Conversation With Josh Gordon, on His Work and Friendship with Damien Jurado and Richard Swift

Puddlegum had the opportunity to talk to Josh Gordon about his work and friendship with Damien Jurado, about studio sessions, and Richard Swift.
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Featured photo credit: Josh Gordon and Damien Jurado at a show in Bilbao, Spain, taken on October 26th, 2018, by Tom Roelofs. Used by permission.

Damien Jurado – What’s New, Tomboy? (Mama Bird Recording Co.) on Bandcamp

On Friday, May 1, Damien Jurado released What’s New, Tomboy?, his eighteenth LP in twenty-three years. The incredible album was released by Mama Bird Recording Co. and has a raw feel, with selective instrumentation, but is not as sparse as In The Shape Of A Storm. Only one other musician is credited on the album aside from Damien Jurado, and that is Josh GordonPuddlegum had the opportunity to talk to Josh about his work and friendship with Damien. The fascinating conversation bled into stories about their studio sessions, and their late friend, Richard Swift.

Our conversation began with a comment I made about Allocate, the opening track on The Horizon Just Laughed. I stated that on vinyl, the song is perfection. “I have to say, ‘Allocate’ might be my favorite recorded bass line ever, and it was the first song we did on that session,” he replied.

From that, Josh launched into a story of recording the bass line for Allocate. Damien had just finished recording guitar and vocals for the entire album in roughly 90 minutes (take that in for a second). He said to Josh, “Grab your bass.” Josh had only heard the song once, and anticipated that it would take time to work through the bass line.

“I played along and tried a lot of different things out, just to get a feel for what he might like, thinking, ‘He’ll pick a vibe he likes and then we’ll head back and cut it for real.’ At the end of the first take, he was quiet for a moment and then said, ‘I think we got it.‘”

Josh was stunned, and couldn’t believe that his noodling would possibly be the final take for the song. Damien turned to Alex Bush, engineer at Sonikwire Studio, and said, “Let’s listen back.” It felt very “foreign,” listening to the bass line, Josh shared. “I kept thinking, ‘Oh, that’s weird, that’s interesting.'” 

“We ended up keeping it, and he had me punch in those hooks on each chorus after the word ‘Allocate’. But aside from those themes we punched in, the rest was that first take and it’s not anything I would’ve ‘thought out’ to arrive at.” Josh called his take, “pure instinct.”

On working in the studio with Damien Jurado

If you’ve ever recorded or engineered, you find that each artist has their own method or attitude toward recording. Some have a song mapped out in their minds. Others want to explore in the studio. Josh provides insight in how Damien works. “Working with Damien has taught me a lot about the importance of not overthinking, and showing up to perform tracks ‘for real’ in the moment, no safety net.

What is Damien’s songwriting process, prior to entering the studio? “He’s got his process, and I’m not sure what that is. I always hear once that part is done.” He will tell Josh, “I’ve written my next record.” And from there, they move forward.

As for how much of the instrumentation is sorted out prior to studio time, Josh shared, “A lot of it may be sort of worked out in a broader sense, but Damien works a lot in the moment, and usually ends up doing no more than one or two takes for anything, just to keep it raw and real. So we’re always working quickly and turning on a dime. Sometimes there will be improvisational elements that will lead down a path, but then before things get too indulgent or distracted, he’ll usually be the editorial voice that senses and says, ‘Okay, we’re done!’ And it’s on to the next thing.”

“Damien has been self-producing also, and Alex and I both support and collaborate in pursuit of Damien’s vision. Alex with sound, and myself with musicianship and breakfast burritos.” Josh elaborates, “There’s this place called The Rooster, and when he’s in town, I’d say we go there maybe every single day, to be conservative about it.

Damien Jurado – Birds Tricked into the Trees from What’s New, Tomboy?
via Mama Bird Recording Co. (YouTube)

On What’s New, Tomboy?, Josh is credited for playing bass, electric guitar, drums, percussion, Hammond C3, Rhodes, mellotron, and drum machines. Along with guitar and vocals, Damien played percussion, and mellotron. With such a fast-paced approach to recording, you can imagine how quickly they jump from one instrument to the next. He shared that it is, “always an unexpected journey that I’m happy I’ve had the privilege to embark upon. Things can always change at any time as well, so we move a lot in the moment.”

In order to pull that off in the studio you need strong chemistry, and an engineer who is able to stay ahead of the artists so they’re not slowed down.

Josh agreed. “There’s a good rapport we have, and we’re close friends in life as well. I typically defer to him, and greatly respect his opinions and vision, but also feel very free to be creative in those sessions. I think after some years of tours and sessions together we definitely have some natural rhythms, and an organic way of working.

What’s beautiful is that Damien encourages this creative flow, and musicians to contribute. Josh shared that Damien, “usually has a pretty clear vision, but also lets people around him be themselves and contribute as well. It’s always a unique, very creative and special atmosphere of exploration and risk taking.

After they finish tracking, Damien mixes the album with Sonikwire engineer Alex Bush. The songs are then sent to Greg Calbi for mastering at Sterling Sound.

On his friendship with Richard Swift and Damien Jurado

Josh co-owns Sonikwire Studio, a 2,600 square foot facility in Irvine, California, complete with a refurbished 60-channel custom Neve 8028 console. It’s there that Richard Swift recorded Dressed Up For The Letdown. David Bazan and many others have recorded at Sonikwire (in recent years, Bazan, TW Walsh, Jason Martin, and Trey Many collaborated as Lo Tom there). These are but a few of the mutual friends Josh and Damien share that have worked at Sonikwire, some before and some since Josh and Damien became friends.

Josh had been friends with Richard Swift since 1996, when Swift went by Dicky Ochoa. “Swift had a different sound and style than the one he became known for later, but it was also an incredible thing to behold. Such an immense talent he was,” added Josh.

Damien and Swift were very close, “like brothers,” and collaborated quite a bit. Because of the community of artists they’re in, Josh explained they, “might have a hundred-plus mutual friends. Considering the network of mutual friends Damien and I share, It’s funny we didn’t become friends sooner.”

Damien Jurado – QACHINA from Visions of Us On the Land via Secretly Canadian (YouTube)

Swift first joined Damien in the studio on Saint Bartlett, and they followed that amazing album with the stunning Maraqopa psychedelic trilogy (Maraqopa, Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son,  and Visions of Us On the Land), all released by Secretly Canadian.

“I think it was a taping of Carson Daly back in 2012, when he was promoting ‘Maraqopa’, I was first introduced to Damien through a mutual friend at ‘Troubadour’ in Los Angeles,” Josh explained. “We hung out a few times after that, mostly as I came out to shows when he came through LA.”

“It was 2016 when I was called as a sub for his regular touring bassist that was our first time working together. We were touring in support of ‘Visions of Us on the Land’, third installment of the ‘Maraqopa’ trilogy. That same year I’d also tour with him as a guitarist.”

After the tour, Damien began working on his next album, which became The Horizon Just Laughed. Richard Swift was unable to work on the album, so Damien called Josh up. “Remember that little nylon-string guitar you bought in London for the tour bus, and gave to my kids after the tour?” Damien asked Josh. “I’ve written my next record on it, and I want to come down to your studio to record it, and have you play bass and percussion on it!”

They recorded the album at Sonikwire, beginning with the opening track, Allocate. Josh shared that Swift was, “a big fan and supporter of ‘The Horizon Just Laughed’ and that was a really awesome thing.” The album was released on May 4, 2018. Swift passed away two months later, on July 3.

“The Swift loss was heavy… for the community, but especially for Damien. The two of them were like brothers. While I’d known Swift a while longer, I was nowhere near as close with Swift as Damien had been.”

After the heartbreaking loss of his close friend, Damien wrote In The Shape of a Storm, a stripped down and bare folk album. He tracked the album at Sonikwire with Josh, and you can hear the pain in Damien’s voice.

If I go sailing into the unknown
What are my chances of ever reaching your shore?
Into the deep I am thrown

Damien Jurado – “The Shape of a Storm” (Genius)

During the summer of 2019, in between tours, Damien and Josh entered Sonikwire and recorded What’s New, Tomboy? Josh describes the new album as, “very raw, direct, dry, and intimate sounds, oddly close and vulnerable sounding. Unlike the sound of any record I’ve been a part of, and definitely an interesting listen on headphones and speakers alike.”

On the album, Damien pays tribute to Richard Swift in the song named after his friend, Ochoa. “Where you go, far from me, but not for long,” he sings.

“It was a really special album that was unique from the outset. Damien had a specific vision that involved it being so dry, direct and intimate sounding… definitely a vulnerable vibe.” Josh added that What’s New, Tomboy? is, “absolutely a great vinyl experience.”

You can find What’s New, Tomboy? on Bandcamp, Spotify, Apple Music, SoundCloud, and YouTube. Josh Gordon can be found on Instagram, and the Sonikwire Studio website.

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Kevin Flick
Kevin Flick

Kevin Flick founded Puddlegum in 1997 and has been engaging in music journalism off and on since. He's also a recording/mixing engineer and loves to help bands work through the creative process. He has coproduced and mixed for artists such as Saeyers, Midi Memory, and Cathedral Bells.

Rumors are that he's a Brighton Hove & Albion FC fan. He's also obsessed with coffee. Kevin resides in the college community of Bloomington, Indiana, where he studied at Indiana University.

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One comment

  1. […] The prolific and brilliant songwriting Damien Jurado released a new single, ‘Niemen Marcus‘, through his Maraqopa Records. The song is from his forthcoming album ‘Sometimes You Hurt The Ones You Hate‘, coming out March 31. Damien is currently on tour. There is so much more to say about Damien’s music he has released over the past twenty six years, but we’ll save the details for more articles. Here’s one where we talk with his music partner Josh Gordon. […]

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