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Interview: José González


I’m waiting impatiently to speak with José González, a Swedish singer-songwriter whose penchant for meaningful acoustic minimalism has captivated audiences worldwide. As my inner guitarist thrashes about, begging to ask a series of irrelevant questions, a third party operator connects my call with a swift reminder that my time is limited.

Momentarily I’m fascinated by a comparison of my inner self to the Creature featured in Gonzálezs’ recent music video Open Book, but he answers the phone with a soft, friendly greeting and we get down to the business of discussing his third studio album ‘Vestiges and Claws’.

José González, I’m very glad to be speaking with you, how are you?

I’m very good, thank you.

So you’ve decided to return to Australia to tour ‘Vestiges and claws’. What drew you back to this country?

I’ve always been happy to go there and had some good success with my first and second album. So when we started deciding where to go with the third album, what countries to tour in, it felt natural to return to Australia. I’ve always enjoyed coming to Australia.

‘Vestiges and Claws’ has been mentioned as the third part of an acoustic trilogy, following on from ‘Veneer’ and ‘In Our Nature’. What links the albums together as a whole?

For me it was an ambition to continue the sound, using nylon string guitar. Whenever I add something it’s minimal, in terms of additional vocal harmonies or percussion. I go in more often for wood rather than say, a metallic sound. Aesthetically I’m using a pretty similar type of lyric and similar line artwork. I think there are many similarities. By comparison when I’ve done other productions, such as for Junip or for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, that’s where I’ve been allowing myself to do other things.

You’ve worked with the likes of Theodore Shapiro, yet you’ve also had a big hand in producing much of your own work. How does this affect the recording process for you?

It’s been a learning experience and I certainly know a bit more by now, which makes me a lot more comfortable when I want to do something other than just guitar and vocals. I’ve learned much about everything, from choosing chords and harmonies, through to mixing.

You describe your latest work as your “zoomed-out eye on humanity on a small, pale blue dot in a cold, sparse and unfriendly space”. What does that statement mean to you? What message does this album convey to your listeners and to the world?

It’s a message that many people use, especially now that we live in a more interconnected world, between humans and also geology and humans. It’s something of a Carl Sagan thought and saying. I was looking at a picture of earth, and it really was just a pale blue dot on what seemed to be something like empty space. The message is, we’re all here together, but who are we, where are we going, what can we do to make this a good place? It sounds simple but it’s an important message.

Your music videos feature many layers of meaning and some character constants as well. For example, Manhog appeared multiple times across previous clips, and the worm-like creature appears in more than one of the recent ‘Vestiges and Claws’ videos. Are these repeated images and characters deliberate on your part, part of a collaborative effort with the director, or something else entirely?

In some cases it was collaborative with the director, but sometimes it’s almost exclusively influenced by the director. In all of the videos with those characters mentioned, Mikel Cee Karlsson has been directing and closely involved. At first using the same characters was an economic issue, with labels not wanting to spend too much money, mixed with a director still wanting to do something special. So to tell a story there were some things that came back. In construction, the same people who were involved in the Manhog mask were also involved in making the worm Creature. The idea was to make it all as weird as possible in order to have an impact, not in a jackass type of way, but more to create an organic feel where people can relate, for example the worm is connected to me and part of me and is a very likeable and funny creature.

You’ve enjoyed quite a few milestones in your career, and I’ve heard your album ‘Vestiges and Claws’ is already sitting in the Australian Top 40. Since starting on the musical road, what are you most proud of so far?

For me, it is when someone comes up to me and mentions how much something has meant to them in a particular situation, a piece of music or a lyric. When you can see the power of music and you start noticing that you have made a difference for people. That happens sometimes through the mail and in person. That is where I see a bigger aspect, rather than worrying about playing notes in a row. I like to look away from my immediate pleasures like having fun, playing guitar or drinking beer – I do enjoy those things, but these days there’s more to life than just hanging around having fun.

Moving away from the deep and meaningful for a moment, what are five of your favourite things?

I had to think about this for a moment, but I have to say simply, sex, food, air, music. That’s four and you wanted five, so [I guess] also excitement. I suppose that’s a little hedonistic.

Simple pleasures perhaps?

Yes, definitely.

Is there anything you’d like to say to the Australian people before you arrive on our shores?

I’m excited to go to Australia. Whenever I’m touring I’m always wondering when we can squeeze in a visit to Australia. It always feels like a vacation, everyone is super excited to eat good food, be out in the sun. The people and the culture, it’s very fun.

José González, you so very much for spending some time on the phone with me and hopefully we’ll see you at your shows in Australia!

Yes, hopefully. Thank you.

José González Australian Tour

Melbourne Zoo Twilight Series, Melbourne VIC

Sydney Opera House, Sydney

Tivoli, Brisbane QLD

Chevron Festival Gardens @ Perth
Get Tickets HERE

Written by Jimmy Sky