Junip’s album Fields is an interesting creation – firmly rooted in folk, and yet mixed with elements of krautrock, psychedelia and droning, hynotic patterns, it features the now smooth and familiar vocals of Jose Gonzalez, who made his name a few years ago by releasing an incredible album In Our Nature and covering The Knife’s song Heartbeats. T
As it turns out, the ever-excellent Jose Gonzalez is simply an incredibly successful solo project that has been a side-project to his band, Junip, who are finally bringing their music to the rest of the world.
Junip’s album Fields is an interesting creation – firmly rooted in folk, and yet mixed with elements of krautrock, psychedelia and droning, hynotic patterns, it features the now smooth and familiar vocals of Jose Gonzalez, who made his name a few years ago by releasing an incredible album In Our Nature and covering The Knife’s song Heartbeats. The songs roll along like chugging steamtrains, with fingerpicked guitar layered with distorted basslines and decorated with Gonzalez’ beautiful lyrics. It’s a pleasure and a surprise – an album that’s been in the works for over ten years, finally available to the world.
“We’ve been together for that [a long time] but it’s not like we’ve been working each day,” explains Gonzalez, who speaks to me over a muffled line from Goteburg in Sweden. “We’ve been extremely inactive. But yeah, we’ve been together for twelve years.”
Like his singing voice, Gonzalez speaks laconically, slowly and with much thoughtfulness. He ‘umms’ and ‘ahhs’, and murmurs softly with little diction. He speaks like a lover whispering in your ear in bed – and with a Swedish accent to boot.
Strangely though, Junip’s roots come from darker, heavier places – like krautrock and hardcore. Gonzalez is firm when explaining how the krautrock still has influence and meaning in Junip’s relatively lighter music. “Some of our Junip songs are kind of Kraut,” he says. “The music that we used to play… me and the drummer, we used to play in a hardcore band, before we started Junip. And Tobias [synth and organ] used to play in a hardcore band, too.”
He admits he still listens to heavier music – including hardcore – to this day, which is interesting, considering the nature of his solo work. It’s different in Junip, though – the repetitive, meditative and droning sounds come through quite strongly, which Gonzalez says comes mainly from the way that they write music – a product of the way the band works together in the rehearsal room. “[It comes from] jamming and recording sound sessions. It’s because we really like that kind of music. We have hours of jamming and recordings [of those jams] Initially, once you find a groove or a riff, you just work with that. When we write the songs, we shorten them quite a lot.”
On top of this, the lyrics on Fields are quite special. “Still protecting the magic feather / Holding tight to a supporting crutch / Writing scripts on worn out leather / Still waiting on a divine touch,” sings Gonzalez on the first track of the record, In Every Direction. Or later, in Off Point: “Intuitive stories aren’t easy to unlearn / Only collective peaks remain / Dark blue skies always tumbling over you / Just repeat old fables until they feel brand new” These are lyrics that could sound awkward and wordy in the mouths of less talented singers, but with Gonzalez’ smooth and laid-back vocal style, they roll rhythmically off his tongue. It helps that these intellectual, soft and sensual-sounding lyrics are contrasted by the droning bass lines and meditative song structures.
But for Gonzalez, lyric writing is not one of his favourite things. “It doesn’t come naturally to me,” he admits. “I think I struggle a lot with words and ideas. I don’t know, sometimes I wish our music didn’t need words.” Despite this, his eloquence in his lyrics belies a greater passion for writing – and Gonzalez reveals that he does sometimes turn his pen to stories or poems when he’s not working on musical pursuits.
“I think there is something very special when people connect with the music and words, but I feel like instrumental music can be vey emotional,” Gonzalez says with a hacking cough. “Words can reach you on a whole different level but we’d like to do instrumental music.”
It was Gonzalez’ cover of Heartbeats that really struck a chord with people, with his heartfelt and soft rendition of the dance track almost overtaking the original in popularity. Covers are of great interest to Gonzalez, he admits, mainly because of his aversion to singing his own words. “Yes, I like singing other people’s songs,” he says, with a chuckle. “That’s the thing about personal lyrics – I don’t really like writing about myself. But I like songs that are emotional, and I think that’s one of the reasons why I’ve covered Kylie Minogue and The Knife and Joy Division in my solo work.”
The magic seems to be in the caramel smooth timbre of Gonzalez’ voice, his murmured consonants and Swedish accent clipping vowels in rhythmic, interesting ways. “I’ve [been singing] properly since I was 20 – I sort of started just singing at home and singing different songs with my Dad. I was in a choir for a while, where I learnt most of my singing basics.”
The other members of Junip include Elias Araya on drums, who Gonzalez tells me is also an artist and did the album cover for his solo album. “He’s an artistic guy. He went to art school in England, in London.” After working together for twelve years, Gonzalez describes his bandmates affectionately. “On keyboards, it’s Tobias Winterkorn,” Gonzalez goes on. “He works mainly as a teacher, teaching social science. And he teaches music also.”
Working on Junip after a long dormant period of solo work has brought these three closer, and Gonzalez agrees that they’ve all grown and are also enjoying getting to know each other again. “We’ve been talking about it for a very long time…” he says, still whimsical when thinking about the project of the band, which in a way seems like a dream not quite yet realised.
“We’re not well known anywhere,” he laughs when I ask if they’re popular in Sweden. “We’ve played around Europe but most people don’t know Junip at all… In Germany they play our songs on the radio, but basically we’re still unknown.”
That will all change pretty soon, methinks. If the world knows what’s good for it, at least.
JUNIP (featuring the brilliant Jose Gonzalez) play the FALLS FESTIVAL in Lorne across December 28-January 1 along with Public Enemy, The national, Interpol and more. Info from fallsfestival.com.au. They also play a special one-off sideshow at The Corner Hotel on Tuesday January 4 with special guests Kyu. Tickets from handsometours.com, The Corner box office, 9427 9198 or cornerhotel.com and Polyester (City and Fitzroy stores). JUNIP’s album Fields is out now through Shock.