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- Damien Jurado
Damien Jurado returns Friday with a full band to Indianapolis touring his 12th studio album, Visions of Us on the Land. It's his fourth with producer Richard Swift, and his most ambitious (double) record to date.
It's also the final installment in an unplanned trilogy that started with 2012's Maraqopa. The Seattle-born singer-songwriter who says "I don't ever plan out any songs. I also don't really think about a lot when I'm writing. I don't really pay attention. I just sort of deliver it." began his career in the mid '90s alongside David Bazan (Pedro the Lion) with songs like "Ohio" off his second full-length Rehearsals From Departure on Sub Pop records. He quickly became associated with the folk genre, which he has never really identified with.
RELATED: More coverage of Damien Jurado's work through the years
Jurado's immense catalogue has consisted mostly of sparse, sad, heartbreaking songs with constant themes of death, adultery, murder, fire, mental illness and love lost that could be the perfect soundtrack to a Cormac McCarthy novel. His is a prolific career that was on track to stay in obscurity, much like the Townes Van Zandts and Mickey Newburys of the early days of country and folk music.
But through the divine partnership he found with labelmate and Black Keys member Richard Swift, starting with 2010's release of Saint Bartlett, Jurado found much deserved (minor) commercial success deep into his career. His music is showcased on hit TV shows such as True Blood and Shameless, he's playing sold out shows all over the world, and recording and singing alongside Grammy-nominated recording artist Moby.
The new sound has evolved over the past four records, taking the songwriting talents of Jurado and the engineering masterwork of Swift to new heights. Adding layers and textures inspired by everything from '60s sci-fi – he says he is a big fan of Rod Serling's Twilight Zone and Night Gallery as well as Boris Karloff's Thriller – and psychedelia to dub and reggae, sonically, the 17 songs on the latest record are equal parts funky, dance grooves, spaced-out dark electric pop and haunting church music. It's a sound that Swift and Jurado have perfected over the past six years in Swift's National Freedom Studio in Oregon.
I spoke with Jurado over the phone, while he was walking around Los Angeles, the day after a sold-out show at the historic Troubadour in West Hollywood and one week before coming to Fountain Square's own Hi-Fi.
He was positive about his newly formed band and the beginning of his U.S. tour. On his last tour, Jurado played to a sold-out crowd at Radio Radio, where, much like a majority of his shows, he sat alone on stage with his acoustic guitar playing the songs off his far-reaching albums in the way he originally wrote them. In contrast, this tour Jurado is backed by a full band to help match the atmosphere off his latest trilogy, where he has created a fantastical world based on a dream.
It began with a character who leaves home in search of himself, traveling through the desert and stumbling upon a fictional place called Maraqopa. He never returns home and the characters find themselves alone on a vacant Earth. It's a large landscape of a story where each record ends with a bittersweet tone, and each time inevitably leading to a follow-up album continuing the story. This time Jurado seems confident that the trilogy has come to an end with Visions of Us On The Land – but none of this was detailed from Jurado over the phone. (The musician was pretty unresponsive to questioning of that tack.)
It's easy to idolize and romanticize the life of a traveling musician. But Jurado was quick to dispel the notion that touring is anything more than a job. Any job is time-consuming, and while on tour, personal time is limited.
Jurado, a private family man, has become successful over the past 20 years at his job of making music and touring. He told me, "I'm at the point now where I sort of play anywhere. I could care less where I play. Whether it's a living room, or church or basement or any venue. It's all a job. There's no free time. There's always a show to play or press to do. I'm on tour, it's always work. Like right now, I'm doing this interview while I'm out shopping. I could be out to dinner somewhere and still be getting 10 damn emails. This is my free time. It's always work. It's just music. It's kind of how it happens."
I asked him if playing Indiana had any significance or weight due to his label, Secretly Canadian, being based in Bloomington. He told me he'd play regardless of the label's location.
"I like the Midwest," he says. "I like playing there. I prefer playing Indianapolis versus Bloomington. It's old, but there's lots of new stuff happening, a newer generation of people who are coming in and starting businesses and venues and restaurants. It's a good thing. It's an exciting time, I think."
As Indianapolis continues to evolve, it's nice to see Jurado is more welcome than ever and he's happy to return.
If you go:
Damien Jurado and The Heavy Light with Ben Abraham
Friday, May 27, 7 p.m.
The Hi-Fi, 1043 Virginia Ave., Ste. 4,