Blog: INTERVIEW: Icelandic Folk-Rockers Kaleo

Iceland four-piece Kaleo are bona fide stars in their home country, with their debut self-titled album reaching the number one spot on the Icelandic charts. Now they’re taking their blend of folk, blues, rock, and country to the states, touring with Vance Joy. They’ll be playing for a sold out Roseland crowd, opening for Vance Joy on April 10 and they’re headlining the Hawthorne Theatre Lounge on April 11. We had the chance to ask front man Jökull Júlíusson (AKA JJ) a few questions about his band’s music, their influences, their move to the US, and more…


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For people who have never heard of Kaleo, what are three words you would use to describe your music?


Dynamic, diverse, soulful.


Who are some of your musical influences?


We’re all very inspired by music from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s and even back to the early 30’s.


Kaleo means “the sound” in Hawaiian. What led some Icelandic guys to pick a Hawaiian name?


We liked the name and the meaning and it got stuck very fast. The fact that it comes from Hawaii is just a good excuse for us to go there one day, I hope.


You recently moved from your hometown of Mosfellsbaer, Iceland to Austin, Texas. What are the biggest adjustments you’ve had to make moving to a new country?


Thankfully it’s quite warmer in Austin than it is back in Iceland. It is quite a big change since we’re now also all living together in one house (or a van, at times).


What is the music scene like in your hometown?


There is a good history of music in our hometown. Although it’s only about eight thousand people, we still have had great musicians come from there. For example Sigurros and Olafur Arnalds.


You’re often compared to fellow Icelandic folk-rockers Of Monsters and Men. What has it been like to follow in their footsteps while trying to break into the American music industry?


They are obviously a great band. We would be lucky if we were ever to have the same success as they’ve had in the US so far. The music scene is truly great in Iceland at the moment and we’re very proud to be a part of it.


You’ve gotten a lot of buzz around your song “All the Pretty Girls,” which was featured on NPR’s SXSW 2015 Music Preview playlist. Other than pretty girls, what was your inspiration behind this song? How was it playing SXSW?


I wrote the song in a summer house in the country side in Iceland. Those summer nights can be magical where the sun doesn’t go down and it stays bright out all night. Therefore the song is very much inspired by the Icelandic summer and it’s beauty.


SXSW was a great experience for us, we played 8 shows and enjoyed it a lot. It was very different from any festival we’ve played so far and we hope we have a chance to play there again.


So you’ve been best friends since elementary school, how does that affect Kaleo’s dynamic as a band?


The three of us Danny, David and myself (JJ) have been friends since grade school and played music together for a long time. I think that definitely helps and we know each other very well musically. We feel like it also shows when we perform live.


You have songs in both English and Icelandic, how does the song writing process differ when you’re writing in one language versus the other?


We’ve only just recorded one song in Icelandic, which is the old ballad ‘Vor i vaglaskogi’. Writing in English is just something that comes naturally although the Icelandic language is beautiful. Who knows, perhaps we’ll do another one in Icelandic in the future.


You’ll be playing some sold out shows with Vance Joy on this tour. How did you guys get connected?


Through our record label, Atlantic Records. We’re very excited for the tour and we can’t wait to see more of the States.


Don’t miss Kaleo play the Hawthorne Theatre Lounge THIS SATURDAY April 11!