José González, the well-known unknown of indie folk, releases his fourth album »Local Valley« these days. And it all seems the same as always: guitar, voice, soothing atmosphere. Only this time with lyrics in all three languages he speaks. Best time to talk with the Swedish musician about the topic of change. It is the first interview of the day for González, sitting in his apartment in Gothenburg, where the 43-year-old lives with his family. A conversation about his new record, time and why musical taste is like your bum.
It’s been a while now since you released »Vestiges & Claws« in 2015. Why did it take so long with a new album?
José González: Three years is my usual pace – which is already long compared to many other artists. That doesn’t quite add up with the new album. There were three reasons for that: I was on tour with The Gothenburg String Theory. Also, I had a daughter. She’s four years old now. When she was a toddler, I stayed home because I was trying to be a good feminist. But during that time I didn’t get to make music. That’s the second reason. And the third reason is the pandemic, which postponed everything. This album by almost a year.
Did you stop writing music completely after your daughter was born?
I don’t usually write music. It’s more about trying to start and then stay in the flow. And that’s what happened with every album. So, when I write, it’s more about getting demos together that I keep working on. It just takes me many months at a time to finalize the lyrics and record and mix everything.
So, your creative process comes completely from the music itself?
Exactly, always first with the guitar, then the melodies follow and at the end the lyrics. But of course, I also mix and produce the stuff. So always the music first. Only for »Lilla G« on the new album I already had the melody. I sang that song for my daughter when she was little.
###CITI:»I wanted to keep it simple. After working with so many people, maybe I just felt I was going back to my own sound now.®José González###
For whom do you make music? For yourself? For your family? For humanity?
It’s a mixture. I must like what I do, of course. But often I have ideas that I want to invest time with my guitar. I know I’m not the best guitar player, but if I put my mind to it, I can impress many, many musicians. Maybe not all of them. I’m trying to do that with the lyrics more and more, too. Sometimes I impress people with it and bring in certain themes and ideas that I think are important and interesting. But I have to say that first there is always the ambition that people like the music. There are no different geographical separations.
Before the release of »Local Valley« you said that you wanted to make songs in the spirit of your old tracks. Where did the feeling come from that this was the right approach for this album?
Between albums, I always have the chance to reinvent myself or do the same thing again. With bands and collaborations like Junip, The Gothenburg String Theory and The Brite Lites – it’s just also a good time to go back to your beginnings, to focus only on the guitar and the voice. I had also decided not to buy any new studio equipment. I wanted to keep it simple. After working with so many people, maybe I just felt I was going back to my own sound now. If I’m being honest, though: I’ve probably done that with every album I’ve made. This time, when I was about halfway through the album, I allowed myself to vary the production. I looped the guitar and vocals, added the drum machine. When I was mixing, I wanted to take the soundscapes in different directions. Some are very dry and down to earth, others more sacred.
Are you happy with the album?
Very happy. It’s a five out of five. Or no. Actually, a ten-out-of-ten. (Laughs.) I usually feel later on with every album that things aren’t perfect, or I could have done something differently. But that takes time. Let’s see if I would still give ten out of ten in a year or so.
And the three previous albums? All ten-out-of-ten as well?
No, of course not, but they are all documents and reflections of who I was at that time. And for me as a listener – I’m not a very big fan of mine, if I’m honest.
• Black Vinyl LP | • Green Vinyl LP Really?
It’s not weird to say so. I once heard a story about Glenn Danzig lifting weights in his backyard while listening to his music. I don’t do anything like that. When I listen to my music, I’m working on an album or reflecting later how I sounded there. But to come back to the question: Of course, I think what I could have done differently. But after a while you realize that this is just you twenty or ten years ago. And that’s completely fine. That’s why I’m very happy with these four albums. I think they’re all like eight, nine, ten out of ten. (Laughs.) But taste is also just… In Sweden we have a saying: Smaken är som baken, delad. Taste is like your bum – divided.