Seven years ago, a record executive never would have looked for the next superstar singer-songwriter in a University of Gothenburg, Sweeden research lab, yet that was exactly where he was spending his time. The student was Jose Gonzalez, and at the time he was pursuing an advanced degree in Biochemistry and merely dabbling in music on the side.
Today Gonzalez has won several international music awards and sold more than 700,000 copies of his debut album Veneer. He has toured the globe, from Scandinavia to Japan, several times over and captivated audiences with his deftly subtle finger picking and understated vocals.
As you might assume when listening to his music, Gonazalez is a humble and soft-spoken man. However, more than once during a conversation with Listen Up Denver! from a London hotel room he made references to the current state of the music business as being full of “artistic compromises.”
Though he has performed at some of the largest festivals in the world, including Austin City Limits and Coachella here in the states, he made it very clear that “most festivals are compromises for me. Musically they aren’t that good because usually the stages and sound systems are made for rock and loud music and it is difficult to get my acoustic guitar to sound as good as I want it to.”
Later in same conversation he referenced the relatively new practice of licensing songs to corporations for commercials in much the same light. It might seem to some as if these comments were, in a way, biting the hand that feeds him as Gonzalez owes much of his rapid rise to the international acclaim to these two mediums and specifically to one television commercial.
In 2005 his take on The Knife’s “Heartbeats” was featured in an international ad campaign for Sony’s Bravia line of televisions. The ad was a fascinating artistic statement featuring 250,000 super balls careering down a San Francisco street and apparently that was enough for Gonzalez. “Most of the time I get to see the ad before I say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and I usually feel like it depends on what the advert is about and whether it is a great idea or not,” he said before switching gears and complimenting music fans around the world. “Music is music, and I think people see through the feeling that is not the perfect setting, and if they hear something they like they are okay with how it is presented and I think that’s the most important thing,” he said.
It is observations such as these that give us insight to the critical thinking side of his acutely sharp mind, while it is his meticulously crafted music that gives us insight into the more creative side. A side which has masterfully adapted from writing the songs about love and self disclosure that dominated Veneer to reveal a more sophisticated and mature songwriter.
“On In Our Nature I have approached the lyrics more consciously,” said Gonzalez. “I was inspired by philosophical and religious topics and by elements of human nature and other urgent and relevant topics that could be true to anyone. I was reading ‘Practical Ethics’ by Peter Singer and ‘The God Delusion’ by Richard Dawkins while I was writing this album and those certainly affected the songs.” The result is an album that, while not hook laden, has a way of worming its way into your soul and troubling your mind.
Though he claims that the album isn’t an overtly political statement, lyrics like “How low are you willing to go before you reach all your selfish goals?” and later, on the title track of the album, “Put down your sword. Send home your dogs. Open up your doors. Let down your guard,” are hard to ignore as a listener in today’s world and especially in the United States. It is clear that on In Our Nature Gonzalez has taken a more worldly perspective and is offering much more to think about this time than he was three years ago.
What kind of songs flow from Gonzalez in the next three years are a mystery, but what seems sure at this is point is that he will not be slaving over test tubes and studying viruses in a lab. He will instead be traveling the globe enchanting audiences in his own contagious way.
Check Out Jose Gonzalez If You Like:
- Iron & Wine
- Nick Drake
- Elliot Smith