Catapulted by the success of their insanely infectious smash hit, “Come With Me Now”, Kongos (pronounced ‘KONGUS’) are one of those bands which you’d be hard-pressed to not have heard by now.
With sales capping over 1 million for that single alone, along with a peak position of 39 on the Billboard Hot 200, Kongos are a band who hit the music scene like an earthquake with aftershocks that continue to be felt by fans and industry heads alike.
In anticipation of their upcoming US tour, we here at AltWire recently sat down with frontman Dylan Kongos to discuss the band’s meteoric rise, diverse influences, and what it’s like to be four brothers performing in the same band together. Read what Dylan had to say below:
AltWire [Mattison Keesey]: Growing up you spent part of your lives in London and South Africa. How different is the music scene over in South Africa compared to here, and how would you say your life experiences there influenced your music?
Dylan Kongos [KONGOS]: The music scene was actually pretty similar. There was a big alternative rock scene down there, and a bunch of festivals, and Top 40 radio plays almost identical playlists to Western Europe and America, a lot of dance of EDM, but of course there is 11 official languages in South Africa and many different tribes and there’s traditional music. It’s really incredible and that tends to influence a bit more of the alternative and the rock scene. Growing up, our dad played all different kinds of music, the South African Style, North African, especially the tribal. It all definitely played a part to what we recorded here in the states, whether it’s consciously or subconsciously.
AW: Your song ‘I’m Only Joking’ has some very heavy drums in it. Did some of the African influence that you just mentioned feature in that song?
Dylan Kongos [KONGOS]: Yes, definitely! There’s a tribe in Africa called the Burundi tribe and they have a rhythm and sort of straight swing deal. The tribe stands around in a circle with their drums on their heads and play, and it’s kind of a thunderous sound.
AW: I’m borderline obsessed with that song, and I think the lyrics are weirdly awesome. What inspired the lyrics to ‘I’m Only Joking’?
Dylan Kongos [KONGOS]: I didn’t write it, our drummer Jesse actually wrote it, if you couldn’t tell by the competence of loud drums throughout the song. It’s the one song of the album that, because of the lyrics, is very fun for us and because of the content of the song, we get a lot of really cool theories on what it’s about. I don’t think we want to dissipate the energy of someone trying to figure it out.
AW: You guys have lived in South Africa, London, and Arizona and are of Greek heritage. How do these people, lifestyles and culture influence your music?
Dylan Kongos [KONGOS]: We lived here longer than we lived anywhere else, so it’s played upon our musical development and all that, not necessarily in the cultural sense, but we live out here in the desert and were pretty isolated from everything else and were really not that influenced or attached to any trends from LA or some of the big music hubs. We’re able to just focus on what we want to do, and a lot of bands coming out of here just focus on what they want to do without having the pressure of fitting in to a particular genre or a particular trend. As far as the Greek influence, in South Africa we went to a sort of Greek school, so we learned Greek and Greek dancing. They’re a small Greek [school] – well it’s actually pretty large – but they have a get together every week. We would actually go to Greece every once in a while, and the music that comes out of there was very special to us.
AW: Upon signing to Epic Records in 2014, you re-released your 2012 record Lunatic. With both Lunatic and your single ‘Come With Me Now’, having achieved decent success in the States, have you begun any work on a new record? Can we expect more music from you guys in the near future?
Dylan Kongos [KONGOS]: Because of the re-release there is about a year and a half in between the success of it in South Africa and here, because it started to take off from there. We had all this time to write a lot of music. We’ve written at least an album or two’s worth of songs that we’re really happy and comfortable with. It’s just a matter of time and getting into the studio to record them properly because we’ve just been on tour. We started touring in February of last year, and we went all the way to December where we got a month break, and everyone just wanted to relax and we were in South Africa. Now we start our headlining tour in 3 weeks, and as soon as were done that our plan is to, unless something major comes along, to get back into the studio as quickly as possible.
However; it’s really difficult to answer that because every time we try to make plans, something takes us in either a different direction or further than the direction we had planned. We had no idea that ‘Lunatic’ was going to do so well last year so we just went with it, and we’re gonna see how this year goes. What we would like as a band is to release a single out and most likely put an album out by the end of the year. That would be nice because even though ‘Lunatic’ is something we enjoy playing and we’re so proud of it, it’s starting to feel a little bit old for us.
AW: When it comes to the writing process, where does everyone in the band stand? Do you all have one distinctive aspect of a song that you work on? Or is it a group effort where everyone puts equal parts of everything?
Dylan Kongos [KONGOS]: We all write, and we all write in different places. We rarely ever write together, so we all just eventually kind of come to the same completed songs, and then we have songs that we’ve written as a band. Then we go into the studio and it changes a little bit, sometimes the arrangement or the structure and some small parts will change here and there. For the most part everyone brings their own songs to the band and then we work on the production side of it in the studio together and kind of repeat the process there.
AW: You’re about to embark on a winter tour with Sir Sly and Colony House (on select dates) in support of Lunatic. What made you choose these bands, and did you have any experience with them prior to this tour?
Dylan Kongos [KONGOS]: No, actually. When we announced it, we were all talking about doing our headlining tour and we just kind of put the word out there to agents and managers around and band’s started submitting for the opening slot and basically we just got submissions and started listening and narrowing it down to the bands that we liked and wanted to take out with us.
AW: If I’m not mistaken, I think both KONGOS and Sir Sly performed at Firefly music festival this summer?
Dylan Kongos [KONGOS]: Yeah, that’s quite possible. I can’t actually remember. We didn’t get to catch their set but at most of these festivals we wanted to see Outkast and all these other people, but really, we just show up, we play the set, then we have to jet out of there to get to the next show.
AW: This is your very first North American headline tour. How does it feel to be headlining a tour for the first time in your careers?
Dylan Kongos [KONGOS]: Really exciting! We’ve done a couple shows, some headlining shows mixed with some supporting shows and some festivals, but we’ve never actually gone out and put on our own show for 2 months straight and played the set that we want to play. We’re going to put all the songs from ‘Lunatic’ in our set, as well as some new ones and some covers. It’s just really exciting because we’ve had this kind of vision of what, well, in our biggest dreams, we had this vision of playing stadiums and being able to put on a massive show. For the last couple years, playing in these clubs and theaters, we’ve had a vision of what we could do, and now we get the chance to actually go out there and do them.
“What we would like as a band is to release a single out and most likely put an album out by the end of the year. “
AW: Where are you guys most excited to perform on this tour?
Dylan Kongos [KONGOS]: On this tour, probably Philly, would be at the top of the list, for me, because we’ve played in Philly or around Philly, like 6 times. We’ve played festivals and all of these support slots and we’ve never actually played a headlining show, so it’s our biggest show, attendance wise, this year. It’s selling really well and I think that’s about 2,500 fans. It’ll be the first time we get to play a headlining show in front of one of our biggest audiences.
AW: We’re actually based out of Pennsylvania, around Philadelphia, and I find that many off the artists I talk with always have good things to say about Philly.
Dylan Kongos [KONGOS]: I didn’t just say that because you guys are from Philly [laughs], next year I might be excited for Denver or something like that. Philly has been a great place to us from so early on, especially Radio 104.5, who from very early on developed a very hardcore fan base for us. It seems to be the same way for Chicago and Seattle as well, but we played Chicago last year so we’re not playing there on this run.
AW: Radio 104.5 is definitely good for that. There has been multiple bands that they have helped develop because, I feel, they are not afraid to play what’s new or unknown.
Dylan Kongos [KONGOS]: Yeah, the new music and their music discovery program shines a light on a lot of new artists, which a lot of other radio stations are scared to do.
AW: Aside from headlining your first North American tour, what would you say has been the highlight of your career as a band?
DK: So far? I don’t know. Definitely some of the shows we’ve played. We kind of went from, two years ago playing for no one to playing these huge shows in South Africa. We played in South Africa and had all these big headlining shows and festivals, then played in a 65,000 capacity venue opening for Linkin Park [in Johannesburg]. That was for sure a highlight. Looking back, we played for 14 people in New Mexico, or something like that. From two years ago, up until now, we’ve gotten to play at all of these legendary venues, like the Red Rock Amphitheatre or the O2 Arena in London. Those are just very surreal moments.
AW: Do you feel being a band of brothers makes it easier to work with each other than being a band of maybe 4 friends?
Dylan Kongos [KONGOS]: Yeah, of course. We are four brothers, but we like to say we fight like four sisters. Just like every other family, we’ve grown up together, and we’re a pretty close family. We’ve lived together our whole lives and then we went out on the road, so we never really had the time, because we worked together all the time, to have apart. So it ended up being really good. We haven’t experienced a ton of other bands, but to be honest with you, it just gets all the bullshit out of the way.
AW: I’m sure being a band of brothers make the band very honest and trusting with each other. Because of this, would you say there is some sibling rivalries between the four of you when it comes to music?
Dylan Kongos [KONGOS]: Oh yes, definitely! You have to trust that when your brother is saying something good about you, then you know it’s true, because your brothers rarely say good things about you. But if they are saying something bad, there might be some rivalries, but that’s just shows the trust in the relationship, and there your brothers so they are not trying to put you down or hurt you.
AW: I know there is a little controversy with the pronunciation of the band’s name, pronounced KONGIS, not KONGOS. I must admit, I am guilty of calling the band KONGOS. When playing in other countries, do most of them use the correct pronunciation? Or is KONGOS pretty much the universal name for you band?
Dylan Kongos [KONGOS]: At this point we kind of just submitted to whatever pronunciation helps people find us online, or whatever helps them spell it correctly. The name is actually Greek, and its shortened from, were not exactly sure, Kongaleves or something like that, and was shortened to Kongos. The pronunciation of our name is actually Kongus, but when you say it like that, people would change the spelling to C-O-N-G-U-S so we just don’t really fight it anymore. Americans say Kongos, so were cool with whatever helps them figure out the name.
AW: Do you find these pronunciation difficulties anywhere other then America? Such as Europe?
Dylan Kongos [KONGOS]: It’s basically just America that pronounces it KONGOS. In Europe pretty much everyone pronounces it correctly, and in Mexico as well.
AW: That’s all I have for you Dylan! Is there anything else you would like to add about the upcoming tour or any other future plans you guys may have?
Dylan Kongos [KONGOS]: Were actually releasing the single, ‘I Want To Know’. It’s going to be hitting radio hopefully later this month, and we’ll be releasing the music video for it next week, so keep an eye out for that.