A few days before setting off on a summer festival tour, and less than a week before the release of their third album, the four brothers known as Kongos are looking light and laid-back. Never mind the pressure of trying to match the success of 2014’s Lunatic. That album’s major hit, “Come With Me Now,” appeared in movies, TV shows, commercials, even a videogame, and received tons of radio play, making Kongos one of the year’s biggest success stories.
In the days leading up to the June release of the much-anticipated Egomaniac, the band posted teaser videos and answered fans’ questions on Facebook Live from their cozy L.A. rehearsal space. Whether putting the final touches on their live set, or packing up merch for pre-sales, the guys appear calm and cool. There’s no evidence of tension, of the fighting that plagues so many bands of brothers. They’ve each got their roles, writing, producing, and mixing all their songs, shooting their music videos, and prepping for more than three months on the road. It’s not that they never disagree but, guitarist/singer Danny Kongos says, they move on pretty quickly. “There’s something more important than the band keeping our heads on a little bit.”
The band’s self-sufficiency started as a necessity. Nearly a decade ago they produced and self-released their first album from the basement studio their father John Kongos, a singer-songwriter with several hits of his own in the 1970s, built in their adopted hometown of Phoenix. “We liked the fact that we disappeared into the studio,” Danny remembers. “No one else had any input. Because we’re capable of finishing every stage, we can make it entirely our own thing.”
Years later, they signed with Epic Records, but Danny, Johnny, Jesse and Dylan still prefer to do it all alone. “Ten or 15 years ago, the label would have been constantly annoying the shit out of an alt-rock band, trying to get them to change things,” Danny says. “But now they realize they can’t micromanage at that level.”
“Most alt-rock bands are left to their own devices,” he adds. “And we are entirely left to our devices. It’s awesome.”
The new album doubles down on everything that made the last stand out in a crowded alt-rock field. Witty, sarcastic lyrics, catchy melodies, and a distinctly diverse sound that draws from their South African roots – bluesy guitar riffs, thumping drumbeats, and, of course, that accordion. As Danny explains, adding that accordion was a happy mistake. When writing the first album in 2007, “we were struggling to find a solo sound that worked. No keyboard sound, no guitar sound was working.” Then Johnny picked up the accordion, and it all came together. And no one was surprised. The instrument features prominently in several styles of traditional South African music.
“The kind of sound that comes out of it is quite emotive,” he explains. “So it found its way into our bank of sounds.” And it’s not that they set out to create something so different than the typical alt-rock outfit, “it’s just if we have an idea, we don’t limit it.”
— Stephanie Wargin