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B-Sides #1: Damien Jurado

Words by Matt Stangel

We recently shot dark-folk pioneer Damien Jurado at a Burgerville in Woodland, WA.

After the shoot, one of our cameraman’s cars was broken into outside of Rontoms in SE Portland. His cameras and gear (including all of our footage from the shoot) were stolen, and have not been recovered.

All we had left were some behind-the-scenes iPhone footage, the audio files, and captures of the thief from Rontoms’ security camera.

Catch Damien live at Holocene on Sunday, April 22nd.

First there was paradise and then a thief walked through it.

He cased the place. Saw the open fires and fruit trees. Houses without doors. Porches and families. A town where long decades of perfect weather were the only dogma to live by, where the livestock had names like Hamlet and Lunchable, and a lawless benevolence was the unspoken duty of the commonwealth.

It’s how I see Maraqopa, the imaginary town upon which Damien Jurado’s album of the same name is based. To be fair, I brought the thief in, but the village is all Damien.

The singer-songwriter sits two stools down at a Burgerville in Woodland, Washington, telling me about Maraqopa’s geodesic domes and the valley they sit in; that he never set out to make a concept record about this place.

Maraqopa is a fictional town that most of the record is set in,” explains Damien. “It’s a concept record, but I didn’t know that until we sequenced [it].” Like the concept, Damien says the recording process came in easy first takes– the foundation for a pain-free collaboration with producer Richard Swift.

Everything he plays at Burgerville sounds just as effortless: Earlier, him and his band worked through an outtake from Maraqopa called “We Are What We Dream.”

“To me, in my mind, [‘We Are What We Dream’] didn’t fit on the record,” he explains.

Speaking less to the contrary and more out of honesty, the song in question isn’t that far off from those that made it to the official collection– lyrically, Maraqopa is a contemplative, Old Testament thing: Ribs removed and people as the light in the world, gardens grown and the freedom to stray from them, times “when I believed you” and others “when in doubt.” In the context of Maraqopa, “We Are What We Dream” is a sort of antidote for this ‘believer’s doubt.’

But, be that as it may, it’s hard not to project an Edenic narrative onto Maraqopa. It’s hard not to stand in the apple’s second bite; to anticipate the inevitable corruption awaiting Damien’s utopian township.

Though, I didn’t see it that way the day of the shoot. When we got outta Dodge, leaving behind the band and the hamburgers and the low mountain fog, I was fully on board with Maraqopa– that, at the very least, we can imagine idyllic places.

And things stayed that way for a few days, until the news came: Our lead shooter’s car was broken into, his gear was swiped, and our footage of Damien’s performance was long gone. A few Instagram posts and an iPhone video of the second take were the only remaining visual documents of the day.

It was then that the version of Maraqopa that sat in my head gained a thief. I could no longer imagine the lawless benevolence without an antagonist. A snake, regardless of its distance, was always waiting in the grass; just as thieves are a social imperative when the economic norm is a differential of dysfunction. Chalk it up to those moments of maturity that come with empiricism and acceptance.

The above video reflects that empiricism and acceptance. Rather than attempt a reshoot or make other efforts to cover up the break-in, we worked with what we had to tell the story as it happened. The video is composed via two sources: security camera footage of the guy who broke into Rod’s car while it was parked behind Rontoms, and the iPhone video of Damien’s performance at Burgerville.

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