It means nothing and everything. Listening to Damien Jurado, you’re immediately struck by how a single note, a muttered word can take on spiritual, near mythic importance. Yet if you touch the surface, all is scattered and any lingering meaning – true meaning – quickly fades from view.
A subtle, quite fragrantly beautiful record, Jurado’s new album ‘Brothers And Sisters Of The Eternal Son’ (review) has been lingering on the Clash stereo since its release earlier this year. Poised to unwrap its secrets, the songwriter immediately places us on the back foot.
“I don’t necessarily think I’m reaching for anything,” he says. “I think it’s just a story, a story I’m telling. That’s really about it.”
- - -
Damien Jurado, ‘Silver Timothy’
- - -
Yet it’s a story wrapped in allusion and illusion. Brilliantly produced in collaboration with Richard Swift, in terms of sheer, sprinkling sound you won’t hear much better this year.
“I think we’re both really into sound exploration, just exploring sound and that’s kind of what we’re doing. I mean, believe it or not, I think that’s more important than anything I’m singing about. Even if I did a country record or a reggae record, it doesn’t matter – the sound is the most important thing. Sound is something that nobody really gives a shit about any more.”
Looking to antecedents, Jurado burrows into the past recruiting like minds from fields he wouldn’t otherwise admire. “I’m not a giant fan of bands like Led Zeppelin, for instance. I don’t like that band, but I really do love the production of those albums. The drums are just so huge, y’know? There’s just lots of great sounding records from bands that I don’t particularly care for the songs of.”
Yet this isn’t to say that Jurado’s work is simply noise and electricity, absent from meaning. His new album is laden with religious and spiritual imagery, from the Christ-like eternal son down to the fictional lost city of Maraqopa – the mysterious place that inspired his preceding LP of 2012.
“I don’t even know what it means,” he sighs. “That’s the crazy thing. I don’t even know. But it’s cool, y’know? There’s lots of reccurring themes, not only in the new record. You can find some of those themes in my earlier records, even. I do have recurring themes, but they’re always evolving.”
Like gears currently revolving, the machinery of Damien’s songcraft is delicate but expertly pieced together. But the meaning – however vague, however undefined – is always presented as being linked to the sound that surrounds it.
“You can’t discard songwriting,” he states. “I’m not saying it’s not important – because it is – I’m just saying... there’s definitely a story there. There’s a real underlying, hardcore story, but… It’s almost like two different meals, like the story’s one thing and the sound is the other. They both support each other.”
- - -
My influences on language come from visual things. Just by watching endless hours of The Twilight Zone, or Godzilla movies…
- - -
Rooted in specific American landscapes, ‘Brothers And Sisters Of The Eternal Son’ is a hugely colourful album – for instance, five song titles reference the colour silver.
“I’m not a reader, I never have been,” Jurado admits. “I don’t read books. I mean, I think those influences on language all come from visual sources. My influences on language come from visual things. Just by watching endless hours of The Twilight Zone, or Godzilla movies. Believe it or not, that imagery is important to me. So it’s not words that affect my language, it’s vision.”
Curiously, Jurado comes close to discounting his own lyrics entirely. “There’s an interesting quote from Lou Reed I read the other day, where he says, ‘Why waste your time with lyrics when no one’s going to listen to you anyway?’ No one pays attention anyways, so you might as well make it sound good.“
In the middle of a hugely productive spell – the songwriter admits that his new album could well have joined its predecessor as a double LP – Damien is relishing operating without any semblance of a plan.
“I’m really curious to see what will happen next,” he smiles. “There’s no plan. I don’t plan anything, really. Even though I make the music, I don’t make plans. Musically, I’m just as interested as the fans are as to how the next record will sound because I don’t know. It’s always a surprise.”
“I think it’s just continually being inspired,” he continues. “That’s really about it. Nothing else. If I’m not working I sort of feel unproductive and lazy, so work is very important. Work is important to me – I like work. If I don’t work, I don’t eat!”
- - -
Words: Robin Murray
Photography: Steve Gullick