Born in Sweden to an Argentinian father who loves Latin American music and western pop classics, it would have been easy for Jose Gonzalez to suffer from some cultural confusion.
His first musical outings involved playing bass in a rock band, flirting with hardcore and dipping into indie rock — before pulling out the plug.
The 28-year-old’s stark solo album ‘Veneer’ is “an understated, moody collection” that’s all about “simple guitar, murmured vocals, and the subtlest of harmonies”, said our reviewer.
Gonzalez himself is little different — quiet, introspective, almost shy.
Ask him why his austere, intimate songs have struck a chord with so many, he laughs: “I don’t know,” before suggesting that “a lot of people listen to all sorts of music” and so some listeners have found appeal in his “simple lyrics, simple music”.
Ask him what the most embarrassing CD in his collection is, he timidly says: “Oh, there are so many, I don’t know.”
“Maybe my own music?”
The singer-songwriter’s career seems to have taken off by accident, he suggests.
“I always enjoyed playing guitar and this is just a consequence, that I did a record that was received by an audience. And here I am,” he smiles.
“It’s about me just playing guitar and the rest is just a consequence of that. I don’t really have an agenda or a message or a higher goal with this,” Gonzalez confesses, adding that he doesn’t like to reveal too much of himself in his songs.
“In a way I try to write honestly but at the same time I put a lot of restrictions on myself,” he says.
“For instance I don’t put in names or write too clearly about an event that happened to me. I try to be a bit vague and say things in general terms. Because that’s not the main goal of my music, to put myself out there.”
So it’s been quite a difficult adjustment to perform the intimate songs from ‘Veneer’ hundreds of times, in front of thousands of strangers, night after night.
“Writing the songs was more a personal thing. I was writing them at home, I wasn’t playing them for that many people. Now I’ve kind of grown into this position of writing, recording the album and going to different places and playing the songs over and over again.
“In many ways it’s not that charming,” he admits, with a bashful laugh, “but it’s fun for me to go to different places, and see different people, and try different foods.”
The change in lifestyle has influenced his songwriting.
“I’m more aware that I have an audience. I mean last time I was writing mostly for myself and I wasn’t thinking about a market, but now it’s difficult not to think about the audience,” he confesses.
“But it’s been kind of like a journey. I’ve been trying to write new songs for a long time now for the second album and right now I feel like I’m finding myself again.”
“At the moment it’s just guitar and vocals so not so different. I haven’t started recording yet but at the moment it’s very similar.”
He’s due to go, but there’s time for two more quick questions.
What’s the strangest gig you’ve played?
“I played a show in a back yard, I was sitting in a tree with the mike hanging from one of the branches.”
Where will you be in 20 years time?
“Yeah, I don’t know. Probably somewhere in Gothenberg where it’s warm and you have fruits. I think I’ll still be making records but spending more time at home cooking food.”
You like cooking?
“I like eating.”
He grins and he’s off.
- This article originally appeared on iafrica.com.