While Swedish singer and songwriter José González' solo career took off over the last decade, Junip, the band that he'd begun with friends Elias Araya and Tobias Winterkom, was on indefinite hiatus, save a single and an EP.
The trio finally remedied that problem with last year's release of their debut album Fields. The band, which canceled many of their European dates this month due to illness, has a new EP upcoming called In Every Direction and since they've booked a set at Bonnaroo this June, expect more Stateside dates. In the meantime, González launches a European solo tour on March 26 in Copenhagen, backed by the Gothenberg String Theory Orchestra.
Junip's González, Araya and Winterkom, joined by two touring musicians, dropped by Studio A not too long ago for a special session with WFUV's Rita Houston:
Rita Houston: It’s a wonderful collection of songs [on Fields] and you’re not messing around lyrically. How long were these songs in the works? Because these lyrics are so refined and so dead on.
José González: The music we’ve done since 2008 so we spent almost one and a half years recording and producing. The lyrics came about pretty late - they always do that for me - and I didn’t spend that much time with them except two or three songs.
Rita: It’s interesting for me to hear you say that the lyrics came after because there’s a sense of - forgive me for using an overused word - but there’s a real sense of poetry to the way you construct songs and I’d almost would have assumed that happened first.
José: Oh no. I always write the lyrics to try to make them fit the mood of a song. So that’s why I always make that decision later.
Rita: Do you feel like there’s a difference between these songs and your solo material because lyrically on Junip’s album in particular, the message seems to be a little different.
José: Yeah, I think it’s different and once again I think it’s because the music is different. When I write the lyrics they come out different. Also from song to song - the Junip songs - they’re very different.
Rita: The Junip sound seems almost characterized by Afrobeat rhythms, then the keyboard sounds of Tobias and your classic nylon string guitar. You guys almost seem to be fans of African rhythms and world music, right?
José: Definitely. But I think if you were to say that to someone who plays Afrobeat, they’d think we were a stiff white band from Sweden (laughs).
Rita: ["Howl"] jumped right out at me upon first listen to the record - it’s very different from the other songs on the record. Lyrically it’s so rich and deep and you also seem to be singing in a different style too?
José: Definitely. When we started jamming with this group, we wanted to have an energy although we were playing very quietly. So when I started doing the lyrics it felt like I wanted to do sort of whispery vocals to it. That’s one of the lyrics where I spent the most time [on the song]. I spent a few weeks trying to find the right words.
Rita: The message is amazing too, as a lover of art and music. What you’re tapping into is the question of why do artists create? What drives you? What drives us all?
José: It’s sort of a take on Freewheelin’ [Bob Dylan] … what makes us tick.
Rita: What do you mean that it’s a take on Freewheelin' ?
José: I don’t want to get into it! Let people read and make their own ideas.
Rita: Tell us about Sweden! Gothenburg - that’s where you’re all from?
José: Pretty much, yeah.
Rita: Tell us, Tobias, where did you grow up, what does it look like?
Tobias Winterkom: I actually didn’t grow up in Gothenburg, but maybe 100 kilometres from there, from a small city, and then I moved to Gothenburg. It’s exactly where the ocean is, big harbors there. Lot of cargo ships. It’s quite small, although it’s the second biggest city in Sweden, but it’s quite nice to live there because it isn’t too big and it isn’t too small.
Rita: That’s where you all met?
José: Exactly, me and Elias have known each other since we were seven and we started to play music together when we were 14. Some years later we hung out with Tobias at hardcore shows. Me and Elias were in one band and Tobias was in another and that’s how we met. One thing led to another and we started Junip as a reaction, in a way, to all the loud music.
Rita: You wouldn’t necessarily think that hardcore was what you guys came out of.
José: We were into different styles of music, so it wasn’t like a big switch. I think since we had an interest in other styles of music, we thought it would be nice to do something else.
Rita: When did Junip form exactly?
José: We usually say 1998. I think that’s about the time. I had a couple of acoustic songs and we tried them out at Elias’ apartment with acoustic guitar, organ and some pans and pots (laughs).
Rita: It’s interesting on “Hal” how it looked like you were playing a ceramic coffee cup.
José: Yes! And on the record it’s a regular glass.
Rita: So Junip formed, you laid down a couple of songs, but many of us are hearing the songs for the first time now because they were released again around the time of Fields.
José: Yes, we’d been pretty inactive, but we released a 7-inch around 2000 and an EP around 2005 with five songs and it’s just now that we released the album with backup from labels. So people can find the music finally.
Rita: The old school Junip fans love your cover of Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad” which is on the first EP and now included on the deluxe version of Fields. It’s fantastic. What inspired you to cover that tune?
José: The three of us were playing as the house band for a film festival in Gothenburg. So we played two times a day, five days in a row. We didn’t have enough songs so we picked out a lot of different covers. We picked out that one and songs by Low, The Van Pelt and Universal Order of Armegeddon. And I guess that song was one that the three of us liked a lot.
Rita: Is it still part of the live set?
José: Yes, it’s one of the songs that we wait until people ask for it - then we’ll play it!
Rita: How has it been touring? Fans are so happy to have this album?
Tobias: It’s really great. When we were first came to the US in June, we saw that it was going to get really cool. It’s been amazing. We were on tour in Europe and it was really amazing; big shows and the people really liked it. They actually know the songs now, so it’s really nice.
Rita: Anything happening in Sweden that we need to know about? What’s the scene like in Gothenburg? Who are the cool artists?
José: Little Dragon. Graveyard. Repo Man. I’ve been home in Gothenburg for a while while we were recording [this album], but I still live there. It’s a good place to live.
Rita: I suppose there’s some pressure for you to do a solo album too? Do you feel that excitement to do that?
José: Yes, more excitement than pressure. Of course, people come up to me after shows and ask what’s happening. Musically I’m inspired, so yes, I’m writing for my solo stuff too. Also new stuff with Junip so hopefully it won’t take ten years for more albums.