Jurado finds inspiration from unlikely sources.
For some musicians, it only takes one or two albums to ascend the ladder of success. But singer-songwriter Damien Jurado has seen too many artists from the Pacific Northwest catapult to fame then crash and burn.
"I never wanted to be huge and popular," Jurado (who plays the Majestic Theatre Feb. 22) recently told Isthmus. "I never wanted that because, frankly, I saw how it was. I knew people like that from my own city."
Jurado, who's spent the last 20 years carving out a career in Seattle, has purposefully avoided the sprint-paced arcs of artists like Elliott Smith and Fleet Foxes. He's been able to escape the pressures of major labels and retain control over his albums, using his growth as a musician as his guide.
And oh, how he's grown. When looking back on the recording process for his first album in 1996, Jurado equates the experience to "taking a kindergartener and saying, 'Here's a guitar.'" It is a fitting metaphor: If you listen to Jurado's records chronologically, it's like flipping through a book of photographs and seeing the subject age with each turn of the page.
Since releasing his debut, Jurado has put out 11 additional studio albums that have explored folk, psychedelia, Americana and hard rock. In fact, the only thing that's remained constant throughout his discography is deeply detailed stories told in his warbling yet persuasive voice.
"It's funny. You can take any of those lyrics on any given record I've put out, and you could place any music over it," he says. "The music, I think, is always such a small part of it. The music is only there as a support."
Jurado has emerged as a bona fide storyteller over the course of his extensive career.
The characters and situations conceived sometimes feel so lifelike that it can be difficult to separate the man from his myths. But Jurado insists that his stories are just stories: "I think having the emotional connection is something I've never had with a song, ever. Because they aren't about me," he says, before comparing his disenchantment with his work to a postman not personally bonding with the mail.
By avoiding the confessional realm, Jurado is able to explore the spectrum of human emotions while keeping his own mental states at bay. His distance also supports his habit of gathering inspiration from unlikely sources.
For example, in 2000, Jurado released Ghost of David, a somber record largely concerned with deception, inspired by a split-second shot of the phrase "Step up," seen in reverse through a glass door, from the Ashley Judd film Ruby in Paradise.
"I remember being so taken by that shot. I rewound the VHS tape to that part, and I remember taking a photo of that -- of that screenshot," he says. "I placed that Polaroid on the piano top where I recorded a lot of the piano that you hear on Ghost of David."
Seven records and 10 years after Ghost of David, Jurado was hard at work on Saint Bartlett, a record that was markedly less about death but sparked by another unlikely source: his producer, Richard Swift.
Jurado describes Swift as a "sound junkie." The two met through Secretly Canadian, the recording label they shared. Though Jurado says he was initially unsure about working together, he liked Swift's direction so much that he's teamed up with the producer extraordinaire for two additional records. Their most recent work together, last year's Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son, finds Jurado continuing to explore the world he opened on 2012's shimmering Maraqopa over his richest musical backdrop to date.
Some may see Jurado's last two records, based off of the same recurring dream, as the journeyman inching closer to writing about reality. Others may believe his collaboration with Swift is a much-needed push of the "refresh" button on the 42-year-old's career.
Jurado doesn't see it either of these ways. The dream and the albums are certainly his, but he remains merely a mediator between the songs' reality and ours. And as for his latest shift in sound, it's simply "a growth thing" -- another chapter in his marathon-like career.
"I haven't fallen off," Jurado says. "I've been here the entire time."