The defining characteristic of Jose Gonzalez’ music is that it speaks to everyone. His ambient, stripped-down style embodies the essence of musical purity; a minimalist landscape conveyed in a language that is unequivocally universal. By the time the haunting harmonies of ‘Heartbeats’ had reached a global audience in 2005, courtesy of Sony, Gonzalez’ melancholic musings had already made a lasting impression in Sweden and mainland Europe.
With two critically-acclaimed solo albums to his credit, Gonzalez reunited with his original band Junip in 2010 following a five year hiatus. His return to the trio is marked not as a departure from his somnolent sound but rather an expansion into new tonal territories. Now set to embark upon a European tour in support of their first full-length album, Fields, I caught up with the sonorous Swedish songwriter to gain an insight into his past, present and prospective future.
2010 saw the return of Junip, was it easy to fall back into a band mindset?
Yeah, musically when we started playing it sounded good from the start and that was a big relief; I thought it might take a long time before we sounded ok. It took time to write the songs though, there were times when it was frustrating but that is normal for me when I’m writing.
How did you write Fields; did you work on parts separately or did the songs develop through playing together?
We jammed for weeks and weeks for the album. We always try to write together and we were lucky to have recording gear in our rehearsal space. Whenever we found something we liked, we recorded it straight away and just gathered a lot of media bytes filled with good music. It’s only in the last minute that I write the lyrics on my own.
Have you always written the music before you write the lyrics?
Yeah, I’ve tried writing lyrics before I had any music, and it’s always been a bit weird. It’s easier to start with the music and then start making melodies and then afterwards add meaning to it.
There was a five year gap between the band’s first ep Black Refuge and Fields, had you always planned to come back and make a full-length album?
Yeah, I’ve been talking about it ever since I started touring on my own, but it was always the case of trying to find the right time for it. Before I released my second album, we sat down and talked about trying to do this properly so we decided that after I finished the tour for that album we could give it a go.
Does the band have any plans for the future; is there a second album on the cards?
Oh yeah definitely, we’ve already written new songs. We’re going to save some of them for the second album and other ones are about to be released as an EP. It used to take me a while to write new material, now with Junip it seems to flow.
The artwork for Fields is quite striking, it seems like there’s a story behind it.
Yeah, it was all done by a Swedish artist named Fredrik Söderberg. I sent him the music before he painted it, and it’s in the same style of the things that he has done before. It has a lot of iconic, tribal and almost religious iconography buried underneath it. I love the way he combines very light colours, we try to avoid darker imagery.
Your music videos have always carried significant symbolic undertones, how did you develop the idea for the Teardrop video for instance?
Andreas Nilsson was behind it; he’s done many of my videos and three of the Junip videos. We talked about doing something that resembled He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, a collage kind of video.
Your other collaborations with Nilsson featured characters created by cartoonist Jim Woodring. What drew you to his work?
Andreas knew of his stuff, so it was his idea. We sat down to talk about the videos and I mentioned what I was thinking about when I wrote the music for In Our Nature. The album played on the idea that we’re all humans and animals so the hog-man felt like an interesting character that embodied the two.
You sighted The God Delusion as an influence for your second album. How did the work of Dawkin’s help shape In Our Nature?
I was interested in the whole debate of science versus religion. I was searching for a topic to write about and it felt like one that influences the whole world. We know so much about nature right now compared to what we knew one hundred, two hundred years ago. I felt like it was an interesting clash to write about; on the one hand you have maybe more than 50% of the world believing in spirits and the divine creator and at the same time, we know so much about human biology that we’re able to take modern medicine for granted. I think Dawkins has many interesting punch lines when it comes to that debate. With Junip, I think I’ve continued a bit in that vein, especially on the song ‘Howl’, but I was thinking more about Daniel Dennett and his views on free will.