There is a freckled Playmobil figure on the cover of East Valley musician Jeff Gonzales' 2013 six-track EP The Lights Just Went Out. His eyebrows are raised upward and his mouth is in the shape of a frown. Is this disappointed-looking childhood toy meant to represent the 32-year-old songwriter?
"That's kind of what I think," Gonzales says of the cover designed by Tim Meehan. Gonzales says the concept is in reference to the song "Sleeping Like Bears," from which his EP's title is derived. The moody acoustic track feels like it was written about a relationship which is slowly reaching its inevitable end. The songwriter sings with a lonely twang as he misses "the beacon we used to be."
Interpret the pictures and metaphors as you like, but it's the honesty of Gonzales' music that shines through, taking cues from singer-songwriters such as Townes Van Zandt, Jason Molina of Magnolia Electric Company, and even punk rockers like Jawbreaker. The songs were written over a number of years and tested on the streets and L stations of Chicago (he's moved back and forth over the past several years).
"It would help me gauge what songs were catchy." Gonzales says. When he came back to the Valley, he worked with producer Aaron Ott at Rare Currency studios to get the songs out there.
The music can get dark, dealing with heartbreak and addictions that created a fake reality for Gonzales. He once thought his best work came from these addictions. When asked why there seems to be a connection between songwriting and dependency, he quips, "Talk to me when I have a Ph.D."
"I really don't know," he elaborates, "There are a lot of people who are creative who can't express themselves when they are face to face with someone. The isolation that's involved with songwriting plays a factor in it. It leaves you feeling alienated."
Gonzales has risen above it, and that Playmobil figure is starting to turn that frown upside down. His visibility in the local music scene has increased significantly in the past year. The artist's output has not diminished, but the mood of the work is looking brighter. He introduced two new songs at the Red House Pub Summer Fest recently, which garnered positive response. "The EP is kind of grainy sounding. The new songs have some optimism. They're a little funnier and noisier. I think I can write now with some perspective."
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