2016Damien Jurado w/ Luke Roberts
NovemberDoors 8:30, Show 9:30 - $13adv/ 15
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There was no grand scheme to make a trilogy at the outset. Exuberantly prolific, its creator simply wanted the first record to be “a quick snapshot. But it’s become something that lives in a huge way in my conscience. Maraqopa is this peaceful place I can go to in my mind. A little bit psychedelic, but you’re not using substances. The brain is such a powerful thing. In that uncharted territory I was able to tap in and find this place. Which was called Maraqopa. Similar to the fictional towns in television or books.”
Maraqopa the album introduced a character — deliberately unnamed, intended to represent anyone feeling that way — who stumbles upon the titular locale then gets into a car crash… which only frees him further. Jurado notes parallels between his wilderness avatar and Syd Barrett’s exit from public life. Plus a classic episode of The Twilight Zone which ends with the previously active protagonist’s still body, eyes closed, on a hospital table. “Because he’s living out what he thinks is a reality in his unconscious state. But the guy doesn’t even know he’s in a coma! Wouldn’t that be strange, if your death was really you waking up? This is what Maraqopa embodies. But trying to do that musically is really hard. In some ways it’s creating a soundtrack.”
Movie music, from the storied scores for Zabriskie Point and Blade Runner to the more recent The Martian, has long been part of Damien’s diverse sound palette. When they began their collaboration at the top of this decade, he and Swift additionally bonded over psych, proto-punk and outsider rock ‘n’ roll nugget miners like Captain Beefheart, The Cramps, Bo Diddley and The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. Not to mention such softer dream weavers as Linda Perhacs and Gordon Lightfoot. This tapestry of influences — cinematic, lysergic, folkloric — threads seamlessly with the pair’s natural pop craftsmanship. Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son scored chart positions in both the US and UK, while elevating the esoteric art quotient to mythical levels. It picked up the narrative after the accident, in a commune inhabited by Silver Timothy, Silver Donna, Silver Malcolm, et al.
“I’ve never lived in one but I have friends who grew up in ‘Jesus freak’ communes in the late ‘70s. To me it’s fascinating because it’s all ritual. There was also talk and visuals of UFOs around Brothers and Sisters… A lot of it is photos. I met a guy on tour after I made Maraqopa who asked if I knew about Drop City, which was a commune in the ‘60s in Colorado. They built these geodesic domes, created their own little community. What’s funny is when I looked at photos of Drop City later, it looked exactly like my vision of Maraqopa.”
Visions of Us On The Land journeys further into the subconscious mind, a symbolic road trip spotlighting the people and towns that our central figure and his travelling companion, Silver Katherine, encounter upon leaving the commune. Hence the capitalized track titles, alluding to real American locations refracted through one’s third eye in the rear view mirror. Like all great art, it’s about life and death and love and freedom. A sonic map with no set destination, revealing more with each ride.
Roberts has long searched for freedom — even as a kid growing up in East Nashville, he began train-hopping, exploring who he was and where he should be in the world. Four years after the release of his second album The Iron Gates at Throop and Newport, Roberts has gone from living in a trailer in Montana to living on acreage in Tennessee, where he is learning how to farm. In the passing years, Roberts dealt with heartbreak and wanderlust, driving between New York and Nashville, living out of his car for weeks, traveling to Cambodia and Thailand and finally to Kenya, where he stayed with a family whose day-to-day challenges and simple needs impressed him. It was in Kenya where the songs on Sunlit Cross originated. The record is a lullaby, Roberts says, one that pits darkness and disenchantment and the ugly side of life against levity, love, and childhood. The songs on Sunlit Cross are a conversation, one that takes place between Roberts himself, the listener, and “God, everything, everyone.” “I spend a lot of time counterbalancing things,” Roberts says. “If I want to say ‘yes,’ I’ll pronounce it ‘no,’ and then ask myself why and I end up saying ‘Jesus.’”
Sunlit Cross was recorded at Ronniejone$ound with Kyle Spence (who, in addition to recording tracks for Kurt Vile’s B’lieve I’m Goin Down, also drums with Vile and Harvey Milk). Spence worked closely with Roberts to make the record sonically richer than ever before.
The Sunlit Cross crew (including Stephen Tanner of Harvey Milk and Music Blues) would sit on the deck and eat White Castle burgers and drink beers and look out on the Georgia pines with birds and crickets echoing all around. “It feels like you’re in a billionaire’s office in a treehouse,” Roberts says, “making music with some real pros.” Vile, who became enamored with Roberts’ music invited Roberts to tour with him, sings backing vocals and plays banjo on “Silver Chain.” John Neff (Drive-By Truckers) plays pedal steel, and Creston Spiers (Harvey Milk) contributes viola, guitar, and piano. Roberts and his Athens, GA-based band will be touring in late 2016 and into 2017.