In 2017, Damien Jurado spent three days in Irvine, California, recording The Horizon Just Laughed. The album, released last year, is as beautiful a paean to the Northwest as exists—deftly imagined and observed and delivered. Yet if the record is a love letter (“I love you Washington state,” he repeats in one song), its occasion was a breakup. Last June, Jurado moved to LA, leaving Seattle after 33 years here. He played a goodbye concert at Saint Mark’s Cathedral. “It was not a typical show,” he says. “There was a real air of—my guitar player called it hostility.” If he moved to Portland, he figures people would’ve been fine. “But I said, ‘I’m moving to California.’ And it was just like, Why?”
His reasons are complicated—the weather, that Irvine studio (owned by a friend), a new relationship, a rough stretch in his life he was looking to leave behind, and a city that’d changed so much, subsumed by corporate interests, that it was no longer the place he loved. “Seattle is still the most diverse and vibrant and inspiring music scene that I’ve ever seen exist,” he told me over the phone, but LA might be “a good escape for me for a little bit.”
He’s not alone. This fall, three longtime local musicians—Jurado, Jenn Champion, and Prom Queen—play shows in Seattle. They all moved to LA last year, part of a recent transfusion of talent: La Luz, Erik Blood, Taylar Elizza Beth, Shaprece, Jason Dodson from the Maldives.
Many are called by the thing LA has always represented in the American imagination, a restart. Celene Ramadan, who performs as Prom Queen, had lived here for 15 years and simply wanted a change of pace. Her band still lives in Seattle, so most of her shows remain here—including the fifth anniversary celebration of Midnight Veil, her strange and slinky 1960s-tinged video album. “In terms of coming here to try to break into the LA music scene, I’m not really doing that.” In fact, after I interviewed her, she decided to move back. She thinks the trend owes in part to cost of living: As Seattle prices have soared, you can get a bigger city for a similar price.
The culture shift that accompanied that growth has also pulled musicians south. Jenn Champion had been integral to local music since the 1990s: first as a member of lo-fi band Carissa’s Wierd, then as a solo artist who swerved into smart synth pop on last year’s Single Rider. By then she’d lived on Capitol Hill for a decade, but she and her wife were considering leaving the neighborhood, maybe for Rainier Beach. The Hill, she says, “was feeling like a tourist destination, rather than a place people live.” Like Jurado, she loved the city, but that Seattle belongs increasingly to the past, “obliterated by Amazon,” so when her wife was offered a job in LA, they went for it. Even though the music scene wasn’t what drove her there, she says LA is more career minded, while in Seattle people make art for its own sake.
To some extent, these musicians have brought our community with them. When Dude York played an LA show recently, Champion says, it was flush with transplants—a sort of expat reunion. I mentioned that I’d just heard Chastity Belt’s bassist, Annie Truscott, moved down there, too. Champion laughed: “Oh yeah, she’s my neighbor.”
► Jenn Champion, Sept 6, Tractor Tavern, $15
► Damien Jurado, Oct 3 & 4, Tractor Tavern, Sold Out
► Prom Queen’s 5th Anniversary Midnight Veil, Oct 11, The Triple Door, $25