Seattle singer-songwriter Damien Jurado sets about his independence with quiet cinematic flair

click to enlarge Seattle singer-songwriter Damien Jurado sets about his independence with quiet cinematic flair
After years beholden to the music industry's ways, Jurado now has an unwavering comittment to do things on his own terms.

When living in Seattle and being embedded in the musical scene, Damien Jurado feels almost omnipresent, even if you don't see him around much. With over a quarter century of acclaimed work, the singer-songwriter's poetic lo-fi folk has made him a sort of godfather figure for generations of musicians who have come and gone. The consistency and quality of his output never seems to waiver.

That remains the case with Jurado's latest album, 2022's Reggae Film Star. With the soft but not fragile vocal delivery of a poet who has experienced plenty of life, he turns his gaze to the world of film and television. Whether talking directly about the film industry ("Location, Undisclosed" and "Day of the Robot") or painting portraits with dreamlike lyrical fragments ("Meeting Eddie Smith"), the album flows along with emotional pangs and effortless ease.

While staying true to his acoustic guitar singer-songwriter core, Jurado sought to add a sense of movie majesty with subtle touches, be it muted percussion or unobtrusive strings and piano accompaniment on tracks like "Roger" and "What Happened to the Class of '65?" Jurado strove to make the album as cinematic as possible in order to capture his appreciation for the art form... one he values even above the medium he chose as a profession.

"I mean, the other day my wife said to me, 'Put these things in order, top priority to least priority: music, movies, television.' And I said, 'Movies, television and music.' Music being my least. Because I didn't grow up a musician, and I didn't play music until later in life," says Jurado. "My obsession besides fine art was always movies. And then television, obviously, too, because I couldn't always afford to go to the movies, or we just sorta watched whatever movie was on TV as a kid. But even now, in present day, movies are a major love for me."

And while the cinematic world fascinates Jurado, it's not a world he actually wants to enter himself. Don't expect to see him trying to score a film or anything of that sort.

"I sort of view myself as the person who can be constantly seen in, like, an art museum, for instance, viewing art, but that doesn't necessarily mean that I desire to be a painter. You know what I mean? I've always been in love with the whole mystery of it, the glitz and glamor and behind the scenes. With movies, what goes into it, the amount of money that goes into it and time, I don't have the patience for it. I think I'd just be jaded at the end of the day, and I don't want to do that."

There's another thing of note regarding Reggae Film Star — it's released on Jurado's Maraqopa Records. While Jurado has spent most of his career working for top-tier labels like Sub Pop and Secretly Canadian, it was time for independence. Founded in 2021, Maraqopa Records is essentially the songwriter's declaration that he wants his career to be entirely on his own terms going forward. Jumping through the hoops that being on someone else's label required no longer seemed viable or logical to him.

"I've pretty much kicked the doors wide open. For me, starting my own record label is sort of like dismantling a house," says Jurado. "Most record labels, they prefer you to release records once every two years or three years. And I couldn't do that anymore. I just felt it was time to just go my own way. And I'm having the time of my life. I'm having the most fun I've ever had my entire career and doing it my way."

The prolific songwriter that he is, Jurado couldn't stand the slow cycle pace labels desire in order to build hype and avoid oversaturating the market. For example, he just finished an album that will come out this fall, and will head back into the studio in March to record another LP slated for 2024.

"For me, I want to be a machine," he says. "I just want to keep the ball rolling. My goal, really, is to release two records a year. That's my goal. I have the songs."

He also can now set his own touring schedule and play "whenever the hell I want," rather than being tied to promotional album tours. It also allows him to live up to his own moral beliefs. For example, Jurado recently decided he'll no longer travel by plane because of the environmental aspects air travel causes.

"My principles have to align with my life and the way I live. I'm a vegan. And I'm going to take that seriously, not just for the animal welfare, but also the environmental impacts it has," Jurado says. "I'm like, 'Well, what else am I doing? Oh, flying in planes is probably not a good idea.' And so what did I do? I began to really study about the effects that airplanes have on the quality of our planet. And so I was like, I consciously cannot do this anymore. Is that going to affect touring? Yes, it definitely does. But I can drive. But it's gonna affect me, it affects Europe [touring], it affects everything I'm doing. But again, I cannot consciously stand by."

Being in charge of Maraqopa Records also allows him to more fully control his music. That came into play last month when he decided to remove his music from Spotify because of the way the company fails to compensate artists fairly.

"I'll be honest with you, I did not think it was a giant deal at all. But it upset a lot of people," Jurado says. "When I make a decision, I think about the decision for months on end. It wasn't like, 'Well I'm gonna quit Spotify' and then that morning leave. It was something I thought about for probably the last seven months, at least.

"It made sense as to why people were upset about it... And then I was like, 'Well, if I'm upset about this, why am I not doing anything about it?'" he continues. "And I began to see that that was a case of a lot of musicians that I would start seeing online — they were complaining about Spotify, but yet they're on Spotify. And I just thought, 'Well, I'm not going to do that. I'm getting the hell out of here.'"

While limiting our online reach might not be as viable an option for some up-and-coming artists, Jurado has earned that right after decades of work building up an audience that's committed to his songcraft no matter how they have to seek it out. It's all part of the message that he would've told his younger self if given the chance.

"I think I would have told myself a lot of things," says Jurado. "One of the main things I would have told myself is, 'Look around you. You see how everybody's doing this? They're all doing it the same exact way. Don't do that. Do the opposite of that.' And that is what I've found has made me a better songwriter, a better musician, a happier human being. You gotta live by your own rules. You gotta live by your own principles, you know?" ♦

Damien Jurado, Shoecraft • Sun, Feb. 12 at 8 pm • $24-$28 • 21+ • Lucky You Lounge • 1801 W. Sunset Blvd. •

Coeur d'Alene Blues Festival 2023 @ The Coeur d'Alene Resort

Through April 2
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About The Author

Seth Sommerfeld

Seth Sommerfeld is the Music Editor for The Inlander, and an alumnus of Gonzaga University and Syracuse University. He has written for The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Fox Sports, SPIN, Collider, and many other outlets. He also hosts the podcast, Everyone is Wrong...