Taking a break from his solo work, singer-songwriter José González teams up with a pair of compatriots to create Fields, the debut full-length album from their band, Junip.
Swedish singer-songwriter José González can do wonders with nothing but a classical guitar and his voice. On his solo albums, 2006’s Veneer and 2007’s In Our Nature, he boiled down original tunes and unlikely cover songs (such as the Knife’s swirling electro hit “Heartbeats”) to their essential elements while still managing to keep their richness and complexity intact.
According to González — who was raised in Gothenburg, Sweden, by Argentine parents — the keep-it-organic aesthetic applies to all of his projects. He’s currently celebrating the release of a full-length album by his band, Junip, which he started with fellow Swedes Elias Araya and Tobias Winterkorn before his solo career took off.
“We work on the music together, all three of us,” the soft-spoken singer tells American Way. “WE SIT DOWN AND PLAY UNTIL WE FIND SOMETHING THAT FEELS INTERESTING.”
Fields is Junip’s long-awaited first full-length effort following the band’s 2004 debut EP, Black Refuge. The trio’s recordings flesh out González’s Latin-tinged guitar rhythms and understated vocals with synth layers and beats, often to hypnotic effect. The tunes on Fields range from slow, sorrowful melodies (“Don’t Let It Pass”) to deceptively catchy toe-tappers (“Rope & Summit,” “Howl”).
“I like working with the guys because I can chill and let things happen without me being so involved in everything,” González says. “This album, compared to the old EP, is more rhythmical, and I personally feel like the songs are just better and not so dark.”
When AW spoke with González, Junip had just played their first U.S. shows in support of the new album. The singer hadn’t anticipated huge turnouts at the shows, despite the fact that González has become well known for his solo work and his collaborations with other acts such as U.K. band Zero 7.
“I wasn’t expecting a bunch of people to come to the shows,” he says. “Junip had only put out an EP, and before we came to the U.S., I was looking at how many people had listened to our songs on YouTube and MySpace, and it’s not that many. I was worried.”
Not only have fans packed the houses, but they’ve also been moved by what they’ve heard.
“PLAYING SOME OF THESE SONGS LIVE, PEOPLE HAVE ACTUALLY BEEN DANCING, WHICH IS NEW, CONSIDERING MY OTHER MUSIC,” González says with a laugh.
Touring is a joy for González, who says the best perk of becoming a full-time musician has been the chance to travel the world. While he cites his favorite places as Australia (home to his largest following) and the neighborhood of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, N.Y. (he likes the area’s many vegetarian restaurants), he’d much rather experience an exotic locale for the first time.
“It’s better to go to places I haven’t been before,” he says. “I’ve been doing one-off shows the last couple of years. I did Lebanon, Zimbabwe and China. In Lebanon, I played at a small venue, and the people were superexcited. That’s the thing — when you go places other artists don’t normally go, people get overwhelmed.” When he’s not on the road, González spends most of his time at his home studio in Gothenburg. He shares the recording space with Little Dragon, the electro band fronted by his girlfriend, Yukimi Nagano.
“We go there, record music, jam and cook food together,” he says. “Hang out, drink coffee.”
And what’s his recommended stop for music lovers visiting Sweden?
“Gothenburg has a couple of really good venues,” he says. “One is a couple of blocks from where I live, and it’s called Pustervik. It’s a 300-capacity venue, so when bands go abroad, they usually stop there.”
As for his parents’ homeland, González went to Argentina a couple of times as a child; now, he occasionally returns for quick tour stops. But he doesn’t mind the absence, as his Swedish instincts are much stronger than his Argentine ones.
“I lived all my life in Sweden, so I’m more Swedish than anything else. It’s what comes naturally to me as a culture.”
Then, laughing, the quiet singer explains, “Swedes don’t talk as much as Argentina people do.”
TEST YOUR MUSICAL METTLE ONE QUESTION AT A TIME. by Jessica Jones
We’ve known him by many a moniker: the Purple One, His Royal Badness, the Artist Formerly Known as Prince and even an unpronounceable symbol. But what is “Purple Rain” singer Prince’s birth name?
A. Reginald Marcus Johnson
B. Prince Rogers Nelson
C. Henry Allen Hayes Jr.
D. Christopher Prince Davis