I ask Damien Jurado, during our recent telephone conversation, if living in the often rainy, gloomy Pacific Northwest, specifically Seattle, has an impact on the tone and feel of his songs. The singer-songwriter answers the question by describing the typical work pattern of Seattle musicians. A lot of them, he explains, spend the rainy winter months indoors recording after touring in the summer and fall. “Because of that, the weather does play a role in our sound,” Jurado says. “I wouldn’t necessarily call it a darkness, but it’s a melancholy. And it comes naturally from living here. But it’s not a bad thing. It’s a good melancholy.”
Jurado offers more of this good melancholy on his Saint Bartlett CD, released this year on Secretly Canadian. He will begin a fall East Coast tour in support of the record at Birmingham’s Bottletree November 2 at 8 p.m. Shearwater from Austin, Texas, will be the headliners; Birmingham’s Duquette Johnston will open.
You can hear and feel the Northwest—all the West, really—in Jurado’s song-world. No surprise, since Jurado, now pushing 40, has lived in Seattle since he was 12 years old. He also spent a peripatetic early childhood with his parents, both of whom were in the Air Force, moving all around the Southwest, including Texas and Arizona.
Jurado, who has released 10 albums in 13 years, is often called a storyteller. A few effusive bloggers and reviewers have compared him to the late short-story master (and fellow Northwesterner) Raymond Carver. Many of Jurado’s characters seem to be looking for a home, mourning lost love or searching for a human connection. On Saint Bartlett, a recurring theme is the difficulty of using language to communicate essentially wordless emotional truths. “Calling out/ Your voice is an echo/ No words come back but your own” (from the guitar-rich “Wallingford”). “Speak for me will you/I have nothing to say” (from the haunting “Harborview”).
Jurado wrote most of the tracks for Saint Bartlett about the travails of a friend who became seriously ill. I asked him how and why this became an album. “I think for me it really came naturally,” he says. “I didn’t sit down and say ‘I’m going to write about her.’ I think because my life was so consumed with it, it came naturally.”
Jurado recorded Saint Bartlett with songwriter Richard Swift, a fellow Secretly Canadian artist, at Swift’s home studio in Cottage Grove, Ore. “We did the record in about three days and mixed it in two.” Jurado liked this mode of recording. “I’m used to recording long periods of time, which I really hate doing. Working with Richard was perfect. He was all about the first take. He hadn’t heard demos or anything. I was performing the songs for him as we recorded and then building on that. If I do more than two takes on a song, I lose the feeling. I get lost. There’s no point in continuing. And the outcome is OK, but for me, I can tell. I’ve never liked the records I made. It was only with Saint Bartlett that I enjoyed the recording process.
Jurado and Swift seemed to forge a connection regarding at last one core musical value. “I think it was just the overall belief that music is complete freedom, and we should never be afraid to try things,” Jurado says. “Too many artists limit themselves. For me, music is the only form of expression and freedom that I have. We come from a long history, like Parliament Funkadelic and the Beatles, who opened their minds and went out there. Jazz is the same way. I am influenced by those people, not so much musically, but by their willingness to step out. Where would jazz be now if Charlie Parker wasn’t willing to play a wrong note? There’s not enough people in indie rock willing to break out. The Beatles wouldn’t make 12 records that all sound like “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” I want to continue the journey and go out and out as far as I possibly can.”
Damien Jurado will appear at Bottletree on Tuesday, November 2, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10. Headliners Shearwater, from Austin, Texas, released their progressive-rock CD The Golden Archipelago this year on Matador. Also appearing is Birmingham’s Duquette Johnson. To order tickets, visit www.thebottletree.com.