There are some voices that grip your soul with every held note. They are familiar and pay homage to the greats of yesteryear while simultaneously setting the tone for the current generation. KALEO frontman JJ Julius Son is one of those voices with his gravelly sultry crooning.
Fittingly naming the rock band KALEO, which means “the voice” in Hawaiian, Julius Son along with his bandmates drummer David Antonsson, bassist Daniel Kristjansson, guitarist Rubin Pollock, harmonica/pedal steel/accessory percussionist Þorleifur Gaukur Davíðsson (Thor) and background vocalists Jessica Jolia and April Rucker are set to perform at The Anthem on April 13.
Originally from Iceland, KALEO gained international recognition with their alternative chart-topping hit “Way Down We Go” and their Grammy-nominated song “No Good” off of their 2016 debut album “A/B.” Now back on the road, after a Covid-forced two-year hiatus and equipped with their latest album “Surface Sounds,” we spoke with Julius Son about the return to tour life, the ethos behind their latest album and his must-haves while traveling.
District Fray: You kicked off your tour in February 2022. How does this current tour compare to when you were touring over two years ago?
JJ Julius Son: It is a great feeling being back on the road and playing live for people again. I think there is a special energy at concerts now after this break, and it feels like people are a little more grateful and present.
Walk me through your typical tour day. How do you prepare?
I have to take extremely good care of myself, as my body is also my instrument. I usually get a workout in and make sure to find healthy meals to fuel me for a show. There’s not a lot of free time when touring this heavy with soundcheck, etc. so I see a lot of my bus, venues, hotels and airports. I get to see a little bit of the beautiful places we visit too, from time to time.
When explaining “Surface Sounds,” you have been quoted as saying, “The songs cry out for a certain sound, and then I have to go and serve the song.” When initially creating in the studio, did the lyrics come before the melody and vocals or vice versa?
There is not really a typical process for me. It is usually different depending on the song. Sometimes a lyric or an idea or melody strikes me at any point, and other times I am playing a guitar or piano when writing. I try not to force it too much.
“Surface Sounds” explores many different concepts, including the depth of the human connection in the digital age. What do you do to break through the surface connections in your daily life?
I try to read, meditate, exercise and other things to keep me grounded and engaged on a spiritual level. I think critical thinking and awareness are also important in general.
The songs off “Surface Sounds” dip into multiple genres and have been compared to a range of different rock, indie and blues artists. Why did you want to diversify this album’s sound?
I think music should be as diverse as you want it to be. I have never seen a reason to limit myself to a genre or certain type of music. I embrace all of it, and that keeps it exciting.
“Hey Gringo” incorporates you singing in falsetto. What made you want to incorporate this style of vocals for this particular song?
I have been doing falsetto since I can remember. Especially on songs like “All The Pretty Girls” from my first album “A/B.” It is just another color of the voice that you can use, and it felt fitting for the chorus in “Hey Gringo.”
You’ve lived in the U.S. for several years but are from Iceland. How does it compare?
I am from Mosfellsbaer, Iceland which is about a 30-minute drive from Reykjavik. We lived in Texas for about 18 months when we moved to the states back in 2015, but are now based out of Nashville, when not on the road. Living in the U.S. is very different from Iceland, especially being a nation of 300 million people, wherein Iceland, we have a little over 300,000 people. It has been great so far, and I love playing and recording music here. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people and made great friends.
What is your favorite go-to food when on tour?
I am a huge fan of sushi, so I usually try to find good sushi spots when I get a chance.
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