Jose Gonzalez the songwriter was a man alone, lost in introspection, his cerebral struggles rendered with spare eloquence, taking place in a dreamy solitude. Jose Gonzalez the performer had a problem.
"I was invited to benefit concerts or political concerts and noticed I didn't have any songs that fit that setting," Gonzalez recalls. "Many of my songs are introverted or of personal struggle. So I was thinking about trying to write a lyric that was a bit more humanistic."
One of the best examples of this new openness is the delicate "Every Age," on the new album "Vestiges and Claws," the third solo release from Gonzalez, the Swedish-born leader of the indie-rock band Junip. The song is a view of human civilization from a satellite and a microscope, tracing the evolution of cultures and the legacy we leave during our short stay on "this globe in the void."
Gonzalez, who once pursued a doctorate in biological chemistry, says the environmental concerns many see in his lyrics are secondary to the human ones. "The environment is nothing if we can't get along," he says.
In the first stop on a nationwide fall tour highlighted by performances next month at the Austin City Limits Festival, Gonzalez will do a free concert on Monday in downtown Hollywood's ArtsPark, presented by the Rhythm Foundation and Poplife.
Born 37 years ago in Gothenburg, Gonzalez is the son of two students who fled the National University of San Luis in Argentina during the military government's so-called Dirty War. His father was a politically active psychology student, and his mother was in the biochemistry program, when they left San Luis for Rio de Janeiro, where the Swedish Embassy took them in and relocated them a year before Gonzalez's birth.
"They got targeted," Gonzalez says by phone from his home in Gothenburg. "Many of their friends got incarcerated and tortured and some disappeared, so during that time they fled."
Gonzalez grew up with these stories, which inform songs such as "Every Age," as he sings, "Take this dream of a better day/Take your time, build a home/Build a place where we all can belong."
This background also makes it impossible for him to look away as the world struggles with a historic migration of refugees. Sweden is among the countries whose response Gonzalez finds inadequate.
"People don't realize how fortunate they are to be born in the right environment and the right side of the border," he says.
Gonzalez has been busy in recent years, composing film soundtracks ("The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"), recording and touring with Junip, and exploring new formats such as chamber music ensembles. On Monday night, Gonzalez will be accompanied by two percussionists and two vocalists, and expects to perform songs from each of his solo albums, along with a cover or two. His playlist growing up ranged from the Beatles to Cuban icon Silvio Rodriguez, and his taste in music is borderless and shrewd, with his best-known covers including "Teardrop" by Massive Attack and Joy Division's mournful "Love Will Tear Us Apart."
On Junip's 2005 EP "Black Refuge," Gonzalez chose another muse, covering "The Ghost of Tom Joad," Bruce Springsteen's 1995 lament about American refugees left destitute by global economics.
"I'm not a politician. I'm not an economist. I don't know what the solutions are," Gonzalez says. "The only thing I can point at is in Sweden, as in many other European countries, many people are sort of shouting, saying we can't afford [to take in refugees], we don't have enough room. And many times, there are also underlying ethnic or racial issues, or issues about not welcoming people from other religions. That's a problem.
"Immigration is probably something we have to live with on a global scale, not only now, but for many decades," he says. "The only way to move forward is to work together, to help out these people who are in need, making sure no one has to drown in a lifeboat."
Jose Gonzalez will perform 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 28, in the ArtsPark, 1 Young Circle, in Hollywood. The Brooklyn-based band Luluc will open. Admission is free. Call 954-921-3500 or go to VisitHollywoodFL.org or RhythmFoundation.com.