José González on the chilly atmosphere pervading Junip’s mesmerizing new record
Ten years ago, I used to have music as my hobby. My main thing was studying biochemistry,” reflects José González, from his home in Gothenburg, Sweden. “Nowadays, I have music as my work, but also as my hobby.”
As a full-time musician, the established indie folk singer/guitarist has had the opportunity to put out two LPs. He also has a knack for composing covers that rival their originals—Kylie Minogue’s “Hand on Your Heart” and The Knife’s “Heartbeats” being two prime examples.
But these days, it’s his work with Tobias Winterkorn (keys) and Elias Araya (drums) that has the internet abuzz.
Known collectively as Junip, a psych-rock outfit formed in 1998, the trio recently toured Europe in celebration of its eponymous full-length record, released last month. A follow-up to 2010’s upbeat folk-rock effort, Fields, Junip is a journey to the dark side, with brooding music and poetic, yet brutally realistic, lyrics.
The album’s distressing penultimate track, “Beginnings,” contains a powerful combination of Rhodes piano, expressive guitar, minimal drums and buzzing synth, as González advises the listener to “accept to live without answers to the questions running around your mind” instead of “searching for meaning where there is none.”
The reason that ominous tracks outnumber uplifting ones on Junip, according to González—the band’s sole lyricist—is simple: “I could probably write more cheerful lyrics … if we only made more cheerful music.
“I’m actually pretty gentle and goofy, but I do have my more thoughtful side,” he goes on. “When I’m writing lyrics, I’m in that sort of thoughtful mode and tend to figure out how to write lyrics that relate to the sort of seriousness of the music—because many of our songs have a serious chord progression.”
The resulting album is heavy in both theme and tone, but González is pleased with the result, and wouldn’t record it differently if given the opportunity.
“I’m super satisfied … lyrically, sonically—I wouldn’t want to change it,” he says.
With a wide variety of well-executed sounds, plus nods to some of González’s favorite artists from genres one may or may not expect—notice the Lee “Scratch” Perry reggae influence on “Suddenly”—his contentment is understandable.
Fans can expect to hear that song and more from Junip when Winterkorn, Araya, and González head to The Rio Theatre on Friday, with a backing band consisting of additional keyboards, percussion, and backup vocals.
Asked what makes their live show unique, González is brief, yet telling: “It’s more about the music than a show, so to speak.”
Though short and simple, González’s statement has an arresting and lingering quality similar to that of the album closer: “After All is Said and Done.”
The cinematic track is Junip’s silver lining. Despite cynicism present throughout the album, the final song leaves Junip on a glimmering and mesmerizing note: “Underneath the snow lies the grass ready to grow,” sings González, whose wise reminder beats on indefinitely, through the pulsing support of an unwavering drum machine.
Junip performs at 8 p.m. Friday, May 31 at The Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $23 via Ticketweb and Tomboy (next to The Rio). For more information, call 423-8209.