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THE GRAMMY CONVERSATIONS: KALEO

Interview by Samantha Hissong

Kaleo
’s breakout hit “Way Down We Go” went #1 at Alternative radio last year and was certified platinum last month. The song is gold in the U.K., Belgium, Ireland, South Africa and Germany. It’s platinum in Russia and Australia and double-platinum in Canada—where “All the Pretty Girls” and “No Good” are also gold. With headlining runs, arena dates with The Lumineers, a few European shows with The Rolling Stones and more, the Triple 8-repped Icelandic band with the Hawaiian name has made a big impact. And all frontman JJ Julius Son can think about is getting back home to write songs in solitude. We guess talking to us was a solid second (or 27th) prize.

 A/B is an extremely varied album stylistically, and yet your music is widely considered “alternative.” What does that term mean today?
I don’t really know, and honestly, I don’t really care. I just write these songs and choose not to limit myself to labels or genres. Other people obviously like to do that, and I get it, but for me, it’s all about each song and the music I’m making, which just comes naturally. I never know what’s next.; I just go with a song and the emotion that comes with it and see it through. I don’t see a reason to limit yourself. 

Is it important for you to be a band without borders, and do you actively try to make music that can connect on a global level? 
I don’t look at music like that. I don’t think it matters where you’re from. Maybe I’m a good example, playing a lot of blues and being from Iceland. Obviously, some people seem to react to it. That proves that you don’t have to be American or African American to play blues. But the British have been proving that for years. My music is for everyone, and I hope it reaches as many people as possible, no matter what gender, sexuality, whatever country, it doesn’t matter. 

“My music is for everyone, and I hope it reaches as many people as possible, no matter what gender, sexuality, whatever country, it doesn’t matter.”

Do you still feel connected to your Icelandic roots, given how much your life has changed in recent years? 
Yes, even more. I’ve been living here about three years now and I’m really starting to miss home. I don’t think you realize it until later, until you leave this small island in the North Atlantic, which may be a little more isolated than you think when you leave home for a long period of time. I try to go back when I can, so I can get inspired and center myself. At the moment, though, we’re touring over 300 days a year. We basically live on the bus now. And we’re recording at the same time. It’s a strange life. I enjoy touring and performing, but it’s a lot of traveling, which can be challenging for your mind as well as your body. I’m hoping to get more time in the studio to focus on the music, as well as time off to be with family and friends, in the next few years. There’s something to be said for balance. 

It was recently confirmed that you’re eligible for a Best New Artist Grammy nomination. What does Grammy night mean to you? 
It’s not really a thing in Iceland, but you know about it and you read about it in the papers. Obviously, it’s got major significance. Just to be talked about as a possible Grammy nominee is an honor. The respect and admiration would be nice, but that said, you’ve really just got to focus on what you’re doing yourself. Other people’s opinions are not going to make your music personal. I’ll continue focusing on what I’m doing, but I’m honored when people recognize my work.

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GO HMMMM
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Inside the Secret Committee. (12/8a)
PUB CRAWLING: BIG NOMS, HEAVY STREAMS AND FAT CHECKS
The year in music publishing (12/11a)
CTRL MEETS ALT-DELETE
A SZA-ling photo op (12/8a)
LUKE BRYAN KNOWS HIS COUNTRY
It'll be #1 next week...unless something crazy happens. (12/8a)
MORE GRAMMY SECRETS
The biz talks committee.
NOT PIZZA AGAIN!
Seriously, can we order something else?
A BIG FAT DEAL
With a gigantic check. Soon.
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