One man and his guitar. That’s what Swedish singer-songwriter Jose Gonzalez is known for. His music consists of soft, acoustic numbers with poetic lyrics, and his live shows often feature just him and his guitar alone.
For his upcoming show at the Neon Lights Festival in Singapore later this month, however, Gonzalez won’t be alone on stage.
During a phone interview from his home in Gothenburg, Sweden, the artiste explained that apart from him on guitar and vocals, there will be another guitarist, as well as a percussionsist and backing vocalists.
“For this tour, I will be coming with a five piece band that I’ve been touring with for this latest album,” he said. “I’m still doing shows with just me and my guitar, but I’ve realised that a couple of the songs can benefit from more vocals and percussions.”
In case you were wondering why his name doesn’t sound Swedish, Gonzalez was actually born to Argentinian parents who fled the country in 1976 and relocated to Sweden.
Growing up listening to Latin American music and bossanova songs, he started learning the guitar when he was a teenager.
“The guitar was my first instrument. I was learning classical guitar and playing bossanova songs … it is a sound I am very familiar with,” the 38-year-old Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez formed a band called Junip with Tobias Winterkorn on organs and the Moog synthesiser and Elias Araya (who later left) in 1998 and released an EP in 2000. “With my solo albums, the acoustic guitar became my signature sound. But with Junip, we also have organs and synthesisers … it had a more electronic vibe, and was inspired by psychedelic music,” he explained.
In 2003, his solo career took off with the release of his debut solo album Veneer, which included a well-received acoustic cover of fellow Swedish act The Knifes’ electronic hit Heartbeats. He repeated that trick with his second album, In Our Nature in 2007, in which he covered Massive Attack’s trip-hop hit Teardrop.
Don’t mistake Gonzalez for a cover artiste though. Most of his albums consists of original work, and he says that he only put in those covers in the first place in order to reach a wider audience.
“Heartbeats, Teardrop … those were songs that I added to my live shows at first because I didn’t have many songs of my own. They were also songs that are different from my own style, but they were recognisable, so they became a way to reach an audience who didn’t know my music,” he explained.
After In Our Nature, however, it would be another seven years before Gonzalez released another solo album, 2015’s Vestiges & Claws.
In between, he busied himself with touring, as well as going back to Junip to release two albums. He also worked on the soundtrack to The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty in 2013, directed by and starring Ben Stiller.
Comprising exclusively original material, Vestiges & Claws kept the mellow, warm acoustic sounds of his previous solo efforts, but with added layers of percussions, vocals and other instruments. Remarkably, Vestiges & Claws was self-produced and recorded almost entirely by Gonzalez on his own in his Gothenburg home.
“I also recorded the first albums on my own, but third album I felt more than ever that I didn’t want to work with other people. I feel comfortable on my own, just me and my laptop and headphones,” he said.
“I’m not the best technician or producer, but I liked the idea of keeping it slightly rough so that it sounds homemade, and that’s something I wanted to preserve.”