In conversation with José González

José González is perhaps one of the names most synonymous with contemporary indie-folk. Through his solo work, the Swedish singer-songwriter crafts intricately layered, thought-provoking songs cloaked in warmth and reverb. His latest album Vestoges & Claws saw him return to solo music after seven years in which he recorded two albums with his band Junip, as well as working on a number of other projects, including the soundtrack for Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. We were lucky enough to speak to him ahead of his visit to Australia next year, where he will be playing in a number of incredible settings, including the Sydney Opera House and the Melbourne Zoo.

Hi José – how are you?

Yeah I’m pretty good, how are you?

I’m good, thanks! Where about’s are you right now?

We’re in Milan, its early morning. Just woke up on the bus here in Milan.

I really enjoyed Vestiges & Claws. I thought it sounded really renewed and refreshed while still being relevant and authentic to your music as a solo artist. As your first solo release in around seven years, was it strange coming back to solo writing and working solely on your music after things like the Junip albums working on the [The Secret Life of] Walter Mitty soundtrack?

I guess it was not that strange. I kept doing some solo shows once in a while when I was doing those two Junip albums and I did try to write once in a while too during those years. I did get stuck once in a while but I’m not sure strange is the right words. But I did get stuck sometimes… where it was hard during the moment but it’s a usual thing for me to get stuck, even with the stuff with Junip.  So in a way it was a relief to go back to my solo music because I usually keep it so restricted to only guitar and vocals it’s sort of easy and I know what to do. I just need to sit with a guitar and a recording machine. So it’s pretty comfortable for me and most of the time I was at home and I really enjoy that… living where I’m able to hang around at home, go out and have lunch with a friend and then go back in the evenings with a laptop and get my recordings and live a normal life. I really look forward to the next time I do that!

To not being on tour and being able to have that sort of routine?

Yeah, exactly! I mean, I love touring too. I enjoy all the different parts of my career.

Do you think that was in part down to not working with a producer? You took on that role… That seemed like it was a very deliberate decision.

Yeah! In a way it wasn’t very different to the first two. The first two I did on my own, sitting in a small room with headphones and a guitar. So in that sense it wasn’t unexpected. But with Junip we collaboratively produced the albums and with the movie music I was working with other people and I got used to working with producers and I did think about it… That I should have help from someone… both from a technical point of view and also from a song writing point of view. But I decided to do as I did with the first two. Which meant I was going for a more demo type of sound, more homegrown or similarly low-fi as the first two. Which I really enjoy and I think about artists who are like… I guess loners [laughs] who just record and record and just sit in their own tower and create their own work.

Is it a difficult thing to separate the two roles: the artist and the producer?

Yeah, it is a balance that I think about a lot when producing or mixing or writing. The way I approached this album was that some of the songs were just the first drafts. So knowing that I was going to invite other people onto the stage for live shows and already when I was recording the songs I was already looking forward to hearing remixes so that was the way for me to sort of tackle that issue. And knowing that I’m not going to be doing songs that are gonna be for radio or for discos but of course I don’t think my fans expect that either. I have my niche and the people who listen to my music do it through headphones or on their own or when they’re having dinner.

Did you ever think at all that maybe you would be putting out another solo record or was it something that you’d been planning for a long time and it was just a matter of time?

It was just a matter of time. I knew. I’ve had short moments of mild depression where I’ve thought I’m not going to play any more music, those very short moments… But since my first album I’ve always known that I want to continue and there’s been moments where I’ve felt very strongly about the idea of me continuing to do music forever.

I did a tour with an orchestra in Europe. It was only two weeks and it was almost 30 people touring together. We were playing these amazing theatres around Europe and I just pictured myself being able to sit in my chair, playing my guitar with a six piece yeah in those moments I felt I was very lucky in my career and in that people are liking my music.

Would you consider touring with an orchestra again or maybe a choir?

Yeah! So next year I’ll be touring with an ensemble from New York, they’re called yMusic and later in the year we’re putting together the same orchestra and it’s gonna be a nice… sort of a more classical oriented year.

Yeah! Because when I was listening to the album, I could definitely picture a choir or some bigger arrangement on the stage. It seems like it would work really well.  And I thought that one thing that wasn’t really obvious but was incredibly effective were the West African kind of influences you brought to this album. How did you come to those influences?

I think for me the songs that have the most West African influences are What Will, Stories We Build… and Afterglow. But yeah, with my second album I wrote Killing for Love and on this album I decided to do even more. So it’s been many years of me listening to lots of music from that area. I was able to open up for Tinariwen in London. So both me listening to the music at home but also seeing people play it live and it was a switch for me to keep playing nylon string classic guitar but placing differently and yeah. It’s been really fun.

Do you think people are surprised… I mean obviously musicians have influences from all over the place all the time… but when they learn that you played a lot of punk music too when you were starting out?

[laughs] Yeah! People get surprised when I mention all those influences. But I think between musician friends…. People aren’t surprised at all. But for me, it was fun to see photos from when I was younger, having huge pants and looking up to Zack de la Rocha from Rage Against the Machine and then remembering that those were the days that I was learning classical guitar!

So, the Zoo Twilight Series is one of the shows you’re coming to Australia at the start of next year for…. Have you played in any setting like that before?

No! I was surprised… I’m guessing it’s gonna be more like a park and not necessarily a zoo. And it has been mentioned that it’s a relatively ethical zoo. One of my favourite bands [Staff Benda Bilili] recorded their album in a zoo [Kinshasa Zoo in the Democratic Republic of Congo], they just happened to have really good acoustics in the park of the zoo.

Oh, awesome! Well, I think I’d better let you go, but thank you for taking the time to talk to me this early in the morning and I look forward to when you come out here next year!

Take care.


José González will visit Australia in February next year. 

Fri, Feb 5: Melbourne Zoo
Buy tickets here
Sat, Feb 6: Sydney Opera House
Sun, Feb 7: Sydney Opera House
But tickets here
Wed, Feb 10: Tvioli Theatre
Buy tickets here
Fri, Feb 12: Perth Festival
Buy tickets here