We were recently featured a few times in Rolling Stone SA – a review of our new album Lunatic, a write-up of our performance at Up The Creek Festival and our song Take Me Back made it to No.1 on the Rolling Stone rock chart!
Check it out:
Also, here’s an interview we did shortly after returning from our tour of South Africa:
Q&A with KONGOS
Dylan and Danny Kongos reflect on the support they experienced during their recent SA tour.
Danny: Yeah, it was a complete surprise! In the States you only see Facebook comments and the number of Facebook fans increasing – but going down to South Africa and actually seeing people, in the flesh, flocking to your shows – it was a complete surprise.
Dylan: Initially it just started with that one song “I’m Only Joking”, as a fluke getting picked up by 5FM. A couple of years back we had some minor air play on TUKS FM with a song called “In The Music” , but that’s nothing compared with the extent to which “I’m Only Joking” kinda just exploded onto the South African music scene. After 5FM picked up the single, a lot of the campus radio stations also started picking up the single and we started seeing a major influx in our fan base – starting June 2011. But like Danny said, seeing the numbers on your computer screen and actually, literally coming down and experiencing the actual extent of the success – that’s a completely different thing.
Let’s talk about the different levels of success achieved in SA and the States and how you experienced it.
Dylan: Well, in SA we definitely have enjoyed the most success. In Phoenix – our hometown – we have a good following. It’s an enormous town with a relatively small music scene and there are only a few bands coming out of Phoenix that are top quality. We’ve gone up to LA, played a few shows there, but they drew in relatively small crowds. We have radio play across the country – but nothing really compares to South Africa.
I guess in America it’s a question of competition. You compete with thousands of bands. People are used to seeing amazing bands – you see them every day in clubs – so I guess you can say that people in America are quite jaded.
How strong a connection do you still feel towards South Africa?
Dylan: We definitely feel a strong connection towards SA. We spent eight years in SA, although it’s a relatively short period of time, they were pretty important, very forming years. We made some of our best friends there. That and the unique experiences that go hand in hand with living in SA kinda stuck with us this whole time. We definitely see ourselves coming back. Although it’s not necessarily our home anymore, we’re kinda in between homes right now, but we do feel really connected to SA for sure.
Your favourite venue in Phoenix is The Lost Leaf. You guys play 45 min sets to these insane 3-4 hour shows. Tell us about that a bit….
Danny: We basically split it up into 3-4 sets of 45 min. Half of it is covers and the other half’s originals. Some of it is jazz-fusiony-type stuff that Johnny and Jesse write. The whole setup is not too bad considering that Bruce Springsteen does a 3-4 hour set straight and I have recently heard that the Foo Fighters do the same.
(Laughs) It’s not exactly like we’re working the salt-mines.
Dylan: The venue is tiny. I think capacity is no more than 200 people at most! On a Friday night it’s kinda the local hangout and it gets pretty packed. We start round about 21h00. Usually, as the night goes on and the alcohol kinda kicks in, the crowd really gets into the show and starts dancing like crazy! You can literally feel the floor shake. That kinda fuels the whole performance. You get so fired up that the last hour is the most fun, because by that time your crowd is at the height of their enjoyment.
To touch on the writing process: who’s responsible for the writing of the songs? How do you balance out different creative approaches and channel it into something that’s more or less in sync?
Danny: The writing is usually separate, so we all write and demo the songs separately. They’ll then be produced and recorded separately. We haven’t really written together all that much. Jesse and Dylan have written a song together on the debut album, but that’s basically been the extent of collaborative writing. Production and recording is easier because it is less personal.
Dylan: The songwriter takes most of the control pertaining to the direction into which a song will go production wise.
Is that the reason why your CD is so diverse-sounding? It’s almost like a bunch of singles put together?
Dylan: Yeah, definitely. They do sound different because they were written by different people. Within the four of us we have very similar music tastes and influences, but within the band we actually have different favourites. That’s something I think comes out in the song writing and we really like that. That’s the reason why we really like separate song writing. At a point we can kinda come together and compile the songs that we really like together. Then we get an album of 12 songs with completely different sounds…
Danny: So, ideologically we have never really liked the idea of deciding on a set sound, because then you kinda have a certain sound to live up to. We like a whole array of music, because we listen to so much music. We don’t really see the reason why we shouldn’t experiment with the music we create.
As a band – and I guess as a family – you really function like a well-oiled business. You do the whole package – from photography to mastering, producing, recording, production.
Dylan: We do everything in the band, from emails to twitter and Facebook, correspondence with fans to photography. We signed with a SA label – Just music. They have been absolutely amazing! They help out with a lot of the stuff in SA. But, we do like doing most of the stuff on our own. We like having creative control. It’s really more like, to be satisfied with the product you put out there, you have to do it yourself. We try not to give up anything. I guess we’re control freaks like that! (Laughs)
Danny: (Laughs) And, it’s kinda a necessity. We looked into getting our video directed by someone that would be able to do a proper job of it, like we wanted it. But, by the time you finish calculating the cost of the whole thing, you can literally buy everything you need to make your own video and then potentially make your next video too. Obviously, we can’t do everything we want to do – we’re not experts – especially when it comes to certain technical fields, but so far it hasn’t failed us.
Concerning the creative control part– you guys just touched on being control freaks… Are there certain roles prescribed to certain band members?
Danny: Johnny’s adopted most of the web and server maintenance. Jesse’s good at editing video’s – we all have input – but he’s really good at picking stuff up.
I do a lot of the photography and Dylan does most of the correspondence.
Your father, John Kongo, is a musician and recording artist. Does that at times result in some added pressure?
Danny: We don’t really feel the pressure from outside in a sense. He’s always supported us and pushed us to work harder. He’s always brutally honest with us, as well. So the pressure comes from not really trying to live up to the things he’s done, but more proving our worth. Proving that he has made the right decision in supporting us. We just really want to make him proud.
Your father’s role in the band?
Danny: He’s a kind of a general manager. He’s also there in an advisory type of role. He comes down to the recording studio a lot – kinda lending a fresh pair of ears. It’s always nice to have someone who’s a bit more objective to what you’re doing, having a listen and voicing an honest objective opinion. He’s also lending us his almost 40 years of experience. So without having to re-invent the wheel, we can just go and ask him what to do – or where to go.
The music scene in SA?
Danny: SA is really producing some amazing artists: Machineri, Hot Water, Beatenburg, December Streets & The NewsPapers are all phenomenal . There really isn’t a question of whether a band playing on the radio is local or international. We were completely blown away with the amazing amount of talent coming out to play! Inspiring stuff!
KONGOS will return to SA and Oppikoppi in August .