Jurado releases concept record Maraqopa
Seattle’s pioneer folk artist talks tour, new album
By DUSTY HENRY, Features Writer
Published: February 29, 2012
Editor's note: The spelling of Damien Jurado's album Maraqopa has been corrected in the article and headline.
Since his 1997 debut album on Sub Pop Records, Damien Jurado has been one of the go-to names for listing Seattle singer-songwriters. Before Seattle became famous for folk acts such as Fleet Foxes or Hey Marseilles, Jurado was pioneering the genre locally. Now, with his latest release, Maraqopa, Jurado is intentionally abandoning his singer-songwriter style.
“Why are you writing songs in a genre you don’t like or listen to?” Jurado said he asked himself over the past few years.
While the songs he wrote in the singer-songwriter style are still authentic and came from a very real place, he said, he mostly wrote in this genre because it is what he’s good at.
“It’d be like being really good at basketball but not watching it in your free time,” Jurado said, “or being known for making the best steaks, but you’re a vegetarian.”
Maraqopa incorporates elements of alternative rock, 1960s psychedelic, easy listening and even glimpses of soul.
In the midst of this, though, Jurado still does break out the acoustic guitar. Album opener “Nothing is the News” starts with Jurado’s solo acoustic, but then rises with Hendrix-era electric guitar lines and reverberating vocal echoes.
Jurado has been experimenting with crossing over into other genres. In 2002, he released a full-on rock record called I Break Chairs, and his last album in 2010, Saint Bartlett, featured a full band but stayed closer to the folk-rock genre.
Jurado said the style on Maraqopa was a natural progression from this.
The new album itself is a concept record about “a man coming upon a town,” Jurado said. The name of the town came to him in a dream.
“The dream came first,” Jurado said.
Many of the songs he started writing subconsciously but didn’t realize it until later, he said. Jurado verified that the main character is completely fictitious, but he did not want to reveal too much about the story.
He said he is reluctant to speak about songs’ meanings; he wants people to have their own interpretation, he said.
Jurado’s willingness to step out of the norm is not limited to his latest album. In the past year or so, he started attending the Conor Byrne open mic in Ballard (famous as the birthplace of The Head and the Heart).
Having not played at an open mic since being signed, Jurado had no expectations of what the experience would be like. But he began to get connected with younger acts such as The Head and the Heart and Pickwick. Jurado decided to make himself readily available as a resource to these artists.
“I didn’t have anybody when I was their age,” he said. “I feel very lucky and privileged to be in this situation.”
Jurado recalled the Seattle music scene being very self-absorbed when he first started out.
So far, the response to the new album has been favorable, garnering applause from local press as well as national media such as Pitchfork. Though the press has been good, Jurado has prepared to be indifferent.
“I don’t care about that sort of thing,” Jurado said about the press. “I’m glad people like it, but at the end of the day, I’m making music for me.”
Jurado is not sure what his future efforts will sound like. He doesn’t like to make plans and thinks it will be a surprise even for him, he said.
“I change all the time,” he said.
Jurado will tour Europe with a full band starting today. He plans on playing the entire Maraqopa album from beginning to end at these shows.
“Nobody goes out and plays albums from front to back unless it’s a showcase,” he said.
Especially with the concept record, playing the songs out of order would sound weird, he said.
The record does not end on a resolving sound. The listener is left with a musical “to be continued,” or yearning to hear more. Jurado said this is a “symbol of the situation” in the record; not knowing what is going to happen next.
Thematically, Jurado’s career and album align here. He likes to keep himself unaware of where he should go next, and he shares the experience with his listeners.