Guitar hero: An interview with José González
BORN IN SWEDEN to Argentine parents, guitarist José González has developed an international reputation for his acoustic indie-folk compositions. His debut album, “Veneer,” was released in Sweden in 2003. Two years later it was released in the rest of Europe and the United States, reaching No. 7 on the British charts.
Playing his trademark classical guitar, González brought his soothing sound to the Illini Union Courtyard Café on May 2. For those of you unfamiliar with González's work, check out these videos first, then read on! (The videos were posted on YouTube by the artist's record company.)
• Song: “Crosses,” from the album “Veneer”
• Song: “Stay in the Shade,” from the album “Veneer”
With the help of his tour manager, Gargoyle writers Erin Hayes and Andrea Park were able to get backstage and talk with González. In the interview that follows, Erin is asking the questions, except where noted.
GARGOYLE: So, is it OK if I just start with some general type of questions?
OK, so, um, can you tell us a little bit about when you started playing guitar, and your kind of the general process getting to where you are now, and like, how you developed your skills?
Uh, yeah, I was 14, picked up the guitar, and first, it was the summer, I just tried to learn on my own, playing some bossanova songs. Then, after a year, I felt like I wanted to learn more so I went to this private teacher and learned classical guitar. So yeah. Teenager, playing acoustic guitar at home and playing bass in a band.
Oh, you play bass? Cool. Do you still play that at all?
Eh … No, I played bass in a punk band, a local band, until like 1990 or something, but then it's been mostly just acoustic guitar.
Cool, okay. So you were born in Sweden?
So, how long did you live there?
I've lived there all my life. And I still live there. My parents are from Argentina, and they moved to Sweden in, like, ‘76, and I was born in ‘78.
OK, so um, how does performing in the UK compare to performing in America?
Usually, it depends, like — comparing countries to countries— it's like, eh … it depends on how much I've sold before, and what day of the week it is, and if it's a seated crowd, or a stand-up crowd. So I always feel like it's difficult to compare countries. But in general, they have a different dialect … ? Heh.
Yeah, haha. Like, do you feel like the kind of people you attract to your concerts are any different, like, in different places that you go? Or do you think that it kind of like, appeals to the same type of people?
It's very … It's become … At first, it used to be like, your young people that look up new music, alternative music. But now it's become more and more of a mixed crowd, like different ages, and the styles, you know. And it's all very mixed up. It's become very mixed up.
Erin Hayes interview guitarist
Cool. So, um, can you talk a little bit about our success in the UK? ‘Cos, I heard your album went to like, No. 7 or something.
Yeah, uh, I was … I had toured for a little while there, I had just released an EP. Things were going pretty well, but then Sony had “Heartbeats” on a TV commercial, and with that it kind of took off and started selling quite a lot. I went from playing in clubs, or places like this one with two or three hundred people to bigger places with two or three thousand people.
So, do you think that kind of same process is going to spread to America, and you're going to get more, like, larger venues here and kind of, more success here?
Um, yeah, I mean it's uh … I don't underestimate the power of, you know, TV and like, mainstream radio. Like, the music can be exactly the same but if you don't get that marketing, and like channels here … yeah, it's nothing that I expect, and I'm pretty happy just filling rooms like this. I don't need to sell millions. Like, from the start of my sound, I've felt like my music is quite alternative, and not aimed at being mainstream, so I don't bother.
Yeah, yeah. So can you talk a little bit about your work with Zero 7?
Yeah, they called me and showed me some of their sketches for their third album. And, I was touring quite a lot, so I just told them that, you know, it would be fun as long as I didn't need to write anything, because I'm very slow at writing. So I hung out with them and they wrote these couple songs … And they're very nice people, and I was on tour with them last year, and … yeah.
Awesome. Um, so I saw that one of your songs was remixed by Tiësto? Do you, have you ever like … do you know Tiësto at all?
Ah, yeah, he played at Coachella. And um … yeah, I remember I didn't like that very much. I hadn't heard of his music that much. I guess it's kind of trancy?
Yeah. What kind of music do you usually listen to?
Yeah … um, Andrea, can you think of anything?
[Andrea] Yeah, uh, who are your favorite artists?
Awesome. Thank you so much!
— Videos of songs from José González's May 2 performance at Courtyard Café can be seen by clicking the following titles:
— Gargoyle coverage: Gargoyle preview of José González's May 2 show at the Courtyard Café
— External link: José González's MySpace page
— External link: José González's official site
— External link: José González's Wikipedia page