José González has put out three albums under his own name in the past twelve years. Four years separate his breakthrough debut, 2003's Veneer, and its follow-up, 2007's In Our Nature. A further seven-and-a-half separate the latter with last February's Vestiges and Claws. Of course, the gaps were filled in González's own way – heavy touring; two albums with Junip (the band he formed five years before finding solo fame) and much needed time off simply (as he puts it) “sitting on the couch with a coffee watching lectures on Google Talks.” It does raise the question, however, of just how monotonous the touring would have been after playing ostensibly the same set on and off for two years straight – a struggle which, although González partially admits to, doesn't affect him in the slightest anymore.
“I suppose I was getting a little restless toward the end of the cycle for In Our Nature,” he says. “My album cycles generally tend to last about three years – that includes writing, recording, releasing, promoting and touring them. When touring was coming to a close for that record, I'd essentially exhausted whatever I could play from my two solo albums. A bit of time away has really helped expand the show – I now have three solo albums, two Junip albums, a bunch of B-sides and some covers as well. I have a lot more music now, which means we're getting to do an hour-and-a-half or thereabouts when we're playing headlining sets. I've been able to switch from just sitting down and playing by myself to incorporating more and more percussion and singing. The shows I'm playing are more varied than ever.”
Vestiges and Claws is another warm and strikingly-intimate record. It's rich with González's textured guitar lines, sparse percussion and simple, emphatic choruses. It's also, amazingly enough, the first album González has put out under his own name that does not contain a cover. Veneer famously featured a rendition of The Knife's “Heartbeats” which went on to become even more popular than the original; while In Our Nature featured a well-received take on Massive Attack's 1998 classic “Teardrop.” These days, however, covers are of less interest. They are still performed live – González mentions recently trying out a John Lennon song, “#9 Dream,” in the setlist – but as far as being recorded in the studio is concerned, it's become a thing of the past.
“When we were doing the first Junip album [2010's Fields], we briefly talked about adding a cover or not,” says González. Eventually, we just said no and didn't think anything more of it. It didn't even come up when we were making the second Junip album [2013's Junip] or making this new solo album – that's just the way that I tend to work now. I don't want covers to be something that I fall back on – I'm more interested in simply writing until I have enough material to substantiate an album. Personally, it wasn't that big of a statement; although I'm well aware of how much people love my early covers and what a cover can mean. If anyone has discovered the music of The Knife or the music of Massive Attack through me, then I see that as a huge compliment. I found out about so many artists when I was growing up through artists I liked covering their work – Nina Simone and Chet Baker come to mind."
A handful of videos have already been made to go along with key tracks from Vestiges and Claws. “Leaf Off/The Cave” features González and co. performing in front of a congregation in his hometown of Gothenburg in Sweden. There's also “Open Book,” which follows on from a bizarre Calexico video González starred in some years ago; as well as a line-drawn animated video for “Let it Carry You.” González expresses reluctance to appear in videos – if it were up to him, he'd not feature at all. Over the years, however, he's clearly grown more comfortable with the process – see the hilarious Junip video for “Always,” in which he and his bandmates are entered into an air guitar competition.
“Videos are interesting,” he muses. “They take the least amount of time but the most amount of money from the labels. They can be a headache a lot of the time – I never go into making a video wanting to be in it – but I always come out of doing them being really grateful for the experience. Two directors in particular – Andres Nillson and Mikel Cee Karlsson – have kind of become my go-to guys. Mikel even made the documentary about me [2010's The Extraordinary Ordinary Life of José González], so our relationship is at a point where I don't even have to really say anything for him to understand what I want out of something like that – and, a lot of the time, neither does he.”
A year on from Vestiges and Claws' release, González will return to Australia in February for the first time in five years, following on from a visit as a part of Junip. Several shows – including an appearance at the iconic Sydney Opera House – have already sold out. “It's very exciting,” González says calmly. “I can't wait to come back. I haven't read details, but I hear that we're playing a zoo?”
José González will be performing for the Melbourne Zoo Twilight Series.