When Damien Jurado takes the stage this week for his first shows in over a year, things will be different.
Live music has been happening in limited forms around the Puget Sound since Gov. Jay Inslee opened the door for limited-capacity shows in February. Thus far, the vast majority of local clubs and musical luminaries are holding out for when concerts can return full-bore (or at least until the numbers tip in their financial favor). The acclaimed singer-songwriter’s anticipated five-night, 10-show run at Ballard Homestead May 12-16, however, will be the city’s highest-profile gigs in 14 months. And there might not be a hometown artist better equipped for the strange, in-between state of socially distanced live music.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited about playing a group of shows in my life, pandemic or not,” Jurado says. “Playing a run of shows that sort of feels like a residency — which I’ve always wanted to do and I’ve never done before — it’s small, it’s intimate, it’s going to be quiet. To me, it’s the perfect setting for the music that I do.”
Jurado’s work has always been better suited for more intimate, attentive settings than noisy rock clubs. But the low-key Ballard Homestead, with the ambience of a house church nestled in a residential Ballard block, seems a natural environment for the seasoned songsmith to celebrate his new album in front of 20-30 people per show — not to mention begin a new chapter in his career.
Starting with the Seattle run (tickets were still available for the early shows as of this writing), Jurado will no longer play guitar onstage, instead focusing on his singing. Though he’s never discussed it publicly before, Jurado has had “nerve and muscle and motor issues” his entire life, making it physically taxing to play guitar for more than an hour. Accompanying Jurado — who’s living in Washington again after a SoCal sojourn — onstage is Josh Gordon, his studio mate, whom Jurado worked closely with on his new album, “The Monster Who Hated Pennsylvania,” arriving May 14.
The decision to hang up the guitar, aside from short bursts of writing and demoing new songs, coincides with a new sonic motif Jurado really embraced with last year’s “What’s New, Tomboy?” After shifting away from the cavernous, reverb-washed sound of his Maraqopa Trilogy of concept albums, Jurado’s vocals and Gordon’s bass are up high in the mix on the new album, a companion to “Tomboy” written at the same time.
Inspired by records like Paul McCartney’s “Ram” and Lou Reed’s “The Bell,” the idea to shed the reverb blanket in favor of a drier, “naked and intimate” production style was actually hatched back in 2013 with Jurado’s late creative partner Richard Swift. For Jurado, executing their joint vision after the revered Northwest indie rocker and producer died in a Tacoma hospice facility in 2018 was a way of honoring his friend and collaborator.
“There’s a smile that comes across my face when I hear these recordings, because I know he’d be so excited about them,” Jurado says of “Tomboy” and “Monster.”
Jurado’s long been a prolific and ambitious songwriter, at times laying out conceptual blueprints years ahead of time. Without the distraction of touring, the pandemic has been a particularly fertile time for the newly married artist, who lives “without smartphones and news feeds” in a quiet locale near Skagit Valley. Since the shutdown began, Jurado’s written seven albums worth of new material, five of which he views as part of another series yet to be recorded.
“Muses demand attention, right?” Jurado says of his current hot streak. “I would never be able to write a song on the road hardly ever. It always demands that I’m at home doing homely things, so this has been a shock, but at the same time not that much of a surprise.”
Jurado plans to drop each record one by one through his new label, Maraqopa Records, which will allow him to set his own release schedule. The first could come around this time next year, and in the meantime, he’s eyeing possible tours in the fall. But the Northwest staple doesn’t seem to be in too much of a hurry.
“My life right now feels like I’m waiting in an airport terminal or a bus depot,” he says. “It’s like having a ticket in your hand, but you don’t really know when. … But on the creative front, it’s on fire, like ‘God, this is great!’ I’m living and I’m loving the creative life, and it’s beautiful. Everything else, I’m on standby. I’m good, man.”