Seattle – Hailing from the small town of Mosfellsbær, Iceland, just outside of Reykjavik, comes indie rock quartet Kaleo. Vocalist and guitarist JJ Julius Son, drummer and vocalist David Antonsson Crivello, bassist Danny Jones, and lead guitarist Rubin Pollock have been crafting songs that blend classic rock with blues and folk, inspired by the beauty of their native land. After several years of performing at festivals and developing a strong fan base throughout Iceland, Kaleo has brought their sound to America, launching onto the scene with a gorgeous single, “All the Pretty Girls,” and impressing the SXSW crowd.
Best New Bands writer Caitlin Peterkin caught up with frontman JJ while the band was down in Austin to chat about Kaleo’s formation, influences, upcoming EP, and some good ol’ Texan barbeque.
Caitlin Peterkin: How was playing by SXSW?
JJ Julius Son: Yeah, it was a really new experience. We loved it.
CP: Did you get to have some good barbeque and food down there?
JJ: Yeah, we’ve already hit quite a few barbeque places down here. It’s like nothing else.
CP: I’m glad you had an enjoyable time! So first I want to talk about how you all met…The three of you – you, Daniel, and David – you knew each other from when you were younger?
JJ: Yeah, we were in elementary school together. That’s how we got to know each other, we were in the same class.
CP: Did you seek out to become a band from a young age? When did that start to happen?
JJ: I guess when we were about 16-17, we started playing together, we kind of wanted to form a band. We started off playing our own tunes but quickly got into playing covers, [that turned into] gigs, actually getting some money helped us out…We played all these kinds of pubs, bars, a lot of playing helped us develop as a band. In 2012, we did a festival in November, decided we wanted to focus on our own music. Then we had Rubin come in on lead guitar.
CP: How did you meet Rubin?
JJ: Through a friend. I actually went to the same school as Rubin in college, but didn’t know that at all, we found out later.
CP: Growing up, what kind of music did you listen to?
JJ: I think the reason we connected and started off, we all kind of listened to the same tunes, a lot of classic rock…not really traditional Icelandic music, more classic American or from the UK.
CP: What about now, do you have any favorite current musicians?
JJ: Yeah I mean we’re still very into old music…There are definitely some great bands now, especially like back home in Iceland there are a lot of promising bands coming through.
CP: What about Iceland makes it so great to have all these musicians come out from there?
JJ: I think maybe it’s the thing that Iceland is an isolated country and there’s not a lot to do. But also I guess the nature, and beautiful environment, it’s very easy to be inspired by all that nature in Iceland. For me personally, and a lot of musicians, we like to go out to the countryside and connect with nature and write music.
CP: I’ve never been, but I’ve always wanted to go – it looks so beautiful.
JJ: Yeah, I recommend to everyone that wants to go to go in summertime, it’s really something else. The sun really stays out, it never goes down, it’s bright out 24 hours around early June until August.
CP: You’ll be in America during that time in the summer – do you think you’ll get homesick at all?
JJ: To be honest I would love to go home for just a quick trip in the summer, Icelandic summers are always really special to me. You don’t get a long summer at all, it’s only a very few months. But I mean, now it’s really great to be out here too, traveling around the next few months, it’s all really exciting. But if there’s any chance that we might go back that’d be awesome too but we’ll just have to see.
CP: You’re touring with Vance Joy for a couple shows. How did that collaboration come about?
JJ: Pretty much through our record label, we’re both on Atlantic. They kind of set that up for us but we’re really thrilled about it and looking forward to it. All these venues seem really great.
CP: Is this your first time in America?
JJ: Pretty much, we did come over when we were doing label deals and so on…but [this is] basically our first time.
CP: What was your biggest shock coming over here? Any funny stories?
JJ: That’s a good question. Obviously America is quite bigger than Iceland…But even being from an isolated country like Iceland, the media, I mean we’ve been watching American movies and kind of had the American army back in Iceland so it’s not all that shocking. But it’s funny because yesterday we went to San Antonio and went to the rodeo which was quite an experience. I’d say maybe that was kind of the biggest culture shock for us so far. We definitely like going to these barbeque places and stuff…it’s a lot of fun, different from what we have back home. We definitely don’t have the rodeo back home!
CP: I’m sure the rodeo can be a culture shock to even an American who’s not from the south!
CP: What about fans at shows? Any difference between American and Icelandic fans?
JJ: Right now it’s kind of diff because we have made it work for ourselves in Iceland, people know us, people coming out to shows back in Iceland would know all the songs and sing along, and stuff…We’re new here, that’s a great thing too, starting off fresh, it’s just a great challenge, and inspiring too.
CP: I want to talk about your single, “All the Pretty Girls,” that’s actually how I first heard you. What was the inspiration behind it?
JJ: It was just one of those times I went up to a cabin summer house back in Iceland. The song is kind of, for me, to represent the spring or summertime in Iceland, kind of a peaceful song, probably the most quiet or laidback song we’ve done so far. It’s really a good kind of song you just kind of play sitting at the fire or something, at 2 or 3 a.m., drinking red wine. It kind of has a nice vibe about it. That’s kind of how I wrote it, out in the countryside, inspired by the spring and summer.
CP: Now about your EP, did you wrap up recording that in London or is there still more to do?
JJ: We still have some work to do, that’s not done yet but we hope to get it done mid-summer.
CP: With the tour and your EP coming up, you guys have a busy year! Anything else to look forward to?
JJ: We’re just gonna keep busy, keep playing. We can’t wait to visit all these new places in the States, getting to know this country better. Making music, trying to find a time between this schedule to write more music and keep recording, we’re very excited.
Follow Kaleo on Facebook to see their tour schedule and details about their upcoming EP release.
With degrees in journalism and music, Caitlin’s written for Paste Magazine, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and MajoringinMusic.com. She loves cheese, laughing at GIFs of corgis, road trip sing-alongs, and connecting with people over good beer and good music.