JOSE GONZALEZ with JUANA MOLINA and PSAPP at Trinty St. Paul's Centre (427 Bloor West), Monday (June 26), 7 pm. $20. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
If sensitive swedish singer/songwriter José González had had to rely on radio for his big break, he'd probably be selling cross-trainers at a Gothenburg sporting goods store right now instead of playing his intimate tunes at quiet shows with Argentine songster Juana Molina. No one outside Scandinavia was paying much attention to the softly sung tunes González so gently strummed on his lovely Veneer (Imperial) debut, initially issued in 2003 (recently released domestically by Mute), until one of his sweetly crooned confections called Crosses appeared in the 2005 season finale of The OC.
Quicker than you could say "tween sensation," González was being hailed the next big Swede by glossy music mags eager to square-peg him into the quiet-is-the-new-loud movement, while nerdy bloggers began knowingly dropping his name along with Elliott Smith, Iron & Wine and Devendra Banhart.
González himself seems a bit bemused by all the fuss surrounding his three-year-old album. And while he acknowledges that The OC product placement has been a career boost, it hasn't suddenly turned him into an obsessive fan of teen soaps. In fact, he hasn't watched the episode of The OC in which his song appears.
"I don't watch the series myself, but I have people whose judgment I trust look into those things for me," says González. "It seems like a good way of getting your music heard by a lot of people. Maybe one day I'll see the episode."
Similarly, when Sony came calling to use his enjoyably bossa-esque cover of the song Heartbeats (originally by Swedish electro duo the Knife) for a television commercial for the company's new consumer electronics product line, González's peeps were all for it.
However, González confesses he has some reservations about the commercial use of his recordings in advertising. "When music I like is used in commercials, it can make it less interesting. So I thought about that when I heard about Sony's interest. But knowing that the product they were selling wasn't controversial - everybody has a television set - I decided it was OK. The main thing was that the video treatment was artistically beautiful, and there weren't any voice-overs on top of my music."
The Sony commercial hasn't yet done for sales of González's discs what the Volkswagen ad did for Nick Drake's, but the additional exposure certainly hasn't hurt. And it has provided an impetus for some journalists to notice that the two artists share a similar sombre-toned approach to introspective acoustic-based music.
It's not completely off the mark, but González sounds more directly inspired by the whispered vocal delivery and bare-bones austerity favoured by Brazilian bossa boss João Gilberto.
"Oh yes, João Gilberto was a big influence on me. Of course, I love all of his classic bossa nova songs and his first, self-titled album is amazing. The way he sings so quietly very close to the microphone was very inspiring. When I started learning to play guitar, I was mostly listening to bossa nova and Beatles records, so those were my earliest influences.
"It wasn't until after I started playing shows that I began listening to Nick Drake. People would ask me after every gig if I liked Nick Drake, because I sounded so much like him. So I decided to check out his albums. At first I thought, 'This guy doesn't sound anything like me,' but the more I listened the more I enjoyed what I heard.
"Now I'd say he's an influence, too."