“In a way, I’m always trying to write and record music that has a touch of universal themes and melodies,"
Artist: José González
Album: Local Valley
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Number of Tracks: 13
Label: City Slang
Release Date: September 17, 2021
From a park in Gothenburg, Sweden, after a day in the sun with longtime partner Hannele Fernström and their two small children, José González took a leisurely evening stroll and spoke with us about Local Valley, his fourth solo album and his first in English, Spanish and Swedish. With Local Valley, his music—defined by artful beats and poetic lyrics—evolves into something lighthearted and wonderful, yet still masterful and epic, sometimes delightfully unexpected. As with all he does, José’s sincerity shines through.
“In a way, I’m always trying to write and record music that has a touch of universal themes and melodies, but also try to stand out, try to find something that will feel unique. I’ve put a lot of effort into reading a lot this time and to incorporate the words and meanings that relate to bigger thinkers than me,” José says, with a light laugh. “Maybe that’s something that translates. I don’t know. I think it’s a matter of taste.”
José González goes “On the Record” with us to discuss the incredible lightness of Local Valley.
Was your process for Local Valley different from your other albums?
Yes, it was different. I can mention the ways it was similar. I’m on my own, I do my guitars, and then the melodies, and then the lyrics, and then I record it on my own and then I take some help to mix it and master it, but it’s very solitary stuff. It’s similar also because I’ve been sticking mostly to just guitar and vocals, but this time, as soon as I had maybe half the album with guitar and vocals, I wanted to put my producer hat on and mix it up a bit and change styles. That’s when I started using the drum machines and loop the vocals and guitars and also switching between styles of production.
I have one song in Swedish, which I made in a very sacral style, like if I was in a church, compared to the “Head On”, which is more oriented in Western African style. Also, I guess another difference is how I wrote and recorded, which is in the countryside instead of in the city, in a dark room. I was more in a wooden room with the windows to nature.
How did being immersed in nature influence the process?
It just flows—it’s been flowing better than my writing and my recording. Maybe it’s because of the breaks, but maybe also because of nature. Being in a lighter mood and not getting stuck as often, I think it gives the album a more open feel. Of course, all the nature-inspired metaphors that I’ve been using in the last two albums, I think that’s probably because I think about lyrics while I’m running or walking in nature.
How was it creating an album in three languages?
This time it was actually easy. I didn’t feel like it was hard at all, but the times that I tried before, I felt like I got stuck and switched to English, and then all of a sudden, it flowed. It’s been fun this time in terms of not getting stuck with music or not getting stuck with lyrics. In a way, just wanting to try different styles and try different languages. In many ways, I feel like I’m presenting more of myself. The Caribbean style in “Swing” is more in line with what I like to listen to at home. I don’t like to listen that much to whiny singer-songwriters.
Then the lyrics are, of course, my two mother tongues and then English, which is the language that I speak so much. When I tour and when I read, it’s mostly English, so I’m presenting more of me and then it felt natural to include all three languages.
How has this specific time in your life influenced the writing?
Just switching from being in a relationship to building a family and raising two children, that of course has made me look differently at who I am, or want to be. Talking to my four-year-old daughter in Spanish when she was a toddler, I think that helped also in terms of easing up my language.
What’s the story behind the album title?
Local Valley, I’m referring both to the song “Valle Local”, where I’m thinking about tribes being stuck in a local valley where they can’t communicate and they can’t find this nicer valley that’s nearby. I’m thinking about culture clashes, about the alternative facts or just the ideologies that seem to clash, people can’t get past getting stuck into tribal mentalities. That’s one way of thinking about the title.
Another one is more connected to the songs “Visions” and “El Invento”, where I’m thinking about humanity, again, being stuck in this local valley, but this time Earth and how this is our Goldilocks place, both in time and in a universe where we have been thriving for a while and how we want to continue thriving. That’s Local Valley, the place where we are as a humanity.
Any special collaborators that made Local Valley happen?
Yes, of course. My girlfriend made the album cover. She’s been doing textile design. We’re both into Josef Frank, a Swedish textile designer. Basically, we just made a mood board with his stuff and we both felt like we should use inspiration from the drawings where there’s this black background and then lots of leaves and animals in bright colors. I think she did an amazing job with that.
She also helped me write “Swing”, the current single. I made a version of the song in Swedish, that in some ways didn’t really work. I was a bit tired of working on that song, so I asked her, “Do you want to try to rewrite this in English?” She co-wrote the lyrics. She wrote the part of, “Swing what your mama gave you. Swing your bum like seaweed.” [Laughs.] Then I asked her to sing on this song and really elevated song from good to amazing.
Do you always write songs together?
No, no, no. That was the first time. I wasn’t sure it was a good idea. I try to be careful with collaborations. She did all the artwork for Junip [my band with Tobias Winterkorn] too and my previous solo album and we always get into fights. We have different tastes. It takes more time than we thought at first, so [chuckles] it can be bad for the relationship, but once we’re done, I think it turned out really great. Musically, I’ve thought not to involve her, but she was excited and she had this amazing really high-pitched vocal that worked perfectly for that song.
Do you have a favorite song on the album?
Well, right now it is “Swing” because it’s so light. In a way, I have many favorites compared to my other stuff. I feel like “Visions” is maybe the best song I’ve written in terms of, if I think of classic songs, of classic song structures, chord progressions and the lyrics, it’s very complete compared to other songs that I’ve written.
“El Invento” also feels that way. “Horizons” is also a favorite. I always try to have some songs that have a sacral tone and I think that one has it. In many ways, I feel like this album deserves better scores than the other albums. [Laughs.]
It sounds like you can really mark your growth on this album. Would you agree?
Yes, I feel like I’ve grown. Also, I’m showing off a bit more my musical skills. With the first album, for example, I didn’t want it to have a chorus refrain on any of the songs. It was deliberately linear. You can talk about growth, I think now I’ve been more open, I’ve been putting on different types of hats for the production, like trying to produce songs that are danceable, some that are very dynamic, and some that are very quiet and still.
What are you most proud of with Local Valley?
I’ve been trying to find a balance between writing songs that are deep and ambitious and then trying to balance that with not sounding preachy. “Visions”, again, I felt like I found that balance, but also with the song “Tjomme” in Swedish, which means dude or slang for dude. With that one I was referring to prophets and doomsday dudes that so many people around the world seem to follow. It’s a sensitive topic, sensitive subject. I feel like I managed to write a lyric that I don’t think anyone in particular will feel [they have been]pointed out, but at the same time I’m making fun of these doomsday dudes. There seem to be one for each religion, at least one. [laughs] Or ideology, so not only religions but also these person cults that seem to arise.
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