An Interview with Damion Jurrens of The Cowls
California-based musician, Damion Jurrens, commenced his solo project The Cowls in 2018. Since when, he’s released no less than three EPs, a debut album and has just followed it with a second; Should it Feel Like This? Dave Schuster had a chat with him about the new record, new sounds and old politics.
The Cowls are you, and you are The Cowls. What made you choose a band name instead of performing as Damion Jurrens?
When I originally started doing this, I’d thought that it would be a project between myself and a couple of old band mates from New York [He was previously in NYC indie rock band Takka Takka]. That just never really materialised, it turned out to be too restrictive passing files back and forth across the country, but I still wanted to make music and technologically it’s easy enough to be a one-person band. By that time, I’d selected the name and thought, “What the heck! I’ll just carry on with it.” There’s more mystery that way, I guess.
You’re very prolific; it’s been less than a year since the release of The Cowl’s first album Certain Calculations, and there’s a full 12 tracks on the new release; Should it Feel Like This? Did you have much material that didn’t make it into the record?
I think for both this and Certain Calculations I started out with about 30 songs lined up for each. Some of them got lost at a relatively early stage, some were half finished and some made it through to the final mix before getting thrown out. I tend to throw out more than I keep. Should it Feel Like This? was the first time that I’ve gone back to older material and, rather than re-working it, I took close-to-final mixes, sampled the portions that I enjoyed and worked those into a new song. Consequently, the new album is much more chopped up and processed; there’s a lot more background noise going on. It’s a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster!
“The result of much more experimentation”
‘Should it Feel Like This?’ Sounds like a title with a story behind it?…
Ha! To be frank it’s about sexual exploration, being a youngster in a disco, getting close to people for the first time and thinking, ‘This is exciting, but it feels kinda dangerous. Should it feel like this?’ It’s about being young and stupid and getting worked up.
I think the new album sounds like Joy Division might have done, had Ian Curtis still been alive, but they’d still evolved into New Order. How would you describe your sound?
That’s a high complement! The stuff that I listen to, versus the way it comes out sort of surprises me sometimes. Having just signed to [Manchester based indie record label] Analogue Trash, I was listening to a lot of Manchester music, American Grindcore artists like Cloud Rat, that’s one of my favourites and stuff like Actors; they drew a lot from Joy Division. That was the ethos behind it. Aesthetically it came out being its own thing, however that’s what was at the back of my mind.
It’s got a darker, more experimental, feel than your first album. Was that a conscious decision?
It was actually: I got very ill last year and was stuck in bed for a couple of months with what, at that point, were almost final mixes of the songs. I wasn’t really happy with how they were sounding though; they were too much like the first album. So, I had chance to try out multiple mixes of each song, different structures, copying and pasting stuff around until I got to what I felt was a better final product. It’s definitely the result of much more experimentation, because I had the time and the motive to do it.
Are you planning UK gigs on the back of the new album?
I don’t have any gigs scheduled right now. It is something I think about quite a bit. I did two shows in Manchester last year and I’d like to get a string of gigs to play in other cities. I’ve not gotten around to booking anything at this point, but I’d love to go back.
‘Speaking in Tongues’, with its strong beat and edgy feel, would fit nicely on the soundtrack of a horror movie. Have you ever thought of a film collaboration?
It’s funny; when I was in Takka Takka we actually had a song on the soundtrack to ‘Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist’. But by that time, I’d pretty much walked away from the band and didn’t think much more about it. Then late one night, a couple of years later it came on television and I thought I’d give it a watch. Two minutes after I turned it on, the scene with our track came on and the first thing you hear is me playing guitar. Wow! It’s a weird sort of connection with pop culture moment that I’d never had before, it was awesome! I don’t expect to have a moment like that again. However, there’s always that cinematic thing at the back of my head that thinks “What would this sound like in a scene against a drama, a comedy or a horror?” It’s those questions that keep me going.
Global faith in democracy is at an all-time low. Trump and Johnson are in charge. Are you optimistic for the future of Anglo/US relations?
You know, it’s an incredibly difficult time, and it’s easy to vacillate between just raging anger and utter despair! I feel like we’re waiting to touch bottom, so that we can push back up. I am optimistic; however, I don’t know if that optimism has a one year, a 10-year or a 20-year schedule. I do think that things will right themselves and I have a lot of faith in the generations after mine. The kids in their teens and twenties right now are very politically motivated. I think that that will translate into more voter participation, stronger voices and a stronger pull in the other direction. That’s not to say the people of my generation shouldn’t be doing that as well! I do think the world is in good hands with the coming generations, but there’s going to be a big fight between now and the time when we figure things out.
“It’s been a whirlwind”
There’s some great use of unusual beats and samples on the album, for example the Pong game noise on track ‘Don’t Push’. Is there anything that you’re particularly pleased with?
‘Don’t Push’ was the first track I wrote for the new album. I literally had a new piece of gear that I was playing around with, and that sound came out. The driving force behind that track was mid to late 80’s New York Hip Hop, so there was a lot of Miami Electro sounds on it. It came out sounding like a video game because I’m a nerd! There were a lot of moments like that, where I was finding sounds, but it was when I got to the point where I was copying, re-sampling and re-processing the tracks that was a discovery and revelation for me. There were a lot of things that came out of that which I wouldn’t have anticipated or planned. I wanted to step away from being too controlling, throw caution to the wind and see what happened and I was really pleased with the way things worked out.
You’re signed with Mancunian indie record label Analogue Trash. How does a Californian musician end up signed to a Manchester outfit?
Partly it’s just by being pesky! At one point I submitted a song to the Analogue Trash blog; they cover a lot of new music on the blog and it’s something I’d read and enjoyed even before I submitted anything. They did a write up on that song and said they liked it. Afterwards I sent a note saying, “If you liked that song, here are another 15 rough mixes for a new album. Maybe it’s something you’d be interested in?” They were, and it’s been a whirlwind ever since.
As someone approaching 6’6’’, how do you get on with transatlantic flight?
It depends on the airline; sometimes I walk away with bruises, but I’ve been this tall for a long time, so more often than not I figure out a way!
For more info on The Cowls visit: analoguetrash.com