Jose Gonzalez: interview
Simon Parkin Ever since his cover of The Knife's Heartbeats provided the catchy melodies to Sony's thousands of multi-coloured bouncing balls advert, Swedish raised alt-folkie Gonzalez hasn't looked back.
Ever since his cover of The Knife's Heartbeats provided the catchy melodies to Sony's thousands of multi-coloured bouncing balls advert, Swedish raised alt-folkie Gonzalez hasn't looked back.
His debut album, Veneer, a hit in Sweden in 2003, had been jumping along quietly after its release over here in 2005, but it suddenly sprung into the top-10 one the back of the exposure.
His second album, In Our Nature, was released last September kept the simple acoustic style but boasted some deep lyrical content that was in part influenced by his reading The God Delusion by evolutionary biologist and noted atheist Richard Dawkins.
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Gonzalez, himself a biochemistry academic until music came calling, was born in Gothenburg, to parents who'd moved from Argentina to Sweden in the late-70s. He grew up listening to Latin folk and pop music, and has named Cuban protest singer Silvio Rodriguez as a favourite artist.
t Were Sony's bouncing balls responsible for your big break?
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“Most people got to know me through that commercial but the album had already been out a year in the UK and I'd been touring sold-out shows so it wasn't really instant success.”
t Weren't you worried it'd be seen as selling out?
“With commercials it's a compromise. Its not the ideal way of putting the music out, but it seems to be a very popular tool. A lot of people watch TV. For me the benefit was that Sony went for the unknown. They have thousands of artists they could have chosen from in their catalogue.”
t Is it true you used to study classical guitar by day but were in a hardcore band at night?
“Yeah. At the age of 14 I started learning acoustic guitar, at first on my own then with a teacher, but around the same time I started playing the bass and joined a sort of Misfits or Black Flag kind of punk band.”
t Your music now couldn't be more different though?
“Yeah, very different. The hardcore sort of stopped but the acoustic carried on.”
t What is it that appeals to people about your music?
“Some people like it because it's so simple, it's just guitar and vocals not over produced like some of the music around just now. Some people like the fingerpicking.”
t Were you tempted to bring more instruments in on In Our Nature?
“I thought about it, I had a lot of different scenarios in my head. But I got to the point were I felt I wanted a similar vibe, just guitar
and vocals and a little percussion. I didn't want to over produce it.”
t Heartbeats was a cover and you've also re-worked Kylie and Massive Attack. How do you tackle doing cover version?
“When I do covers I try to keep as much as possible to the melodies. Because what I like doing is playing the music. The lyrics are really important, too - but not to get in the way of that initial intuitive that 'you like something'.”
t Both your parents are Argentinean, has that influenced your sound?
“Although we lived in Sweden there was Latin American music at home, so I'm still inspired by especially Brazilian music. Also in Argentinean tradition you always have the guitar, vocals and bongo drum, so that sort of sound is very familiar to me.”
t You were studying to become a biochemistry researcher when Veneer came out and some of that seems to have seeped into this latest album?
“I didn't want to write about love but find other, though equally universal themes for the songs. These are things I have always been thinking about. But I became a lot more interested in it after I read the book The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist. But the lyrics are far from biological, I'd like to point that out. It's mainly the theme that interests me.”