Jose Gonzalez, the Swedish Indy/Folk sensation starts a mini-tour in the UK next month following the release of his fourth Solo Album, Local Valley.
Life could have been all so different for Jose Gonzalez. In 1976 his parents chose to flea native, but increasingly unstable Argentina in favour of the more sedentary surroundings of Gothenburg, Sweden. Gonzalez was born two years later, yet his unique crossover Indie/Folk is steeped in Latin rhythms and the visceral emotion of Classical Guitar.
The singer/songwriter’s latest album was released in Autumn and he’s in relaxed mood after his morning run, when we speak via Zoom. This segways nicely to my question about the obvious influence of nature and the field recordings used: ‘For this album I wrote and recorded the songs in a Summer house we bought recently near the coast. It was so peaceful, I could hear the birds singing everyday, so I just went outside with a microphone and recorded it’.
Favourable press reviews and surging listener figures indicate Gonzalez’ has a loyal following with a proven formula. He’s not about to throw all the dice in the air, but this is a Jose Gonzalez wiling to experiment and explore and I probe him on this ‘Well, I can say becoming a Father for the second time has had an impact’ and with a knowing smile Gonzalez adds ‘I tried taking off the pressure of who I’m trying to be, instead I switched more to showing who I am’ he explains in fluent English. He is Scandinavian after all.
This is clearly a departure from the his previous songwriting process ‘if I find something upbeat or happy i’m going to work with it’. All three previous Solo outings have enjoyed huge success, but evident is a willingness to be playful with both lyrics and song. Swing has an impossibly infectious rhythm, peppered with a looping female vocal ‘swing, swing, swing your body baby’. This is contrasted against Line of Fire, a song taken from his days in Folk-duo Tunip, but given a stripped-back and far more intimate rework.
Despite Music being around in the family home, Jose was the only one to pick up an instrument seriously ‘we had a Casio-tone Keyboard and a Classical Guitar’ he explains. Once he got the flavour, he devoted a summer to learning songs on the Electric Bass and Guitar. ‘I learnt a lot through The Beatles and Bossa Nova’ admits Gonzales ‘It was mainly my Dad saying can you play this song, how about this one?’
When push came to shove, Gonzalez followed a path into Science studying Molecular Biology, consigning music to a hobby. Something must have clicked when Gonzalez requested a sabbatical from his PhD studies, to establish if he could write an album that would get him noticed. He could. Very quickly he garnered interest from Swedish Radio and TV stations. What was the conversation like when you went back to your University? ‘I went and had a coffee with Professor Elias, we chatted for a while and then we smiled at each other and he said, you’re not coming back are you?’ Discovered in June 2003 by Joakim Gävert, he signed for Imperial records, with his debut album Veneer released four months later.
You may not recognise Gonzalez by name, but you’ll have done well to avoid his music. From Sony TV adverts to a Hollywood/Ben Stiller film, his music has wide appeal and can expect a warm welcome when he kicks of his mini-tour in December at the Brighton Dome. When I ask him his views about the changing economics of Music, in typically modest fashion he replies ‘yes I can say my streaming numbers are pretty good, I rank alongside ABBA as Sweden’s most listened to artist.’
Stuart Large is a music writer - follow him on Twitter @boyaboutsound