Q&A: Damien Jurado

After 15 years and 11 albums, Damien Jurado has finally found himself.

You can discern the distance between Damien Jurado’s first and 11th albums just by looking at the covers: The cover of Water Ave S is a black-and-white photo of Jurado in front of the ramshackle South Seattle house he lived in before its 1997 release. Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son, coming Jan. 21, depicts Jurado on the beach, approaching an immense glass dome half-submerged in the ocean. Eternal Son finds Jurado heading into unknown sonic territory, immersive and otherworldly. In their willful, rebellious spirits, the two works are closer than they seem.

Your last record, Maraqopa, and this new one, are both built around concepts that came to you in a dream. Is Eternal Son a sequel?
It’s definitely a sequel. The last record, the main character in Maraqopa dies in a car crash at the end. He doesn’t know he’s dead. And the new record starts off with him at the scene of the crash. And walking back into town. He can see Maraqopa in the distance. He walks back and notices that even though he just left there, Maraqopa seems very different, and he can’t figure out why. There’s a person in the story that tells him basically that you’re this beacon, this human radio tower between heaven and earth. So that’s kind of what it is. They’re all waiting for the second coming of Christ.

The people of Maraqopa. And this is all based on a dream, so a lot of it is guessing. To base two full-length records on a two-minute vision is interesting. I felt compelled to do it. It was a dream that’s had profound impact on me, musically and personally. I think it opened me up to a way that I wasn’t expecting. It allowed me to be more free, to put a magnifying glass to my own creativity. For years I was making records I didn’t like or enjoy. I didn’t know who I was as an artist. It took me a long time to figure that out. I was limiting myself. The combination of working with [producer] Richard Swift and having that dream really changed me. My entire musical career was based on not wanting to be pigeonholed as a singer-songwriter. This new record, you can’t categorize it. That’s what I’m most proud of.

When was this dream?
2010. I was in a bad place in every facet of my being. Emotionally, spiritually, mentally. The dream happened at the right time. I’d heard stories my whole life of people who had dreams or visions and it changes everything. That’s what it was for me. It showed me a direction I had to go, the growing pains I had to go through to realize I wasn’t living to my full potential. Holding onto many demons. I needed an out.

It’s been a remarkable transformation over the last few records.
I’ve been at this a long time but I wasn’t making records I was proud of. I was trying to be someone else my entire career. I think I’m able to be me now. Seattle has a lot to do with that. There’s certain expectations. Think about this: The time I was making records, [2002’s] I Break Chairs for Sub Pop, it was the time that bands like Modest Mouse and Death Cab were doing really well. I was just trying to get my foot in the door my entire career. I did that by making records that would please everyone else, but not me.

In 1995–96, when I started playing shows, I played shows with indie rock bands. There were no acoustic artists to play with. So after awhile I felt like an oddball. What the hell am I doing? I should be making records like everyone else does. And reviewers hated my records. The early reviews of my first record, even my fourth and fifth, reviewers were like, pick a genre. I think this record is like that first one, which is all over the map. But instead of saying here’s a rock song and folk song, it’s, “Here’s every genre you can imagine in one song.” So it confuses the critic and also the listener. In a good way. It’s not done with spite. But just me saying I’ve had enough, I need to do what I need to do.

Jurado plays Jan. 17 at the Neptune Theatre.
Illustration by Shannon Perry