Arts, Lifestyle & Events Hong Kong

Interview: José González – a talent for intimacy… and singing in the rain

Jose Gonzalez has wooed his fans with his melancholic strumming over the years, gaining a loyal following worldwide. This year at Clockenflap Festival, he played in the torrential rain though it did not dampen his performance. HKFP talks to him about his experiences of performing in Asia and where he gets his inspiration.

Is this your first time performing in Hong Kong?

No. Seven years ago, I played a much smaller show here, but it’s the same organiser that put on this festival.

How are you finding the festival so far?

It seems pretty cool, I really enjoy looking over to the skyline on the other side. Too bad that it’s raining… We’ve been touring mostly in Western Europe, US and Canada. Every now and then we get to go to Latin America, or Asia or Australia and New Zealand. So I asked my agent ‘please book somewhere else apart from Western Europe’ and I’m glad it happened.

So now we’re going to a couple of new places. We started this tour in Vietnam, and we’re headed to Seoul and ending the tour in India. First time also for many of the musicians.

José González.

José González. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

How does it feel touring in Asia?

The feeling that I got so far with Hanoi, Shanghai and here… being by the water, big cities, so many tall buildings, huge cosmopolitan type of crowds, so it’s very mixed.

Does the rain remind you of home [Gothenburg]?

Gothenburg, Bergen, Glasgow are rainy cities… but [Hong Kong] it’s one of a kind city here, nothing like Gothenburg, to be honest. It’s very different. I was praying inside of my head for the rain to stop.

Do your travels inspire your songs?

Maybe, sometimes. I usually get into the mode of writing where I write the music and then the lyrics. And the lyrics can be very personal or solitary, but I have a couple of songs that deal with global issues. Traveling inspires me to write topics that are common to humanity.

José González at Clockenflap.

José González at Clockenflap.

How do you choose which covers to perform?

When I started writing and recording, I needed more songs to cover my set. I didn’t have enough songs. So I felt like the easy way was just to add more covers, and by playing songs that people recognized. Easy way to connect. So back then I chose songs that people knew, so Heartbeats was super popular in Sweden when I covered it. Love will tear us apart, all my friends loved it. Teardrop by Massive Attack was also a big hit.

Kylie Minogue’s cover [Hand on Your Heart] was just an unexpected song to pick up and I felt like her version felt a bit too happy. Her lyrics are heartfelt and sad, so just finding the contrast is one of my aims.

I’ll probably continue doing covers but I don’t plan to make it my signature anymore. It’s part of my artistry but I don’t feel like it needs to be bigger. For me, it’s been more fun to focus on exploring guitar riffs and exploring western African music.

José González.

José González. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Do you think your Argentinian roots are somehow incorporated into the music you write?

Both my parents are from Argentina and I grew up in Sweden. So we listened to a lot of Argentinian music whether it’s salsa, folk… or protest political singers that have very sparse productions, with acoustic guitar, some percussions and vocals. So yeah I’m still very inspired by the aesthetics of the 60s, 70s Latin American music.

José González.

José González. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Next stops?

Taipei, Seoul, Singapore, Osaka, Tokyo, Pune, Bangalore. But I’m really happy to be here and look forward to come back again.

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HKFP Writer

Maggie Tan

Maggie Tan

Maggie is a Hong Kong-based freelance journalist covering a wide range of stories from adventure travel news to the daily lives of obscure artists. She graduated with a degree in Eastern European politics from UCL and recently completed her Masters in Journalism at the University of Hong Kong. She is interested in documentary filmmaking and enjoys anything out of the ordinary.

Interview: José González - a talent for intimacy... and singing in the rain