The members of Icelandic outfit alt-rock outfit Kaleo experienced culture shock when they recently moved (on four-year visas) to Austin, Texas to track their forthcoming debut album with producer Mike Crossey. (They open for Family of the Year at the Independent in The City this week.) They were surprised by the city’s legendary Congress Avenue Bridge bat population, a tourist attraction when the creatures leave their roost, en masse, every summer evening at dusk. But the insects were even more shocking. “I’ve never seen so many different species of them. We don’t have them in Iceland because it’s just too cold,” says vocalist Jokull Juliusson, who goes by simply JJ. His homeland has plenty of volcanoes, though. One was employed to film Kaleo’s latest single/video, “Way Down We Go.”
Did you grow up in Iceland with a deep love of nature?
Yeah, I think everyone kind of does there. Iceland is very liberal, we don’t have an army, the police don’t carry guns. So it’s very laid back, and kids can stay out late, especially in the summertime. So as kids, you stay out late and play games outside. And our nature is very diverse, and you can definitely take advantage of this unique landscape.
And you’d always dreamed of shooting a rock video inside a real active volcano?
Yeah. And it’s pretty amazing, because it’s only recently that you could go down there, and I think it’s the only active volcano that you can go inside in the world. National Geographic installed an elevator inside seven years ago, and we contacted the people there, so it was great that it all worked. The volcano hasn’t erupted in about 1,000 years, so we figured our odds were pretty good.
How was the experience?
At first, it was just like going down in an elevator. But then it was surprising, because there are a lot of colors down there and the rocks were just spectacular. But because we were actually recording live, and setting up the instruments and the drum set, the tricky part was that the ground was just rocks, so trying to find a place to stand was quite difficult. But my favorite part was, the acoustics were just amazing.
Ironically, it was your cover of an old Icelandic standard, “Vori Vaglaskogi,” that first got Kaleo noticed, right?
That was another surprise. I write the music, and I tend to write in English, because I was always into classic rock, like Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Rolling Stones. But because I’d always loved that song growing up, we did this version of it for a radio show in Iceland, and it got a huge reaction. So we recorded a studio version, and it went to No. 1 on the charts. And that helped us to finally get recognized back home.
IF YOU GO
Family of the Year, Kaleo
Where: Independent, 628 Divisadero St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 1
Tickets: $15 to $18
Contact: (415) 771-1421, www.ticketfly.com