KONGOS is an alternative rock band consisting of brothers Johnny, Jesse, Danny and Dylan Kongos. I had the chance to sit down with them before their February 27 show at Marathon Music Works in Nashville, TN!
Maura: Thanks for sitting down with us today! Starting off simply, how exactly did you all decide you wanted to be pursue this career and be in a band?
KONGOS: We all played music from a young age since we grew up learning piano. When we became teenagers, we started playing together. Our dad (singer-songwriter John Kongos) had a career in music so it was sort of a natural option. We didn’t want to get a real job. This was sort of an obvious choice.
MT: I’m assuming the name of the band comes from your last name. Does it have any other meaning?
K: It’s a family name. It’s pretty easy to remember. We didn’t want people thinking it was like congos, the drum. We’re not a drum circle band. People don’t think of the Beatles as actual beetles.
MT: How do your South African roots influence your music?
K: We lived there for 8 years so it sort of comes out in whatever you make. Our dad had a huge record collection. He was also listening to African music from all over the continent and that tends to influence our music.
MT: Who are some of your biggest influences?
K: The Beatles, in terms of songwriting. Paul Simon, with his Graceland album. He was influenced by South African music. We listened to our dad’s music. His mentality was to make rock music but with bringing South African elements to it. We’re influenced by Bob Marley as well.
MT: Describe your latest album Lunatic in terms of how it was made, produced, written, etc.
K: We all write our own songs and bring them to the group. We were gigging around in our hometown Phoenix, playing the songs live a little more. We were just planning on releasing singles for a bit and then one of the songs took off in South Africa and kind of forced us to finish the album quickly. We finished the album in 2011 and released the album in South Africa in 2012. We didn’t release it in America until 2014.
MT: What’s the group dynamic? How do you all work together or play off each other’s strengths?
K: We send a lot of memos. It’s mostly swearing until something happens. We’re four brothers. We all do a bit of everything but we each have our specialties. Johnny did our web design. Danny does video and photos. Dylan does a lot of the social networking. Jesse does a lot of the mixing and engineering. We delegate. Otherwise, no one is responsible. If there’s ever an email important enough for all of us to be working on it, it usually take three to four days.
MT: What has the tour life been like for you?
K: It’s been long. It’s all very rewarding and tiring and a lot more work than we realized. We have a great crew and the show has been getting better and better. It’s cool to have our own production and build on our show now that we have been headlining shows.
MT: Favorite city that you’ve been to?
K: Mexico City. That was our favorite show. It was the most insane crowd we’ve ever had! It topped anything we’ve ever done. They jumped in unison without any coaching! It was a bit surreal. We were like, are they playing one big practical joke on us?
MT: Have you hit any interesting Nashville spots since you’ve been here?
K: We’ve played Exit/In, which is awesome. We’ve been to the Crying Wolf. We really love Nashville.
MT: Most surreal fan experience?
K: The fact that they exist. In Phoenix, we had built a good following. There were some shows where there weren’t any crowds. It’s really funny, in South Africa, we’ve got a good following, and in America. We’ll get good sized crowds. But then we’ll go somewhere like Copenhagen and 50 people will show up and they’ve seen us play to huge crowds on Youtube and they’re like “oh we really thought you guys were big!” You have to go everywhere to really build a following.
MT: What next for you guys, in terms of touring, albums, etc?
K: A third album! We go to South Africa to play some festivals after this tour ends but then we’re right back in the studio! We’re desperate to get back into the studio.
MT: Any advice for fans or aspiring artists?
K: We stumbled into this career. We work really hard but we got lucky. The songs click but getting that break was lucky. In other words, carry around a rabbit foot. If you put your mind to it, you can do anything. Except writing songs as well as the Beatles.