FOREVER CHANGES: José González is looking ahead by looking behind. His most recent album, Vestiges & Claws, speaks to the roots and shoots of the ever-growing tree of humankind as it so uncertainly grows to new precipices. “Some of the songs have to do with humanity and where we are, where we come from, where we’re headed,” he explained during our phone interview. “‘Vestiges’ serves as a metaphor of something that has been and is still around in some sense; ‘claws’ is metaphor for the ability to move forward, to choose our way forward.”
For a UCSB Arts & Lectures performance, González will be playing at Campbell Hall tonight (Thu., Mar. 10) with yMusic, a critically acclaimed, N.Y.C.-based sextet of young classical virtuosos, and expect some vestigial material on the bill. After seven years of no full-lengths, the Gothenburg, Sweden, native’s newest finds the famed bard addressing changes of tremendous size with subtle acoustic arrangements. “I’m excited to be in this time in history, and I think there are so many things that are changing that it’s worth contemplating our place in the ecosystems, and in an ideological sense on how we are forming our societies,” he said. The “Heartbeats” singer is very much interested in the pulse of the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. “Just the fact that we’re going from seven to maybe 11 billion people in a short time — that’s gonna be a big change.”
He could not have chosen a more apt partner to flesh out his songs than yMusic, who have built a name around their classical reinterpretations of modern indie folk and indie pop hits. They, too, like to address themes of concurrent and crosscutting energies and epochs in their music. When they open the night with an introductory set, expect swooning classical rearrangements of songs by contemporary artists like Sufjan Stevens and Son Lux.
Teaming up with the sextet will allow González to expand his usually sparse sound and explore new territories. González tends to keep things restricted, he said, because it is in the restraints that he finds the drama in small variations. “I know many producers try to keep the tension through production, but I focus most on the variation a very narrow range of my guitar playing and vocal,” he explained. “I very seldom try to agitate — for me it’s important to keep things within a certain style and not change style too much.” He admits his studio renditions can sound “almost too limited,” but sparse is “what I do best at the moment.”
Offstage, González is a man who finds comfort in the little things, in “small rituals” like thrice-weekly walks through the forest and in listening to the boil of water for his morning coffee. He’s also recently tried taking up some meditation apps, which he uses with varying frequency as a means to calm the mind. He finds a similarity between music playing and meditation, in the similar sensation of calming physical and mental detachment that comes through repeated movement.
Campbell Hall will be a most welcome venue for the ensemble of musicians, as it’s González’s belief that the changes and challenges ahead can be best addressed empirically. “It’s a fantastic time — the idea of following the evidence or the data where it leads us; that’s something that I think we as a society could focus more on,” he said. “If there is one hope, it would be that we could focus more on evidence and data, and less on tribalism and ignorance.”