Folkie from the land of grunge
Seattle singer-songwriter Damien Jurado goes against the grain
Tuesday, Sept. 30 at 10 p.m.
217 E. Houston St. (corner of Ave. A)
$10, 212-260-4700, mercuryloungenyc.com
By Matt Harvey
Singer-songwriter Damien Jurado has been recording stripped down lo-fi folk since he was a teenager in the early ’90’s, when he signed with Sub Pop. His newly released album, “Caught in the Trees,” is a collaboration filled with lush instrumentation and melodic hooks. Standout tracks include the plaintive, Elliot Smith-influenced ballad “Trials” and the jaunty, infectious “Gillian was a Horse.” From his home in Seattle, Jurado talked about his upcoming New York gigs, what its like to be a folkie in the land of grunge and his artistic process.
MATT HARVEY: I’ve read that you started out playing in punk bands, how did you get into folk?
DAMIEN JURADO: I had basically given up on punk rock by the time I dropped out of high school in my junior year. I was living in this sweltering hot attic and doing a lot of painting and writing short stories, so my friend Jeremy Enigk [M.H.: Sunny Day Real Estate singer] suggested that I start writing songs. I asked him how that would work in front of loud guitars and he said, “You should do it on an acoustic.” I didn’t know how to play really, so he showed me three chords and I kind of took off.
Then you were signed to Sub Pop right away?
Yeah, I had only been writing songs for two months, and there weren’t any singer-songwriters on the label at the time. I was sort of set up to be their Dylan, but it was really hard because this was the same time that “Nevermind” came out [M.H.: ‘91] and jocks were dying their hair. I would open for the Murder City Devils or Modest Mouse and the crowd just didn’t know how to react. It wasn’t a good fit.
Who were your singer songwriter influences?
The first folk artist I really got into was Phil Ochs. I wasn’t necessarily affected by his politics but here was a guy that didn’t have an amazing voice but wrote amazing lyrics and managed to make beautiful sounding music.
Like “Pleasures of the Harbor?”
That’s such a great song. I could really identify with his stuff and he showed me that there was a correlation between folk and punk. Both genres speak to groups that aren’t in the mainstream or feel dispossessed even if they’re very different people.
When and where did you first play in New York?
A little club called Brownies [M.H.: a famous venue and after-hours club on 11th St. and Ave. A that is now Hi-Fi].
What do you like about playing here?
There’s a real vibe that you don’t find anywhere else; the audiences have a real love for music. It reminds me of Europe, where they play close attention to the music. I’m used to the Northwest where the audiences are so passive aggressive.
The sound on your new record is very different then the material you’ve previously released.
It’s the longest I’ve ever spent on a record and it was collaboration with other musicians. I had really missed working with people, having complete creative control is a benefit of being a solo artist but it gets really boring.
Do you write songs about things that affect you personally? Are they autobiographical?
This record was definitely on a personal level. I was at a point where I had to write about myself whether I liked it or not. Sometimes you just are so filled with emotions you need to get them out somehow. It’s like when you need to throw up after you’ve drank too much.
I think the time you spent on it paid off.
Thank you. It’s actually the only album I’ve done that I ever liked.