Chances are Swedish singer-songwriter and award-winning folk musician Jose Gonzalez hasn’t been on high rotation on your playlist lately. The son of immigrants who moved to Sweden from Argentina in the late 1970s, Gonzalez has kept a low profile for the best part of the last decade.
However, with last year’s release of his third studio album Vestiges & Claws, Gonzalez made his way back into the charts and onto the tour circuit once again. His tour of Asia kicked off in Hanoi in late November. Between sets, Gonzalez hoped to learn more about Asia’s cultures and people.
“It’s my first time in Vietnam,” he said the week before his show from his Swedish home town of Gothenburg. “I’m really excited to go. I’ve played in some other Asian countries. The closest I’ve come to Vietnam is Singapore and Thailand. I always think of food when I think of Vietnam, like spring rolls and pho. Other than that, I don’t know that much about Vietnam.”
This time around in Vietnam however, Gonzalez and his band didn’t get much of an opportunity to see the sights and taste much of the food.
“I’m only in Vietnam for the day of the show plus one more day so it’s really short, which is almost always the case for me. Still, I’m really happy [starting his Asian tour in Vietnam] worked out. It was one of the late bookings due to some complications in bringing a show over with all my musicians, but I really wanted to make it happen.”
It’s been 13 years since Gonzalez released his debut album Veneer to critical acclaim. The album sold over 700,000 copies worldwide off the back of his cover of Heartbeats written by fellow Gothenburg electronic duo The Knife.
Following Veneer, Gonzalez released his second album In Our Nature, again receiving widespread praise. With the memorable Down The Line and another cover, Massive Attack’s Teardrop driving its success, Gonzalez built a reputation for mastering covers.
“Partly it [Gonzalez’ eclectic range of covers] is my being a music lover. I do like very different types of songs from different times and different areas around the world,” says Gonzalez, who draws inspiration from Latin American music, West African music and folk legends Paul Simon and Nick Drake.
“With the covers, I wanted to do something that would surprise the audience. I was trying to do things people wouldn’t expect. I enjoyed it, not necessarily for how they sound the original way, but more because of the lyrics or how they sound when I try them out. The Kylie Minogue [cover], especially with the guitar at the end, feels like one of my favourite things that I’ve been able to do.”
It took another eight years for Gonzalez to release his third and most recent album Vestiges & Claws, which claimed Impala Album of the Year for independent artists in Europe along the way.
“I enjoyed getting that prize because it’s an effort to promote independent music in Europe,” says Gonzalez, who plays down his success, including any suggestion that it has proved his critics, if any, wrong.
“I wouldn’t say vindication, because I felt like I received a lot of positive attention during those early years and I don’t feel like I need to prove much. It’s not like I feel like, ‘Yes, I’ve made it’.”
Gonzalez says that it took him so long to release Vestiges & Claws because of his commitments to folk rock band Junip and because he’s been trying to live a normal life. Although he’s kept himself busy doing other things outside of his music, he likes doing them in his own time. His laid-back nature belies the image of a musician on a whistle-stop tour of the world.
“My life is a bit more balanced these days, so writing songs takes up very little of my time. Nowadays is more about enjoying other things in life. I feel more comfortable physically and mentally as a result.”
Gonzalez’ latest music signals a departure from lyrics that told us how life was from his perspective, to lyrics that attempt to show us what’s out there if only we give in to the light. In his own words, perhaps the song that best exemplifies this is What Will with its opening What will it be? Our legacy, Lazy acceptance of them all.
“It’s asking politely for us to check where we’re from, where we’re going and who we are, and to let the light lead you out with light being facts, truths and good ideas.”
Feedback from concertgoers on Gonzalez’ performance at the Youth Theatre was positive if the smiles on faces were anything to go by. Comments ranged from “great”, “loved it” to “beautiful” with one punter claiming it was “true food for the soul” and “inspirational”.
A downside was the venue, which, according to some, didn’t lend itself to a gig of this kind. There were complaints that the seating arrangement wasn’t well thought out forcing some people to either stand up or sit on the floor. Others bemoaned the lack of leg space between rows. This compounded the discontent created in the week leading up to the concert which left many ticketless.
Still, Gonzalez eased some of that pain by closing his set with Cycling Trivialities. As one of its lines goes, “Who cares in a hundred years from now?”
Jose Gonzalez was brought to Vietnam by the Swedish Embassy and CAMA ATK. For more info on him click on jose-gonzalez.com