Air travelling this Summer? If yes, there's a chance you may find yourself sharing a plane ride with KONGOS - the Joburg-cum-London-cum-Phoenix rock band that's been the talk of the town of late. KONGOS are jet-setting around South Africa till early 2012; we stole their attention for 20 mins to find out, among other things, their plan of action should December 2012 herald the end of days!
Summing up their experience so far, Jesse Kongos (drums, vocals) describes their first two gigs as amazing: "We've never experienced anything like that in our lives. The first was at the Alex in Joburg, and it was packed completely - a really good crowd. The sound wasn't the greatest, but it was still an amazing vibe. And then Pretoria just went nuts; 2000-3000 people came, and I guess they just love rock up there; it was just an amazing crowd. Tuks playing the hell out of us made a huge difference."
"We had 3000 people just moshing, and crowd-surfing and just getting smashed - it was quite amazing," Dylan Kongos (lead vocals, bass) recalls the Park Acoustics gig in Pretoria.
Lunatic, selling like hot cakes
KONGOS released Lunatic, their second album, early last week, and according to Dylan they've been selling like hot cakes! You may have already downloaded five tracks for free off the album earlier this year, but the rest of the album is certainly worth splashing your Christmas bonus on. My favourite tracks off Lunatic (barring the freebies), are "Sex on the radio", "Escape" and "I want to know". But, how does it fare against their previous album?
"It's a lot better. It's more live sounding; the first album was chopped together...Everything was trial and error, with this one [Lunatic] we just played the songs live," says Danny Kongos (guitarist).
"With this album we're playing almost every song, whereas with the first album there were four or five songs that we just never played; they were really difficult to play live - we didn't want to go out and embarrass ourselves without the magic of the studio to make us sound good," says Johnny Kongos (keyboard, accordion).
SA, a pleasant surprise
Arriving here with no expectations, they were pleasantly surprised by the enthusiastic reception offered by their South African fans.
"After seeing South African fans and hearing from other international bands - like Deadmau5 did something on his blog lately - if you do get some fans here, they're among the best in the world because they're so loyal and passionate. *Haha*, I'm starting to sound like a car salesman! It's been great," says Johnny.
"There's currently a global surge of South African culture, people are starting to pay attention, so for us it's kind of cool that South Africa is the first territory that's gotten behind us big time. So that, we think, will help us around the world - we'll be able to go to Europe and say 'Hey, look what we did here in South Africa,' and, in a way, this South African success has helped us more in Phoenix than anything we've ever done so far," says Jesse.
It's their first trip to SA in 15 years; they've found much has changed since back then - for the better...
"Everything seems better; we left in 1996 which was kind of near the peak of crime, particularly in Johannesburg, and I don't know, it seems like all the good stuff is still there, but minus a bit of the crime. I don't know what the statistics are, I might be completely off, but things feel a little more open, people move around a little more freely," says Johnny.
"Socially it seems to have changed; gradually, I think, race is becoming less and less of a thing, which is good - I definitely feel a bit of a difference there. It just feels like an open society," says Jesse.
"And they managed to do it without America bombing - freedom without bombs!" chimes in Johnny.
If the Mayans are right...
We suspect however, that their trip to SA is not just about the music; they're killing two birds with one stone - they're here to case the place, to find a safe haven come December 2012.
"I think it was Nostradamus that said that the southern tip of Africa is the place where you can go and escape, and so that's probably what we'll do. It's always been at the back of our minds - if the shit hits the fan in America or Europe we'll probably come down here and chill out with you guys," says Jesse.
When the big one finally hits LA / When Yellowstone has it's day / We're headin' to the Southern tip / On a plane or on a ship / We'll do what it takes, we'll find a way / If that cloud forms up above / No sign anywhere of a dove / There'll be no reason left to stay / We'll try to live another day / In a place where there's still love - lyrics from Escape, Lunatic.
Since deciding to take music on full-time the Kongos brothers have probably spent an inordinate amount of time with each other. How is it that they survive?
"There is that saying, 'familiarity breeds contempt', and it's true. We know each other so well that we get to points where we're at each other's throats all the time, which is normal, but the flip side is that we can actually say what we want to each other; we don't have to pull any punches, we don't have to consider each other's feelings; we can tell each other when something sucks, and we can get to the point much quicker; we don't beat around the bush. That's kind of the up and down of it," says Jesse.
The band's first gig was at a high school talent show back in 2003. Four years later they produced their self-titled debut album. Another four years later they released the follow-up, Lunatic - why the delay?
"Cos we sucked..," laughs Dylan.
"Everyone was really young in 2003, there was just the seed of the idea," says Johnny.
"It's partly that, and because we have a recording studio at home, you can take forever. Every time we did a gig we got a little better, so we thought ahh shit, let's fix that record, so we changed things for years, literally. And similarly with this album, we just took a long time because we're part procrastinators, part perfectionists - there's a grey area there. And we're extremely lucky to have the luxury of taking our time with the album, so we did," explains Jesse.
And finally, a message for all you KONGOS fans in SA
Johnny: "Howzit! We love you guys; it's been amazing to come out here. It's also been a bit of a welcome home for us, because we've been away for so long, so we couldn't have planned it any better."
Dylan: "Basically just thank you. We haven't felt this welcome and this warm reception anywhere really."
Jesse: "Yeah, 15 years, we get to come home and see all our old friends, do a little bit of a vacation and play to a bunch of people who are there to see us. In life you can't ask for much more."
Johnny: "You could, but you'd be a prick."
Fast facts about the Kongos:
They have a general distaste for America's biggest country star, Toby Keith, who's famous for lyrics such as "Cause we'll put a boot in your ass / It's the American way."**
Johnny does all the KONGOS' web work, as well as others'.
The early KONGOS featured a non-Kongos bassist - while they tried to adopt him, it didn't quite work out.
Their hopes and dreams for the band entail, in no particular order; WORLD DOMINATION, a sold-out gig at CT Stadium, an opening gig for Jimmy Carr, roadies (so they don't have to carry their own shit around), enough freedom to branch out on side projects, and go anywhere in the world and play to a bunch of people, while earning a living.
**Note to SA border patrol: Keep Toby Keith out of SA
On that note, let's all jam to Nkalakatha, for ol' times sake!
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