There are many paths to completing an interview. Often, a journalist will meet up with a musician at a bar or café – familiar ground for both. Phone calls are extensively used, but for Jose Gonzalez Skype proves to be sufficient. In some ways it's a revealing choice: it allows the songwriter to retain the relaxed, familial surroundings of his Gothenburg base, while – somewhat endearingly – his Skype profile contains a picture of the Star Wars' character Chewbacca wearing shades.
It's a neat reminder that beneath music – often introspective, often moving and always rewarding – lies a normal, humble person. Almost continually creative, the songwriter is speaking to Clash about his enriching new solo album 'Vestiges & Claws', which follows a period of operating as a member of Junip.
“Well, I did my first two solo albums and during that time I knew I wanted to get back with Junip at some point and we did. We toured with the first album and we felt like we wanted to do the second one pretty soon. That time I already knew that my next project would be my third solo album,” he chuckles “So here I am!”
Relaxed in person, it seems that Jose moves through his career with a clear plan, a vision in mind. “I've been excited to get back to the same style as I started with on my first two albums but of course I have been able to collaborate with people and learn stuff from other producers,” he says. “I've been producing myself quite a lot and mixing once in a while. So this album is like back to basics but with more ideas than usual and more knowledge than usual.”
Taking full control of recording sessions, the Swedish based songwriter aimed to return to the sound which has become so familiar to fans. “I feel like that's been my style and what I sort of do best compared to many other people. I think other people are better at producing bigger productions. I've always felt like it's more fun to have guitars loud and vocals loud so that it doesn't get cluttered. It's a style that I feel like it's nice to have because it's so easy to over produce and to add more and more stuff and I really enjoy music that is more sparse.”
Out next week, 'Vestiges & Claws' is certainly sparse but it never feels dry. Continually adding unexpected elements, the material – exclusively written by Jose Gonzalez – features plenty of odd diversions. Leaving lyrics to last, the songwriter has been able to build up a bold celebration of life's more precious points.
“The way I write is usually by gathering riffs and demos, but never lyrics actually.,” he explains. “So lyrics is always something that I write with a certain piece of music in mind. I record a guitar riff on dictaphone and then sort of try to find variations of the same riff until I have two or three different variations and then I do vocal melodies without lyrics and then at a later stage – almost when I have the song finished – that's when I start writing. I might have one or two words or one or two sentences but I usually write the full lyric at the very last minute.”
Running on feeling, the material on 'Vestiges & Claws' ranges from the spartan groove of 'Leaf Off / The Cave' to the gentle anthemics of 'Every Age'. Collated across a seven year period, it seems that the relaxed time-scale of the project eased pressure on songwriting – but add a sense of weight to the recording process.
“I've always felt pressure with the four albums before but with this one I didn't feel pressure with the writing process it was more when I started to mix myself. I felt like I wanted to try to mix it myself but I'm not that experienced, so for me that was one of those moments when I wasn't sure if I did the right decision to do it myself.. I guess I'm older and I've done this before so I don't feel the same type of pressure that I did with previous albums.”
Continuing, the songwriter added that there were moments of real doubt in the studio. “There were some difficult moments and, as I mentioned, I was not experienced and I was working on my own,” he sighs. “There were evenings where I felt I had spent the whole day without really doing anything valuable. But, in general, I feel like I was able to have a certain sound which doesn't sound completely professional and still with character.”
Splitting his time between a home studio and a professional complex, the songwriter was able to fuse the intimacy of his early demos with something rather more vivid, polished. “I've been recording both in my studio at home but I've been aiming to have a mobile studio. So I've been able to do pretty good sounding demos the whole time so there's been a couple of demos where I feel like the demo is so good that it was difficult to re-record it.”
In fact, these early demos could well see the light of day, sometime, possibly as a digital release. “I guess I could choose a song and then put a couple of the work in progress demos online. That could be interesting, sure.”
A hazy, pastoral treat, 'Vestiges & Claws' is something which must be allowed to unfold gently, almost like staring at a painting, or a photograph. Taking full control of the lyrics, Jose was keen to push his material into a quite personal, solitary direction. “I'm still looking forward to working with producers and other musicians,” he explains, “but I think there's something slightly more art-related when you do things on your own. I guess there's a balance between what feels artistic and what sounds nice or good. I guess I like both but on this record I aimed for the more artistic side.”
Photo Credit: Malin Johansson
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'Vestiges & Claws' will be released on February 16th.