Damien Jurado: Music inspired by life after death

by Kristen Stanovich

courtesy photo

Damien Jurado has seen immortality. At least in his dreams. Completing his third album in a trilogy based on a “two-minute movie trailer” Jurado witnessed while sleeping, Visions of Us on the Land an expansion of the journey he started in 2012 with Maraqopa (a concept album based on a fictional town where the main character confronts either life or death after a car accident). The album’s lack of finality made way for Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son in 2014, the album Jurado believed would be the last in the series, until he re-entered the studio shortly after with 17 more songs that expanded the story.

The result was an exploration of spirituality through a sci-fi-inspired narrative. With Latin-based melodies and synth-laden tracks paired with eerie choir vocals, Visions of Us on the Land veers heavily from Jurado’s lo-fi 90s beginnings, showing his eagerness to break out of the singer-songwriter box not only in terms of sound, but experimentation among lyrics. The most recent album weighs heavily on the theme of immortality and what is left for us at the end of the road.

“One of the big things I think we are fascinated by is what happens after death. Do you go on? Do you become nothing? And the reality is nobody knows,” Jurado said. “I don’t care if you are the most world famous Biblical scholar or spiritual guru, the reality is unless you are there, unless you are in death, you don’t know what happens.”

Expanding the vivid, two-minute dream into a three-album story arc came easily for Jurado who understood where he left off in each album, but learning to convey his ideas to a full band in the studio was a struggle. To understand the narrative, you’d need to understand the way his mind works – the level of detail placed into a glimpse of one character, and even the thoughts they may have had that day before leaving the house.

“I go into these long thought tunnels just solely based on looking at something,” Jurado said. “The difficult part was like if I showed you a photograph of someone in a grocery store and then I asked you to build a narrative around that.”

But the album is also meant to be open to interpretation. Jurado said leaving the narrative open-ended, even after the third album, reflects his own ideas of what it means to either confront death or believe life continues onward.

“Death becomes a bit of a reminder, which is sad but it’s true, that nothing is forever and you should cherish each day, live it like it was your last,” he said. “It can either be a heavy thing or a freeing thing. I actually haven’t’ decided yet about how I’d feel about that honestly.”

Through touring Jurado said he strives to make a connection with his fans, whether on stage or after sets. A traditionally introverted person by nature, he said music allows him a means to be an extrovert.

“To meet people and shake hands and have a conversation with somebody and share a story, that to me is far better than just playing music,” he said.

After a recent European tour, marking the second time Jurado has toured with a band, he learned that fans don’t typically want to hear a duplication of the album during a live performance. Comparing his album to a mega church and his live performances to a small, familiar Catholic villa, Jurado said his fans typically seek the intimacy of his “room music” when anticipating his visits during tour.

“I think when my fans are coming to the shows they’re actually going into a space that is very reflective and meditative,” he said. “Which is why I have always said, my music does not work at festivals because it’s not meant for that.”

Damien Jurado will be at The Wild Buffalo on Sunday, Oct. 15. For more information, follow his Facebook page or see  www.damienjurado.com.

Published in the October 2016 issue of What’s Up! Magazine