Bimbo's 365 Club, in San Francisco's Russian Hill district, has been in business for over seventy years and boasts an enchanting old-world charm that doesn't exist in many other live music settings. It reflects in everything from the friendly, personable ushers and bartenders adorning custom suits to the private roped-off tables and gilded interior. It's also Junip's favorite venue.
José González has a tranquil, at times sedative, voice that belies some of the weightier subject matter he and his band Junip have covered in their two releases from the past three years - an incredible feat considering they've been on-and-off as a group since 1998 and only released a handful of EPs before 2010. Nevertheless, what started as a hobby has morphed into a prosperous career for both the trio of friends and González, himself, who has experienced his own share of acclaim as a solo artist.
I met up with González after the band's soundcheck, was led through a maze of stairwells, to the backstage dressing room, and back outside to the front of the venue where their tour bus was parked. It was the quietest place to conduct an interview and I had a few questions to ask the notoriously private artist. From online music platforms to what's in store for the future, José had a lot of personal wisdom to impart.
Welcome back to San Francisco. You guys just performed here in May. What is your favorite city to visit on tour?
This is definitely one of our favorite places. When we toured Europe, we had a really nice time in Amsterdam, Brussels, and Berlin. But, it’s always fun to come over to the States. There’s the nature to take in while we’re on the road, and in the bigger cities, it’s always easier to find vegetarian food. I feel like it’s part of the culture, in San Francisco, for people to be friendly to everyone they meet.
As you probably know, a lot of people here work in, or are closely following, the intersection of music and technology. Lately, there has been some controversy surrounding artists like Thom Yorke and David Byrne pulling their catalogues from Spotify while others, including Dave Allen, argue that new methods of distribution need to be embraced. What is your stance?
As a consumer of music, I like it a lot. I’ve stopped buying CDs for a while, many years now, and I’ve never been a vinyl collector. Spotify, for me, has been useful for discovering new music and I’m able listen to a lot music more than ever before. So from a consumer’s perspective, it’s great. Sometimes I feel like there’s not all the music that I would like to have there, though.
From a musician’s perspective, I think it’s worth complaining about. They (the artists) have probably read the statistics and some people are getting rich from the music, apparently. It’s a new technology; I think it’s good to complain and find ways to make it work out so no one gets ripped off.
You recently collaborated with Ben Stiller. How did that come about?
He was working on a movie called “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and George Drakoulias, the music supervisor, gave Ben my music plus Junip’s music. While they were filming, he listened to some songs including “Without You” by Junip and some of my solo stuff. He felt some of the tracks would work with his movie and we went from there.
My ambition was to create as much music for him as possible, given the time constraints. We ended up with a couple of my old songs mixed in with some new background music that I wrote with Teddy Shapiro.
Are there any filmmakers or other creators you want to collaborate with in the future?
I really enjoyed the experience of working with Ben. I feel like my style is suited for something more indie and a bit darker. It would be a nice transition from an album and touring. I would definitely like to work on more film-related stuff in the future.
You had a flourishing solo career going. What inspired you and the rest of Junip to reunite after all these years?
When I released my second album, in 2007, I felt like I had created too much solo work at that point. So, we talked about reuniting and then we did. We took our time recording Fields and while touring in support of the album, we decided we didn’t want to do just that followed by a five-year hiatus. So, we created the second album straightaway.
It’s nice to be able to switch between my solo life and being in a band. Now, I’m really eager to work on my solo stuff again. That’s my next project.
The recurring theme across your latest album seems to focus primarily on redemption. Can you share any personal moments that inspired this particular direction?
Yeah, there’s some personal stuff and also stuff that happened to other people I know including breakups, illness – the sort of things that happen to everyone. I’ve been through a, not deep, but, slight depression caused from a breakup. I’ve been able to bring some of that out and combine it with what I hear from friends and family.
Are there any artists on heavy rotation in the tour bus?
The music we’re listening to comes mainly from our drummer, Elias Araya DJing under his alias “Staycation.” He’s been mixing up everything from Brazilian to electronic along with a lot of old, harmony-based music from the ‘60s and ‘70s. It’s really good stuff; I need to get a list from him.
Where do you like to share your experiences online?
I’ve been trying to keep my personal information private and that’s why I have Facebook and Instagram for myself. What I share with the public mainly comes through Junip’s social accounts and it’s tour-based. We want to make sure people know when we’re headed to their town.
I really admire people like Wayne Coyne who put everything out there. I don’t feel like I’m that type of person but I also think, with my next album, I’ll be more open.
Junip still has three more US tour dates followed by six stops in Europe.