////JOSE GONZALEZ////MARCH 2007////
It would lend itself as a tricky task to guess an origin purely from his name, because singer/songwriter Jose Gonzalez does in fact hail from Sweden. He’d been on the scene for a fair old time, but shot to overnight global fame with his track ‘Heartbeats’, which featured on a Sony Trinitron advert in 2004. If, like my mum, you’ve forgotten, it was the commercial where thousands upon thousands of brightly coloured bouncing balls, float slowly down a San Francisco mid-summer street, backed by the most beautifully enchanting soundscape. As an already accomplished songwriter he had, in fact, been receiving critical acclaim from the European music press long before this, but when the advert first aired his popularity went stratospheric. Since then, he was been touring the globe and captivating audiences with his uniquely haunting performances. Last September saw the release of his ‘dreaded’ second album, but true to form ‘In our Nature’ has provided another selection of fantastic tracks, equally matching those of its predecessor ‘Veneer’, which had record breaking sales throughout the world. Outline caught up with Jose, currently on tour in North America, to get an accurate view of his world…
After such a hugely successful debut album with ‘Veneer’, did you feel a lot of pressure when approaching ‘In Our Nature’?
It didn’t matter to me about the amount of sales, it was more a thing that anything I put down on paper was going to be listened to by a lot of people; it was a bit weird for me, but those feelings disappeared as soon as I started to write the songs. At this point, I was also back home and not on tour, so it was easier for me to be creative again and I was able to write new songs that I was really into.
Was it written from home rather than on the road?
I took some time out between tours, but eventually I decided to stay at home. From about November ‘06 I stayed at home for about 5 to 6 months and that’s when I got to finish most of it.
In regard to your lyrics, you suggested that you didn’t want to write about love as such, but rather other universal themes. A book called ‘The God Delusion’ by Richard Dawkins was a massive inspiration for you – can you tell us more about this?
I guess I didn’t want to write lyrics that were too personal, especially about love, because I feel that’s become too common in pop music, especially in singer / songwriter music. I started listening to and reading stuff in English about other universal themes like philosophy and religion and human nature. I mentioned the God Delusion as one of my inspirations, but it was mainly for one song on the album called ‘Abram’. The book in itself is sort of a critique of religions in general, but mainly the monotheistic ones, which are the biggest in the western world, like Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The song is about the Abrahamic Religions, and how they go on, just because they can. It’s a critique of the myths about mass obedience.
Do you have a particular favourite track on the album?
It varies a bit. Lately I’ve enjoyed playing ‘Nest’. Also another one is ‘How Low’.
There is a cover of Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’ on the album, why did you choose to record this?
I’d started to play it live almost three years ago now. It’s one of my favourite songs from the nineties – I really love the original. When I first did it, it was simply because I liked it so much, my aim wasn’t to better it. So it turned out to be a live favourite for a long time. As it felt such a part of my live set, I knew I’d have to consider it for the album. Also, the lyrics fit into the theme of the album regarding human nature, and how we don’t know ourselves together – which she (Liz Fraser, Cocteau Twins) sings about at the end of the song.
Were there any other tracks you’d considered doing, before settling upon Teardrop?
Not really, I knew that was going to be the one., so I wasn’t searching for anything else although I’d also been playing Bronski Beats ‘Smalltown Boy’ live, I knew that wouldn’t fit the style or theme.
Over the last few years, your career has skyrocketed; have you a particular high point so far?
There have been many moments which have been memorable. Of course even just getting to go to new countries is always great. One show which turned out to be bit weirder than most, was in my home town in a Hockey Arena, when the Dali Llama was in town. I was the opening act for his talk with the Swedish Priests, so that one was pretty special.
‘In Our Nature’ was released simultaneously in 35 countries. Does this not put a huge amount of touring pressure upon you?
Yeah, I’m not gonna do that again (laughs). The labels wanted to try out doing it that way, but it meant I had to be in a lot of countries at the same time. It was too much travelling. Things have calmed down now, but the worst was in the first two months of its release; I was flying a lot, so I was getting a very bad conscience about the environment.
But i guess you enjoy the touring lifestyle?
I like it a lot, but lately I’ve been touring too much so I’m looking forward to the end, which will be in September. For me, it’s about finding a balance between touring and being at home writing music, or even just hanging out with friends. For me, the best parts are seeing new places. I also like trying good food. Of course if I come to a place and the crowd are into the music, then that’s what it’s about for me. I’m not really playing for my own sake anymore, so it’s about the reaction for the audience I guess. You have to spend a lot of time sitting and waiting around on the bus, or airports or back stage. You can use this time for something like reading, or hanging out with people. I miss the part of being creative, which I seem to do best at home.
I’m always interested to know, as a musician what if anything do you gain from the live performance side of things?
As I said earlier, I’m very dependant on the audience, both because of my quiet sound (which is not that quiet anymore – we use a much bigger PA now) and also because I don’t really put on a show. If they don’t respond to the music, I don’t have too many other tricks in my hat to get them going, other than playing the songs. So when the crowd is good, I get the most from it…
Moving away from music what else do you enjoy doing?
I haven’t really gained any new hobbies since I’ve been playing music as a full time thing. Music used to be my hobby. Now I enjoy reading, taking walks, watching TV, just the usual kinda thing really.
In recent years, you have worked with Zero 7; I wondered if there is anyone else you’d really like to work, or are planning to work with soon?
I’d really like to get more time to play with the band I’m involved in called Junip. I don’t feel at the moment like I need to take up collaborations with any known musicians. I’m taking May off, so we can start playing together, then after the summer I want to make it my habit to start making music with them regularly…
How proud of ‘The Garden’ were you and do you think youe learnt anything new from working with such enigmatic producers as Zero 7?
I really like the songs we did together. It was mainly the experience of writing something different, being on tour and hanging out with them, just to be able to see how they do things was good. At that point I was definitely feeling some sort of writer’s block, so working with them helped me take a step in the right direction for my own writing. The only expectations were the ones myself and Zero 7 put upon us…
The Gutter Twins do a cover of your song ‘Down the Line’, which is awesome, but have you heard any other cool covers of your tracks?
Yeah, I saw that on youtube. It is good, I like it. There is also a metal band who have done a version of ‘Slow Moves’ which I wouldn’t say is good, but…(laughs)
Can you tell us about the recent albums you’ve bought or downloaded that you are enjoying?
An album by White Williams called ‘Smoke’. He’s a new artist I’m enjoying a lot; he’s from Brooklyn. There’s one song called ‘New Violence’ which I really like…
Your music has inspired a lot of people, so I wondered on the subject of inspiration, have you a particular hero?
No not really, my inspiration comes from many people and many areas. There’s always been different people; it’s never been everything about one person. I don’t like the idea of idealising people. I like to try and see people as normal.
After hearing Veneer so many thousands of times, as its creator do you ever want to go back and change anything in hindsight?
Actually I’m not that happy with it. I feel a lot more comfortable with ‘In our Nature’. I’ve just been discussing this with my girlfriend, ‘cause she says the feeling on ‘Veneer’ is slightly different, but better. I think it’s to do with the way I’m singing; it’s slightly less aware. I feel like that’s a bad thing. I don’t enjoy listening to my own voice on Veneer. Some people like that not so polished sound but I prefer ‘In our Nature’.
So your world tour rolls into the UK soon. Tell us your loves and loathes about coming over here?
I’ll start with the negatives; the food is always difficult – not if you are in London though, or some of the bigger cities, but the coffee is also (like the US) disgusting. On the positives, I get good crowds. It’s always been the country where I’ve sold most records and I notice that on the crowd reaction. Apart from that, the Indian food is really good (laughs)
Being bilingual, do you write or Swedish or English?
I write in English nowadays. It used to be that I’d be thinking in Swedish and translating, but nowadays with all the touring and talking, sometimes I even dream in English.
After all is said and done, how would you like to be remembered?
Sort of like a legacy (laughs). I mean, I already feel like I’ve accomplished more with my music than I could have asked for. So I’m quite happy how things are. I’d like to be remembered for having two or three albums that people see as a singer/songwriter that tried to do things a little different.