Tapping into his treasure trove of melodic qualities and comforting sentiments, José González reemerges with a collection of personal songs that define his songwriting skills once again unfolding a great eye for little details and sophisticated textures. With the world outside being loud and overwhelming sometimes, the musical spectrum of Local Valley feels like a safe place to be – appearing inviting and graceful.
When it comes to making new music, José González generally favours the laid-back path taking his time in-between albums. Six years have passed since his latest solo work Vestiges & Claws, yet his vision for approaching the new songs has been quite clear as he admits:
“My vision for Local Valley was to make a fourth album that was about going back to the basics after collaborating with The String Theory and The Brite Lites and earlier I had been out with Junip so I thought now felt like a good moment to go back to how things were on my first album – just in terms of focusing on guitar and vocals. I decided not to buy any new gear or software and just focus on these two main things. So that was my vision for Local Valley. For years, I have had the idea that it would be fun to have an album with a drum machine and loops so I finally allowed myself to do this.”
Elaborating further on the new musical dimensions he was about to explore, José adds: “Halfway through writing this new album with just the guitar and vocals is when I started to push myself as the producer to try and vary things a bit and that is when I allowed myself to use a drum machine, loop vocals and guitar. I felt comfortable to push the songs into different directions this way because I knew that once I added my vocals to the songs, they would make everything sound more coherent again. In a way, that is why I felt I needed to push myself even more, especially in regards to me evolving as a live artist. I know that I want to be able to play longer shows where I have more than just my guitar and vocals and do more groove oriented music. That was also one of the key aims with this album.”
A long time before even being sure about when he would be able to go on tour again, it all began for José González right there in his family’s summer house just north of Gothenburg. A peaceful, idyllic place in the middle of nature which gave him the much needed space to record his song ideas focusing on his work, even though the beauty of the environment outside did begin to rub off on him every now and then :
“Sometimes, when I was sitting there playing or working on the computer mixing a song, I looked up and saw this beautiful sunset thinking – ah what am I doing in here? I should be out there! – This happened a couple of times actually. Many times when I was there I felt like this is such an amazing place because it is close to nature, I can go swimming or take a walk in the forest, but many times I also had to head back to pick up my daughter from pre-school so the clock was always ticking.”
The ticking clock
To stay on schedule and still find that special spark within himself while pursuing his creativity and being a devoted father of two kids, it took discipline as José reveals:
“I have been forced to be more focused which just happens when you have kids. We just had our second child so I have been spending a lot of time with my family. Creatively, you have your three hours and you have to use them. You can’t sit around and decide to watch a documentary instead. It is more like, ok now it is time to work. That is actually great. I try not to sit for more than an hour, then I take a break and go for a run or walk. I try to be more analytical on where I get stuck. I have become more analytical and I’m trying to figure out what does this song need? I sit down and work harder on the things that need it. I feel like with my first two solo albums and with the first Junip record, writer’s block was a normal thing for me to have. Since then I have been learning more and more about myself and I try to combine creativity with work.
Very talented people, they just do stuff and it works and others have to go through a step by step process before you get the talent. I can admit that I’m one of those songwriters who needs a lot of hours of training before I can write certain types of songs.
For most artists, the ongoing pandemic has disrupted their regular schedules, not only to mention their lives in dramatic ways and with severe consequences. José González thoughtfully reflects on this formative time:
“When the pandemic hit, I had all the songs and lyrics written, but then we decided to postpone the album so I was able to work on it in more detail as a producer. I’m really grateful for the extra time that the pandemic gave me. It is so easy to go back to old habits in terms of writing, producing, recording, releasing music and touring etc. Even though I’m taking my time between releases, having this extra time of reflection was really good for me. Alongside all of the bad things of this pandemic, there were a few positive things for me personally.”
The lonesome artist
Looking back at his remarkable career spanning over eighteen years since the release of his acclaimed debut album Veneer back in 2003, José González has spent a great deal of that time relying on sparse instrumentation being content with mostly simple set-ups and a lot of room around him for contemplation – Local Valley being no exception which was shaped as part of a quite solitary process. Almost.
“So many times I have thought that I would like to do an album on my own, but then I realized that I need people. I need to people to help me with the artwork, finalizing the mixes and mastering. It is nice to have a touch of collaboration in there, even though I’m a fan of the lonesome artist that works by himself from start to finish. I’m also a fan of having some connection to reality and society which usually happens when you collaborate. It was really great to have my girlfriend doing the artwork for Local Valley and she also helped out on vocals and writing lyrics for Swing. “
The art of subtlety
As a songwriter, José González has a reputation for subtlety that is hard to find – even in the realm of indie folk music. The art of subtlety is a reoccurring element in his creative output that has become his trademark. Speaking on the appeal it still has for him, the Swedish singer-songwriter states:
“I’m deliberately trying to keep it simple in the same way I think Rage Against The Machine kept it simple – there were drums, bass, guitars and vocals – and it sounds heavier than many overproduced albums. Of course, there is also my personality. I’m low-key, I have a humble approach and I think that adds to the gentleness of the music. Since I’m aware of that, I also play around with it what I think is interesting when I’m able to make albums like this where I have a collection of songs that will hopefully make people think or push people’s expectations.“
Local Valley will be released via City Slang on September 17th, 2021.