José González: „Art can soften mental barriers that are difficult to reach through arguments“


On Sunday 8th of November José González will be performing for the first time in Belgrade at Dom Omladine. He’s currently touring in support of his first solo album in eight years „Vestiges & Claws“. Including this one, Swedish singer/songwriter has releasded two more solo albums, and two albums with his other project Junip. Classic and West African blues influenced folk along with minimalistc introvert approach has put this down-to-earth artist in the group of the most popular folk artists nowadays. Ahead of his forthcoming show in Belgrade, we caught up with José to discuss the power of art, procrastination, empathy, running through the woods, and inevitably music.

BR: This is your first time in Belgrade and we’re excited to have you!During the past 8 years you’ve been touring solo and with Junip, is it hard to stay focused for such a long period of time and how do you feel after a long tour, are you exhausted or satisfied?

Jose: Touring is great when there is time now and then to have a life on the side. So many times i’ve been exhausted after tours but I try to focus on the amazing highlights of each trip. And I’m very excited to go to Belgrade :)

BR: You’ve created this very specific folk sound with some classical and flamenco influences are you satisfied with it and do you feel like it’s your final style that you’ve settled for or do you think there’s been some progress refering to the previous albums? Can you tell in which direction will your style evolve and progress?

Jose: I’ve reached to my style through many influences and depending on the song some are more obvious than others. By now when I’m writing I think of my own songs as reference, like the song ‘With the Ink of a Ghost’ where I was thinking of ‘Cycling Trivialities’ and aiming for a dreamatic and ’emotional jurney’ type of song. On the new album I continued to let myself be inspired by Western African desert blues like in the song ‘Stories we build, stories we tell’. There are still many ways I could evolve my way of playing guitar, but vocally I might be a bit trapped in my body.

JOSÉ_GONZÁLEZ_mid_res_photo_by_Malin-Johansson_9929BR: Your music appears in video games, TV shows, movies along with Walter Mitty soundtrack. Your first big success came after your cover of Heartbeats was used on Sony Bravia commercial, do you enjoy these types of collaboration and did you ever refused someone who wanted to use your songs for commercial purposes?

Jose: It’s been testeful sometimes and then I feel like it’s a win win situation. Other times I’ve accepted because of money and then it feels less noble, but in general it’s yet another way to reach people and to pay the rent through art.

BR:  As an observer I find it very interesting to watch musicians interact nonverbally on stage. Do you miss that when you perform alone or do you feel more free? Do you feel more comfortable on stage with the band or alone?

Jose: When I play completely solo there’s a sense of freedom through being able to change the mood quickly and to adapt through mistakes. With a band the freedom comes from relaxing into the sound of the other musicians and reacting to what they do. I like both.

BR:  One of my favourites from Vestiges & Claws is Open Book, video for this song connects to Calexico’s Falling From The Sky video, very interesting collaboration, can you tell me more about it?

Jose: When the album was almost done I started talking to Micel Cee Karlsson who’s done some of my videos in the past. He knew about this mechanical worm and pitched it as an idea for a video. We felt like it could fit the idea of vestiges and it could be connected to me as something that was a part of me but also it’s own thing. The music and song is so easy and sweet that I felt it was a good thing to give it a darker tone through the video.

BR:  In your youth you played in punk and hardcore bands, their lyrics are mainy reflection of social issues or some kind of criticism directed at guvernment. Living in Serbia it’s hard to imagine what’s there to complaine about in Sweden, but I guess it’s not utopia as we here percieve it?

Jose: There are always things to complain about. Although many of my lyrics for the hard core band were about personal struggles.

BR: You parents left Argentina after the beginning of the Dirty War and came to Sweden, a large number of refugees looking for salvation are cominng to Europe these days, due to your humanistic orientation I belive you are following current situation what are your thoughts on the ways Europe is dealing with this crisis?

Jose: I think we can and should help more. We have a situation that is acute now and might go on for a long while. And if you think of possible scenarios regarding climate change migration, then I think we should focus on figuring out ways in which people can prosper and flourish – independent of where they’re born, their color or their religion.

José GonzálezBR:  Would you agree with me if said that art can contribute to humanity through creating empathy amog people?

Jose: Sure. Especially first person narratives in fiction, cinema, TV and theatre has the potential to make people think and feel as someone else. Music can be good for making people feel connected across cultures. While some other art forms can serve to stir around in the soup of ideas that exist consciously or unconsciously in societies, and sometimes soften mental barriers that are difficult to reach through arguments and discussion.

BR:  Your songs are somehow hopeful, I feel like you’ve managed to reflect emotions which are contained in lyrics to music, and I think that’s something that enyone can feel regardless of their english understanding. Has it ever occured to you that you don’t feel satisfied with lyrics you’ve written but you manage to compensate lack of emotion that you can’t express trough words through music as more abstract form of expression than poetry?

Jose: I’ve noticed how sounds and harmonies can arouse emotions, so when I write lyrics it’s always in combination with the existing music. I’m aware of how a major seven chord can create a nostalgic feeling, or how some chord progressions can switch from a ‘searching’ feeling to an ‘open’ feeling. When it comes to words I often get stuck, but I try change the words until I’m satisfied.

BR: I read that you enjoy watching TED talks, I would love to see your lecture one day. As a former biochemistry student would you mention something about that or would you focuse more on music and some globale issues?
Don’t know. Probably not biochemistry :)

BR:  You said that Richard Dawkins’ book „The God Delusion“ inspired your second album „In Our Nature“, do you feel like your fans agree with you, that they disagree or that your attitudes in terms of religion and God are irrelevant to them?

Jose: I know from opinion studies that I’m in minority – in some countries more than others. That was one of the reasons why I mentioned my inspirations. So I count on people dissagreeing many times on the nature of reality. It’s a tension that I think is worth having. But I’m writing and performing songs that can be interpreted in different ways and enjoyed independent of your views on metaphysics.

BR:  You play in your band Junip, you’re often involved in all kind of side projects along with your solo career, do you feel quilty whe you’re not creating?

Jose: I spend much of my time doing other things than creating music. It makes me feel guilty sometimes if I procrastinate when I have set up a deadline to finish an album. With more than 12 years in my musical carreer I feel pretty balanced though in my slow pace.

BR: What do you do when you get stuck, how do you deal with procrastination, do you have some tricks?

Jose: One trick is to have the creative tools near by and ready to go. Pen and paper, dictaphone, poetry books etc. Setting up realistic goals on what to achieve each day, like finding variations on a riff, finding synonyms to words that don’t feel right, rehearse guitar. Using schedules to switch between different work modes but also setting off days to weeks to really dive in and get focused on details. Running in the woods while listening to demos and mixes has been especially helpful with my latest album.

BR: Is there some essential message that you would like people to get on your shows?

Jose: Show’s are for the collective musical experience. People bring or take away what they want from it. We bring the ourselves and our music – that can lead to a spiritual experience or a yawn. It’s all ok.