This year Bluesfest is in for a treat when Argentinian indie folksinger/songwriter and guitarist Jose Gonzalez makes his way to Byron for the iconic blues and roots festival. Member of Swedish band Juip, this indie folk genius sold out the Opera House on his one-off solo debut.
Gonzalez spends a lot of his time on the road.
‘I have been touring with an orchestra from Berlin and Gothenburg, a 20-piece orchestra. We did some touring and we recorded all the live shows, so that’s like the big release. But it’s still old songs. The new stuff – I always gather ideas but I do it at a very slow pace. It’s more like gathering riffs and chord progressions until I feel I have 10 of them that I really like, and then I write the lyrics. So I think that will happen maybe next year.’
His work as a solo artist, with Junip and with the orchestra means that Gonzalez does split his time, something that he says makes him slower than other songwriters.
‘As a songwriter I’m very slow, but this is my full-time job. In that sense I keep myself busy; I do some tours, and then I write. But I have lots of time to be home and read books and play chess, so it’s a very easy job.’
Gonzalez wasn’t always on the path to being a musician. ‘One of my dreams was to do research in biochemistry. I guess that was my most sober dream. But then as a teenager I was skating and whenever I was able to pull off some of the tricks that I’d been trying out for a while I felt, okay, this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life. And then I picked up the guitar, played classical guitar and I felt okay, this is going to be what I’m going to do. But yeah, I also had ambitions with my songwriting and with my music but I let them go in my teenage years when I went to university and kept on playing music, but more as a side project, as a hobby on weekends, to write some songs and do demos. So it sort of came as a surprise for me, when I released my first album in 2003, that anyone was going to pay attention to it. I felt I was like an indie artist that maybe would get some recognition but maybe 10 years later. So it really did change my way of looking at things back 14 years ago.’
For someone who never really intended to be a musician, Gonzalez has an impressive track record. A few years back he scored music for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
‘It was a fun collaboration,’ he said of his time working with Teddy Shapiro, who did most of the score for the movie. ‘I got to dig deep into a side of music that I didn’t know so well.’
Gonzalez also has a unique way of walking into other people’s songs – like John Lennon’s No 9 Dream or The Ghost of Tom Joad by Springsteen. ‘I learnt to play guitar by playing other people’s songs,’ he said. ‘When I didn’t have enough material that I felt so that’s when I started picking up Heartbeats by the Kinfe and Inaudible Name by Joy Division and The Ghost of Tom Joad. I picked that one out when we were playing as a sort of house band at Gothenburg Film Festival. I think it’s always a good way to connect with an audience, to play songs that you enjoy or they recognise.’
So what should we expect from Gonzalez at Bluesfest?
‘I’ll be playing the songs from my three albums and songs that I know my fans want to hear. And then there are songs that I like playing so I do a mix of both. Lately I have been inspired by West African music so I have some songs that will be inspired by that, that sort of Desert Blues.’
Jose Gonzalez plays Bluesfest 2018. For program and ticketing info go to bluesfest.com.au.