Local Legends: Kongos

by: Amanda Savage

This week AFM spotlights local legend, rock band  Kongos. Brothers Johnny, Jesse, Dylan and Danny Kongos collectively talk about the start of their careers, life in Phoenix and touring this summer.

AFM: Obviously music is a major part of your life now, but was it always that way? When did you each discover that music was something you loved and wanted to pursue in life?
Kongos: We grew up playing music. Our parents started us on piano at the early age of three, so music has always been a huge part of our lives. We’d always had the idea of being a band in the back of our minds, but when we started graduating high school and realized that we didn’t want real jobs, we got serious about it. Getting a little momentum and recognition here and there has been a continuing motivation as well.

AFM: I know that you guys get this question in every interview, but how did the band start? Who initiated the start and how did each of you all find yourself in the roles you’re in now?
Kongos: I guess it officially started when we decided to perform something at a talent show while Dylan and Danny were still in high school. We had played some cover songs together before in the basement and Johnny and Jesse had played in Jazz combos at ASU, but that was the first time we wrote a song together and performed it… thankfully, there’s no record of it though! Each of us naturally gravitated to the instruments we play now in the band, but we all play a bit of everything.

AFM: If you met a girl at a bar that never heard of you your music, how would you explain it? What about if your friends mom asked?
Kongos: To girl: “Imagine if Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Robert Pattinson and Megan Fox had a band… we’re the good-looking version of that.” To friends mom: “Imagine if Burt Reynolds, Tom Selleck, Robert Redford and Marilyn Monroe had a band.”

AFM: How has your music style changed from beginning to album one, compared to album two. Do you think it will change in the future?
Kongos: The first album was definitely a “studio” album – all the songs were written and recorded before performing them live much. There was a lot of trial and error, and we tried different versions of many of the songs. On the second album we worked out a lot of the arrangements while performing long sets in downtown Phoenix at The Lost Leaf. We had a much better sense of how the songs should sound before we started recording them.


AFM: You guys play some pretty amazing Beatles covers at your shows. Who are some of your favorite rock legends? 
Kongos: The Beatles for sure. Stevie Wonder, Jackson Browne, Paul Simon, Bob Marley
Danny: Derek Trucks – As Cassandra from Waynes World would say, “He can really wail.”

Dylan:  Bob Marley – no explanation needed!

Jesse: Bob Dylan – few can emanate such meaning and presence in each word.

Johnny: Freddie King – I only recently discovered his music because of the show “Eastbound and Down”, which uses “Going Down.” High energy, deep groove and amazing gritty/raw sound. His song “Palace of the King” sums it up really well.

AFM: What motivated the move to Phoenix?
Kongos: Three of us were born in London. We moved to South Africa, where our dad is from, and Danny (the youngest) was born. Our family had always intended to move to America after spending a year or two in South Africa. We loved it there so much that we ended up staying for eight years. Our mom is originally from Phoenix (she met our dad in London) so it made sense to settle here where we had some family.

AFM:  Do you like it here?
Kongos: We love it here. Arizona is such a beautiful state and it’s been great to see the city and different “scenes” grow over the last few years. We do miss SA a lot though, we have some of our best friends there and definitely try to make it back quite often.

AFM:  What are some of your favorite hang-out spots? To eat, have a beer or listen to music?
Kongos: The Lost Leaf, Crescent Ballroom, Last Exit Live, HB Hanratty’s, Federal Pizza, the pool – we have some of the best beer in the country here in AZ!

AFM:  How is the music scene you’re part of in Phoenix different than South Africa? 
Kongos: The whole experience in South Africa is similar, but amplified. I think a big part of the reason is because radio is SO big there. We reach people on a mass scale. Many people listen to our music and buy our albums who’ve never seen us live. The success there happened virtually overnight. In Phoenix we’ve been plugging away for a long time, slowly building a fan base  Seeing many of the same people come to show after show, you get to personally know a lot of the fans. We have recently started to get a large influx of fans in Phoenix that have never seen us live thanks to the help of a great indie radio station here: 93.9 KWSS FM, and Beef Vegan from TMI.

AFM:  Why do you think your music is received on such a greater scale i​n​ South Africa than in the states? I think you’re awesome, why aren’t you more popular here?
Kongos: South Africa is a much much smaller market than the US. We’ve had non-stop heavy rotation on all the major radio stations out there as well as music videos being played on the major tv stations. We’ve had 7 hit singles and performed at all the big festivals/venues. Getting that type of momentum and exposure in a country the size of the US is a much more difficult and complicated process… but hopefully soon!

AFM: What’s on the agenda for the rest of 2013? Any big shows, tours or studio time planned?
Kongos: Since getting back earlier this year from a European tour with Dispatch and the UK with AWOLNATION we’ve played mostly festivals here in Arizona and SXSW in Texas. The plan is to play the Southwest a lot over the summer and to hopefully get on support slots for some national bands’ US tours. The goal is to work towards a much wider release of our album Lunatic nationally and internationally. We’re also always working on new music videos, songs and recordings.

AFM: Where can locals hear you play or listen to your music?
Kongos: They can check out our calendar here: www.kongos.com/shows and listen to our music on iTunes and Spotify. We also have free songs at www.kongos.com.

Follow Amanda on Twitter @Amanda_Savage

  1. The Kongos are awesome. Caught their show in Durban (South Africa) last year. My husband and I braved the teeny-bopper fan onslaught and it was absolutely worth it. Their show ROCKED!!! They are professional and play so well together and all four are incredibly talented. It is impossible to not move whilst listening to their music. And their fan base spans generations. We were all head bopping together to all their songs. Such an memorable event!!

  2. I hope I don’t tarnish their rep, but I’m almost 60 and I’m more excited about this band than any in decades. Unique chord patterns, tribal rhythms, and haunting melodies driven by bangin’ drums make their tunes infectious! BIG fan here!

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