Soundtrack of Our Lives: breaking psych-folk troubadour E.R. Jurken takes us a for a trip through the music of his life

E.R. Jurken, photographed by Matthew Keeth

THEY loved what they heard so much they set up a label just for him.

Yep, that’s the tale of E.R. (Ed to his friends) Jurken’s slow peregrination towards a recording contract once he’d landed in Chicago after one of those periods when life gets dismantled, leaves you tumbling in its riptides; criss-crossing the States, and with a little gentle encouragement, he began to demo songs on his phone.

Pretty soon those fine folks at Drag City caught wind of things, loved what Ed was composing, offered to put out an album for him on the newly created Country Thyme imprint; which album is out in the world now, and our review of which you can read here.

That album, I Stand Corrected, It’s very much a record of two sides – and record it most definitely is, being vinyl only in its physical form, as is the current thinking; side the first presents as a suite of eight tunes, bright-eyed and bushy tailed, before gradually darkening towards and through the second side; the lyricism is singalong melodic but also opaque, just offering glimpses that something, somewhere, is awry: “the sweet sadness of a life spent waiting to be”.

It’s quite the trip, quite the bildungsroman, Ed’s first full musical missive; it reveals quite the saddest tale at an angle, never telling, always hinting. It also shows an absolute grasp of songcraft, of melody, and an abiding love of British psych-pop and later American geniuses.

We said in our review: “It’s really amazing how many harmonic ideas Ed packs into such short songs, with so few even making that three-minute ideal radio single standard; melodic ideas firing off like fireworks, describing their flaming arc and falling away again and … gone. But cleverly every time they hit their mark and where a lesser songwriter might’ve milked then, Ed knows they’ve landed. He knows. ‘Has it made its melodic mark, lodged in your brain? It has, so let’s move on; there’s plenty more where that came from’, he seems to say.

“Overall? An album with tragedy, an album full of psych-pop; I wonder if, like Liam Hayes did with Plush, he’ll push out from this opening More You Becomes You to the full-blown baroque realisation of Fed. It’d be great to see.

“A prediction for you; the way the narrative and the songcraft combine, I reckon I Stand Corrected, is pretty much nailed on to get its own 33 1/3 book one day into the future. One to savour; one to ponder, too.”

With a first album so deeply steeped in songcraft and knowledge, we took some time to catch up with Ed to ask him about the soundtrack to his life, with, as could be expected, some eclectic results: The Who, Ramones … and JT? There’s a handy playlist down at the end there too, to take home with you. Vive la différence

E.R. Jurken, photographed by Matthew Keeth

BACKSEAT MAFIA: Hi Ed, and thank you for taking some time out to guide us through a soundtrack to your life. First up: what’s your Saturday night tune?

Ed Jurken: Well, my Saturday evenings are usually pretty mellow affairs, even before the world shut down. Most typically, I am listening to jazz or what is known as “quiet storm” on a Saturday night. If I’m out and about, or just in a lively mood, power-pop is my go-to and The Records’ “Starry Eyes” is always in there.

And a Sunday morning record?

I am fairly certain that the Byrds’ Sweetheart Of The Rodeo will not emit sound outside of the hours of 7am and 12pm on Sundays.

The best cover of all time?

Candi Staton does a fantastic cover of “Stand By Your Man” that bests Wynette’s already-excellent original.

The best cover version of your music?

As far as I know, no one has covered any of my songs. That said, there is a part of my song “Colonels Of The Morning” that I (in my wildest dreams) think sounds like a melodic turn Ty Segall might maybe take, and those imaginings will be hard to beat.

The best song you’ve written?

A bit tough to name a “best”, but my favorite song on the current LP is “Calendar”. One note about the song is that it went from a flash of an idea to a fleshed-out demo recording in less than sixty minutes. The combination of ease and high quality is something I always appreciate.

The song that reminds you most of childhood?

I was an avid ice skater as a child in suburban Milwaukee, and the outdoor rink we would go to played Top 40 radio on speakers out to the rink. The late 80s’ live version of Elton John’s “Candle In The Wind” played quite a bit that winter, and was also playing as I ventured onto the ice with skate guards on, leading to the one and only time I have done “the splits”.

Your favourite track made by friends?

Gene and Rian, two of my dear friends, were in a group called Mantis long before I knew them. Gene had given me one of their records called Who Wants To Be A Camel? in the early days of our friendship, and Rian recently told me about a Mantis song called “199(7)1” during our rehearsals for a performance we had just before the shutdown. Both are stellar, and give me a glimpse into their lives before I knew them (not to mention remind me of how much cooler they are than I).

And a song by the band that should have been/should be bigger?

Air Waves’ “Knockout” is a top ten 10s tune.

Your guilty pleasure?

Sneaking peanut butter M&Ms into the movie theater and adding them to heavily buttered and salted popcorn.

What song would you have played at your funeral?

This is actually a subject I think about more than what is probably healthy.

While it would be great to seize the opportunity to go out on a laugh by playing something like “Stayin’ Alive” or “I Would Die 4 U”, there is always the possibility that whomever is manning the controls at the funeral will screw it up and play like the karaoke version instead. Therefore, I’d go with “Remember Me” by Diana Ross – a fantastic song, hopeful and sad at the same time; and if someone goofs up, it’s not going to ruin my afterlife and lead to me haunting funerals for eternity.

Who’s been your musical discovery of lockdown?

I work with a pair of women from Brazil who are both highly musical, and they have flooded me with recommendations of their favorites – both things that would be considered “cool” and “corny”. Tim Maia’s Racional Vol 1 album falls into the former camp, and I enjoy the heck out of it.

And who’s been your musical rediscovery of lockdown?

There hasn’t been much in the way of rediscovery, as I’ve just expanded all of my musical obsessions out and tried to find new planets orbiting things I already like. Most recently, I listened to a five-disc compilation of The Who’s singles – I hadn’t listened to their ‘classic’ material in many years, sticking mostly to the post-Moon era and Townshend solo albums throughout adulthood, and it completely ruled.

The words of this song inspire me …

I think Dylan’s “She Belongs To Me” is inspiring in its all-encompassing greatness.

Can you name a record that makes you sad?

It is rare that a record saddens me – I can do a good enough job of that on my own! However, I did have an instance where I was in Portland at some trinket shop and the clerk played The Ramones’ Road To Ruin LP. Its first song “I Just Want To Have Something To Do” filled me with a profound sense of despair and emptiness that I don’t know if I’ve shaken over ten years later.

And what’s the record that gets you on the dancefloor?

The only song I have danced to on a dancefloor as an adult is Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back” in 2006. I’m planning to keep it that way.

E.R. Jurken’s I Stand Corrected is out now digitally and on vinyl on Country Thyme, via Drag City; you can order your copy right here.

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