Recently I was fortunate enough to score some phone to phone time with one José González, and although it’s been 8 years since he has last released an album, which is not to say that he has been kicking his feet up on the couch….or is it?
So first things first, where are you and what are you wearing?
[laughs] I’m in Gothenburg Sweden, and I’m wearing black trousers and a light grey shirt. My everyday outfit.
It’s been 8 years since the release of In Our Nature and with Vestiges & Claws due to be released on February 20th, what have you been up to in the time between?
I’ve been, mainly recording, writing and touring with Junip for both albums Fields and the self-titled one afterwards, and also working on the Walter Mitty soundtrack. I’ve also been touring with my solo music, so I did a tour with an orchestra for a while. I’m slow at writing [laughs], I’ve spent a lot of time at home, on vacation trips, watching YouTube cat and dog videos [laughs]. So it’s been almost 8 years of music and normal life.
I’ve given the new album Vestiges & Claws a listen myself and it is beautiful, definitely less minimalistic than your other releases. Can you tell us a bit about its title?
The title is because it’s one of the songs I wrote, and the word ‘Vestige’ stands for a concept that is useful when I think about humanity, humans in a biological sense. For me, the interesting part with that word is that it applies to cultures too, in existing places for something that is disappearing or has disappeared, and of course being a metaphor for our tools, maybe our thoughts or ability to do stuff. So it’s questioning where we are headed as a group of primates on this tiny inflatable dot in space [laughs]
I read that this album was mainly recorded at your home in Gothenburg. Is that where you get most of your inspiration for recording, and if not, where do you find that?
I’ve been recording both in the studio, and in my home studio, but also at home in the kitchen. It’s practical, that’s why I’ve chosen the kitchen, so I can have the living room a bit freer to watch movies, read and sleep. I guess inspiration at this point, when I start writing my solo albums, I don’t really need to find inspiration, I just sit down and play guitar, and I guess I get inspired subconsciously by everything I’m listening to. I’ve been aiming to write bit more graphic songs, like open books, being very inspired by Simon & Garfunkel. The first song on the album I actually wrote for the Walter Mitty movie, well, the guitar riff, and when I finished that song, it was more suitable for solo stuff. At first I thought it was too floaty for the movie, at that point it was only guitar actually, and then I wrote the lyrics and the song.
Looking at your tour schedule it seems you’re doing an extensive cover across Europe and the US but not Australia. Will you look to come back here? How did you feel after your last tour of Australia?
Yeah I would love to go back and I’m guessing in around a year from now, doing the Swedish winter, I’ll do a couple of shows. Last time I was over there with Junip and it was nice in some ways, but it was right about the time when me and Yukimi broke up, so a bit of a scarred memory from that trip, but it’s always been awesome, going to Sydney and Perth and all the other cities I have gone to, it’s a cool country.
Along with Walter Mitty, your music has had a lot of crossovers in games, movies, TV Shows and even commercials. Do you enjoy being associated with these brands and titles?
Yeah, the commercials, it’s usually them approaching me if I want my music on there, and sometimes I don’t depending on the brand and the product. It’s really fun thinking that someone is sitting with their client trying to augment a feeling and if they choose one of my songs or a Junip song. Its such a compliment. Same with video games, Red Dead Redemption was fun, I haven’t played it, but it looks like they gave me a good theme for the writing in the desert [laughs]. It’s great though, I don’t really enjoy commercials, I guess I can just mention that, but it’s a big part of my career, especially the first ‘Heartbeats’ commercial.
Well that’s very famous for you, you must have gotten a lot of attention after that. Did you find that people were listening to your music a lot more after that?
Yeah, in 2003 I became well known in Sweden, but very few knew me outside of Scandinavia. So when the advert came on 2 years afterwards, at the end of 2005, then it really took it and I got stuck playing the same song a couple more years in Australia, New Zealand, UK and Ireland, it was more of a global hit.
In your back catalogue you have a myriad of covers such as ‘Teardrop’ by Massive Attack, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ by Joy Division, ‘Born in The USA’ by Bruce Springsteen, and one that stands out for me in particular is ‘Hand On Your Heart’ by Kylie Minogue. How do you decide what to cover and what is your form of attack on these to make them so unique?
Slightly different ratios for each cover, with Joy Division and ‘Heartbeats’, it was 2002/2003 when I didn’t have that many songs, so I needed to fill out the album with more stuff [laughs] and I chose ‘Heartbeats’ because it was my favourite album at the time. With ‘Teardrop’ and ‘Hand on Your Heart’ it was a sort of a different equation. ‘Teardrop’ was because I really loved the original and I played it live and it became a crowd favourite. With ‘Hand on Your Heart’, I was watching the original and was realising how weird it was, with the lyrics that were so heartfelt, and such a poppy and happy production and video, so that clash was fun too.
Are you a big fan of Kylie Minogue yourself?
Yeah, she’s super cool. Not everything of course, but many songs of hers are really cool. She actually contacted me and said she liked my cover version, and we got to meet for her documentary premiere in London, so that was fun.
You’ve expressed that The God Delusion was a big influence on the album Our Nature. Obviously with the controversial nature of the book, how did that affect the success of album and your fan base. Do you feel your fans are in tune with that side of you?
I don’t know if many of my fans are into that, or even care [laughs]. So I haven’t noticed if it really has affected the type of fans that listen to my music. I’ve had a couple of moments when I’m out meeting people after a show, that want to talk about religion and God, but there’s not that many comments on my social media, so it’s less than I thought actually.
So you thought there would be more interest?
Yeah I think so, well, I thought so. What did happen is I talked about it a lot in interviews. I’m happy it turned out that way because I’m more eager to focus on the music and on the sounds. Of course it’s fun to write about something interesting, like now when we’re doing interviews and we’re talking a lot.
I read that you don’t use a guitar pick when you play, only your fingernails. Is that a comfort thing? Does that affect the sound of your guitar? What kind of length do you need to grow to play?
Well I come from playing classical guitar, so you use 4 of the 5 fingers to finger pick. I‘ve seen banjo players have some sort of pick for each finger, and it looks awful. If you use a pick you’re also only able to play one chord at a time, so it’s the best way to make intricate music.
You play classical guitar and bass guitar also, is there any other instrument you dabble in?
In Junip I play bass, keyboards, percussion, and I’d love to learn how to play piano. I’m able to play a piano and do stuff on it, really simple stuff, but I’d love to learn more.
I interviewed Fredrik from Little Dragon a few weeks who also hails from Gothenburg. He noted that Punk was a big influence on him in his younger years, which I’ve read was a big influence on you also. What kind of bands were you into at the time?
I was taught skate punk, like NOFX, you know “cooler punk” like Misfits, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, those are my early inspirations. Then later it was more hard-core, so Sick of it All, and a few other more metal hard-core bands, that combined with hip hop, that was also pretty big in influences when I was younger. I got into Public Enemy and NWA and was introduced to the first album by A Tribe Called Quest – that was a favourite for many years afterwards actually. But I was a teenager, I used to skate and played bass in a punk band, I did my homework, I played basketball, like many kids do.
What’s instore for you in the next. Where do you foresee yourself in the next 8 years?
Next 8 years? More albums, more songs, I’ll probably start losing my hair so I’ll grab a hat or something [laughs]. I look forward to travelling more, I guess in the next 3 years more albums, and a tour of my solo music, maybe with Junip and an orchestra, yeah, I think that’s a good idea.
Well we think it’s a good idea too. Vestiges and Claws will be released on February 20th, be sure to get your paws on that one Staggers!