JUNIP: OH MY GOD, THERE’S EDDIE MURPHY’S HOUSE
Sweden’s Junip is a heavy prog-folk band fronted by José González that sounds like it’s playing in outer space. The band has been an off-and-on project for over a decade and they are giving their new EP away for free on their website. They talked to L.A. RECORD to discuss the reason they won’t record any more cover songs, the glory of American movie popcorn and more. This interview by Scott Schultz.
Is the correct pronunciation of the band’s name “Joo-nip?”
José González (guitar, vocals): It doesn’t mean anything, so it’s sort of like whatever works. In Swedish we say “Yunip,” but “Junip” sounds better in the States. There’s a tree called Juniper and we thought it sounds nice.
After you strip away all of the prog arrangements on your new album, it still sounds like Jose Gonzalez. How did your songwriting process with Junip differ from your solo writing?
José González: We actually wrote everything together, all three of us. So we just set up a computer so we could record our sessions and that’s the way we would write songs. We would be jamming, and we would pick out the parts that we liked. Then I would go home and write lyrics and melodies. So, I guess it sounds similar to my own because it’s my singing and my melodies are typical. The guitar is much simpler compared to my own. That’s because it’s not the main thing.
How did the original Junip sessions from the ’90s and 2005 differ from your recent sessions for the new EP and the upcoming full length?
Tobias Winterkorn (organ, synth): I guess the main difference is that we started as just us three. We only had organ, Moog, guitar and drums and we tried to do everything as just us three. This time around we started like this but we added bass, more percussion and thought that it would be fun to make the album as rich as possible and add more musicians on tour.
There are so many great bands in Sweden. What is it about Sweden that is so conducive to such a vibrant and varied music industry?
Tobias Winterkorn: It is the darkness and all of the polar bears.
You have polar bears in Sweden?
Tobias Winterkorn: No. Norway does in the North.
José González: I think there are a couple of things that are unique for Sweden. We have a lot of rehearsal spaces. As kids we had a lot places we could go and we didn’t own instruments but we could borrow them. So you have a lot of opportunities. When you’re on the level where you’re starting to release albums, the government gives you grants for albums, for touring and promotion. I’ve gotten a couple of those. The Knife put out their first record like that. There’s also the language. A lot of the Swedish bands put out songs in English, so it’s easier to reach a wide audience. Compared to Germany or France, not too many bands sing in English, so a lot of them won’t be discovered here.
Have you ever played in the north of Sweden where they have the 24-hour sun?
José González: We were almost in Trondheim, Norway, where Elias was studying art.
Elias Araya (drums): It’s in the middle of the country. It looks like all elks and reindeer everywhere. It’s really close to the 24-hour sun now.
Tobias Winterkorn: In the north of Sweden the sun doesn’t drop below the horizon right now for any time. I’ve only been there one time in the summer to see the midnight sun. It’s so weird. It’s really weird.
The western world found out about the Chernobyl meltdown when Swedish scientists discovered higher than usual radioactive particles on Swedish beaches. That was when the Russians confessed to what happened. Do you remember when that happened? Were people freaking out as they tried to figure out what was happening?
Tobias Winterkorn: I remember it very clear. It was some time in the mid-’80s. I remember it because it was in the spring and we got this small grass that we could eat and it was sour and we were told, “You can’t eat that.” I also remember the pictures from TV and the people shoveling the radioactive materials in Russia. I was quite scared actually. The reindeers in the north that are bred by Sweonas [Native Scandinavians—ed.]…they had to kill a lot of reindeers. And then they talked about the cows may have eaten radioactive grass and we might not be able to drink the milk.
How did growing up in a bilingual home affect your songwriting since English is not your native language?
José González: I think more in terms of influences. I listened to a lot of Argentinian folklore, which is a lot of acoustic guitar and Tropicália from Brazil, lyrically.
Your eight-minute jam “At the Doors” reminds me of Hawkwind. Were you always jamming with this proggy style or did that sound develop over time?
Elias Araya: It’s never been a plan to be prog. It’s more been a natural thing that comes from our trying things out and playing for hours and jamming for months. It’s an influence but it’s more a feeling for the song.
Tobias Winterkorn: When you jam you have to use a certain structure. You can’t just play whatever you want to. Almost every time it starts with a grinding rhythm but when we jam it gets quite proggy. It also has to do with the instruments.
Your debut full length comes out in September. Is it going to include any cover songs?
José González: Not on the album, no. I got tired of being connected to the covers that I’ve been doing. So we never had any ambition of doing any more covers. We kind of feel saddled with Bruce Springsteen.
I love that version of “Ghost of Tom Joad.”
José González: It’s good but sometimes you feel that you want to present some of your own music and want people to like that and then later maybe in your career you can start adding covers.
How long are you going to keep your new Rope and Summit EP free on your website? That album is worth currency!
Elias Araya: Forever.
José González: We haven’t talked about it. The label wanted it to be free and we liked that idea. It’s a good way to let people know about the band because not many people are familiar with it.
Is the purpose of your new EP and this tour really just a brief introduction of your band to America?
José González: Definitely. Also, it’s a way for us to play live. It’s fresh. So it’s nice when we put out the new album, we’ll be comfortable with playing it good live.
Are you keeping track of how many people are downloading it?
Tobias Winterkorn: I haven’t heard anything yet. The first week I heard something but not lately.
José González: The nice thing is, I did an interview in Mendoza, a small city in Argentina, because they had heard the EP and that hasn’t happened to me before. Usually the album comes out and then it takes a while for all these places to know it but now when it’s free they already have it.
Tobias Winterkorn: There’s a bar in Thailand and they play Rope and Summit every day there.
The Internet really brings the world together for bands these days. How much of an impact has it had with helping artists like you in Sweden developing fanbases a world away in America?
José González: I remember when my US manager told me “You have to get on this thing called MySpace.” I didn’t know about it. That’s how old I am.
I actually discovered you through a MySpace friend. She was heavily into Swedish music.
José González: Now it’s time for you to name cool bands from Sweden that L.A. Record readers aren’t familiar with but should be. And don’t say Little Dragon since L.A. Record readers know about them.
Elias Araya: We Live in Trenches. Skull Defects.
Tobias Winterkorn: I can only come up with one band from the ’60s: Hansen and Carlson. It’s drums and organs. Really cool.
What cities are most responsive to your solo music?
José González: For my solo stuff it’s Australia, New Zealand. Most major cities in the US and Europe. Last month I played in Poland and I had my Beatles moment. I couldn’t go offstage. I had to be taken out by guards. But that only happened once.
How have the hardcore José González fans respond to the new heavier, proggier style of music? Were any of them offended?
José González: I’ve been trying to read comments and blogs and YouTube. Mostly it’s people saying it sounds interesting and good. There was one review – I think it was Pitchfork – that said it was like putting a jet engine on a bicycle. They thought it would be like that but when they listened to it they felt it was done tastefully. Most of the reactions are like that. But I’ve seen someone put a comment on my page that said, “José should play solo!” but it was only once. Most people are positive.
You’ll always have the purists.
José González: Yes, but then you also have the people that find my music boring. I see those kinds of comments also. And also when we play live, people come up to me and say, “I like your solo stuff, but this is amazing.”
I have listened to your EP a dozen times already and I enjoy it more with every listen. Are you currently writing any solo songs right now or are your creative efforts entirely focused on the band?
José González: Most of my time it’s toward the band but I do some sketches. I try to keep up my writing without any deadlines. I’m gathering stuff.
What can we expect on the full length album in September? Is it going to be similar to the EP or will there be more jams or some surprises.
José González: Surprises. Yes.
Tobias Winterkorn: A pure ballad, almost like a pure ballad. And you will get a funny children’s song. And one more thing. Yes, a very cool driving in your car with the windows down with a hip hop beat [Laughs]. It sounds like a joke and exaggerated when it’s explained but on our level it sounds similar. It’s a fun song.
José González: We chose “Rope and Summit” as the first song we put out because it’s most representative of the mood of the whole album. It’s a bit more repetitive than the other songs. It’s about struggling and about setting your goals. I try to use metaphors but it’s hard to see it literally. Like, I have a rope?
Tobias Winterkorn: It’s a happy song but it’s not too happy.
I saw your video on your webpage for “Rope and Summit,” and I wanted to know if someone just submitted that. The one where they just show an image of a mountain?
Elias Araya: No, that is not an actual video. But it’s nice to have different ways to be seen and they get plays on YouTube.
I kept waiting for you guys to appear suddenly with ropes and musical instruments.
Tobias Winterkorn: Yeah, someone just put that up. We don’t know who it is. Nowadays you almost have to put up something, otherwise other people will. There’s another one for the same song where they put up their vacation photos and they were boring photos and that is the most seen video for “Rope and Summit.” So you got the one with the mountains and you have the one with the vacation photos. You have a choice.
How long has it been since you played intimate sized crowds like this? I know at least in Los Angeles you were playing Wiltern Theater sized venues
José González: For myself, most of the tours I’ve been mixing bigger and smaller places. I’m used to jumping from clubs to festivals. It’s kind of interesting because we’re playing festivals without the album out yet.
Tobias Winterkorn: We played Barcelona recently with a real big stage. A 3,000 seat capacity. That was weird.
I think Junip’s sound is big enough to hold up in front of larger crowds.
José González: The volume, we’re able to play a lot louder. I can stop playing the guitar and it still sounds good. So we always had the problem with bringing up the volume of the acoustic guitar because of the feedback. So that’s a good thing.
Do you guys ski?
Elias Araya: No, not for a long time. Not since I was fourteen.
Tobias Winterkorn: I went skiing this winter because we had our hardest winter in 30 years in Sweden. So I went skiing with my wife and it was really, really cold.
We had our worst winter this year here in Boston and New York City. We must have the same prevailing winds.
Tobias Winterkorn: Global freezing.
Are there any American experiences that you’re looking forward to?
Elias Araya: Some of the cities like New York, Chicago and L.A. I’ve been to but I was eleven years old. But, I really liked Chicago and L.A. I haven’t seen Milwaukee. I haven’t had time to look up anything yet but I very much look forward to walking around and seeing everything.
José González: We have a couple days off. In L.A. we have three days. We’re talking about going trekking, hiking.
Elias Araya: I remember I saw Eddie Murphy’s house when I was on a bus tour of the houses. I was thinking, “Oh my God, there’s Eddie Murphy’s house.”
Tobias Winterkorn: I want to go to the movies and get one of those big popcorn boxes with two liters of butter!
You guys don’t have that in Sweden?
All three: No!
What do you guys have there?
Tobias Winterkorn: Just regular small popcorn. American popcorn is the biggest in the world. Big, big, big, big, big! [Laughs] With butter all over it like it’s olive oil. I was in a supermarket this morning and I was just standing there with my eyes wide open because there’s so much of everything. I like it.
FYF FEST, EAGLE ROCK MUSIC FESTIVAL AND THE ECHO PRESENT JUNIP ON WED., JUNE 16, AT EAGLE ROCK CENTER FOR THE ARTS, 2225 COLORADO BLVD., LOS ANGELES. 8 PM / $15-$17. CENTERARTSEAGLEROCK.ORG. JUNIP’S ROPE AND SUMMIT CAN BE DOWNLOADED FOR FREE AT JUNIP.NET.