lyrics don't have to make sense to him.

JURADO: This is not really for me. I've always said I feel more like a mailman, right? I'm not responsible for what I'm delivering here. But I'm going to damn sure do my job and deliver it.

MASTERS: Another musician, Kristian Matsson, who performs under the name The Tallest Man on Earth, remembers watching Jurado open for him at Royal Albert Hall in London about four years ago.

KRISTIAN MATSSON: He starts to sing - and I'm not exaggerating here, because it had also been, like, a really stressful day before that and a lot of nerves and stuff. But he just started to sing and I just started to cry, standing side-stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OVER RAINBOWS AND RAINIER")

JURADO: (Singing) Let your cries be your joy. May it always and forever fill the void. And allow my heart some room. May it be so that you one day need me soon.

MASTERS: Damien Jurado has worked with a number of producers over the course of his career. But in 2010, he hooked up with Richard Swift.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SILVER TIMOTHY")

JURADO: (Singing) I was met on the road by a face I once knew. Shapeless was his frame, and his colors were few. We went out for a time, but his sentence is in - climbing into the eye where the numbers begin.

MASTERS: Back in 2015, Jurado told me Swift had a very different process from his other producers.

JURADO: And what I mean by that is that, I show up. I sit in a chair. There's one microphone. I play the songs from front to back. He almost took the sound - and it was like Silly Putty - and he just stretched it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SILVER TIMOTHY")

JURADO: (Singing) Go back down. Don't touch the ground.

MASTERS: Jurado says they became like brothers.

JURADO: You know, he would call me about really intense, personal matters with his family or his own personal struggles with anxiety. I mean, I remember getting calls from him mid-anxiety attack.

MASTERS: Swift died two years ago of complications related to alcohol addiction. Jurado remembers one of their last conversations, when he'd finished a batch of songs and it was time to get back into the studio.

JURADO: He goes, you should produce this record by yourself. I said, I don't know if I could do that. And I remember he looks at me and he said, yeah, you can. (Laughter) And I never forgot that.

MASTERS: For now, equipped with the confidence he gained from Swift, Jurado is content in isolation, not too worried about when he'll be able to get back on the road because when he does, he'll have a lot of new material for his fans.

JURADO: And depending on how long this goes, who knows what I'll be left with (laughter) at the end of this?

(SOUNDBITE OF DAMIEN JURADO SONG, "KOLA")

MASTERS: For NPR News, I'm Clay Masters.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KOLA")

JURADO: (Singing) I look back upon my time, see the snapshots of my... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.