A Conversation With Soft Glas

Listening to music by singer/multi-instrumentalist Joao Gonzalez, who records as Soft Glas, conjures images of lazy, hazy summer days spent hanging out with good friends and moonlit nights dancing by the seaside. MAGNET spoke with Gonzalez about his latest single, his influences and plans for the new year. 

Your latest song, “Just Bright,” features nice, arpeggiated guitar playing. I know you played or programmed almost all the instruments on the track. I believe your first instrument was the drums, which don’t necessarily lend themselves to songwriting. When you compose your songs, do you use guitar or keyboard? What’s your approach?
I’m definitely a fan of arpeggiated guitar lines. I heard Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes” when I was 17 on the way to auditioning for the jazz drumming program at Florida State University’s school of music. I botched the audition an got denied. But I’ll never forget the feeling of hearing that song and thinking, “That’s it. That’s exactly what I like.” It wasn’t until recently—2017—that I picked up the guitar, and I naturally found myself using arpeggios almost exclusively. I’m also a very poor strummer. I usually start songs one of two ways: on the guitar or with the drums. Once the identity of the song is established with one of those two instruments, I can let the song tell me where it wants to go. 

The accompanying video is an impressively minimalist affair with your face reflected in a hand-held mirror for the duration of the tune. What’s the concept behind the imagery and is that a California mountain we see in the background?
Yes, that’s L.A.! I was staying at my friends’ apartment. Alex Szotak shot the video. The song is unashamedly introspective, but more specifically, it’s about trying to replicate the juvenile feeling of “home” as an adult. The idea of “faking it till I make it” was something I wanted to explore with the video. So I just wanted it to be a single shot of me staring at my own reflection, trying to convince myself of something. 

I hear hints of jazz chording in your guitar work. Your father (Grammy-winning artist Gonzalo Rubalcaba) has had an extensive jazz-piano career. Growing up, I’m sure you were influenced by your father’s playing, true? I believe you worked with him on your last album (2017’s Orange Earth).
Yeah, I think that’s inevitable. My father is not only an inspiration but also a strong influence. His approach to composing is fascinating to me, and even though I don’t consciously try to make jazz music, it will spill out of me without warning. Yes, I finally got to work with him on “Woodside”/”Riverside,” which was a dream come true.

Orange Earth, drew on your Florida upbringing for lyrics and mood. Now that you live in Brooklyn, has your new environment seeped into your work?
The funny thing is that I don’t think I could’ve made Orange Earth without moving to Brooklyn. I made the album after living in New York for five years, and it was only after being away from my hometown that I could see its magic. The album is very much a romanticized view of south Florida through the eyes of a bone-chilled New York resident! I’ve recently moved away from New York, and I’m sure I’ll eventually dedicate a project to the city.  

It’s hard to slot your music into one particular style, which as an artist might be refreshing to hear. It’s bedroom pop but with hints of jazz and chill-out music. How would you describe it?
I’ve always described my music as awkward. Anytime I set out to make something blatantly and obviously settled in one specific genre, it always feels off. I like to think I make music for people who share a bit of that awkwardness with me. Hints of everything!

What are your plans for 2020? Might we see a new album?
Definitely a lot of music. I have a new EP called Stunned that will be released in February and a full-length album shortly after that.

—Bruce Fagerstrom