By Chris Coutsoukis
This past weekend Headrush TV had the opportunity to catch up with KONGOS, four brothers with roots from London, South Africa, and Pheonix, behind the hit single "Come With Me Now." The band played Samuel Adams OctoberFest, alongside The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, at the World Trade Center in Boston. The band is currently touring in support of their Junior album, Egomaniac, with new music coming around the corner.
We’re at Sam Adam’s OctoberFest in Boston with Kongos. Guys, how does it feel to back in Boston and playing music?
Danny: “It’s cool. We all really love this city, seeing the ancient American history lurking on each corner is very cool.”
Jesse: “I think just flying in and seeing the clouds and the ocean. You start thinking about all the events that made this country possible like the Boston Tea party- it's pretty cool. The food here is pretty good too- haha”
You guys also played the OctoberFest in Cleveland this September, what’s your favorite part about performing at an event like Samuel Adams OctoberFest?
Jesse: “Yeah well we have done these sort of shows a fair amount, where it is a constant kind of festival but also sort of corporate. I mean Cleveland was freezing, it was the first time I have literally worn a sweatshirt on stage. Tonight should be better, a lot of people are apparently coming."
I think our fans would be very interested to hear about your background as a band, because it is quite unique. Not only are all four of you biological brothers, you grew up across the globe in London and South Africa. What is it like being in a popular band and touring as a family?
Dylan: “Well we don't really know any different, this will be the 15th year playing, almost. This is all we have ever really known. But It has its upsides and its downsides, families can argue like no other but they can also recover more quickly. Musically it helps a lot, we've been playing for so long I think there is a connection that allows us to play in a certain way.”
Johnny: “I think a big part of a band that is able to have any level of success, is literally just staying together. Just surviving the first five years of shit gigs and being brothers just made that so much easier."
Since you have such an interesting dynamic of personalities as a band, can you share what your process for making and recording music is?
Danny: “That’s where the egos come out, we all write separately, were doing more together now. But historically we separated the writing process.”
That is a nearly perfect segue to your newest album, Egomaniac. What has it been like touring the album and its evolution?
Dylan: “The songs we play vary set by set, to be honest, but the songs from Egomaniac translate very live very easily, for some reason it's just natural.”
Johnny: “We’ve been playing so much more when we started playing Egomaniac, we had a lot more shows under our belt. When we recorded Lunatic, we had done a minimal amount of touring, so that definitely impacted how we could think about the recording process.”
Are you guys writing new music now?
Dylan: “Yes, we are working on new material. This tour cycle is pretty much winding down, this is most likely the last show of the year for us. So after this we are getting into the studio and actually, start buckling down and trying to finish this new record."
KONGOS are going out with a bang in Boston. Any plans to celebrate?
Johnny: “Yes, we are looking forward to a nice 7 am lobby call- haha"
Maybe you can do the Freedom Trail. It’s a popular 3rd grade field trip destination.
Jesse: “Do they do it at 2 am?”
You can probably do it yourself at 2 am! Shifting gears, how would you say your childhood in London and South Africa influences your style?
Jesse: “We’re American- we have been here since 1996. But I think the exposure to different countries and cultures seeps into your subconscious for sure. We didn’t go back [to South Africa] for 15 years, we had been living in the states before we had gone back to South Africa. So it was really interesting to go back after that and see how it had changed. It’s a strange feeling to go from your home in Arizona to your other home, and you have these feelings of home in both places. But the shows in South Africa are amazing, they kind of launched our career. They jumped on us before anyone else did, but we are very happy that it went that way.”
Johnny: “You get spoiled if you have good shows there because the crowds are way more enthusiastic than almost anywhere else in America. So we got really spoiled there, the energy and the mania at the shows, that you don’t experience here. The scene is also very diverse, massive variety of music from traditional African music to more modern hip hop influence. It is really a vibrant scene.”
Is that where some of the unique elements of your sound are pulled from?
Dylan: “Definitely, more from South Africa than England, we spent so little time in England, and South Africans have such a different scene than other cultures. That influences us a lot, the rhythms, the harmonies, the accordion playing.”
Since 2014, you guys have had some serious mainstream success with your hit single, “Come With Me Now.” A year ago, the band put out your second LP Egomaniac. What is the inspiration behind your 2016 album, Egomaniac?
Jesse: “I think because we each write on our own and come in and play songs to each other, during that process we start to listen to each other's songs and see a thread in those lyrics. Danny said the word Egomaniac and we thought that could be the album title. So we started naming the songs in that theme. We started recording it in the studio our Dad built. When we put it out, it didn't have the explosive power of "Come With Me Now" and that whole cycle so we were reminded that you literally have to work every record, tour every cycle, so that people continue to buy your record and come to your show. A hit is a fleeting thing. We're in it for the long haul."
Your father, John Kongos, is a recording artist. Did he have a large influence on your own musical style?
Johnny: “He started in South Africa, he’s from South Africa, he was like the Elvis of South Africa. It is pretty amazing to see photos of him in the army, there are articles about him having to shave his hair. He carried on with that career and eventually learned there is only so far you can go in South Africa so he moved to England. And spent years knocking his head on the wall not getting to far and eventually focused on making his own music by himself. If you listen to his records, you can really see where we are stealing our music from. He is a big reason why we are involved in this, he encouraged us to consider this as a potential career path.”
Johnny: “Were discovering on this new record we are working on, a bunch of his old instruments like synths, that we thought until recently, ‘Oh these are just kind of sitting around.‘ Then we started realizing he has some amazing synths that were just sitting around. We got to take advantage of. You will hear those on the next record.”
The KONGOS finish their tour at Sam Adams Octoberfest and will be back on the road early next year, "...with material of all kinds." For now, check out the bands current album, Egomaniac featuring the hit single, “Take It From Me."
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