On the eve of releasing his third album, Vestiges & Claws, Swedish lo-fi giant José González talks to State about the depth of his lyrics, the eclectic music of his compatriots and working with Ben Stiller on the soundtrack to last year’s Life of Walter Mitty.
So Jose, what have you been up to of late?
Well, quite a lot actually! Since I finished the album several months ago I have been…hmmm, on vacation, haha. Ok I’ve been in rehearsals, doing lots of promotional work, spending time with family and enjoying the long, dark, cold Swedish winter!
Congratulations on the new album, it sounds great. But do you find that there is now an expectation on you to include profound lyrics or themes in your music? Or do you still write with a sense of freedom?
I really don’t know what people expect from my lyrics but for me, I feel as though I have been exploring lyrics which generally tend to be about humanity, lyrics with an almost timeless feeling. On Vestiges & Claws I think I was really examining the lack of life after death so I have expectations of myself when it comes to lyrics and maybe that is what other people expect too. But I’m having fun with them, I always have. I try not to focus too much on what they mean to other people but the result is nearly always a collection the kind of things I like to think about.
Ok well the themes around those lyrics are philosophical to say the least; existentialism, death…
Yeah but on this album more than any other of my others I have been looking at our nature, human nature, rather than making them deeply personal. In a sense they are more extroverted than ever before and are more zoomed out, almost a global point of view.
Is it a relief to not have to splay yourself out in your lyrics?
Yeah because I don’t have to examine them and how they could possibly translate from being personal to universal. Some are written in the first person but even then I am thinking of other people while writing, Even ‘Open Book’, when you listen to it it sounds very personal, and it is from a personal place, but in reality it is the opposite. Obviously I think about events in my life but I wanted to write about the other people in my life and what these events meant to them. The different scenarios that could arise from these events.
Sounds like you had fun…
It is fun! It is always fun and it is always a learning experience too. This time I had more experience to draw from and I had learned a lot from being with Junip whilst doing the music for the film [José’s band worked on the music for 2013’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty] which was far outside what I was used to. But this album was fun and although there had been a continuation of the story I was telling with my previous albums, this one felt like it was moving towards something else musically, there are more guitars, more vocals, more everything!
So is your work with Junip an ongoing thing or something sporadic?
If I was more of a business man I would probably say ongoing but for now I’m concentrating on the solo work. We could have made a big statement like ‘We’re playing one last farewell show’ and made lots of money. And do the same thing next year too! But that isn’t us, that’s not our style and we don’t want to be that sort of band so we just keep it going when we aren’t doing other things. But this year will be dedicated to my solo work and touring this album so Junip will be back maybe a little later.
Do you enjoy touring?
Like everything there are good and bad aspects. Obviously I enjoy the good parts, seeing the world, performing my music live and meeting new people but there are some things which, as anybody who has ever toured will have felt, are not so enjoyable. Hours on the road, loneliness, missing my family and friends, it is the same for everyone. The food, well that depends on what you think of gas station food… it varies! But this tour will be a lot different than the others.
Well there are a lot of cities that we aren’t visiting which we usually do. That is only because we are trying to make room for the cities and places we never get to, the world is a big place but it’s not endless. Every time we update our schedule and mention it on Facebook somebody asks “what about my town?” and we always feel slightly guilty so now we are looking at fixing that.
Do you feel any different touring as a solo artist than you do as part of a band?
Not really because there are five musicians on this tour with me and that is very similar to Junip. Also, many of the musicians on this tour have toured with Junip so we all know each other very well. Playing solo, as in literally just me and my guitar, that is something I rarely do and many of the venues I now play at are probably more suited to a band. I think the last solo show I played was in Thailand and I didn’t even need to bring my equipment, just my guitar, because the venue couldn’t accommodate anything else. Touring for me is far more varied than perhaps it is for other people so I don’t have a preference either way.
How did you end up working on the Walter Mitty soundtrack?
Ben Stiller just called me up and asked me. I was surprised but very happy to do it. I think he heard my music whilst filming the movie in Iceland and eventually he heard ‘Without You’, a Junip song, and thought it would be the perfect sound for the movie so asked me to help. I said yes and almost right away started working with Theodore Shapiro who had worked with Ben before. It involved a lot of traveling to LA and New York but I did quite a bit of my work from my home in Sweden. That was my first time working on a Hollywood movie but I had done some other work like that before, the video game [Red Dead Redemption], some Swedish television shows, things like that, but it was nice to work outside of my comfort zone and I had a really great time. I’d like to do it again but for now I’m concentrating on my own albums.
José’s new album, Vestiges & Claws, is out on February 20th.