José González: Interview
It’s Not Crazy Frog Anymore

Ever since his subdued album of solo acoustic
songs, Veneer, was quietly released in his native Sweden in 2003, José González
has been steadily leaving lovestains on the hearts of listeners everywhere. In
that time he has played over 300 shows in both Europe and North America, lent
his songs to high profile commercials and TV shows while still maintaining a
sense of intimacy with his fanbase. He took some time out of his exhaustive tour
to talk to Tiny Mix Tapes about covering other people's songs, backing bouncing Ever since his subdued album of solo acoustic
songs, Veneer, was quietly released in his native Sweden in 2003, José González
has been steadily leaving lovestains on the hearts of listeners everywhere. In
that time he has played over 300 shows in both Europe and North America, lent
his songs to high profile commercials and TV shows while still maintaining a
sense of intimacy with his fanbase. He took some time out of his exhaustive tour
to talk to Tiny Mix Tapes about covering other people's songs, backing bouncing
balls, and his surprising musical background.

How does it feel to do such intensive touring on a record you made three years
ago?

It's a little frustrating, but it feels new for every country I go to, and it is
new for the people at the shows, for the most part. But in Sweden, for example,
I decided I wouldn't play there again until I had new material.

Listening to you now I think a lot of people would be surprised to know that you
played in punk and hardcore bands as a teenager. How did you arrive at your
current style?

When I started playing music I was like 14 years old, and I did both punk and I
wrote songs at home, so it's a style I've been working on parallel to all the
other styles. So it doesn't really feel like I've switched styles per se.

Tell us a little about your side-project, Junip.

There's three of us, besides guitar there's organ & Moog, and drums. Elias, he's
a jazz drummer, and is a childhood friend of mine, I've known him since we were
seven, and we've played in a bunch of hardcore bands and things like that. And
Tobias sang in a hardcore band before. And we've been around since '98, I think,
always sort of off and on, we've never really gotten to do anything proper. We
just released a 5 song EP in Sweden, and when I'm home we'll work on some songs,
so eventually we'll get a full-length together. I've got this long tour to do so
I don't really know when it'll get done.

How did you get involved in the Bravia commercial?

The people who were making it had very strong sentiments about using that song
[Heartbeats] specifically and they contacted me.

Had you seen it?

They showed me a rough cut, since they'd already shot some of it, and it was
nice to see how it was gonna look before I had to decide.

A lot of artists are hesitant to put their songs in commercials or TV shows. Did
you have any reservations about the exposure those venues would give you?

Yeah, definitely, I really had to consider it carefully. What made me
comfortable with it was that it was a very stylish commercial, it wasn't like a
voice-over "The New Revolutionary..." or whatever, a TV seems like a pretty
neutral product, it's not really like a controversial brand.

It's a very artistic spot

Yeah, exactly. First and foremost it's striking, and it kind of feels like a
music video.

How does it
feel to have a #1 ringtone?

A #1
ringtone? Do I have that?

Yeah, in
England.

Oh, ok.

Is this the first you've heard of it?

Yeah.

Congratulations.

Thank you. Yeah, the record's doing well there, but I didn't know...

It must be
weird to hear one of your songs coming out of a cell-phone.

As long as it's not "Crazy Frog" anymore.

Are you going to do a cover of that?

Eventually.

No, but you
do like to cover songs that were originally performed with distinctive
electronic elements. You've mentioned that you like the repetitive nature of
sample based music, and that you try to incorporate that when you're writing.
Have you ever been approached to have your songs remixed?

No, not yet, but on the other hand plenty of people have asked me to do covers
of their songs. More like that, so that they have a b-side of me doing it
instead of a remix or whatever, but nothing's really gotten off yet.

Is it hard to learn new songs?

Eh, it depends on whether you find it direct or you have to work with it. I
think it's hard with something I don't think is that great, so when people have
asked if I can cover their songs, it usually doesn't work.

Is it hard to pick out what the sort of heart is of these dense songs?

That's what I shoot for, and it hasn't been that difficult so far. But it's a
matter of listening to songs and find the harmony that defines them, and then
hold on to that as much as possible. It takes a little effort.

For such a small country Sweden has produced a variety of distinctive musicians
and musical styles. What do you think it is about Sweden that fosters such
eclecticism?

I don't know. I mean, there's a lot of different music in other countries it's
just that Sweden has managed to get it out.

Why do you think they can do that?

I don't know actually. But Iceland is like that too... there's actually a lot of
countries...

But if you listen you can sort of tell that it comes from Iceland, or even if
you take like Brit-pop, but Sweden's got such a variety...

Yeah, that's true. I don't know, really.

Is there an indie, DIY scene the way there is here in America?

Absolutely. When I played hardcore there was a lot of that, people would set up
their own shows and release records. There were a lot of people that had their
own labels and things like that. It was a really good foundation for everybody.

Are people more open-minded or do we just think they are?

Yeah, I guess. Swedish people travel a lot, so that gives them some exposure to
other cultures. And Swedes are you know, just kind of nice people, they're not
super nationalistic or whatever

How were you exposed to music growing up?

My family had a bunch of records that we used to listen to, some Beatles, some
Latin American stuff, Silvio Rodriguez, a lot of bossa-nova, Chico Barque.

When did you sort of find your own musical identity?

That was in middle school, when you started skating and listened to punk and
some hip-hop, Public Enemy and NWA, and then when you started to play music that
was when you started to find your own stuff, that you hadn't heard at home or on
the radio.

What plans do you have for the upcoming year?

They'll be a lot more touring, I'll be back in the US in June, and probably two
more times this year. But I'm ready to do the next record, and hopefully have
some time to work with Junip a little.

Any big changes for the next album?

I want to stay focused on the guitar, so the goal is that all the songs sound
good with just guitar, and then maybe I'll add some more.

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