Damien Jurado - Mixtape Master

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Renowned singer-songwriter Damien Jurado had an unlikely encounter with a stranger who would go on to become the biggest name in rock.

JULIA DEWITT, BYLINE: This is Julia DeWitt at the Palace of the Arts here to interview Damien Jurado.


DAMIEN JURADO: My name is Damien Jurado. I'm from Seattle, Washington. I play music for a living. When I was almost 13, I moved from Houston, Texas to the coast of Washington. I was pretty bummed. This is 1986. Punk rock was brand-new and it was super exciting for me. And I knew nothing about it, and I loved the music so much. So to move to a town with no more than 8,000 or 9,000 people where you can't get music is pretty desolate. So I depended on things like Fanzines, which I had to special order. So in 7th grade that year, there was a new kid who I became instant friends with. His dad managed this hotel called the Polynesian Hotel and Resort. We hit it off immediately because he also liked punk rock music. I depended on him to tell me what was really cool. He only owned, like, four records - records that I copied from him on cassette. And I played them over and over and over again, like, constantly.


JURADO: So he comes to school one day with a cassette in his hand and it says, Black Flag on side A and on side B it says, other stuff. I said, where did you find this? He said, there's this guy who my dad hired to work on the janitorial staff. He said he can give me all the music I want. And I was like, oh my gosh, this is great. Here was someone that - who had not only a knowledge of punk rock, but loads of records - obviously enough to make us mixed tapes. So I said I wanted to meet this guy. And he said, well, he's working today. In fact, I'm going to go pick up another cassette from him today. We went to the hotel. I'm just like fantasizing this kid our age - maybe a little bit older, you know, with a mohawk, leather jacket, you know, like the kind that you see on postcards and movies, you know. And he said, oh, there he is.

He's over there. And he points at him. I'm looking around for this person like I think it's in my mind. Where is he? Like 'cause all I see was this scrawny kid with like long blonde hair and a denim jacket. You'd think, like, he'd be a Metallica fan 'cause we were more punk rock looking than he was, you know? And I said, that guy? He said, yeah. We just walked up to him and I said my name is Damien. Can you make me a mix tape? He's, like, yeah, sure, I can make you a mix tape. So for the next three or four months - constant, like once a week we're getting mixed tapes, like, a lot of them.


JURADO: He was very shy. He didn't really talk that much when we hung out. I never even bothered, like, learning really his name. We smoked in a hotel room. We talked a lot about bands. And then eventually, my friend comes to school and says he got fired from the job, and he's no longer working there. And I remember just feeling like, oh my God, you got to be kidding me, you know. It was like the end of my life at that point.


JURADO: In the fall of 1988, my parents moved to Seattle, and I discovered a college music radio station called KCMU.


UNIDENTIFIED RADIO HOST: KCMU Seattle. Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

JURADO: And it's now called KEXP. And I remember getting - being so excited about the music they were playing. I started recording whatever they were playing on the air. I was over the mix tapes.


RADIO HOST: Coming up on KCMU, the pick seed.

JURADO: This is a whole new world, and I was just getting this - I was recording the radio on these cassettes that I had got from this guy on the coast. And they announced a Butthole Surfers show. Sonic Youth is going to be opening, Butthole Surfers, and a group called Nirvana. And then they played "Love Buzz," which had just come out that week. And I remember hearing "Love Buzz" and being - thinking, like, oh my God this song is amazing, I can't wait to see these guys. I go to the show and out walks Nirvana, who opened up the show. And the lead singer, I remember just thinking to myself, he looks very - oh my God. That's the guy I was getting cassettes from. And that's how I met Kurt Cobain.


DEWITT: That is crazy.

JURADO: Yeah. I heard his early demos. You know, what would be eventually, like - but I recorded over those cassettes that he gave us. So I ended up recording their debut when they played "Love Buzz." And I recorded it onto a cassette over bands and compilations that he gave me. I love Nirvana. They're definitely my favorite band of all time. Punk rock started with Kurt Cobain and ended with Kurt Cobain for me.



Now of course, after being inspired by Nirvana, Damien went on to become a famous musician in his own right. Check out his latest album, "Maraqopa." And don't forget, for more stories from musicians about the story behind the songs, check out Stephanie Foo's podcast, "Stagedive." That piece was produced by Stephanie Foo and Julia DeWitt. Now don't go anywhere. SNAP JUDGMENT "The Stranger" episode will be right back. Stay tuned.

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