There is something about José González’s songs that make them instantly recognisable. It might be how he has managed to craft his signature sound using incredible storytelling skills, or maybe the fact that the Swedish artist of Argentine descent can sing in English, Spanish and Swedish!
González’s music is both beautiful and complex; really, he’s in a class of his own both creatively and sonically, thanks to his ability to tell stories through music that communicate solidarity as one human race.
The 43-year-old artist has come a long way since he released his debut album Veneer in 2003, and with his fourth album Local Valley released in September, he has once again proven himself as a sincere artist without having to stray from the quiet strums of his guitar.
Following his album launch, Sound of Life caught up with José González to hear more about his new creative process, the new hobby he picked up during the pandemic, and what his daughter really thinks of his music.
Photo Credit: Olle Kirchmeier
Hi José. What have you been able to learn about yourself during this pandemic?
One thing was spending time at home with family but not meeting that many friends or relatives; that was a bit tough. On the one hand, it was great to have that much time at home, but on the other hand, I noticed that I am a social animal. I used to think that I was a bit of a lone wolf when I toured or hung out with bigger groups; I like being on my own and under the silence of my thoughts. But with the pandemic, I noticed that I need to meet people; I need to hang out and talk nonsense. (Laughs) Another thing was reflecting on life in general – who we are and what we’re doing as individuals and society.
Did you manage to pick up any exciting hobbies or habits during these difficult times?
I was very ambitious at the beginning of the pandemic. Around April 2020, I was doing an online course on “learning how to learn,” but then I noticed family life, in general, takes a lot of time, so I didn’t have time for all the things I wanted to do. (Laughs) I had to focus on finishing my album and just being a good dad. I couldn’t take on new hobbies, but one thing I did have time for was listening to books, which has become one of my favourite activities, and I can do that while doing the dishes or walking.
What was it like producing music during a pandemic?
The pandemic gave me more time to produce songs or try different versions of the song. Usually, I’m okay with one version to put on the album, but the pandemic gave me more time to try out the drum machines, loops and produce different versions, so I have three versions of “Visions,” which is the second song on the album. More time for creativity, in a way.
Was there any aspect during the recording that surprised you?
The song “Visions” surprised me with how it came out. At first, I wrote it in a similar vein as “Every Age” from my previous album (Vestiges & Claws). It’s a type of song that can sound very cheesy, so I wasn’t sure how to make it fit the album and how to produce it in a way that doesn’t make people cringe. I started with a version that was more like shoegaze or very noisy, and another with a long outro. But then, I tell myself that I should do a version with a lot of harmonies and simple - with guitars and vocal harmonies. That surprised me that it came out that way, and I was able to make it a short song. Another one was “Tjomme,” which was more like a sketch of two minutes, but at the very last minute of making the album, I decided to add the vocals (sings “Tjomme… Tjomme…”), and all of a sudden, it popped out as a complete song and not a sketch.
Could you share with us a little bit more about the ideas behind your incredible videos to “Head On” and “Swing”?
I have to mention that the videos are directed and made by Mikel Cee Karlsson and his brother Peter Karlsson. He has been doing my videos for a very long time and even made a documentary about me. He knows about my inspirations, and he talked to me very early during this album about making the videos.
With “Swing,” he had a bit of a problem because the song is so happy that he didn’t know how to make a video, and it was during a pandemic. The song is about dancing, and it’s very happy, so naturally, it would be a video where I dance or hang out with people, but we couldn’t do that. The idea is to make a video where he had people on a beach to move naturally, but then he looped their movements, where it becomes a goofy and funny video. He was inspired by how these natural movements are all around us that sometimes we don’t see the details.
“Head On” is a bit more in line with the rest of the album because it is a song about ideas that spread, and there is some sort of competition of ideas or information. He wanted to visualise that in the video, so he used this thing called “Game of Life,” where you have pixels and certain rules on how they change between black and white. With these simple rules within the game, you can find “creatures” where they move, pop up, or die – this felt like an interesting way of visualising how things can travel through our brains and the internet to have a life of their own, just like viruses.
Photo Credit: Hannele Fernstrom
Were there any artists you were listening to for inspiration or enjoyment during the making of Local Valley?
Yeah, I had a couple of lists during the pandemic. I wasn’t listening to that much new music, but I had one to get up in the morning, one for winding down, and one for when I work out. It was interesting to have these playlists during the pandemic. One had a song by Dion called “Only You Know,” which has a great drum intro, so it was the perfect song to start the day with good energy. Another song I encountered was when I was at a park where a kid had set up a sound system. They were playing amazing songs, mostly from Africa. There was one song by the artist Oritse Femi from Nigeria called “Ongba Larami” that was on my running list during the pandemic. I also have my winding down list with songs like Arvo Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel.” Not so much new music, but there’s always music in my life that I enjoy listening to.
Any plans to release new music with Junip in the near future?
Unfortunately not. I’m really happy with the two albums we have done, but we are not a functioning band, so we are on hold. We are on glacial ice, so I don’t know when we will do that.
What would you say is the most surreal moment for you as an artist so far?
I guess I have had many interesting moments in my career, but one was being invited to be the opening band for Dalai Lama in my hometown. He came to have a conversation in the big hockey arena, and that was a very surreal day for many reasons. I was really hungover, and I was in this big arena walking amongst these monks in orange. Then I played the biggest show up to that point in my career with around 10,000 people. Being hungover and going to the seats to listen to their discussion – it was an interesting day.
What’s a piece of good advice you would give to a fellow artist?
There’s one thing I think about when I’m writing, recording, and mixing. If it sounds good to you, then it is good. As an artist, I felt many moments where I was unsure if what I was doing was good. With the years, you understand that tastes are different, and if you think it’s good, then it is good. You might not get rich with it, but if it’s good for you, at least you can be happy with it.
What does your daughter think of your music?
She’s heard me rehearse at home and has seen me live a little bit. I wrote a song that I used to sing to her when she was a toddler called “Lilla G,” and at times, she didn’t like it because she wanted to listen to other songs. Now she is four years old, and I asked her the other day, “Do you like this song?” She was like, “Yeah, I love it!” It comes and goes with what she likes and doesn’t like. Once she gets to listen to whatever she wants, she doesn’t listen to me. She has songs that are more interesting and danceable than my music. (Laughs)
Now that the album is out, what are your plans for the next few months before the year ends?
I have two short tours in Europe, and I will do a bit more promotions. There’s a lot of time with family now that my new baby is only three months, and I need to be home to help my partner so she can do her work too. We try to alternate to give each other time. This year and next will probably pass really quickly, I think.
Cover Credit: Peter Toggeth & Mikel Cee Karlsson
Writer | Kevin Yeoh
Kevin Yeoh is a writer from Malaysia who is in a serious relationship with music and YouTube. He is also casually dating Kindle and having a fling with podcasts.