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José González Q&A

Singer/Songwriter Bounces Back to SF

Some say José González’s music career was jump-started with thousands of tiny rubber balls bouncing down a hill in San Francisco -- a savvy Sony commercial that introduced a new television along with the singer/songwriter’s music to the masses. Promotional tools aside, González is back with a new album In Our Nature that closely mirrors the minimalist acoustic style, if not slightly more aggressive and political, of his breakout debut Veneer. González, who is based in Sweden, performs in San Francisco October 8th and 9th at the Great American Music Hall. He Spoke with SF Station during a phone interview in New York, just prior to his performance on the Conan O’Brien show.

SF Station (SFS): It seems like the late night talk-show setting is kind of the antithesis of your music. Is it strange to perform in that setting?

José González (JG): Yeah, it is always strange with TV, when you go in and play one song and it is always quiet in the studio. It’s very plastic, but it is fun.

SFS: Television has played a role throughout your career. One of your big introductions to the public was through a Sony TV commercial. What are your thoughts on that medium as a marketing tool for music?

JG: I don’t feel like it is the most charming one, but I do recognize how it has been a big part of my career and for many other artists’ careers. Even though I don’t really like commercials in general, I guess it works like symbiosis. They sell some TVs and more people get to hear my music. I try not to make a big deal out of it. As long as I’m not making commercials for a stupid company, it’s quite all right.

SFS: So it’s kind of a necessary evil?

JG: It’s not necessary. Many artists are doing well without commercials. Some music doesn’t really need commercials to reach out.

SFS: Are there any songs that you like that would make you cringe if they were used on a commercial?

JG: It depends on the commercial. It’s an aesthetical question also -- how is the music presented? There are not that many commercials that are aesthetically appealing.

SFS: The new album is very similar to your debut Veneer. Have you considered incorporating new musical elements, or is the approach you are taking now still the most satisfying for you?

JG: It is not the only sound that I like, but it has been a clear thought to try to be minimalistic with my own music and do other stuff with other bands. There is still a lot to explore with my string guitar, vocals and percussion.

I felt the urge to include other instruments and I did that for a while, but I found that it was interfering and the music wasn’t really coming out that well. I decide to stick with the way I did the former record and continue exploring rhythms and arpeggios on my guitar and bring that to the future.

SFS: How have your surroundings in Sweden and your Argentine heritage influenced the music that you create?

JG: When I was growing up I listened to Latino music at home that was vocal. There was Silvio Rodriguez, the Cuban singer and some Brazilian music. That interested me a lot and whenever I hear an old recording of a metal string guitar I get nostalgic. It’s cool because that is not the only music that inspired me. When I was a teenager I played in punk and hardcore bands and had lots of different kinds of influences.

SFS: Can you tell me more about your punk-rock past?

JG: When I was 14, I started playing bass in a punk band for a year. I was very inspired by Black Flag and The Misfits. Later I formed a hardcore band and I still played bass and did some of the screaming. We did that between 1994 and 1998.

SFS: When did you decide it was time to mellow out?

JG: It was right around 1998. I had been playing classical guitar all along and I was writing my own songs. I was going to a university and I had less time to spend with the band. It wasn’t clear-cut; it was kind of gradual.

José González performs in San Francisco October 8th and 9th at the Great American Music Hall. Tickets are $20 in advance and $22 at the door. Doors open at 7pm and the show starts at 8pm.