Jose Gonzalez's sophomore full-length album, In Our Nature, sounds like a live concert held in a run-down room in an old clapboard hotel on the outskirts of a tiny plains town along a long-forgotten highway. The folk-bent singer-songwriter glides through a collection of songs with his acoustic guitar and voice, a few other musicians providing minimal instrumentation and backup vocals. The resultant recording somehow avoids becoming light and airy while remaining sparse. The songs themselves are littered with reality, as Gonzalez confesses; mistakes and apparent oversights are not a hindrance. The Sweden-born and -raised Gonzalez, who abandoned the completion of a Ph.D. in biochemistry for the greener pastures of pop, spoke with us recently about his love of first-take recordings, his hardcore bass-playing past and his admiration of Zack de la Rocha.
Westword: You started learning guitar at fourteen, when your dad gave you a Beatles songbook. What was the first song that you learned?
With James Blackshaw, 8:30 p.m. Friday, October 12, Bluebird Theater, 3317 East Colfax Avenue, $20, 303-830-8497.
Jose Gonzalez: I can't remember exactly, but I know that it was either "Blackbird" or "Mother Nature's Son."
So you started with an easy one?
The new album, In Our Nature, has a very laid-back, live feel. Is that the sound you wanted for the record?
Oh, yeah. I wanted to have the same feeling as my first album, but I decided to record on my own and get the feeling of "one-takes" and decided to leave any noise that came into the recording. I always like when old recordings...you notice that they only press "record" once and then that's it [chuckles]. And also, I like that it's a stripped-down kind of a production, where you don't have that many instruments and then you also get more ambient sound.
You wanted more of an honest-sounding record.
Yeah, sort of — although I like many different styles of music, and I like electronic music where you don't have any natural sounds. But I think for acoustic guitar, it gets really good.
I know that you are a fan of Zack de la Rocha from Rage Against the Machine. Have you ever thought about doing a full-on loud rock record?
Well, I used to play bass in a hardcore band, so we did a lot of recordings back in the day, but I think that's nothing that I'll try to do now. Although I like hardcore music, I wouldn't start playing in a hardcore band. And also, when I mention Zack, I feel like the music is okay, but mainly I think he has the best hardcore scream, and I like his political...I really like his lyrics.
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He tends to take on bigger topics than are typically in rock and roll.
Yeah, exactly, and he does it, I think, using symbolism many times so that it's pretty poetic, too.
Gothenburg, Sweden, is a beautiful city. Do you miss it when you are traveling and touring?
Yeah. I mean, usually it's the friends that I miss, and not so much the city itself. Although sometimes when I get home, I get really nostalgic and like, "Oh, it's so beautiful..." I think it's not that beautiful, actually, and, you know, many cities are beautiful when you have a sunset.