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An interview with José González

Dustin Cohen caught up with José González before his second of two shows at NYC’s Bowery Ballroom on July 3, 2006 (one day earlier I caught José at Summerstage) . Dustin snapped these pictures and asked Jose a few questions…

Jose GonzalezJose Gonzalez

Several years ago I received an unexpected package from a good friend who was living in Lund, Sweden. Inside waiting, was the tightest pair of jeans I’ve ever tried to squeeze into and a José González EP, which was only available in his native country at the time. About two years later, I heard González’s rendition of “Heartbeats” by The Knife featured on a Sony Bravia TV commercial (the ad shows 250,000 bouncy balls racing down a San Francisco street, check it out if you haven’t seen it, it’s truly fantastic) and my interest in his music was rekindled. Since then, Veneer, González’s first full-length album has finally been released in the U.S. by Mute Records and he’s been playing sold out shows all over the world.

Name: José González
Age: 27
Hometown: Gothenburg, Sweden

BrooklynVegan Dustin: This is the last night of this tour, how did it go?

Jose: Pretty great actually, I really enjoy playing with Juana Molina and Psapp.

BrooklynVegan Dustin: Outside of New York and L.A., have people been very receptive to your music?

Jose: Yeah, I didn’t really know many of the cities before. Last Sunday we were in Detroit, which I heard was a hard place to play, but it was really good.

BrooklynVegan Dustin: You recently recorded with Zero 7. Tell me a little about making guest appearances on their new album.

Jose: They just called me and were looking for new vocalists. It was really fun, I was up at Henry Binns’s house two times, about 10 days total. And we just hung out; he’s a great cook too. They have their studio out there in the countryside.

BrooklynVegan Dustin: You’ve covered a number of songs (Joy Division, Bruce Springsteen, Kylie Minogue, The Knife). How do you decide you’re going to cover a song?

Jose: Many of the times, it’s been me searching for something new to play and I’ve ended up searching songs I’ve really enjoyed like Joy Division or “Heartbeats” (The Knife). And “Hand on Your Heart,” the Kylie Minogue cover, was more of a challenge. I had heard it many times before but this time I was watching the video and really started listening to the lyrics and found the lyrics didn’t match the video, the really happy production.

BrooklynVegan Dustin: Can we expect a José González/Kylie Minogue collaboration anytime soon?

Jose: (Laughs) Ahhh no, I don’t think so.

BrooklynVegan Dustin: Have any of the artists ever contacted you to tell you they liked or disliked a cover?

Jose: Yeah, just recently I heard that she [Kylie Minogue] heard it and she liked the song. I gave Olof [Dreijer] and Karin [Dreijer Andersson] (the brother and sister duo from The Knife) my version of “Heartbeats” before I released it and they were really pleased. I don’t know if Elizabeth Fraser [Cocteau Twins] heard my version, but my record label in the UK got her to write down the lyrics because I couldn’t find them anywhere.

BrooklynVegan Dustin: You’re also in a band, Junip, how is that different than your solo work?

Jose: Apart from just guitar and vocals, there is one guy playing organ and moog and another one playing drums. It’s not as much focused on the guitar picking. On the recording side, it’s more dense.

BrooklynVegan Dustin: There’s a lot of good music coming out of Sweden right now: Love is All, The Perishers, The Sounds, Shout Out Louds. Are you close to any of these bands?

Jose: Nicholaus Sparding from Love is All, who plays guitar and writes much of their stuff, he’s been playing percussion with me. He’s the one who told me about Kylie Minogue because they’re band signed with the same label. Josephine [Olausson] the singer, she put out my first 7” on her label in 2000. So there’s one 7” with Junip that she put out and one other.

BrooklynVegan Dustin: What were you doing before you decided music would be your full-time career?

Jose: I was studying Biochemistry.

BrooklynVegan Dustin: That’s a pretty big change. Any similarities between Biochemistry and songwriting?

Jose: Umm yeah… Well, no not really (laughs).

BrooklynVegan Dustin: Your parents are originally from Argentina. Growing up in Sweden, did your teachers ever have trouble pronouncing your name?

Jose: Yeah definitely. (Laughs). Swedish people, when they try to pronounce José, they say “sho-see-uh” which is kind of fun.

BrooklynVegan Dustin: Let’s pretend Sweden is playing Argentina in the World Cup Finals, who do you root for?

Jose: I would probably go for both, but I’m not that big into soccer. On this tour it was really fun though. On the tour bus we had Juana Molina from Argentina, Psapp from the UK and Germany, and me and my tour manager are from Sweden. There was some good, friendly rivalry.

BrooklynVegan Dustin: I’m a sucker for Jenny Lewis, is there a female musician you adore?

Jose: Yeah, I would say Cat Power.

BrooklynVegan Dustin: She’s great, definitely. Your songs “Crosses” and “Stay in the Shade” have been featured on the The O.C. Have you ever seen the show?

Jose: No, I actually haven’t seen it yet. I’ve heard a lot about it and people tell me they’ve found my music through the show and that’s really cool.

BrooklynVegan Dustin: It’s a good place to hear small label/independent bands. Do you remember the first album you bought?

Jose: I was just talking about that today. One of the really early memories I have is buying this “Electric Boogie” album. I can’t remember the name or where it is, I think I was around 7. I didn’t know about music, but me and my brother really looked up to these older kids in our neighborhood who did break-dancing. I had this album that had pictures on the back about how to do different break-dance moves.

BrooklynVegan Dustin: What was the last album you bought?

Jose: I did an in-store at Amoeba Records in Los Angeles and picked up some great classical music from Finland.

BrooklynVegan Dustin: Any interesting tour rituals? Pre-show traditions?

Jose: No, not really. As long as the sound is good, I feel comfortable. And as long as I have one or two glasses of wine or beer I’m fine.

BrooklynVegan Dustin: Takes away the edge. Do you still get nervous before a show?

Jose: It’s usually not about being nervous; I just know I’ll have a better show if I’m not completely sober.

BrooklynVegan Dustin: Have you ever played a show completely drunk?

Jose: I wouldn’t say completely drunk like when you’re puking or anything. But on this tour, in Minneapolis, I had too much to drink and my fingers weren’t doing what I wanted, they weren’t agreeing.

BrooklynVegan Dustin: Finally, do you have a favorite bar or restaurant you like to go to when you’re in New York?

Jose: I really like this place called Barrio Chino over on Orchard and Broome. They serve Mexican food and they have Jalapeño margaritas, it’s really good.

José González heads back out on a European tour later this week followed by nationwide dates with Zero 7 (including two Webster Hall dates in mid-September). Though a few songs have been recorded, due to his heavy touring schedule, a new album isn’t expected until sometime in 2007.

Not mentioned in the interview: Jose, Psapp, and Juana did actually collaborate (sort of).

Jose Gonzalez @ Central Park Summerstage, NYC | pics
Jose Gonzalez @ The Living Room, NYC | pics

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