Evolution of An Artist: An Interview with José González

Thérèse LaGamma: Were you trained classically on guitar or was this something you picked up later?
Jose González: For some years I studied with a private teacher who taught me Spanish classical tunes and gave me technical training that has been useful for the rest of my career. One of my favorite pieces was “Asturias” by Isaac Albeniz. But I did start on my own as well, playing songs by Silvio Rodriguez, Joao Gilberto, and the Beatles among others.

LAGAMMA: What kind of music did you listen to as a kid? What are you currently listening to?
GONZÁLEZ: I grew up with music from Latin America and The Beatles. But when I started to find my own taste I went through Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, and other well-known singers. In my teens, I got more into punk, like Black Flag, Misfits, Dead Kennedy’s and later metal hardcore—the style that we played in our band Renascence, which later became Sweet Little Sinister. I also enjoyed hip-hop of the early nineties and indie rock like Dinosaur Jr. Nowadays—fast forward 20 years—I listen to a wide range of music. High life, ragga, electro, salsa, cumbia, rocksteady…you name it!

LAGAMMA: What have been some of your favorite places to play?
GONZÁLEZ: In 1,000 shows I’ve had amazing experiences all over the world. Sometimes this happens where I least expect it! It’s usually the venue and the audience that makes a show special – not so much the city and even less the country.

LAGAMMA: Give us a career highlight.
GONZÁLEZ: When I played my version of the “Knife’s Heartbeats” at festivals in the UK and Ireland, there were a couple of times when the crowd sang along so loudly that I couldn’t hear myself. #beatlesmoment.

LAGAMMA: What has touring solo been like versus touring with your band Junip?
GONZÁLEZ: The most noticeable difference between touring solo or with other musicians is when I get off stage after the show. There’s no one to high five and say we did a great show smile
Otherwise, it’s pretty similar. We always travel in a group of at least four people We drink beer and discuss silly things. Musically, there’s a difference of course. On my own, I have more pressure to perform well with my guitar but at the same time I’m freer in my dynamics and I can vary the tempo when I feel like it.

LAGAMMA: Many of the songs on Vestiges & Claws were inspired by West African music. How did this come about?
GONZÁLEZ: I first got into music from West Africa through desert blues and Afrobeat about ten years ago, listening to artists like Amadou & Mariam, Ali Farka Toure, and Tinariwen. I was intrigued by their style of playing guitar and had moments at home when I sat and played along. My songs that are inspired by those styles are “Killing for Love”, “Stories We Build”, “What Will”, and “Afterglow”.