Home Music Music Features

José González’s Home Away From Home

Rolling Stone Australia's Augustus Welby talks to Swedish singer-songwriter José González about his recent performance for Jim Beam Welcome Sessions

In a recent appearance on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, LCD Soundsystem leader James Murphy took a moment to bemoan the necessity that contemporary musicians lead itinerant lifestyles. “Every record’s a world tour,” he said, a stark contrast to the 1970s when global tours were the exclusive province of megastars like Elton John and Led Zeppelin. 

It’s not uncommon for today’s artists to romanticise the studio nerdery of the ‘70s, a time when musicians and engineers would spend several days splicing segments of two-inch tape together and manipulating 24-track recorders to accommodate 48-tracks of sound. 

Nowadays, not only is recording technology much advanced, but the music that’s produced is generally available to listeners for free. This decimates revenue, which in turns means contemporary musicians have little choice but to acquaint themselves with the music venues of the world.

That’s certainly true of Swedish singer-songwriter José González, a semi-constant globetrotter since his debut album, Veneer, came out in 2003. The Gothenburg musician has released two further solo albums since that time as well as two with his krautrock side project, Junip. 

González’s fourth solo effort, Local Valley, is due out in September and the indie-folk favourite premiered the album’s quasi title track, “Valle Local”, as part of the Jim Beam Welcome Sessions. The location of González’s Welcome Sessions performance is an indication of his tour-first mentality—it was filmed at The Michelberger Hotel in the artist’s home away from home, Berlin. 

Watch José González perform for Jim Beam Welcome Sessions

“For me, Berlin has been one of the key cities to go to,” says González. “When I started touring outside of Scandinavia, it was London and Berlin. It’s a great city in terms of the audience that goes there and also just for me to hang out there and go to museums and be with friends.”

The Michelberger—located in the Culture Trip-approved Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district—is distinguished by its bohemian décor and spacious courtyard. Primarily a boutique hotel with a trendy bar/restaurant, The Michelberger is a sanctuary for artistically-inclined travellers and a popular hang-out among hipster Berliners.

The hotel doesn’t officially label itself a live music venue, but along with weekly DJ sets, high-profile artists such as The National, Bon Iver and Nils Frahm have performed pop-up shows in the hotel courtyard over the years.

“[I love] the vibe of the hotel, with many different rooms, all with wood and some with sauna that I enjoy a lot,” says González. “And then just the fact that they are very music-oriented, so you feel very welcome as an artist.”

González has played in venues of all stripes over the last two decades, from Mexican dive bars to the Sydney Opera House. His solo tours tend to be just that: one-person performances that spotlight his deft touch on the nylon string guitar and peaceable vocal style. 

He’s changed it up from time to time, too—along with reigniting the rock-oriented trio, Junip, González toured Europe and the US backed by the 22-piece String Theory orchestra in 2019. But regardless of circumstance, González covets stays in venues like The Michelberger.

Photograph by Nick Helderman

“Almost every city has a place this—not a place like Michelberger, but a place that is really welcoming to artists,” he says. “They do feel like oases sometimes, where you’re on tour and you’ve been to dark venues with sticky floors where someone just puts a six-pack of beer in your dressing room and you’re supposed to be happy.”

González teamed up with La Blogothéque and photographer Nick Helderman to capture the Welcome Sessions performance of “Valle Local”; a riff-oriented song inspired by West African music. The roaming performance clip magnifies González’s core talents while also showcasing the Michelberger’s hall-of-mirrors quirk. 

“[The director] had this great idea to do the song many, many, many times in many different places and just do a collage of all the sounds,” says González. “So that was pretty cool, because the guitar and vocal, in each room, they sound a bit different. Also visually it helps since I’m pretty still when I’m playing.”

González selected The Michelberger not merely because it looks good on film, but also in tribute to the kinship he feels whenever he returns to the hotel. “Over the years I’ve come to know the owners there,” he says. “Accidentally we had breakfast together many days in a row, so we were able to talk about philosophy and life in general.”

Now in his early 40s, González’s tour practices fail to line up with the standard rock’n’roll clichés—he likes to get up early and have breakfast, for crying out loud. But thanks to venues like The Michelberger, González’s itinerant lifestyle continues to be rewarding. 

“I really love hanging out with my colleagues and my crew,” he says. “We’re usually four people or five people and I just meet with them and go to restaurants together and talk about anything. And then of course, doing the shows is where I get to meet the audience and try my new songs and that’s a highlight in my life.”

Advertisement