by Daniel Colussi | Sweden-by-way-of-Argentina folkie Jose Gonzalez made a pretty big splash during the aughties with his two solo albums, Veneer and In Our Nature. Those records found Gonzalez in melancholic folkie-form — a modern day atheist Nick Drake. Surprising to everyone, this was only one side of Gonzalez’ musical identity. With Junip — the powerhouse trio he fronts with buddies from the 90s Swedish hardcore days — Gonzalez veers way to the left of the folk-idioms. Junip is a versatile unit, a band as comfortable locking into trance krautrock grooves as they are sunning themselves under the Tropicalia-sun. On their wonderful self-titled second album the band moves all over the places, dropping catchy New Order hooks, embracing noise and abandon – but most significantly the band proves itself to be very much it’s own thing, something refreshingly distinct from Gonzalez’ solo work. In particular drummer Elias Araya shows his presence as a real monster behind the kit, propelling the band to extremes that Gonzalez’ solo work never attempted. I spoke with frontman Jose Gonzalez about the self recording the new Junip album playing with his old buddies, and his roots in Swedish hardcore. Njuta!
Where are you right now, Jose? I’m back at home in Gothenburg, Sweden. I just came back from a European tour. How was the tour? Great, great. Two weeks around mainly Germany and UK. It’s been really nice. And how were the new Junip songs received? It was really good. A lot of people are already singing along with lyrics. And I think many of the new songs…we’re happy with them and they suit themselves for live shows. I think the album is slightly better than the last one for live shows. So that’s cool.
I read the the new Junip album came about through the group jamming, and forming the songs through listening back to recordings of the band jamming. Is that true? Yeah, that’s basically the way we write. The way that we’d describe it I guess it would make it sound like we’re a jamband (laughs). But no one goes to the studio with a finished song, so we always start from scratch together and basically press record after we start it or after we find something that sounds nice. It’s a mixture of trying to have sounds together with chord progressions, melodies, right from the start. So yeah, recording onto a computer and picking out the stuff we like the most and continuing with those until they are finished songs that I can take away for a while and form the lyrics on my own.
Did you test the new songs out live at all or were they fully formed and finished in the studio? It was completed in the studio. We’ve tried to do that before, to test them live, but I think that with the last full length and this one we tried them out in other ways than live. We’re like a studio band in a way. We’re six on stage to play these songs live. We just produce and don’t think about how to do it live until later.
Both the Junip albums were recorded by yourselves. What are the joys and challenges of recording yourself versus using an outside producer? Well, I mean we have an outside producer – Don Alhsterberg – on both albums. And the way we work is that we try to do as much as possible on our own because it’s fun and because it feels a bit more rewarding when you’ve done something on your own. Basically our rehearsal space is like a lo-fi studio and once and a while Alhsterberg would come by and listen to our demos and tell us what to change and what to add and how to make things better. And he gave us hints on how to EQ things, and how to set up the mics. Other bands would probably write the songs in another room and then bring them into the studio and try to make them sound as good as they can be, but we think in terms of the sound from scratch.
Junip is a band that has a lot of power compared to the music you make on your own under your own name. So do you enjoy making louder, almost heavier music? Yeah, definitely. Especially now and when we were on tour it was fun to do the soft stuff with Junip, with nice harmonies, but then to bring it up to, for us, pretty loud and noisy. It doesn’t need to be that way but it’s fun now that we’re able to do that.
Musically were there any particular references points that you drew from when you were making this new album? Or is that not important? It wasn’t that important. Only when we got stuck I sort of sent inspiration lists. But, in general, we didn’t get stuck that many times. It’s not that important as long as everything is working. In general, if a song sounds good, it sounds good to all three of us. But looking back, many of the inspirations that we have are Nina Simone or Marvin Gaye mixed up with music that is more synth-based, or Brazilian music with the production that has acoustic guitar and flutes and percussion.
It’s interesting that Junip generally has a unanimous agreement of what sounds good. Yeah it’s not always the case, but many times it’s like that.
The three of you have been playing music since he late 90s, right? Basically, we’ve been together for a very long time but we haven’t been active for all that time. It was ’98 that we started, but from 1998 to 2003 we did maybe twenty shows and a 7″ ep, so (laughs) not that active! And before that me and Elias had played in a hardcore band, so we’ve known each other for a very long time. It wasn’t until 2008 that we started to write the first album that we started to take it more seriously, setting aside time in our calendars to work just with Junip.
Is there a particular dynamic to how this band works? You’ve known each other such a long time – do you share responsibilities pretty equally or…? Yeah, I mean it’s become a bit like when we’re producing, whoever wants to do something can do what they want. But there’s sort of a division of labour. I’ve written all the lyrics and vocal melodies on my own. The rhodes and organ is always Tobias and Elias always brings the drums. But production-wise its always a bit mixed. I’ve been playing percussion or a bit of bass, synthesizers. It’s a bit mixed. Style-wise, we come from slightly different points of view and it became a bit clearer with Tobias did most of the production for Your Life Your Call and I did much of the production for Suddenly.
Is there a lyrical theme or approach that defines the album? So basically I took each song and wrote a lyric to it, letting the music dictate what I wanted to write about. There is no overall theme but there are many songs that deal with changes in life in relationships or other issues where…I dunno, life, death! (laughs). Changing moments. So there are exceptions. I think So Clear is different and maybe Baton too. So yeah, it’s all after construction when you try to find a common theme for all the songs.
I’d love to hear about your old hardcore band with Elias. What was it called? So Tobias’ band was called Ultimate Concern and me and Elias’ band was called Renascence.
I had no idea that you had a background playing hardcore. Yes, I used to play bass. It was between ’93 and ’98.
Did you ever put anything out? Renascence released a 7″. Ultimate Concern released I think an ep. And we did some other recordings but we never released them properly so it’s not strange that you didn’t know (laughs).
Junip play the Rio Theater June 4th. Tickets at Zulu, Red Cat and The Rio, plus Scout has a pair to give away. Here’s what you need to do…
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