There is a band of brothers roaming the land who have their sights set on world domination and they are known as KONGOS. The brothers are multi-instrumentalists, with Dylan and Jesse handling vocals live and playing bass and drums respectively onstage. Eldest brother Johnny plays accordion and piano, while Danny is on slide and regular guitar. They are the sons to popular ’70s South African/British singer-songwriter John Kongos recently hit huge on South African airwaves, thanks to a slew of radio hits off ‘Lunatic’ and extensive touring across the country. It seems the time is right for The Brothers Kongos to take over America!
The band has already heralded by Rolling Stone as one of 10 New Artists You Need To Know and by USA Today as an artist “On The Verge,” and have recently been named VH1’s “You Oughta Know” artist for the month of May; joining the esteemed ranks of previous You Oughta Know alum Adele, Mumford & Sons, Lorde, Ed Sheeran, Foster The People, Bruno Mars, Haim and The Lumineers. Their infectious track, “Come With Me Now,” has an impressive and growing list of syncs which includes promo spots for the NBA, ESPN, NBC Sports, FX Network and on CW’s The Originals. The band performed the hit single earlier this month on Late Night With Seth Meyers and have made their U.S. TV debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live in March. The video for “Come With Me Now” has been viewed over 2.1 million times and growing daily.
KONGOS will hit the road on their most extensive U.S. outing to date opening for Grammy-winning Kings Of Leon on their 2014 Mechanical Bull tour starting July 31st at Verizon Wireless in St. Louis through Oct. 3rd at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. The Arizona-based brothers (by way of London and South Africa) will play a few dates with Alice In Chains along with radio shows this spring and have summer festival dates confirmed including Firefly, Sasquatch and Lollapalooza.
Riding high on the success of their first U.S. single “Come With Me Now” which has spent the last three weeks at #1 on the Alternative radio charts, KONGOS are primed to break big in the U.S. “Come With Me Now” was the quickest song to reach the top of the alternative chart by a new band ever and now the break-out single is starting to climb the top 40 charts. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Danny Kongos his father’s influence on the band, the creation of their breakout album, ‘Lunatic,’ their songwriting process and much more!
We always like to start out by going back to an artist’s early years. Obviously, you are from a music family. Looking back, what are some of your first musical memories?
I think it would be Elvis or The Rolling Stones as my first memory of listening to stuff and really loving it as a young kid. I really like “Blue Suede Shoes” by Elvis Presley and The Rolling Stones was the first big concert I ever saw. That was back in 1995 when they came to South Africa. I think I was around six at the time. I was blown away and I had never seen anything quite like it.
We can’t talk about your music without touching on the impact your father, John Kongos, has had on you and your brothers. What can you tell us about the role he played in your early development as artists?
He played a huge role, not just getting us into music and all that, but by the music that was played around the house and the music he exposed us to. He had a massive record collection, CDs and every other format. He had really obscure stuff from all around the world. That was our introduction to music; it wasn’t necessarily what was on the radio or whatever was happening at that time. The huge collection of music our Dad had collected over the years was an amazing way to be exposed to music. It was a really interesting way to grow up.
They say a career in the music industry isn’t for the faint of heart. What made you pursue music professionally instead of going a different route?
Maybe it isn’t for the faint of heart but not too many things in this world are! [laughs] I always think about all the things that are way harder than doing this. Right now, I am sitting on a bus and someone else is driving! It is pretty relaxed and easy! [laughs] I guess we saw the potential and how fun it could be to play music. When we started playing together we liked that. We thought if it was between this and getting a real job, let’s try this! [laughs]
You are a band of brothers who are all very hands on. How are the responsibilities divvied up between this cohesive unit?
For the longest time, we did everything ourselves from directing and shooting our music videos to recording, mixing and mastering most of the record. Basically, it is a bit of a meritocracy. Luckily, we all have slightly different strengths and they all benefit the band. For example, I did photography and stuff. From there we started shooting the videos. We all had experience editing video for previous projects. Whatever each of our strong suits is, it falls into that.
When you are that hands on at the start of the band, did you find it difficult to let go of the reigns a bit as the band has grown?
It is a little bit hard because we are not familiar with any other way. At the same time, it is kind of nice not to have to worry about certain minutia and focus a bit more on making a good show, writing or putting on a good performance. It has helped a bunch to have a bit of the other stresses relieved.
KONGOS released “Lunatic” a while back but it is just invading The States now. What can you tell us about your typical songwriting process for this album?
The album formation we did based on which songs were most ready and which songs go together because we do have a ton of songs sitting around. Some of those songs are half-demoed or half written but the album found its way together. In terms of writing, we all write separately and then bring what is basically a completed song to the group to produce and record. We tried writing together but it doesn’t work very well. I think Jesse and Dylan wrote one song together on the first album. We always say that our egos are too big, so we need to write a separately and then produce together. [laughs]
Where do you find yourself looking for inspiration these days?
It is hard to say what inspires a song. Oftentimes what inspires a song takes place weeks or months earlier. It could be the germ of a thought that is floating around. Whenever I write a song, I am never really sure what the source of it is because it could have happened well earlier. I guess it is whatever is floating around in the atmosphere at the time. Usually, it starts with a riff and builds on that spark of inspiration, for lack of a better term; then you run with it and the rest is just finishing the job.
What do you consider the biggest challenge of bringing ‘Lunatic’ to life?
I will speak for myself, I don’t know about the rest of the band, but I found the writing to be difficult towards the end of a song. The beginning of a song is easy, comes quickly and is the most enjoyable. Finishing a song by finalizing the lyrics, finalizing all of the parts of it is the craft side of it more so than the fun beginning stages. I always find that really difficult. Mastering and learning how to make a produced record was a bit of a challenge because we learning on the job. Of course, finishing on time was a challenge as well! We are horrendous procrastinators! If you gave us 30 years to make our next album, we would take 30 years.
Did you have any particular goals you were hoping to accomplish with this album early on?
No. I mean, we always want our music to have a positive effect on people. By positive effect, I don’t necessarily mean like a cheery, lighten everyone’s mood kind of positive because positive doesn’t always mean that. We always wanted to create new thoughts for a person or bring something new into their life, as opposed to something that is familiar. The subject of the lyrics across the album is a bit too varied for the album to have a single goal. I wouldn’t say it has a social goal or anything like that. Whatever is floating around in our heads, we hope that people connect with it on a personal level.
How did the title of the album, ‘Lunatic,’ come about and does it hold any special meaning to you now?
The word is more familiar now. When we first picked it, we were all a little unsure about it and liked the way it sounded. There is a reference to “I’m Only Joking” and I am only judging that is where it came from. Now, when I hear the word lunatic, I think of our album, not lunatics! That is how strongly the word has become associated with our album for me!
What did you learn about yourself from creating the album and now with touring?
That I need more practice, maybe? [laughs] We learned a lot along the way. I think the next album is going to hopefully show what we have learned. We learned how to put a song together and what works in term of finishing a song. We have learned to take a song and try playing it live, at least in the studio. On the very first album we did everything was done completely in the studio. ‘Lunatic’ was a little more live and we played most of the songs out. Now, we have much more of a sense of what will work on a record. Part of that comes from touring and part of it comes from spending enough time in the studio. I feel like the third record is something we are all excited to work on, even though ‘Lunatic’ is our total focus. At the same time, we are thinking about the next record because we feel like it could be very interesting.
Do you have anything plotted out when it comes to a return to studio for the third album?
We don’t really. We have a bunch of stuff demo’d and written but as to when it sees the light of day, we have no idea. We just don’t know how long the touring cycle for ‘Lunatic’ is going to be. We are writing and try to do that whenever we can but as far as finishing a record, we are going to have to set aside some time at some point in the distant future. There is just no way to do it on the road, we find.
Obviously, we know where KONGOS got its name. However, I was curious to know if you kicked around any other ideas before settling on it for the band’s name?
[laughs] The answer is “Yes” and I can’t tell you! [laughs] The names were ridiculous in retrospect! We did kick around a few names. As a matter of fact, we were thinking about changing our name a while back because nobody knows what KONGOS means. If they don’t know it’s our last name, they think of the drum or some other thing associated with it, so we were having our doubts about it. Basically, once people got to know it, it was a good name. Luckily, we stuck with a good thing! [laughs]
You guys are out on tour now and throughout the rest of the year. What are some of your favorite songs to play live these days?
Personally, I like playing “I Want To Know” a lot. It is a song that Jesse wrote that is kind of a reggae track. A lot of the show, I am jumping around or playing a different parts but on “I Want To Know” you can kind of groove. It is nice to pay attention to the groove. It is a nice break for everyone in the band.
You are no stranger to life on the road. Do you approach it any differently today than you did early on?
We don’t have any rituals or anything like that but now we are on a bus! We have been on a bus for a few weeks now and it is the best thing ever because touring in a van can surely be grueling, especially in the winter. Now we sleep and wake up in a new city each day. There is also water and stuff in our dressing room! [laughs] It’s fantastic! Definitely an upgrade! When it comes to playing, the first couple of songs, we don’t try to force anything. We use them as a preparation for the rest of the show.
What is the best advice you can pass along to young musicians looking to make a career in music?
I am always reluctant to give advice because I don’t know if I have much to offer. I guess the best thing I can recommend is to roll up all of your cables up neatly, get off stage quickly and be willing to listen and not listen to people. You need to keep some sort of internal independence but at the same time you can’t be immune to truths coming from other people.
Awesome! Thanks so much for your time today, Danny. We look forward to spreading the word on ‘Lunatic’ and seeing you play live very soon!
Thank You, Jason! Take care!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.