When Jose Gonzalez last performed in Auckland, at the St James Theatre in 2006, he left the audience spellbound, charmed by the tingling sounds of his intimate, heartfelt voice, and delicate acoustic guitar. The Swedish-Argentinian musician had captured the world's attention with his 2003 debut solo album Veneer, in particular with a cover of the song Heartbeats originally by fellow Swedish band The Knife, which was used in a Sony Bravia TV campaign, and quickly became a phenomenon.
He went on to release another acclaimed record, In Our Nature, in 2007, but since then he's been somewhat off the radar in New Zealand. Gonzalez remained busy though, releasing and touring two albums with his new band Junip, as well as doing some solo European tours and performing with orchestras.
And then last year he released his first solo album in seven years, Vestiges & Claws, once again turning heads back to his spare, metaphysical musings.
"When I sat down to think about the new album, going through all the different demos I'd been recording and collecting, I noticed there were two different types - there was a bunch that had me playing around with synthesisers and drum machines, and then a bunch of demos that were only guitar and vocals, and it turned out those were the ones I was drawn back to and wanted to work on" he says of his return to the familiar, solitary soundscape.
The self-imposed limitations of recording just about everything by himself, with only his guitar, voice, and some percussion, in how home studio, are two-fold in their appeal to Gonzalez.
"It's a mixture of practical reasons and aesthetic reasons. So the practical reasons are that I know how to use a microphone, and I know I can sit down and put my headphones on and do most of this stuff on my own, and I also knew I could record the songs by myself first, and then go on tour and bring in other musicians, and see how the songs could evolve in a live setting (he'll be bringing a full band to New Zealand this time).
"And then from an aesthetic point of view, I know that if I do everything on my own it will sound a little more muffled perhaps, or raw. Part of me really wanted to keep it in that less than perfect, introverted type of recording."
Part of the reason he's drawn to the sound of acoustic instruments is due to his multi-cultural background - even though he was born and raised in Gothenburg, Sweden, the sounds of Latin America, and nylon string guitars being played in many different styles surrounded him growing up, so it feels familiar.
But it's also about the quality of the sound itself.
"I've been inspired by lots of different styles and been in different groups, where I've played bass or electric guitar, but I think what I like about acoustic music is the texture and the sense of authenticity that is immediate. I think just sonically, it feels authentic when you hear an acoustic instrument making a sound in space through resonance and so on. And I love the ambient noises that come with it, the pluck of a string, or the movement of your fingers across the fretboard."
Something several people have noted with Vestiges & Claws is a new sense of optimism in some of the songs, and a more outward-looking widescreen perspective, which has been a gradual change, but something Gonzalez was conscious of working towards.
"When I started writing, I wrote most of my songs from a personal point of view or a relationship point of view, but I guess I'm a bit older now, and for a while I was struggling with this sort of singer-songwriter cliche of this lonely young guy who sits in his room and writes about a lack of love, and I wanted to avoid that.
"So I think part of my zooming out has been finding other topics to write about."