Damien Jurado tonight at Urban Lounge 

Saint Damie: Damien Jurado comes full circle.

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Reinventing yourself isn’t like the proverbial pulling a rabbit out of a hat. It’s something a majority of musicians do over the course of a career. Damien Jurado first gave birth to his own musical identity at a pivotal point in rock music history: the mid-’90s, after the death of Kurt Cobain, while trying to figure out what would happen after grunge to keep indie rock exciting.

“[Reinvention is] something I try to do for every record,” Jurado maintains. On his latest, Saint Bartlett, he says producer Richard Swift tried to take Jurado’s influences—the music of classic-rock radio stations launched in the mid-’90s but playing music of the '50s and ’60s, stuff like the Four Seasons and Simon & Garfunkel—and use them to create a big, orchestral, at times almost Phil Spector-esque sound on the album.

The '90s were a great time to rediscover that music, but also a signal that artists were starting to feel stuck in a malaise. Jurado’s music has never had that difficulty, however, starting from somewhat the same folkie-indie melodicism as Northwest contemporary Elliott Smith, who arrived on the scene about the same time.

Jurado, however, debuted on Sub Pop, the Seattle label that had put grunge on the map. During his years on the label, he helped the imprint search for a new identity that was ultimately more folk-based. His 2002 release, I Break Chairs, was a landmark because it took on an amplified, angrier energy than his previous efforts, the most stereotypically “Sub Pop” release in his catalog.

The alliance with Sub Pop didn’t ultimately work out, but Jurado says he learned a lot from the experience. “From walking in with home demos to studio work, on my first two records I didn’t know what I was going for at all,” he recalls. But it was part of laying the groundwork for what was to follow, and not just for himself but for Smith and many musicians to come. “People didn’t know what to do with it then, punk rockers picking up acoustic guitars,” he notes, although Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York was a hint of things to come. “Looking back, that was exactly what I wanted to do.”

“Every record till now, I’ve been learning what I wanted to sound like,” he says. “With Saint Bartlett, I’ve finally arrived there, finally come full circle.” He says the sound is in service of the lyrics. “There is harder stuff; that side of me even appears, in a song like ‘Wallingford.’” On “Cloudy Shoes,” the lyrics take the form of a dialogue with himself, although the musical “selves” at work aren’t necessarily Jurado’s as much as different voices he is able to call on; by this point, he’s that skilled a songwriter.

To translate the new record into a live experience, Jurado is performing with Kay Kay & the Weathered Underground, a kind of mini pop orchestra. “They seem to fit what I want to do,” he says. For a record in which every sound emanated from Jurado or Swift, the many different hands of an ensemble add an extra dimension, that of interpretation. But still, Jurado’s personality shines through.

If the new record allows him to strike a higher chord than ever before, a mysticism that‘s been likened to Scott Walker and Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne, it‘s not one of conjuring up ghosts but of more assertively evoking realities. “I really don’t think about my persona as a songwriter,” Jurado admits. “The songs on the new album are from the perspective of somebody I know, a friend who went through some hard times. That way they aren’t about me. But at the same time, they are about me.” 

With Kay Kay & His Weathered Underground
The Urban Lounge
241 S. 500 East
Thursday, June 3
9 p.m., $10
Also performing free at Slowtrain Music, 221 E. 300 South, at 6 p.m.

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