Thursday, May 16, 2013

José González Tells The Story of Junip

Although José González may be best known for his acoustic solo albums (2007's In Our Nature and 2003's Veneer), his band Junip is not to be mistaken as a "José González and friends" kind of project. Instead, the trio has from the start,  always been equally composed of José Gonzaléz, Elias Araya, and Tobias Winterkorn. 

The Swedish group put things somewhat on hold for Mr. Gonzaléz's success as a solo artist, but in 2010 finally dropped their first full-length album called Fields (which has since been expanded into a deluxe edition, featuring the band's three pre-album EPs- which is the edition I would highly recommend picking up). 

The trio's recently-released self-titled album, Junip, builds upon the momentum that Fields initially offered: González's haunting vocals and guitar, teamed with Winkerkorn's organ and synth, and driven by Araya's percussion. As a longtime fan of José González, I am absolutely thrilled to share this conversation I had with him regarding the history and evolution of Junip.

When the three of you first met, what drew you together- both musically and personally? What excited you about working together?

José: All three of us had been playing in other bands before, mainly louder bands, and we had the idea to try out some of my acoustic guitar and vocal songs as a trio. We had influences from many different genres and felt that this could be an outlet for our other musical sides. Elias with his drums, Tobias with organ and synth, and me with acoustic guitar and vocals.

How did Junip feel like growth of your solo work? What does the group dynamic offer to you as a performer, songwriter, and collaborator?

José: There's been a couple of times when we "started" to play. 15 years ago it was in contrast to the other bands and the feeling that we could have a sound that was slightly different from the rest that was popular in Sweden at the time. From 2005 it has been in contrast to my solo stuff and I felt it as a welcomed break from my touring and egocentric wanderings around the world.

With Junip it's been nice to see myself as a part of many wills and tastes, and also a moment to relax my ambitions in trying to play intricate guitar. I've learnt a lot from these two album recordings and feel more comfortable than ever to write and record on my own or with other people.

Can you briefly describe the writing and recording of the early EPs and how they led to the full length debut Fields?

José: We did some recordings around the time when we started to play in 1998-2000, which ended up as a 7" with four songs. After that there were many years when we didn't play or record that much, especially when I started to tour with my solo stuff in the spring of 2003.

We decided to get together and record again in 2005 which led to Black Refuge EP. Then another break until after I've toured with my second solo album In Our Nature. So around 2008 we decided to write our first full length album Fields.

What was most rewarding for you in the making of and touring on that album?

José: Making music that you like and playing it live is always rewarding, but for me it was also a welcome break from my solo stuff.

How did your experiences making Fields and the previous EPs prepare you for this record?

José: We felt more comfortable in the studio with our instruments and as our own recording engineers.

Did you have a preconceived vision for this album?

José: Not really. We started to gather song ideas and tried to make each one stand on its own. The aim was as always to make music that we would want to listen to ourselves.

When did you begin working on the new songs? Was there a song(s) that set the direction for the new album?

José: We had a couple of songs from the time when we were doing b-sides for Fields, but it was around late 2011 that we started writing new stuff.

What were you listening to during this time of writing and recording?

José: A lot of different stuff. Vocally, I was inspired by Marvin Gaye and Nina Simone. With sounds it was everything from John Lennon to Peking Lights, to Heldon.

Please describe the collaborative nature of Junip's songwriting, arrangements, and recording.

José: For both albums and EP's since 2005 we always started by jamming and recording parts of it, usually with drums, rhodes/ organ, and guitar. Then we continued to jam around the ones we liked the most and re-recorded until we had rough song demos. After that it has been a bit different from song to song. Sometimes we've worked all three, but most of the producing and arranging of the songs were made two at a time or each on their own. Basically, it came down to whoever had the inspiration at the time to produce and mix a certain song. I always wrote the lyrics on my own and mostly at home.

Can you describe the process of your songwriting?

José: Music always comes first. So usually I sit at home humming melodies over a demo and later I try to find words and phrases that fit the images I get in my mind while listening. Usually this leads to a half finished song that can hang around for months or years, like with "Line Of Fire".

Can you describe some of your musical and non-musical sources of inspiration (both lyrically and musically)?

José: Musically, all music inspires me, sometimes to what would be nice to bring into our music or sometimes what we could avoid. Lyrically, it is all from philosophical ideas to mundane stories from people (real or from fictional), and also from my own life.

You worked with producer Don Alsterberg. Can you describe your working relationship with Don and what he brings to Junip's albums (both Fields and Junip)?

José: He's been around as a mentor since our first recordings with Junip and solo. Coming from the same city as Tobias and also part of the music scene around the time when we were playing in different bands. Regarding our two albums, we felt that it would be nice to try to write and record most of the tracks ourselves. He helped us set up mics and gave us directions on how to record the different instruments. Also, he would come in at a later stage to give advice on how to change the songs or add certain stuff to make the songs more complete. You could call him the fourth member of Junip.

I really enjoy the artwork and packaging Junip employs for both Fields and Junip. Can you talk about your involvement/ selection of the album artwork? How do you believe the visual artwork and music inform each other?

José: For Fields we asked Fredrik Söderberg to make the artwork. We were fans of his art and liked his dreamy ocult paintings filled symbolism. On Junip we had the music ready for a while and where thinking of title and cover and decided to go with logo that Elias had made and let the album be self-titled. The rest of the artwork was made by Hannele Fernström and me. We took a weekend to photograph and make illustrations that ended up being the deer and the whale. I like the idea of people listening to the music while they're looking at the artwork and let associations run free.

Along the same lines, your video for "Line of Fire" was one I have really been enjoying. Can you discuss how it came together and your involvement in the process?

José:  We gave free hands to Mikel Cee Karlsson to direct videos to "Line Of Fire" and "Your Life Your Call". He came up with the visual story inspired by the two songs in conjunction. I feel like it is a short masterpiece, worth watching without music if you get the chance.

How does being based in Gothenburg, Sweden influence you? What is most rewarding for you about your local musical community?

José:  It is a relatively small, friendly town. bad weather, lots of cafes and uncomplicated living. Musically there's stuff going on every week but not every day. Not sure if it's better music climate than other cities but I feel great there.

What are your plans for 2013 and beyond?

José: 2013: have fun, 2014: work hard, 2015: relax, 2016: have fun... and so on ;)

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