KONGOS' JOHNNY KONGOS
talks lunatic tour, new music
february 26, 2015
Comprised of four brothers (Johnny, Jesse, Daniel, and Dylan Kongos), Arizona-based alt-rock band KONGOS has created a unique musical experience for listeners thanks to their diverse background.
Not only are they the sons of famous South African singer-songwriter John Kongos, but these four men have also lived all over the world, from the U.K. to South Africa, and now Phoenix, Arizona, where they've lived since the 90s.
KONGOS was signed to Epic Records in early 2014 and the label re-released their second album "Lunatic," which was originally self-released by the band in 2012.
Best known for their chart-topping single "Come With Me Now," KONGOS has been in the middle of their first headlining North American tour, which has been getting a lot of buzz from critics and fans alike.
The oldest Kongos brother Johnny (accordion, piano, vocals) took some time in the middle of their busy schedule to speak with me about what fans can expect from the Lunatic tour, the band's upcoming plans for a new album, and more.
(@KONGOS / Twitter)
How's the tour been going so far?
The tour's been going great. We're traveling through the Arctic it feels like though 'cause we've been in the Northeast. So we've been just trudging through all this ice and sub-zero temperatures, but other than that, it's been really, really amazing - some really great shows so far.
Yeah, people always ask that question - it's hard to think of them when you ask that question because the year that we've been on the road, it just feels like such a blur, you know? Things took off so quickly when "Come With Me Now" started to get going on radio that you kind of just wake up every now and then - like 6 months later - and realize, "Oh, whoa, we just did an entire tour of Europe!" And then you have to sit and kind of reminisce with the rest of the guys on the bus about like, "Whoa, what actually happened?" It really does - it's quite a surreal experience, yeah, with everything that's been happening so far, but I couldn't really give you any. There's a lot of crazy stories - some which can be mentioned publicly, some of which cannot.
You've been on the road for what seems like almost a year now. Do you have any crazy tour stories to share?
I've forgotten what we do, it's been so long. But the plan for when we get done with this tour and we finish up in the States, we're heading to South America for about 2 weeks to do some festivals [Asunciónico, Lollapalooza Argentina, and Lollapalooza Brazil] down there. And then when we get back, we'll get back into the studio. We've written a lot of stuff for the next album, and we'll lock ourselves in the studio and just try and finish the new album sometime this year. We don't have a specific date or anything, but [we're] just trying to get that third album going.
How would you say your music and your sound has evolved since you guys first started?
What do you guys do when you're not on tour?
I think the fact that we've been playing more shows - bigger shows and shows that have actual audiences - has influenced our music a lot. Because when we recorded "Lunatic," nothing was going on for us, you know? We were playing small little shows in Phoenix, so that's a totally different experience [from] playing a show where you have an engaged, big audience that knows the music. So I think what that's done is it's allowed us to now start writing music with an audience more in mind. You start to learn what works, you know - what it is about a particular song that really clicks with a thousand people in a room. So I think that's definitely helped us kinda get more succinct with some of our songwriting.
Yeah, I mean it changes night to night. Sometimes, you might get bored playing a certain song, but I mean playing all the big songs of ours like "Come With Me Now" - "I'm Only Joking" particularly on this tour has been going down crazy well. We've got some really big production elements that go off during it that just gets people really bouncing and having a good time. But it's cool - on this tour, we're getting to play "Traveling On," which is a sort of ballad and rarely ever played, and then also "This Time I Won't Forget," you know, songs we haven't yet been able to play because we've been on tour in festival slots, sports slots, as openers - that sort of thing.
Do you have any particular favorite [songs] that you enjoy playing live the most?
I think the fact is - they're so diverse, it's hard to nail down exactly how they've affected it 'cause probably a lot of it is subconscious, you know? And we listen to a bunch of music, and it all comes out when we write and make music in a completely mixed up and changed way, but, yeah, so it's kind of hard to say specifically. I mean, rhythm definitely influenced us directly and those you can see with the drums on "I'm Only Joking" or some kwaito music on "Come With Me Now" and "Hey I Don't Know." Like that, you can definitely see that kind of connection, but the other stuff makes itself show in a very subtle - or ways you wouldn't necessarily recognize.
You guys have some many different influences in terms of the cultures you've been exposed to, where you've lived, your father [also being] a musician... How have all of these affected the way you approach music?
Well, first, South Africa always, but then also, you know, going to South America. I've always wanted to go and play in South America, particularly in Colombia and Brazil. The record's been doing pretty well down there, so we'll try to play in front of those crowds because when we went to Mexico for the first time last year, we had no idea of what was happening down in Mexico with our record. When we got there and there were 16,000 people jumping like insane people - that blew our minds. And we're hoping that - from what we've been told - to expect a kind of similar thing in Colombia and Brazil.
If you guys could go anywhere in the world, where would you like to perform?
Yeah, we have a lot of covers. We used to play really long sets in Phoenix, when we were still getting our act together, so to speak. So we did a lot of covers of - we do a pretty, I think, cool version of "Blue Monday" by New Order now. I don't know if we'll play [it] again in our regular set, but we used to play "Summertime" by... I'm blanking on the name. We did a lot of different covers, but right now we're kind of sticking to Beatles stuff and then "Blue Monday."
And now, I guess, more fun questions. You guys have covered a variety of artists, from your father [John Kongos] to the Beatles. Do you have any others you'd like to cover in the future?
I've not been listening to too much music lately. For some reason on tour, I find myself not listening to a lot, but I heard that Danny and a couple of guys on the bus are really into the new Punch Brothers album ["The Phosphorescent Blues," 2015]. Bluegrass, I guess, is the easiest way to describe it, but it's kind of beyond bluegrass - it's just insane and you've got Chris Thile, who's the greatest mandolin player on earth. So they've been really into that. And when I do listen to music, I like more modern or current music - I'd say Queens of the Stone Age are my go-to band. I think that they're the coolest rock band that's been around in a long, long time.
Is there any new music that you've been listening to lately?
First album I ever bought was... I think the Prodigy's "Firestarter" single that came in ninety-whatever-it-was, '95, '96? It came out when we were in South Africa. That single was just mind-blowing and it still is.
What was the first album you ever bought?
The first big concert I ever went to was the Rolling Stones on the Voodoo Lounge Tour. I think it was in '95, when shows first started coming to South Africa. That was one of the first big ones that came there and it was in a rugby stadium [Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg], so there were like, I don't know, 75 or 80 thousand people there. And we were all young - we went with our parents - but it was just... It was crazy. I still remember it, you know - just a massive show that the Rolling Stones put on and Mick Jagger running around for 3 hours just non-stop.
What about your first concert?
I don't know if we'd want to record with him, but it would be great to just watch Bob Marley record - we wouldn't mess with whatever he did, but it would be amazing to just sit in the studio and watch Bob Marley and the way that he records. Alive, it would be cool to work with Dr. Dre in some way - it doesn't necessarily have to be KONGOS, just some weird mashup project.
If you could perform or record with anyone - dead or alive - who would it be?
Well, this is the first tour really that we've brought any production with us. You know, we've been working really hard over the last year, doing a lot of sports slots, festivals, and all of these really short sets. But while we've been doing that, we've been putting together and we've been working on our show. So now we're bringing a lot of production elements with us - a full-on lighting show, video content, all kinds of things - and we've put together a show that we're all really happy and proud of. It really wraps up this whole cycle of the album and everything, so we're excited to show people our show, I think, for the first time - even people that have seen us before. This is a completely different show. This is a culmination of everything we've been doing for the last couple of years.
This story originally appeared on Neon Tommy.
For those who haven't seen you live yet, what can people expect from your shows?