Thanks to Björk and Sigur Rós, Americans expect Icelandic music to sound a certain way—alien, glacial, different. Mystical sounds from a mystical place. But Kaleo, a four-piece group from a small town just outside of Reykjavík, create music that's woven with the fabric of pastoral Americana, a sound that's still relevant thanks to bands like Bon Iver and Iron & Wine.
Kaleo, which means “the sound” in Hawaiian, is already huge back home, after a buzzworthy performance at the Icelandic Airwaves festival scored the group a record deal. By the time it released a self-titled debut album, the band was so popular that all five of the album's singles hit number one on the charts. Eventually, they played in front of 100,000 people, making them bona fide superstars in Iceland—so the next logical step was America.
After inking a deal with Atlantic Records, Kaleo made their American debut at SXSW and have an EP due out this year. Here, Kaleo's falsetto-voiced lead singer JJ Julius Son answers some questions about himself and his wonderful band.
How did your career get started?
Kaleo started around the Iceland Airwaves festival in November of 2012. After that we recorded some demos and got some airplay on the radio in Iceland. Since then we have been doing this for a living and now we're here, in the US, from being a small garage band in Mosfellsbaer, Iceland.
What’s your next project?
We're just about to start our tour with Vance Joy. We’re also playing Bonnaroo this summer and gearing up to release our debut album later in the year.
What are you most proud of so far in terms of your career?
The last few years have gone by very fast and I'm proud of the things we have accomplished in a short period of time. However I believe the best is yet to come. Hopefully I can answer this question better in the future.
What famous person dead or living do you most wish you could have as a roommate?
Tough one, perhaps Jesus Christ.
What is your favorite driving music?
I think that just comes down to what kind of a mood you're in at that time. Right now we've been playing a lot of Alt J's new album.
Whose career would you most like to emulate?
We all have heroes, most of mine died at a very young age. I'm not sure if that's what I really want.
If you had to live in a past time, what do you think would be the most fun era and why?
I would have loved to be a musician in the '60s and the '70s!
What activities do most enjoy doing alone?
Well that depends on each one. Most of us love to play and watch football (soccer). I have also been trying to drag some of the guys to the gym.
How do you wind down before bed?
Listening to music.
When are you most relaxed?
Probably at that moment, listening to music before going to bed.
What kind of person were you in high school?
I didn't have problem learning but I didn't really like to. I was kind of lazy but had a good time.
Do you have any phobias?
I'm quite afraid of heights.
What are some new hobbies you would like to take on?
I really want to learn to play the saxophone. I bought one a few years ago but never find the time to learn to play it.
How do you hope to grow as a creative person?
Keep exploring and expand. Both as a vocalist and a song writer.