Tue, 04 Feb 2014 11:55:58
Kongos steer alternative rock into new territory on their latest album Lunatic. The brothers delicately weave together a puzzle of indigenous South African music, tribal swing, soaring grooves, and even accordion! This approach creates something that's utterly invigorating for modern rock, completely rewriting the rule book, while igniting some classically unshakable hooks. KONGOS are the sweet sound of change.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Dylan of KONGOS discusses Lunatic and so much more.
What ties Lunatic together for you?
When we sat down and came up with the track order for the album, all of the songs were finished. We were still deciding what songs were going to make it one-hundred percent. We put the tracklisting together. The first time we put it together, we said, "That's it. That's the lineup of the songs". There was no debate from anybody in the band. We knew that was the right order. We all felt like it had a bit of a flow to it starting with "Come With Me Now" and ending with "This Time I Won't Forget". It felt right to us. We all write individually so it was difficult to plan that upfront because we don't write together very often at all. We bring individual songs to the table and construct an album from there.
Even though you write separately, do you feel like the cohesion comes from being family?
Yeah, definitely! We've all been influenced by similar music. Growing up with our dad and the type of music he wrote in the sixties and seventies, there's a strong influence from the African and South African music he brought us up with it. Also, it comes from living together in the same house and writing music. A lot of it comes out in similar ways. Each of us individually has favorite artists and our own songs. In general, I think we aim for a cohesive sound when it comes to a KONGOS album though.
Is it important for you to tell stories and paint pictures lyrically?
It depends on who you ask in the band, but for me it's definitely important to paint a picture with the song. It also comes along when we're making videos. Once the song is in development or finished, we're constantly thinking of what visuals to put to it. We have videos for about five of the songs now, but the plan is to make more of them.
What inspires those stories?
A lot of it is based on life experiences, people, and travels. It might not come out as much in the lyrics but in the sound, being in South Africa gives you an impression of the people and the country and the sounds coming out of there that definitely gets into our music.
What's the musical climate like coming from South Africa?
It's quite varied. There's a big rock scene that's very similar to most of America or Europe where there's alternative rock and indie rock. There's also a more traditional music that's still very thriving. Some of the biggest radio stations play more traditional music. That appeals to us a lot more. There's a type of music called Maskandi that influenced a couple of the tracks on Lunatic. Then, there's Kwaito, which is almost a slowed down version of house music that they make in South Africa. It's got an African flavor to it with accordion along with electronic beats. It's such a varied culture and people that there's a variety of music that can inspire you.
What's the story behind "This Time I Won't Forget"?
That song was actually written by Johnny. It's about losing someone and only appreciating that person to the fullest extent after they're gone. Hopefully, you try to never allow that to happen again.
Which songs resonate with you the most at the moment?
I wrote "Sex on the Radio" and "Traveling On". Of those two, "Traveling On" probably resonates with me the most. It was much more of a personal experience compared to "Sex on the Radio", which is more of an abstract commentary. Without getting too much into the details, "Traveling On" was a very personal song coming from a personal experience. It's going to be one of those songs that stays with me and hopefully other people!
How did "Come With Me Now" come together?
That's another song Johnny wrote. It came about from him listening to a lot of that Kwaito music. The variations of style that the song went through were quite vast, but it always kept this Kwaito vibe. Johnny picked up the accordion on our first album, and it's going to be a centerpiece of the band forever.
What artists shaped you?
Personally, one of my biggest heroes is Jackson Browne. Lyrically and musically, his style is incredible. He's much more of a singer-songwriter. He inspired some of my songs like "Traveling On". Then, there's also obviously Paul Simon and his take on South African music especially Graceland. I listen to a lot of seventies classic rock. Some African bands coming out of Mali have really shaped our sound. Then, we incorporate more of a Western spin on things.
If you were to compare Lunatic to a movie or a combination of movies, what would you compare it to?
I've never been asked that, wow [Laughs]. It's a difficult question to answer, but if I had to choose one director to use the album it would be Martin Scorsese. No matter what the movie is Casino, The Departed, or The Wolf of Wall Street, the music he chooses fits. I love that!
Where did the title Lunatic come from?
The simple answer is we really liked the sound of the word. We went through so many names. This was actually the difficult part of the process. It somewhat relates to the song "I'm Only Joking" if you look into the lyrics. There's a reference to "lunatics". It stuck with us. After going back and forth with a number of names, we chose that one. It just sounded right to us.
Have you heard KONGOS yet?