October 27, 2014 Interview – Daniel Kongos of KONGOS
Rock-n-Roll should not have a scientific formula laid out for success. That open-thinking has kept Alternative Rock band KONGOS going since their inception back in 2007. Formed by four South African brothers Dylan, Daniel, Jesse, and Johnny Kongos; their unique approach to songwriting has found them international recognition, a chart topping single with “Come With Me Now,” and touring among the biggest bands in the business including Kings of Leon. Developing as family and a musical unit, the band look to continue their growth as they look toward the future with endless possibility. Recently we sat down with guitarist Daniel Kongos for a personal look at the development of the band, touring, the dynamics of their relationship together, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – KONGOS has been a working musical project for many years now. When you broke into the mainstream in a big way back in 2011 with the single “Come With Me Now” what was the overall feeling of the band to see things really start to blossom?
Daniel Kongos – It was a little bit of release and a little bit of vindication. We had been working at it for so long and we thought we had been writing some good stuff. When you get zero feedback and you are still playing little local places, you start to have doubts. When it started to pick-up in South Africa, it gave us a lot of energy to continue the project and make the best we could.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely it is natural to want that feedback and see the progress. That track in fact is soaring up charts and inevitably helped the band get signed to Epic Records which prompted the re-release of your album Lunatic in February of this year. Now that you have broader distribution of the record how are you finding people are taking to the material?
Daniel Kongos – They are taking to it really well. We always thought America would like our music just because of what influences us. A lot of our sound is influenced by Delta Louisiana-type blues and stuff mixed with our African influences and whatever else we have been listening to. Americans have just taken to it great. It’s still really, really crazy to see 13 year old girls screaming at an accordion solo, that is crazy (laughs). Now that the record has bigger distribution, it is having that effect and we are happy to see that.
CrypticRock.com – It has to be extremely exciting. Granted Lunatic is two years old now is KONGOS currently working on some new material to release?
Daniel Kongos – Yes, we will eventually. Not sure when we will find the time to do that because we are basically touring until next year. We are always working on new material, always writing. When we will find the time, we will definitely get into the studio. We have a lot of stuff on demos. As to when it will see the light of day, we are not sure.
CrypticRock.com – That is exciting to hear. The band is originally from South Africa and it seems the country has quite a strong rock scene. What was it like for yourself and your family growing up there?
Daniel Kongos – We only grew up there for about eight years, then we moved to the States. It was heavily influential because the vibe and the musical vibe is kind of different from a lot of the world. The traditional music there is happy, joyful music but not cheesy. I find that to be kind of rare. Usually happy music is a little bit corny. But in South Africa, they find a way to make happy music that is not at all cheesy. That was what largely influenced us from South Africa. When we went back in 2011, we actually had not been back in 15 years, we found that the Alternative music scene and the festival scene is incredible. Tons of diversity, tons or really interesting bands ranging from EDM to punk to hardcore to Rock to Southern rock to traditional African music. It is just a massive music scene down there. Population-wise, obviously everything is a bit smaller, but everybody is super enthusiastic. There is always a festival going on.
CrypticRock.com – There really is a healthy music scene in South Africa. Being that you are in a band with your three brothers do you find a level of comfort together as musicians and how would you describe the chemistry you share?
Daniel Kongos – I think that us being brothers helps a little bit with that, but I’d say that most bands that are together this long end up having that kind of chemistry. You know where someone is going. I mean we don’t know anything different. We fell like we can anticipate what we are going to do musically. I think that would happen regardless, just because you are playing together this long. The brother thing is the familiarity with brothers that just never seems to happen with these people. Even if you are friends for 10-15 years. Our ability to call each other the worst things possible and get over in the next couple days. If they say something good, you know they mean it because it is really difficult to get a compliment out of your brothers.
CrypticRock.com – That is extremely true. To get a compliment from a sibling is extremely special (laughs). Your father in fact is a musician as well, so you have always been around music. Do you think the fact that he writes music inspired yourself and your brothers to start your own band?
Daniel Kongos – Absolutely. Initially we all started out playing music. We all started playing piano. Johnny, the oldest, is still the best piano player. I kind of forgot everything I learned when I was a kid. Music was just kind of like a thing we did, something you learned. We did not start playing together until we were teenagers or at least messing around with the idea. The fact that Dad has done it and had so many great stories, and never discouraged us was huge. He always said what a great life it could potentially be and that helped us definitely decide to form a band.
CrypticRock.com – Being that your father, John Kongos, has had success and he has been in the industry for a long time, did he give you some advice on how to approach things and how to go about it all?
Daniel Kongos –Definitely. We did not have to reinvent the wheel for a bunch of stuff, especially the business related stuff. And, because he worked the studio so much and with so many bands, he’s got a real good sense of what makes a good record. So when we were stuck in the studio for weeks on end and we were losing perspective, he could come down and give us a fresh pair of ears.
CrypticRock.com – That is a great thing to have. The band has in fact did heavy touring in North America on your own and then with Kings of Leon and Young the Giant supporting them on their Mechanical Bull Tour. What was that experience like?
Daniel Kongos – It was incredible. The venues were amazing, they treated us really well. I did not meet a single person involved with the show that had not been really accommodating, professional, and somebody you can learn something from. It was a real great experience. I think our music is a bit of a cross over so we are played to a bunch of people who were going to like it and get our music. Plus every once in a while, we had a chance to watch a show. Their entire show is incredible, so to go out into the pit and watch it is fun.
CrypticRock.com – One can imagine so. Kings of Leon is a band which has really excelled and it had to be exciting to be part of that. KONGOS also has a broad sound as you stated. The band can be considered an Alternative Rock act, but there is so much going on. What inspired the ability you have to be so open with your sound?
Daniel Kongos – I think it is slightly natural because we all write separately, we do not really write together. We write separately and then bring it down to the band. Also we have never placed any limits on what we would entertain for a song. We know whether it is a KONGOS song or not, but there are no genre limits. We are influenced by so much, we let our influences come through in the final product.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, we are living in a time where the concept of a genre is slightly outmoded. With sites like Spotify it seems like people listen to a little bit of everything now.
Daniel Kongos – You know, everything about the internet, Spotify and festival scene has gotten rid of people’s loyalty to genres, I think that is a great thing. I genre hop, so I do not see why everyone else should not.
Crypticrock.com – It is great to keep an open-mind about music. What are some of your musical influences?
Daniel Kongos – It is a pretty big variety. For me personally, I got into guitar because I started listening to Jeff Beck. I just thought he had such a different take on the guitar. Musically, it’s huge, we listen to a lot of Bob Marley. With grooves, he is still unmatched. If you want to get a deep groove, he’s got some sort of magic in his formula. Then a lot of northwestern African music like bands from Mali such as a duo called Amadou & Mariam. Also a bunch of singer-songwriter stuff such as Paul Simon. He is a huge influence for me, I love his lyrics. I think Graceland (1986) is probably one of the best albums ever. Beyond that, there are no real limits. Johnny listens to a lot of classical music. We had to learn classic music as children. I think St Matthew’s Passion is one of his favorites. Things to listen to when you are sick of rock. The range is pretty big, it is a bit long of a list.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, why limit yourself. There is so much music out there to listen to. Why limit to just rock music.
Daniel Kongos – Absolutely. I think you can make interesting rock music, especially if you don’t always listen to rock music. Otherwise you would be recycling rock music.
CrypticRock.com – Yes it allows you to create something unique. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and horror films. If you are a fan of horror films what are some of your favorite horror films?
Daniel Kongos – I have to be honest, I am not really the biggest horror fan. I like thrillers. I do think Event Horizon (1997) is one of the best horror films. I’m not sure if you’d call it a horror or a psychological thriller, but it scared me, especially because I was a kid. It is one of those movies that sits with you for weeks when you’re done. I remember watching it and when it was done I could not look in a mirror. It affected me for weeks. Horror is interesting like that. I can forget a comedy really quickly but horror sits with me.
CrypticRock.com – Film creates atmosphere much like music. If it creates a great story it has that effect. What is your take on modern films? Do you find them as appealing as older films?
Daniel Kongos – I think that it is like a lot of eras. I think there is amazing film-making going on. I think the majority of films are not necessarily the best, but I do not think that it is a new phenomenon. I think when you look back on a past decade of film, obviously the best survive, so it is easier to think films were better back then. So I think that in the 2020’s if you look back at the ‘2000s or ‘2010s you are going to see some amazing films that have been made. Some of the most creative film-making, like Charlie Kaufman, one of my favorite writers and directors, Paul Thomas Anderson, the Coen Brothers. Just the Coen Brothers alone can satisfy a decade of good movies. You have got to give it time to see what passes the test of time.