Seattle singer-songwriter Damien Jurado is perhaps less known than his friend David Bazan, of Pedro the Lion, who plays on most every Damien Jurado record. But Jurado is arguably the better songwriter; his songs are smoother, not as angry, not as bitter, not as directly religious. Jurado can range on even the same album from Depression-era folk to pop to electric indie rock, and each record has a totally different mood from the one before.
Which is why Jurado's guitar player, Eric Fisher, is admittedly Jurado's biggest fan. "I feel really fortunate to play with him and have some sort of influence on his records and the way he shapes songs," said Fisher over the phone from Texas. "Not to sound cheesy or whatever, but I think he's a really true artist in a lot of ways, and a lot of his approaches to writing songs and playing music, just his attitudes, are really great and refreshing sometimes."
Fisher began playing with Jurado shortly after Ghost of David (Sub Pop, 2000), Jurado's third album, was released. Jurado was trying to put together a garage-rock band called the Drakes, and many of the songs Jurado wrote for that band ended up being on I Break Chairs (Sub Pop, 2002), the first record Fisher played on with Jurado.
The difference in sound and mood between Ghost of David and I Break Chairs is drastic. Ghost of David (Sub Pop, 2000) has weepy guitars and very little else; it's Jurado's saddest, slowest album. By contrast, on I Break Chairs, even quieter songs like "Never Ending Tide" roll into electric guitar swells and reverb waves. The pop songs become prettier and fuller, with bass lines and drums and keyboards and glockenspiels. There are even heavy songs, with feedback and distortion. In between lie Waters Ave S (Sub Pop, 1997), Jurado's first record (which has a song called "Yuma, AZ" on it) and Rehearsals for Departure (Sub Pop, 1999), which is composed of songs about leaving. The album has a twinge of Woody Guthrie; the girls leave on trains and busses as guitars twang and harmonicas wail. Catchier pop hooks played on acoustic guitars contrast Jurado's voice, deep and flat at its most mournful. Even the most upbeat songs are tragic.
Fischer credits this array of songs to Jurado's songwriting techniques. "He's really ambitious about stuff," explained Fisher. "He's more interested in just creating and letting people see his process rather than this piece of work that took so long and that's so precious. The final result for him is not as precious as the process."
Each record becomes, then, a glimpse into Jurado's full songwriting range. Where Shall You Take Me? (Secretly Canadian, 2003) has Jurado going back to the more simplistic, just-acoustic-guitar thing, but not leaving the pop songs completely behind. There's "Matinee," a very poppy song about how "movies are cheaper during the day," and "Texas to Ohio" has that same crunchy guitar and full drums from I Break Chairs. Then, right after that, is "Window," which sounds like a choral spiritual.
Jurado's new record, which will probably be released sometime this spring, "span(s) a lot of most everything he's done on the previous records," said Fisher.
"There are songs that are real traditional folk-sounding, songs that are just guitar and his voice and pretty slow and somber, (and) there are other songs, too, that are much more production-heavy, like electric guitars that are louder and more distorted, and rock-and-roll style drums, samples and keyboards, and all sorts of stuff," said Fisher. "His idea for this was just to kind of push himself a little more and push us into writing parts that we normally wouldn't play. Me especially, being the guitar player ... I generally try to complement what he does but not really do any solos or anything like that that might get in the way of the vocals or melodies. But for this, there are definitely a few songs where the guitar is moving a lot more, and it's just more stylized and upfront, I guess. This record ... part of it's really straightforward, pretty easy to listen to, and then some of it's pretty experimental, something that we would probably never be able to reproduce live unless we had computers and samplers going."
All this level-switching shows Jurado's amazing flexibility; he's not confined to one instrument, one sound or one emotional color.