Jose Gonzalez takes on big issues in ‘Vestiges & Claws’ 

click to enlarge Indie Swedish folk singer Jose Gonzalez plays two sold-out shows in The City this week. - COURTESY MALIN JOHANSSON
  • Indie Swedish folk singer Jose Gonzalez plays two sold-out shows in The City this week.
There’s a pastoral beauty to the songs on “Vestiges & Claws,” the first solo CD in seven years from Junip frontman Jose Gonzalez. The tracks, set against his finger-picked acoustic guitar and soft, woodsy vocals, wax philosophical on nature (“The Forest,” “With the Ink of a Ghost”), humanity’s fragile place within it (“Leaf Off/The Cave”), and the price of ignoring climate change (“What Will,” where he whispers “What will it be? Our legacy/ Faith in dogma or reasoning”).

This former biochemistry major isn’t afraid to ask big questions.

“What I try to convey, musically and lyrically, is more about art than emotions, so I can freely speak about things that I think about or believe as a person,” says the Gothenburg, Sweden-based artist, who plays The City this week.

He knows the future looks dark on TV news broadcasts. But he cites hopeful statistics from Hans Rosling, a renowned professor of international health. “He’s showing data on how many of the diseases that used to kill people aren’t killing them anymore, and he sees himself as – not an optimist – but a possible-ist. So the trends are all there, and they’re pointing in the right direction.”

In one album cut, “Afterglow,” Gonzalez posits: “All of this will be gone someday/ You and me and everyone we know.”

But he’s not despairing over mankind’s extinction just yet. “We can talk to each other in very abstract ways, and we’re figuring out our own existence, both as biological organisms and also within this universe, which might not be the only universe, and I find that super-interesting,” he says. “So “Vestiges & Claws” is asking what to do, as humanity, with both our baggage and our tools.”

Such deep thoughts occur to Gonzalez when he’s communing with nature on his regular jogs. Sometimes he wears headphones, listening to podcasts, lectures or his own hushed mixes. “But once in a while, I notice that the scenery is so beautiful, and I take the headphones off and just listen to the wind,” he says. “On my runs I’ve seen deer, snakes, and lately I’ve been going to a botanical garden, in the vicinity of a forest – I very seldom get bored, being on my own.”

Gonzalez has allowed himself to lighten up, composing sunnier soundtrack songs for Ben Stiller’s 2013 film of James Thurber’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”

If he had that protagonist’s power to dream up alternate realities, he says, “I think I would just enjoy the stuff around me, and not hunger for more. Then again, maybe I’d wrestle with a manatee. Just like Walter does!”


Jose Gonzalez

Where: Bimbo’s 365 Club, 1025 Columbus Ave., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. April 27-28

Tickets: $30 (sold out)

Contact: (415) 474-0365,

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Tom Lanham

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