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Matson on Music

Music news, concert reviews, analysis and opinion by music writer Andrew Matson.

March 3, 2011 at 11:55 AM

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Damien Jurado on "Ghost of David": "My most creative record"

Posted by Andrew Matson

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"Medication" by Damien Jurado

Especially for new listeners, the essential Damien Jurado album is his most recent one, "Saint Bartlett" (2010, Secretly Canadian). It captures the Seattle singer-songwriter sounding elegant and breezy.

But to understand why Jurado is cult figure, check out the dark, mysterious "Ghost of David" (2000, Sub Pop).

"I regard it as my most creative record," he says.

In an interview for this feature I wrote about him, Jurado said "Saint Bartlett" marks the first time he's been happy as an artist for a decade, since "Ghost of David" came out.

The first track on it is "Medication," an externally languid, internally anxious story-song about sex, death, and brotherly love. It starts with the sound of furniture creaking in a room, and by the time the acoustic ballad picks up to include organ and glockenspiel, has floated out of the house and is hovering in the yard.

I was shocked to learn he made it up, and most of "Ghost of David," on the spot. An excerpt from our conversation:

Q: How do you regard "Ghost of David"?

A: I regard it as my most creative record. I did that record in a house with my friend Jordan [Walton]. Jordan had all this recording equipment, combined with the recording equipment that I had bought with my advance from Sub Pop, so we recorded this record. The funny thing was Jordan was working graveyard shift at the time, and I was recording during the day. I had to record in the same room with him while he was sleeping, but also be kind of quiet.

I had come so close to finishing the record, and I deleted it all with the push of a button. I was using a Yamaha digital 8-track machine. I was fiddling around with buttons, and I erased everything from the hard drive and could not retrieve it. So I ended up re-recording it. At the time I was reading this Allen Ginsberg book by a guy named Barry Miles — the book's just called "Ginsberg" — and in the book, Ginsberg's talking about how he never second-guesses what he's writing. He just lets it come out of him, like a stream of consciousness. So I thought that'd be cool, if I approached songwriting that way.

And so the end result was me just pushing record and going for it. So "Medication," the first track on that record — literally nothing was pre-written. It's all stream of consciousness. It's just two chords, and me saying things that came to my mind. It developed as a story. And when it was done, I was like, "This is crazy."

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