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José González


He is a Swedish singer-songwriter, perhaps best known for his cover of Heartbeats. [1]
From RollingStone.com / "Breaking Artist: José González" (9/19/07):
Three Things You Should Know: 1. González, who considers himself an atheist, titled his new album In Our Nature in reference to the debate over whether human behavior is biologically dictated. Science, philosophy, and religion are major lyrical themes for him. “I don’t want to be too harsh, but there’s very little evidence for ‘intelligent design’ or any sort of creator,” he explains. [2]
From New York Magazine (9/26/08):
Soft-spoken indie minimalist (and proud atheist) José González first won Stateside attention based on the strength of his whispery covers (The Knife’s "Heartbeat," most famously) before dazzling critics with the intricate originals on his second album, In Our Nature. This Sunday, González hits the Gowanus with a special set at New York’s “Campire on the Canal” event. This week, he spoke to Vulture about what songs he will (or will not) be playing this weekend, his upcoming tour of the Middle East, and believing in Santa Claus. Can we request "Kumbaya" for the campfire on Sunday? That would be fun. I can't guarantee I remember all the words, though. I think we used to sing it in kindergarten.
I think you'd actually get more requests not to play that. Also, isn't it about God? Yeah, that’s right. It's "Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya," right? I think Kumbaya is Swahili — I’m not sure. I actually believe in one god. The nylon-string guitar god.
Do you expect any backlash for saying that In Our Nature was inspired by Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion? I did like two hours of interviews with newspapers and magazines from Israel, and some of them were telling me that, yeah, you probably shouldn’t say that you're an atheist. I find that funny. But I am invited to play there because of my music so I am not going to make a big deal about not believing in Santa Claus.
Well, you could say over there that you don’t believe in Santa Claus. Yeah, and also that I don’t believe in Thor. You know thunder? It comes from electricity in the clouds? "I Don’t Think It's From Thor" is my next song. [3]
From Spinner (7/3/07): Jose Gonzalez Challenges Religion With 'Nature' Jose Gonzalez can write a damn good love song, but on his new album, 'In Our Nature,' due Sept. 25, the soft-spoken Swede challenges human belief in God and religion -- with a sense of humor. "Religion is a sensitive subject and it's more important to be humble than to force your view on other people," Gonzalez tells Spinner. "But I think Winnie the Pooh is a more interesting story than the Bible."
Inspired by 'The God Delusion' -- a Richard Dawkins book that Gonzalez calls "anti-religion" -- 'Nature' is the follow-up to 2005's 'Veneer.' Look for Gonzalez's second appearance on the Interface coming in September, and download his debut Interface podcast. [4]
From San Francisco City Beat (3/18/08):
Questions about science and religion are usually the stuff of academic journals and National Public Radio, not fodder for handsome, brooding musicians. Yet those are the prickly subjects tackled by José González, a singer-songwriter born in Sweden to Argentine parents, on his latest album, In Our Nature.
González calls himself an atheist. Before he began racking up gold records in Sweden, he was working on a doctorate degree in biochemistry at the University of Gothenburg. He ultimately picked music over science, but his evolution as a musician is nevertheless informed by his education as a scientist.
“I can appreciate things like yoga or listening to music and getting lost in the moment, which some people might consider spiritual,” González says. “But at the same time, I’ve been trained to see the difference between an explanation that’s sufficient and one that really isn’t sufficient. Rationality is the way I think.”
That said, González freely admits that science doesn’t have all the answers, either.
“I really enjoy the big questions,” he says, “the ones that have to do with ethics or free will that are more difficult to address with scientific methods and are mostly discussed within philosophy or religion.”
Much of In Our Nature deals with a core question of humanity: How do we become who we are? González shrugs off the idea of a world with inherent good and evil, made so by some omnipotent being.
“There’s a certain degree of probabilistic determinism in the way we are,” González explains. “I think it’s pretty obvious that some people, because of a different structure in their brain, have a diminished sense of what’s right or wrong. One could say that they might be inherently evil, but I think we all have a tendency to do evil things if we’re in a situation that leads us to it, unfortunately.” A disheartening response, especially when delivered in accented science-speak—seriously, who pulls out “probabilistic determinism” in conversation?—but then González adds: “In the same way, I think we are all able to do very good things, and we do, every day, without thinking about it.”
The God Delusion by British biologist Richard Dawkins inspired much of In Our Nature’s lyrical content. The book takes a highly critical (and widely criticized) stance against intelligent design and organized religion while arguing that religion is oppressive and the world would be better off without it.
González’s song “Abram”—which refers to the biblical Abraham who nearly sacrifices his son to a demanding God before an angel grants him reprieve—is slightly more lighthearted in its theological criticism.
“The song is about questioning the blind faith to these scriptures and trying to say that in a joking way—not to be too harsh,” González clarifies.
He calls the ancient biblical stories “myths” and directly alludes to Dawkins’ book on “Abram” with the line “You’ve aided delusions and created bias in our minds.” Abram, the song says, is “sleepwalking with a delirious head.”
“There are different sorts of Christianity and different sorts of Islam,” González points out. “I’m saying either wake up or go to bed. There are many versions of Christianity and Islam that have woken up, but the fact that some still take scriptures too seriously is a problem. They’re not really reasoning. They’re throwing in the towel every time by relying on these scriptures.”
Contrary to common rationalizations for religion, González is doubtful that humankind would fall into moral anarchy were religion to disappear. “The fact that we live close to each other as human animals has made us come up with ways to live with each other,” he offers. “We might have some moral instincts—and many people are saying that we do have that. And, of course, through culture and seeing how people treat each other and noticing what makes a good way of living, you learn how to be a moral person.”
In Our Nature may not earn a spot on the iPods of Christian Coalition members, but the album offers entertainment value beyond its intellectually stimulating lyrics. González’s arrangements build on a lushness only hinted at on his sparse 2005 debut, Veneer. Classically inflected guitar work and melodious, gentle vocals get a boost from synths, backup vocals and even the occasional handclap.
González says there’s room for questioning on subjects like global warming, as it forces scientists to find compelling evidence. But sometimes that skepticism can go too far.
“It’s usually the people who have to make the biggest sacrifices that don’t want to believe,” he says. But what about Abraham, willing to sacrifice his own offspring for his beliefs?
“I’m glad he didn’t have to do that,” González laughs.

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