Putting His Hand on the Heart of Music

An Argentine dad who loves Brazilian music, a Swedish childhood listening to Western pop, a stint in a hard-core metal band ... that['s the curious pedigree of singer-guitarist Jose Gonzalez, who can bring a hushed, haunting quality even to Kylie Minogue's pop hit "Hand on Your Heart." His music, well-known in Europe, is now finding an audience in the United States.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Today we're going to introduce you to a musician well known in Europe but just now attracting a wider audience in the U.S. He's from Sweden and his name is Jose Gonzalez. His parents fled Argentina in 1976 following a military coup. The Swedish embassy offered them a safe haven and it was in that country they decided to make their home.

Jose Gonzalez grew up in Gothenburg listening to Western pop and Brazilian music. That was his father's passion. Like Jose, he, too, is a guitarist.

Mr. JOSE GONZALEZ (Musician): We always had a guitar at home, but it wasn't until I was 14 when I picked it up myself when my father handed me these sheets of music of the Beatles and some other classics. That's where I learned all the chords and learned how to play and sing at the same time.

NORRIS: As I imagine a young Jose sitting in his room playing a Beatles song, what would you be playing?

MR. GONZALEZ: Black bird, (unintelligible), all that music kind of lives with you, but I don't go back to it that often.

(Soundbite of Jose Gonzalez)

Mr. GONZALEZ: (Singing) One night to be confused, one night to speed up truth, we had a promise made four hands and then away, both under influence we had divine sense to know what to say, mind is a razorblade. To call for hands above to lean, on wouldn't be good for me.

NORRIS: I listen to your music and it's so surprising to me that you played in a hardcore metal rock band whose music was often compared to Black Flag.

Mr. GONZALEZ: It's funny, because I always listen to many different styles of music, and I always felt that you can listen to many different styles and still distill something else.

NORRIS: You've had so many influences and so many unusual influences. I want to listen to two songs. A song called Hand on Your Heart, and I want to do something where we listen to the original song and then will listen to your rendering on that song. Let's listen to the original first.

(Soundbite of Kylie Minogue)

NORRIS: This is Kylie Minogue pop hit, big hit in Sweden?

Mr. GONZALEZ: Yes, yes.

Ms. KYLIE MINOGUE (Musician): (Singing) Well it's one thing you fall in love, but another you make it last. I thought that we were just beginning.

NORRIS: You listen to this, you can almost imagine the music video that would go along. A lot energy, a lot of hair flying in the wind probably.

Ms. MINOGUE: (Singing) I wanna hear you tell me, you don't want my love. Put your hand on your heart and tell me, it's all over, I won't believe it till you put your hand on your heart and tell me.

NORRIS: Why did you decide to take this song?

Mr. GONZALEZ: I mean, I heard it a million times before. But I was watching TV and saw the video and started listening to the lyrics, and kind of know.

NORRIS: You heard something in the lyrics that -

Mr. GONZALEZ: That didn't, it felt like the production of the whole song and the video didn't match the words. So I thought yeah, that was kind of a challenge.

NORRIS: It's probably the happiest song I've ever heard about a break-up. You put your own spin on this. I'd like to listen to your version of this song.

(Soundbite of Jose Gonzalez)

Mr. GONZALEZ: (Singing) Well, it's one thing to fall in love, but another to make it last. I thought we were just beginning. Now you say we're in the past. Look me in the eye and tell me we are really through. You know it's one thing to say you love me, but another to mean it from the heart. And if you don't intend to see it through, why did we ever start? I want to hear you tell me you don't want my love. Put your hand on your heart and tell me, it's all over. I won't believe it until you put your hand on your heart and tell me that we're through.

NORRIS: There are things in the original she almost throws away. It's one thing to fall in love, it's another - she sort of speeds past that to get to the main chorus. Where you seem to linger and hold on to those words, put so much more into them.

Mr. GONZALEZ: (Singing) Put your hand on your heart, hand on your heart. Look me in the eye and tell me we are really through.

NORRIS: You're musical style is very intimate and yet very penetrating and there is something that is just very quiet about it. And I'm wondering if that started in some way because you had to practice or play in a space where you had to be quiet so as not to disturb others. Or if it's really just rooted in your personality.

Mr. GONZALEZ: I think it's rooted in my personality to some extent. But yeah, I remember playing the guitar at home during the siesta, and that's when my parents where sleeping.

NORRIS: But you wouldn't sleep.

Mr. GONZALEZ: No, I mean, I was a kid in Sweden.

NORRIS: So you played a guitar while your parents were down the hall taking a siesta.

MR. GONZALEZ: Yes, yes.

(Singing) Stay in the shade, until you reach the grave, hide from yourself and see how you fade, and see how you fade.

NORRIS: It seems if you listen carefully, that you can hear the influence, the rhythm of sort of the electronica, and particularly the repetition and the hook, and the repetition and the hook.

Mr. GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah. Some of the songs have been inspired by people making just samples just repeat them and make small changes and it actually works to be really repetitive in what you're doing.

(Soundbite of Jose Gonzalez)

Mr. GONZALEZ: (Singing) You'll see how you fade, you'll see how you fade, see you fade.

I want to have fun and reflect that, then I know I have a song.

NORRIS: It starts there.

Mr. GONZALEZ: Yeah.

NORRIS: Jose it's been a pleasure to talk to you.

Mr. GONZALEZ: Thank you.

Mr. GONZALEZ: Jose Gonzalez. His CDs are Veneer and Stay In The Shade. You can hear Jose Gonzalez in concert at NPR.org

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Jose Gonzalez: Softly Making Noise

fromWXPN

Set List

  • "Heartbeats"
  • "Crosses"
  • "Put Your Hand on Your Heart"
  • "Lovestain"

Growing up in Sweden with Argentinian parents, Jose Gonzalez was just as likely to hear The Beatles in his home as bossa nova classics. These diverse influences are apparent in his songwriting and guitar playing on his debut album, Veneer.

Jose Gonzalez
Mattias Olsson

Gonzalez plays original compositions on Veneer along with putting his own spin on songs such as Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and Kylie Minogue's "Put Your Hand on Your Heart." His songs have gotten boosts from appearances on Fox's The OC and a popular commercial from Sony. Recently, he finished the U.S. leg of a world tour.

This segment originally aired on April 11, 2006.

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