"I didn't expect this at all. It took five years to get used to this sort of attention," says José González, calling from his Gothenburg home, a day before leaving for his North American tour. "It was really strange when we first released the album in Sweden. I recorded it at home and for me it was very lo-fi, and the music on the charts wasn't nearly as lo-fi as my music, so when Swedish radio and television started playing it, I thought it was a joke almost. Who bragged who? No, I mean bribed. Who bribed who?"
Make no mistake; little persuasion beyond his primitive and prodigious songwriting was necessary. González's debut release, Veneer, was originally released in Sweden in 2003. Two years later it broke in Europe and the United States, spreading like wildfire across both European and American charts. Shortly afterwards, González's stripped-down acoustic cover of "Heartbeats," originally an electro-clash hit from fellow Swedes The Knife, was picked up by Sony Bravia. The unforgettable advertisement for LCD televisions features 250,000 colourful rubber balls bouncing throughout the streets of San Francisco. But while the ebb and flow of gumball-sized buoyancy travels down steep hills, viewers couldn't help but wonder who was responsible for the gorgeous soundtrack. The true speculation of curiousity is not whether the ad was a fabrication (YouTube provides an insightful look into the making of the six-minute-long clip), as wonderment stirred by González's distinct classical guitar style and visceral vocals.
González's sophomore release In Our Nature, personifies the personal, political and poetic. The title track closes with a climactic building of sonic frustration.
"I repeat the sentence 'it's in our nature' over and over. It's sort of accusing humanity for the stupid things we do. It's a naive song about putting down our guns and putting away our fighting posture---instead we should just be working with what we've got," he says. "I guess I was caught up with things that were happening in the world. Or at least things that were shown in the media, the Iraq war and some other stuff, so it was sort of easy to find topics that lead to frustrated feelings."
Born to Argentinean parents, González was raised on the urban west coast of Sweden. At 29, he may tour across the globe, but he's kept close to his roots as home remains in Gothenburg with his musician girlfriend Yukimi Nagano, who fronts artful quartet Little Dragon. He's fluent in English, though uses it sparingly within the context of his songs---rather than be carried by a narrative, it's the movement of the melody that transfixes listeners. At the suggestion of songwriting as a form of activism, he pauses.
"Yeah, I guess it can be. I always talk with my music and then I write the lyrics to convey a certain feeling. But I've started to feel more and more just because you can play guitar and have a voice that some people like, it doesn't make your point of view better than anyone else's.
"You are in an awkward position as an artist and it something that I don't really want to misuse. I want to convey a certain feeling but I don't want to be too specific with what my lyrics are about."
Drawing inspiration from philosophy and religion, the former PhD biochemistry student found books to be a reliable muse throughout the recording process. Between his 40-minute walks to and from the studio he read evolutionary biologists Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and Peter Singer's Practical Ethics. Similar to his process when recording Veneer, González tried to maintain a casual approach to creativity, but found himself veering off track.
"With this last record I became more conscious of writing. I felt the pressure to do at least as good as the first record. I almost have to force myself to take two hours to work on music," he says. "I've noticed that once I get going I have this routine of trying to push myself to write. Sometimes I get ideas when I'm washing the dishes. Once I get going, it can happen any time."
José González w/Rebekah Higgs, Thursday, June 26 at St. Matthew's Church, 1479 Barrington, 7:30pm, $15 adv. (ticketpro.ca)/$20 door.