The Kongos are no strangers to the music industry; the four brothers grew up in a home surrounded by music. Their father, John Kongos was a popular singer/ songwriter in the early 70s and you can hear his direct influence on the group’s sound when you listen to his earlier work.
Some of the group’s other influences have stemmed from Qawwali music from Pakistan, making a large impression on accordion player Johnny. They have even named Dr. Dre as an influence on their approach to production by stating “I think production wise [he] was a huge influence [he’s a] minimalist and everything he does seems to be essential to the track.” Although they may appear to be a new group, this band of brothers has been grinding music for a very long time.
YRB: How has your father (John Kongos) influenced your career?
Kongos: I think if you listen to a lot of his older records you can hear the direct influence from his music on our music. In a broader sense, just how supportive he has been, how he has encouraged us to have open minds musically and introduced us to the variety [of music] that [we] grew up listening to. It was great to have a dad that was in the music business [instead of a father who would say] “no you guys need to go to college,” that was cool.
YRB: Does working with your siblings help or hinder the creative process?
Kongos: We always tend to write alone. Where it begins to become a very positive collaborative experience is when we bring it to the band and we get into the production and recording side of things. That’s where all [of] us working together happens. Definitely at the end of the day it helps because it’s a level of trust [that is] hard to get without that connection or it takes a longer time to establish, we’ve obviously known each other forever and there’s a connection between brothers that is not easy to replicate. It’s overwhelmingly positive.
YRB: When you released Lunatic in 2011 it wasn’t exactly an instant hit in the United States, what do you think changed in three years?
Kongos: [Laughs] I don’t know it’s a question that we often ask ourselves because it’s the same album and the same songs that were not doing much for the last three years and all of the sudden are now making a name for us. So I think a big portion of it was just luck, a couple important DJs across the states randomly came across the music, the guy in Denver because we were playing Riot Fest started playing “Come with Me Now” and from there it really just exploded. So many great bands out there [are] writing great music and much of it wont even see the light of day because there is so much out there. We cannot underplay the luck aspect of everything.
YRB: When it wasn’t an instant hit did you lose faith or consider it a failure?
Kongos: Well our expectations were much lower; it didn’t feel like a failure to us it just felt like it wasn’t getting the shot it needed. We were a bit disappointed things were not picking up but there were definitely several more albums we were going to give a shot to before we decided to quit being a band. We were definitely discouraged a little bit but not to the point of quitting music, we just thought that we’d have to move on to new material
YRB: How did it feel to hear your single used in sports promos?
Kongos: It was a little weird and crazy. I think it’s one of those things where we have been working at this for a long time, ten years or more, and then [at] the end of last year, beginning of this year, it was an over night [success]. The song was everywhere and we were getting all these great support spots with Young The Giant and Kings of Leon. It’s a bit surreal.
YRB: Why did you decide to sign with Epic Records?
Kongos: Well when the song started picking up on the radio there was interest from various labels but the interest that we got from Epic seemed to be much more based on the music itself. We had some meetings with L.A. Reid where he sat down and just listened to the music with us and we could tell that he got the music, he saw where we were coming from. It wasn’t just a decision based on what sales or radio was doing that week. I think they have a similar view in mind thinking of this as a much longer term career with attention paid to what it’s actually all about, which is music.
YRB: Having toured with Linkin Park, Dispatch and AWOLNATION, what is your most fond tour memory?
Kongos: We’ve had some really great opportunities with them all, but the time with AWOLNATION stands out the most. [They] really showed us what it’s going to be like if we ever get to the point of having our own support bands [and] how to treat bands. They were just so helpful, going out of their way to introduce us to their fans, and kind of help us out along the way. That was one of the best, it was only four or five gigs we did with them, but it was a great experience.
YRB: In an age where most tracks heard on the radio are featuring collaborations with other artists, would consider working with another artist on a song?
Kongos: We’d have to see how to do it because we barely even collaborate with each other when it comes to the song writing process. I think we all just have too giant of egos to deal with each other on the writing side of things. The production is where we all come together, but there are a lot of artists we’d love to collaborate with. We do this crazy mash up at live shows so it’d be great to get an MC.
YRB: What is some advice you’d give to an up and coming artist?
Kongos: Just keep going, keep writing music and write something that you actually enjoy. Don’t try to write something that you think is going to fit into any particular box or radio station. We were writing music we wanted to write and it just so happened to end up working. I just don’t think [a radio hit] should be the focus because it can sully the experience.
YRB: What’s next for you guys?
Kongos: We are always writing and playing new songs together live, but I think the real focus is going to be trying to get as many people as possible to listen to Lunatic and getting past “Come with Me Now,” which has been the spearhead in the U.S. It’s a great album with a real depth to it so we are trying to get as may people as possible to hear that album within the next year or so.
Story by Stephanie Amy Collazo
Photo by OdessyBarbu