Live in Chicago: Jose Gonzalez


review and interview by Meredith Tucker
photos by Susana Meza

Singer songwriter Jose Gonzalez visited Engine Studios in Chicago IL for day 2 of KEXP’s live broadcasts from the windy city. Gonzalez, hailing from Sweden, produces a lo-fi solo set of heartfelt, gorgeous folk songs. Gonzalez and John Richards discussed his favorite venues to play taking into account the challenges that acoustic guitarists face in big spaces. Gonzalez’s smooth, classical guitar riffs offer a warm sound if even with a somewhat muted energy. It’s evident that Gonzalez doesn’t rush anything – his kinship with modern day folk singer-songwriters is familiar, but what sets him apart is his timelessness. His brand of indie folk seems stripped down, bare bones, and organically produced. Though backed on the record by a few vocalists and instrumentalists, his stunning simplicity is what provides a ghostlike, haunting energy behind his melodies.


I sat down with Mr. Gonzalez to discuss the challenges facing modern singer songwriters, his new album, and more.

JOSE: I was fourteen years old when I picked up the guitar and came from a not-so musical family so I was kind of like on my own, but my dad liked singing and learned guitar basics, playing Beatles, etc. Around the same time I started playing bass also and in a punk band at first and then a hardcore band, from like 93-98. Started studying at the university and kind of laid off all the music except acoustic.

JOSE: First band was called Back Against the Wall. Inspired by like the Misfits. A year later a couple of other friends and I started a hardcore band called Sweet Little Sinister. This was all in Gothamburg Sweden.

MT: What do you think is different between playing shows in Sweden vs playing shows in America?

JOSE: I always thought that the differences in Sweden are just as big as the differences in America. Some sort of show is always the same anywhere you go. I don’t know if it’s the music that attracts similar people, but I don’t see any sort of big difference. It’s more like if it’s a Friday or a Tuesday and if they sell alcohol or not.

MT: Does your music attract a certain crowd?

JOSE: I think it’s a pretty diverse crowd. These days it’s usually the people who know the music already and the people who are ready for a kind of quiet show. When I first started playing there were lots of talky type young people. Now it’s really mixed actually. Even style wise I see people from different subcultures. It’s not like one style.

MT: Is this because of any philosophically folk generational type of thing? Do your lyrics have an influence?

JOSE: I don’t think it’s really the lyrics that has anything to do with it, but just the style of the music that can just sort of suit hip hop kids to grandmas. A friend of mine who was in to noise and punk and stuff, even punk kids have to have music to make out to.

MT: Tell me a bit about your new album.

JOSE: Yeah, it’s the similar style as the first one, all guitar and vocals mainly. Maybe half the songs have additional percussion and some backup vocals pretty much similar as the first one. I feel like the singing and the guitar playing is a bit more – on my scale – more intense. The lyrics are less self-centered.

MT; Do you have any sort of method for writing lyrics or composing songs?

JOSE: I’ve been really conscious about that because I feel it’s very difficult. I consciously try to read stuff and write down ideas and form sentences. I think that much of the stuff that I was reading ended up in one way or another ended up in the lyrics, philosophy, religion or nature. Basically, it’s about having usually I have almost finished songs with guitar and melody and I fit in the words so I would have something.

MT: Who have been some of your biggest influences?

JOSE: When I started back in to write the first songs for the first album, it was Simon and Garfunkel, and Cat Power, Songs: Ohia, that type of thing. Now it’s been the same format but it’s music from other genres, like Fela Kuti, Amadu and J Dilla.

MT: Why do you do primarily singer songwriter acts now? Do you prefer it over playing in an electronically infused sort of genre like hardcore?

JOSE: It was awhile ago that I was playing in the harder bands and I noticed that I really enjoy playing on my own because I am a bit of a control freak, and on my own, it’s only me, I can choose the tempo and change it whenever I like. It’s easier to carry the backpack everywhere.






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  1. Posted October 4, 2007 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    What a great set today. Everyone here on the East Coast loved it. Thank you for putting Jose on and introducing him to me. In Our Nature is an amazing album and deserves all of the pub you guys give it!

    Thanks again, KEXP!

    Mike Rabinowitz

  2. Tyler
    Posted October 5, 2007 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Jose is solid gold. Had the opportunity to speak with him quickly before a Madison, WI show this summer. Thanks to KEXP for introducing so many people to this talent. His music is on another level.

  3. Posted October 8, 2007 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    Hey, who is that hot guy in green next to the shortest blogger in the world?

  4. Posted October 9, 2007 at 12:05 am | Permalink

    Uh… Jose Gonzalez?

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