José González: „I’m twenty percent hippie“

(c) Sabrina Fröhlich

The musician José González talks about his childhood growing up as an Argentinian immigrant in Sweden, his views on atheism and his new album Vestiges & Claws

Heartbeats by José González is a song of our generation – but only few people know very much about the musician behind it. Before his sold-out show at Ottakringer Brauerei in Vienna, where he presented his new album Vestiges & Claws, the Swedish Singer/Songwriter took some time to chat about music, life and, well, accounting versus flower power. Find out what he criticizes about religion, how he feels when he hears his own songs in commercials and what life lesson his mother taught him about racism and nationalism.

mokant.at: How do you hope the audience here in Vienna will feel after your show tonight?
José González: Hopefully not too sleepy (laughs). We’ve noticed that it can be a bit long when the audience is standing instead of sitting. I think most people want to hear songs like Hearbeats and Teardrop, but we’ll play for one and a half hour and hopefully they’ll be excited.

(c) Sabrina Fröhlich

(c) Sabrina Fröhlich

mokant.at: What’s the song you’re looking forward to performing the most?
José González: It’s been great to play most of the songs! The new songs are a lot of fun. Yesterday in Prague, Leaf Off / The Cave was really good, there was a good vibe with the audience.

mokant.at: In the video to this song you are at a Sunday Assembly, a non-religious gathering. How did you get that idea?
José González:
I was talking to Mikel (Cee Karlsson, Anm.) who is the director of the video. He had found a guy who is working with something like a three meter long mechanical worm that can move. He said that we could do a video where I am connected to this worm, and I was like “Aaahm, not sure…” (laughs). But then I remembered that I had read an article about the Sunday Assembly and felt like we could do a video where we’re the band there – and that’s sort of what we did. We invited over Sanderson Jones, who founded the Sunday Assembly with Pippa Evans, and he came to Gothenburg. It’s actually one of the schools close to where I used to live when I was younger, so it’s not a church, it’s a school auditorium.

mokant.at: Some of your lyrics are about whether we need religion. Are you looking for alternatives to religion?
José González: Yeah, I guess so… I think one of the main problems with religion is that there are a lot of false claims about the earth and us. And also there are a lot of traditions or ways of living or ideas of what you should do and shouldn’t do that are based on an idea of morality that can be a bit out-dated. So I’m interested in that, but I think there is stuff that is usually associated with religion that is good… there’s no need for throwing everything away. Getting together with people on Sunday, singing together and having a sense of community could be great. I felt like the Sunday Assembly had a good, laid back atheist “type-of-church”-vibe (laughs). Also meditation – you don’t have to believe in any god to have the benefits of meditation.

mokant.at: Let’s talk about your other music video that recently came out: Every Age. While watching it, I felt like I am only a tiny part in this universe. Was it your intention to create that kind of feeling?

José González: Yeah, it was. A friend, Simon, came up with the idea of sending up a balloon and shooting that 360-degree video. He was mentioning this to me and I was like “Oh, I would love to have that as a video for my song”. His ambition with the video was to let people see earth to space. It changes your perspective when you think about your personal issues, or when you think about nationalism or other problems in the world. Once you step out, you see the earth as round or maybe just a dot if you zoom out even more. Then you realize that we’re in this amazing place, but we’re small and sharing the world together. So there is a one-love-one-world type of flower-power-message.

mokant.at: Very hippie.
José González: Yeah (laughs).

mokant.at: So are you a little bit of a hippie?
José González: I think I’m not the best hippie (laughs). There are some aspects of the hippie-ness that I think is pretty common, especially to many musicians. When you’re on festivals where everybody is like “Let’s make the best of this time we have together”. And I think that’s a beautiful thought so, you know… I’m twenty percent hippie (laughs).

(c) Sabrina Fröhlich

(c) Sabrina Fröhlich

mokant.at: But that’s not very much!
José González: Yeah. Accounting is my hobby.

mokant.at: Accounting? Really?
José González: Yeah, I make sure that all the numbers are correct, and sorting stuff in my library. So, I’m twenty percent hippie and eighty percent accountant (laughs). No, I’m kidding!

mokant.at: Too late, now I already have my headline. But back to your music: Your song Heartbeats is known all over the world. How does it feel when you suddenly hear it in a commercial or in a movie?
José González: I don’t know. Especially that song is the one that people associate with me and by now I don’t feel like it’s mine any more (laughs). I didn’t write it, so it wasn’t “mine” from the start. But I’ve been playing it for ten years and people love it and I still enjoy that song. And whenever I hear it somewhere, it feels okay, and it feels like part of history and something that has been. So it’s a bit different with new songs where it’s a bit more personal maybe.

mokant.at: It seems like everyone knows some of your music and also your name, but here in Austria, not many people really know the person behind the music. So I’d like to ask you some random short questions about your life.
José González: Yeah, okay!

mokant.at: If your apartment caught fire, what’s the first thing you would save?
José González: This is not so hippie but probably my laptop (laughs). Because of the hard-drive with all the backup.

mokant.at: What’s the last concert you bought a ticket for?
José González: Ah, that’s actually a good question.

mokant.at: Because you don’t have to buy tickets usually?
José González: Yeah, in Gothenburg everyone is very nice to me and the bands that come around are usually happy to put me on the list. But actually I bought ticket for a band from Peru three months ago, an electro cumbia, but I can’t remember their name right now.

mokant.at: We did an interview with Fink last summer and he said that your music inspired him to change his career and become a Singer/Songwriter. Did you know that?
José González: Oh, cool! That’s a compliment. We did a couple of shows together and he already told me that he likes my style but I didn’t hear that part (laughs). He’s amazing, our light engineer is a big fan of Fink. So, that’s cool.

(c) Sabrina Fröhlich

(c) Sabrina Fröhlich

mokant.at: Which fellow musician would you like to spend a day with, dead or alive?
José González: (long pause) I don’t know, maybe Mercedes Sosa. She was an Argentinian singer with an amazing voice. She is part of my history in a way because my parents are from Argentinia, so maybe her.

mokant.at: What’s the first thing you remember from your childhood?
José González: Not sure. I’ve been looking at pictures and it’s difficult to tell if it’s a real memory or a picture-memory. There are a couple of memories of me running around in our apartment in the suburb of Gothenburg. There was a kitchen and the hallway and the living room and I would run, like, back and forth. That’s one of the memories.

mokant.at: What’s the most important lesson your mom or dad have taught you?
José González: Hmm… They weren’t really preachy. But there’s something I’ve thought about a couple of times in terms of racism and nationalism. How my mom would tell me that we, as immigrants, had to work double-ass hard to not give them a reason to feel like we aren’t worthy to be part of another community. That is something I think about once in a while.

Titelbild: (c) Sabrina Fröhlich

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Rebecca Steinbichler ist Redakteurin und stellvertretende Ressorleiterin (Gesellschaft) bei mokant.at. Kontakt: rebecca.steinbichler[at]mokant.at

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