José González has been making music as a solo artist for nearly two decades and first came to prominence as part of the “quiet is the new loud” scene of the early 2000’s (named after a record by Kings of Convenience). While his musical style still holds true to that ethos of providing a simple, beautiful counterpoint to noisy, chaotic modernity, his new album digs deeper into the messages his songs can deliver.
Local Valley comes after several transformational years for González, during which he became a parent and also unexpectedly connected with numerous authors and researchers he refers to as the “big thinkers of our times,” like Daniel Dennett and Stephen Pinker. He began sharing their articles on social media, cultivating a community around the idea of “effective altruism,” and some eventually reached out to him, asking to perform at scholarly conventions.
“To me, that has been really inspiring,” González explained in an interview from his home studio in Gothenburg. “I feel like this album has a lot of secular humanism in it. It also has philosophical questions and with the single ‘Head On,’ even some economics.”
While González wants listeners to Local Valley to connect with the complex undercurrents stirred up by his lyrics, he doesn’t want the songs to be bogged down by them.
“Yeah, I think the trick is, as an artist, not to try to make a book about the topics,” González says. “It’s about just mentioning the keywords. Ninety nine percent won’t notice, but then someone will just notice a certain phrase and try to figure out what does it mean. And then I mention, ‘Oh, it’s from a book by Mariana Mazzucato writing on “The Value of Everything.”’”
González says he also looked to filmmakers on how to incorporate the messages that dot the landscape of Local Valley. He mentions how a movie could be, on the surface, about a romantic relationship, but the dialogue in a certain scene could elevate the film by having the characters “talking about existential philosophical questions.”
Local Valley also sees González digging deeper into his multi-hyphenate heritage as a Swedish citizen of Latin heritage who has sung in English throughout his professional career. He says he’s tried to write in Spanish on previous records, but this time “it felt different.” That partially came from speaking Spanish with his daughter, and as he put it, “thinking about who I am and who I want to be and basically not feeling like there’s time for feeling awkward about things.” Four songs on the album are split between his two native tongues, Spanish and Swedish, with the remainder in English.
As González hits the road in support of Local Valley, there is one major music city not on his itinerary, i.e. Nashville, but he says Nashvillians should not take it personally.
“I give an impossible mission to my managers and agents,” González says of his effort to maintain balance between touring and his home life. “Like, I only want to be out from home for eight weeks, not more [but] I want to go to as many countries as possible, not only Europe and North America.”
For now, Nashville will have to be satisfied wandering the melodically gorgeous and lyrically layered inner environment that González has built in his mature, satisfying Valley.