As a moody Argentinean kid born in Sweden and raised on records by Joy Division, Nick Drake and Elliot Smith, José González didn’t have much chance but to be a quietly insular and quivering singer-songwriter of melancholy words and music. Even when he turned his attention to rock as a teen, it was sad in nature.
Intimate, skeletal albums such as 2005’s “Veneer” and 2007’s fleshed-out “In Our Nature,” found González inward-looking, forlorn and angrily navel-gazing with the occasional hat tip to political song like, “How Low.” After 2007, he spent time in bands such as Junip and Göteborg String Theory. Perhaps socializing as such opened him up, as González became more outward looking in his lyrics — cheerier even — for 2015’s “Vestiges & Claws,” and presumably, his current tour with the New York City avant-garde chamber ensemble, yMusic.
You had a seven year gap between solo albums that ended with “Vestiges & Claws.” What did you learn from being in bands that you brought back to your personal work?
When I started working on the new album, I found myself returning often to its demos, even though I had learned a lot from working as Junip. I went old school. I actually felt more comfortable when I had a song that sounded too simple, even empty. I could truly produce something from that start point – what instruments to add, what additional structure I could give it. Mixing, too. So, yes I felt comfortable with all the production tricks I learned from those situations but still chose still to keep Vestiges & Claws sketchy and simple – raw, even.
Listening to the new album, it’s overall vibe is so different than what we’re used to lyrically from you which is usually something insular and withdrawn even. The new album is more outward, filled with big universal love.
It’s definitely a conscious effort to open up. Since my first album, I have been struggling with the monotony of my guitar playing and the emotions of my lyrics, often sad and melancholy. Those are first person narratives. Even when my music was soft, there was aggression and frustration. I have been trying to move from that, so not to be a whining singing-songwriter. There are plenty of those around. I was always looking for more things to sing about — society, humanity. This time those topics with lots of metaphors came out, another sort of narrative. This is for me, one step further.
Music doesn’t have to be a direct reflection of how one feels or what relationships the author happens to exist in. What cheered you up?
I think I am just more comfortable. There are other subjects to sing about than m self and my relationships. I have been trying to do protest song and political song like the ones from when I was young. I like how Rodriguez talks about the working classes or how John Lennon imagines one world. I think about those ideas a lot now, so that comes out.
The new album is raw, but the ensemble you are currently touring with – yMusic – is lush, even when dissonant. What are you hoping to bring to your songs with these players that didn’t exist previously?
I often think of my music now as universal, so I’d like something pleasurable and harmonious. I also come from a hardcore background and like riffs that evoke unpleasantness. Noise makes you feel something too. I wanted to take some of the songs on the new album and make them more pleasurable, give them new direction, bring out more emotions and harmonies. I think we pushed them pretty hard.