INTERVIEW – Behind the tranquil magic of José González’s ‘Local Valley’

Enamoured by the album, we interviewed indie folk artist José González to ask him more about his latest work and what went into it.

José González has certainly established a growing fanbase in Asia. The talented indie folk singer-songwriter from Sweden has performed at festivals across the region including Neon Lights (2016) and the International Jazz Festival (2019) in Singapore, Clockenflap Festival (2016) in Hong Kong, and the Legacy Festival (2016) in Taiwan.

His thought-provoking lyricism on humanism and solidarity coupled with his warm singing style and Spanish guitar has won fans over with more than a million streams worldwide. His lyrics largely revolve around ideas of civilisation, humanism, and solidarity. A sincere, artful performer whose singular approach to songwriting and sonics sets him worlds apart, José González is in a class by himself.

Released just last month, his latest album ‘Local Valley’ is an introspective record, with sonically and aesthetically tranquil sounds that gives glances to human life, nature and even language. ‘Local Valley’ is his first album to contain songs in each of his three languages. ‘El Invento’ uses Spanish lyrics while both ‘Tjomme’ and cover song ‘En Stund På Jorden’, a song by the Iranian-Swedish singer Laleh, are sung in Swedish.

Even songs like ‘Head On’ pulls us in, well…head on…

Sharing his thoughts on the album,

“Local Valley is similar to my other solo albums in sound and spirit, a natural continuation of the styles I’ve been adding through the years both solo and with Junip. It’s more outward looking than my earlier works, but no less personal. On the contrary, I feel more comfortable than ever saying that this album reflects me and my thoughts right now.”

We spoke with José to find out more about the intricate sounds in this album and how it all came together.

AL365: Hi José González, Vanessa here. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us at AsiaLive365. Congrats on the release of Local Valley!

How does it feel like to be back releasing new stuff after six years? What can you say about your album, sonically and texturally, and what has changed over the years?

José GonzálezYeah, so starting off, I’m really excited to finally release this fourth album. It’s been a longer wait than any other release. And I’m excited for many reasons. One, is that I am very proud of this album. I feel like it’s very in line with who I am as a person, from the cover to the sounds to the lyrics. The cover is more colourful and more playful. The sounds are a bit more varied; not only guitar vocals, but also loops, drum machines and different types of productions. And lyrically, I’m mixing existential sounds with the goofy sounds, heavy topics with light topics.

I’m really happy with this fourth album, and I guess that it took six years, mostly for circumstantial reasons. Like I’d finished the album almost like all my other albums; about three years after the last album. But the reason why it’s six years and not three years is partly because I was out touring with an orchestra and had released a live album with them. Then I had my first child; my daughter in 2017. And now my young boy. So Laura and Matteo, they also took a bit of time. I took more time for my family and less for writing. Then the last reason was the pandemic, I had the album almost finished in March 2020 when I had written all the songs. But then the pandemic came and I got more time than usual to do the production of the album.

AL365: Since you mentioned the birth of your children, ‘El Invento’ is a beautiful first-ever Spanish language track inspired by the birth of your daughter, Laura. Could you elaborate on how she inspired you and we hope for more Spanish tracks down the road someday?

José González: I felt like this was just the beginning of the continuation and so I’m happy to interact more in Spanish. I think the inspiration for ‘El Invento’ and the album as a whole was partly because of me becoming a dad. On one hand, I was sort of asking myself “who I am” and “who I want to be”, and how I’m a product of biology and culture. And sort of feeling like I wanted to write in Spanish more than ever.

For ‘El Invento’, I was thinking about the sort of classical existential questions of “who we are”, “where we’re headed”, and “why”. And, in a way, I think my daughter prompted me to think a bit more clearly about these issues. I’ve been thinking about them for many, many years. And I see them as sort of – part of them important and part of them are just questions that we are able to ask, but not necessarily because they’re meaningful to ask. She has inspired me both in terms of existential questions, but also in me writing in Spanish.

AL365: This next question is quite relatable in terms of how you write your music and also now that you have children. With climate change and overconsumption happening (energy, resources, plastics), what are your hopes for their future and what do you hope more humans can do for our planet?

José González: I’m a fan of science and reason. I think in the same way as “we found a way to burn fossil fuels to revolutionise our civilizations”, so I’m sure that we can find a way to try to figure this out. How to maintain biodiversity, live prosperous lives. But we have to use science and reason, we have to collaborate. And so I’m a possibilist in the same way that Hans Rosling, the famous Swedish statistician, was. It’s not about sitting back and thinking that “Oh, it’s gonna be fine”. It’s more like we need to look at what we’re doing right and how we can do more of that. So that’s my sort of hope for the future.

On Twitter, I’m vocal about issues of energy and climate. So I use Twitter as my place to to be sort of like an armchair activist. I have three hashtags that I’m promoting and one is #SecularHumanism. Another one is #EffectiveAltruism. And the third one is #EcoModernism. So when I think about climate, I think about a modern humanity that lives densely, so that we leave more land and ocean for nature. But we live densely with modern technologies, and we use it in a smart way to have a prosperous humanity.

AL365: Amazing! We love that ideology. So back to music… We heard that you used to play in punk band as well as a hardcore band? Tell us more about that time – what was it like?

José González: Yeah, it is fun to think about my varied background because I feel like I was a different person when I was 14. I’m 43 now. So when I was a teenager, I was doing my homework, but I was also out with my friends skating, and then we got into music. I got invited to a punk band. And then later we formed the hardcore band. At the same time, as I was doing those things with bass and screaming, I was also learning to play Beatles and Bossa Nova, and then later classical Spanish guitar. I think all of that, the mixture of all these things – is part of who I am today.

So when I’m talking about my new album, I can relate. There’s one song called ‘Head On’ where I was writing the lyrics and feeling like it was pretty similar to the way that I wrote the hardcore lyrics for my band Sweet Little Sinister. It’s nostalgic, but also I guess also influential. I can still find influences that reach far back.

AL365: Yeah, it seems that you have had a solid career. Is there any song in your repertoire that you’ve particularly proud of? Or is there a song that still resonates deeply within you despite the time that has passed since its release? And if you could pick any song to let someone who has never heard your music before listen to – which one would you want them to listen to first?

José González: Well in a way with my old songs I can many times feel like Crosses is one of the best ones. But with the new album I’m really proud of songs like Visions and El Invento. Both the songs are very much in line with who I am and who I want to be, and they convey ideas or they at least relate to ideas that I think are interesting and important for us. The first smart apes in the universe. So as I would say Visions and El Invento. But of course if people want to look for older songs, I think Crosses, and Heartbeats which I didn’t write, but is of course one of the best well-known songs that I play. Yeah, maybe we start in that direction. But by now I have these four solo albums, two albums with Junip and one live album with the orchestra. So there’s plenty of songs to botanise and see if you find something you like.

AL365: That’s awesome. Is there anything that you would like to say to your fans in Asia right now?

José González: I’m really looking forward to touring again and if I can make it to Asia again, it  being such a big part of the world that I haven’t spent enough time in. I feel that any message I would just say is simply “Enjoy your lives and look forward to meeting you.”

AL365: Thanks again José! We look forward to seeing you in Singapore again too!

Photo: Hannele Fernstrom





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