QUICK CHAT W/ JOSE GONZALEZ
Ahead of his Twilight Zoo show on the 5th of February, we had a chat with Swedish folk charmer José González.
So, I guess just to start off… How are you doing?
Yeah, I’m pretty good! I’m just in a bus in Milan – part of our Europe tour, we played Lyon (in France) yesterday, just about a week left I think.
And how long have you been on that tour?
After summer we did some shows in the U.S., and this particular leg is three weeks – and we just did two weeks with Jessica Pratt and now it’s with Christobal and the Sea.
You’re coming down to play the Zoo Twilight Sessions in February – Listening to your music, it definitely reflects a kind of dusky, half light atmosphere at times. Some artists get anxious about playing outdoor shows, do you think your music will suit well to the twilight gig?
Yeah I’m sure it’ll work fine, haha. We’ve been doing a lot of festivals and outdoor scenes – it works most of the time. Sometimes it doesn’t, like when it’s a festival with competing music going on at the same time, or like PA issues. But in general I think it works really good.
You’ve mentioned in the past that you have a rule that you try to replicate everything on your records live to the best of your ability – but that’s something that you passed on doing with Vestiges & Claws, an album that you produced yourself. Do you think giving up that replication rule came from being the producer, or is it an over musical evolution for you?
It’s both – another aspect is just me also not wanting to sit and rehearse guitar for months, so yeah, a bit of laziness too, hah. Since I’ve been working more as a producer, from the Junip albums and when I’ve been working on the demos for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, I’ve been playing more instruments from bass to percussion, and trying out different sounds on synthesizers, putting up mics, getting better and better at mixing and EQ.
Do you think you’ll just self produce everything you work on from now on?
Not necessarily – I think about Dave Grohl, about how on records he’ll sing and play guitar, or sometimes drum, or sometimes have someone else drum, or have someone else produce. So it’s not something I’ll do forever, it just felt good with this album because I like sitting on my own – when I sit and play guitar I put headphones on and don’t feel like I need to invite someone else. The amount of time I put into stuff these days though that’s becoming more of an issue, so I think I’ll work with other people in the future.
In terms of style, I think something happens when I sit on my own. That might be lost with a producer. Of course, it depends on which producer, but the sense of the demo type recordings that I share with Jessica Pratt, or The Microphones, or Arthur Russell, I think that quality might be lost if I invite more competent people.
You mentioned just then that you prefer to sit alone, to have a solitary place for yourself when you’re playing, and that definitely comes through in your music – that closed, intimate atmosphere. Is that something that comes from your personality? Do you feel like you’re a solitary person in life, or is that just something when you play music?
I think many of my friends would say it reflects part of my personality, but it’s definitely not the whole picture. I’ve had parts of my life when I’ve been DJ-ing and during those DJ sessions I really enjoyed playing energetic music like African, Western African music, highlife, funk from Turkey, or Brazilian Tropicalia, and that reflects more the type of music I like to listen to – when I’m out at a bar, for instance. So it’s only part of my personality and it comes from me enjoying that type of music when I was learning how to play guitar, and I still enjoy it so I think I can compare myself to people like Chet Baker and other soft singers, and also the realisation that I’m good at that, but not so good at rapping, even though I like rapping.
Any plans to put out a mixtape in the future or…?
(Laughs) No, no.
Fair enough. Just before we wrap up, what can you tell us about the writing process of Vestiges & Claws? Were there any defining moments or periods in the past seven years that informed the album?
Yeah, there was one moment where I had the song ‘Open Book’, and ‘The Forest’, both being very simple, traditional, easy – so I had the core idea of the album just being…’nice’ songs. In my point of view I compare those songs to like [The Beatles’] ‘Blackbird’ or other traditional folk songs. Then there was a moment when I felt like, “okay, I have those ideas” and then I started writing other songs or digging out demos for riffs, and thats when I started going for western african influenced songs – ‘What Will’, ‘Afterglow’, ‘Stories We Build, Stories We Tell’ – and when I had those there came the later ones like ‘Leaf Off’ or ‘Let it Carry You’ which are the more outward type of songs, compared to my older stuff.
When you started working on these songs, what kind of place were in, in life? Did you feel like it was time to return to recording under your name or what prompted you to return to your solo material?
It was basically that time of year when I do that kind of thing – an album cycle for me is around three years; writing, promoting, touring. We’d just done the last Junip album, and it was time to do something else!
José, thank you so much for speaking to me, for your time, and I look forward to seeing you in February!
Jose Gonzalez is playing on Feb 5th as part of the Melbourne Zoo Twilight Series. If you’re one of the lucky ones to score a ticket, we’ll see you there!
By Nicholas Kennedy