Jose Gonzalez keen for big stage at Bluesfest

Chill time: Jose Gonzalez enjoys his creative time out at home in Goteborg.
Chill time: Jose Gonzalez enjoys his creative time out at home in Goteborg.

It’s a three-hour train ride from Goteborg on the west coast of Sweden to Stockholm on the east coast, passing through snow-covered landscapes and yellow and green fields. For Jose Gonzalez, guitar virtuoso and songwriter extraordinaire, it’s the perfect environment for putting on his headphones, listening to his own new demos and working on lyrics.

Although he pulls crowds around the world - whether playing solo, or with his small band, Junip, or the 20-piece orchestra, The String Theory – he can happily walk through the parks and enjoy the restaurants or museums of his home city of Goteborg unrecognised.

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In some ways, he’s still living like his unplanned success as a musician hasn’t changed life at all. Since breaking through in 2003 with his first solo album, Veneer, which featured his hit cover of Heartbeats, Gonzalez has touched the hearts and minds of a global fanbase attracted to his soft voice, acoustic expertise and enchanting lyrics. 

Since playing a sold-out hometown show at the Goteborg Opera House in early November with The String Theory, which followed a busy world touring schedule, he’s been chilling out in Goteborg, where he has lived for the entire 39 years of his life.

“I have been touring for 14 years,” he says in the manner of explaining why he lives off the beaten path that so many popular musicians chose. “I spend so much time abroad, it’s nice to come back. It’s a nice middle-size town, it has enough culture to keep me entertained … it’s not too hectic.”

Goteborg, a city of about one million population, loves its death metal rock and hosts Sweden’s biggest film festival. For Gonzalez, who’s parents were born and raised in Argentina but fled in 1976 and landed in Sweden, travelling under the radar suits him fine.

“I am still like a hidden, indie artist in many ways,” he says, joking about his sold-out show there last month. “The staff of the [Goteborg] Opera House, they wondered who was playing … ‘isn’t he a guitar player from India?’”

Gonzalez has been popular in Australia since his breakout hit, Heartbeats. He’s well aware of his fans down under – and looking forward to his quick tour here where he will play at Bluesfest at Byron Bay next year and some side shows in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.

He’s excited about playing solo on the Australian trip. 

“I have been wanting to go back to my solo style,” he says. “My original version, the one people are used to hearing. I think many of my fans enjoy that version.”

And while he enjoys playing the Sydney Opera House, he’s equally keen on the stage at Bluesfest. 

“In big festivals, you get big PAs, which is really good for me,”  he says. “You can make it sound big, hopefully. I have some songs that are more rhythmical than soothing.”

Jose Gonzalez plays Bluesfest on April 1. Other headliners include Robert Plant, John Butler, Lionel Richie, Jason Isbell. bluesfest.com.au