Recording with Damien Jurado

I can’t believe we are already 2.5 months in 2015. I was taking a brief look at what’s happened in the last few months and I gravitated towards my time working with songwriter Damien Jurado.

Whenever I’m describing Damien to someone who hasn’t heard of him, I like to refer to him as the grandfather of folk music in Seattle because he is one of the veterans playing music and getting better with each record. Museum of Flight is still one of my favorite songs:

Following last year’s debut album “Believer”, I got an e-mail from Damien saying that he liked a song called “Fighting the War”, but heard it in a completely different way. He asked if he could grab me and the guys for a day in the studio to try the song his way. His main request was that we only bring instruments that didn’t require amplification — “only organic sounds”.

After months of scheduling issues we finally found a day during one of the colder weeks in January to record at the Columbia City Theater, where I had spent some time tracking “Pieces We Are” with a 17 piece orchestra through the help of Gary Mula. Gary is such a gem and it was fun to have him engineering while Damien sat in the producer chair for this session.

Damien was incredible to work with, there were a lot of subtleties in his approach that guided the direction of these songs — lending a more soulful, emotional result. For one, during our session, we started with guitar and vocals at the same time with more of a live feel. Traditionally many sessions are tracked with drums as the first recorded layer, then everyone tracks their parts on top of that layer (bass, guitar, vocals, etc.). The unspoken rule was to play the song so it stood on it’s own with a guitar an a singular vocal line, then we would add what was needed from there. We didn’t use a click track (which is commonly used to help keep the song at a set tempo) which brought more of a natural feel to the song. 

For each of the three recordings we only did 1-2 takes per song. That is to say, we only played the song once or twice and then kept one of those versions for the recording. His reasoning was that after 1-2 takes, it loses some of that “magic”. I think that was my favorite part of the session, the songs felt more real, like they weren’t being processed and packaged with a nice bow to tie everything together. They were being twisted and pulled out of me in a way that I hadn’t experienced them before.

The songs definitely felt different. For “Fighting the War” Damien literally had me put down my guitar and our guitar player Jonathan Warman played a picking pattern that I sang over. After a discussion about value of the bridge in songwriting, we axed the bridge from “Believer” into the track you can hear on the EP, and although I may have fought it at the time, it did sound better without it.

Damien was removed from our process when we created these original songs. It was interesting to see how he trimmed these songs to core - the words have different meaning and you can really hear the soul of these songs. After the spending a bit of money on recording, mixing, mastering and marketing for the songs, I just decided to give them away for free here. It was one of those projects where I didn’t want their to be a barrier to entry. 

My friend Tyler Kalberg captured the session through a sequence of photos: