Kongos on the Cutting Room Floor

See also: Kongos are Huge in South Africa. Is Phoenix Next? See also: The Serene Dominic Show: Kongos Tear it Up

Back and forth banter that didn't find its way in this week's New Times article on Kongos finds its way to you now, courtesy of Up On the Sun.

Among the topics open for discussion: sweaty ceilings, South Africa race relations, Enrique Inglesias. Wait...Enrique Inglesias?

Up on the Sun: Lyrically this album almost divides down the middle into being songs about leaving and coming home. Since all four of you write the songs, who's all for leaving and who's for coming home? Show of hands!

Jesse: If the song is about friends or going home, it's Johnny, if it's about wanderlust it's Dylan or me, and if it's fucking sardonic and condescending, it's Danny.

Yeah Danny, what's with all the sardonic and condescending songs? Like "Kids These Days" -- did you really have a teacher that moaned about kids and their cellphones and cassette tapes?

Danny: No, I was just trying to point up someone who was out of touch, but now that I think of it, cassettes are sort of cool with hipsters aren't they? No?

I still think a band should put their album out on an Edison cylinder - it would be the height of hipness at the merch booth--round, metallic and unplayable!

Jesse: Or maybe we should put out our album on piano rolls!

"We just wanted to make sure we were rejected by [every major label] at least once so that if we do make it, we can do the story everyone else does.

-- Johnny Kongos

Even better. Yep, no getting around it, you have put out Lunatic the old fashioned way. Around the time of the first album, though, there was still a sense of doing things the old fashioned way in terms of trying to get a major label's interest. That mindset's all gone now.

Johnny: That mindset was when we released our first EP, around 2005, 2006. When we released the first album ourselves, that was 2007, right around the time things were changing drastically. You could still do it the old fashioned way.

Jesse: There was pretty much a consensus of "This is great but come back when you've got a touring base." They want you to do a lot of work yourself.

Johnny: We just wanted to make sure we were rejected by everyone at least once so that if we do make it, we can do the story everyone else does.

Yes but then the company that rejected you the most times has to sign you, the clouds part and the credits roll. But then you started releasing songs individually. A new track once a month, right?

Jesse: Yeah. It was once a month for the first month. [Laughs] That was the plan.We did the first two around a month apart and we waited two months before we did the third and two months before doing the fourth. After doing the last album, we decided we weren't going to do an album unless something started happening, so we decided to focus on individual tracks, one at a time. We probably could have gone a little quicker, [we took] one song at a [time] seeing if someone would bite.

Dylan: We just wanted to build a little buzz. What we did in Phoenix was just gave everything away. If they came to shows and signed a clipboard they got a CD and though it's still relatively small, it's much larger than it used to be. Our fan base [grows] every time we played a show.

You know when singers do the thing where they hold the mike to the audience and let them sing? On "This Time I Won't Forget" the power went out three quarters through the song. That was one of the songs we'd been giving away and the CD had been out for a month so we had 13,000 singing it a capella with us...

-- Dylan Kongos

UOTS: I guess the biggest change since the first album is that Danny and Dylan became monsters on their instruments. I forgot when you first started gigging, you didn't even play bass.

Dylan: On the last album, it's a lot of programmed bass. I think what helps this album is that we played all of this material live first, which made it more enjoyable. As opposed to the first album which has songs we never played live. We did try our best this time around to just do three takes and then not do anymore. It made for more spontaneity than using take 110 with bits of take 92.

Does South Africa feel more like home than Phoenix does now having spent an extended period there?

Johnny: It doesn't feel like home anymore than Phoenix feels like home but there is a connection. Everybody in this family moved countries before they were 8 so I think it does detach you from the home mentality.

What's it like there now, race relation-wise?

Johnny: Even though they've gotten over the apartheid and segregation thing a lot more recently that America, they're not as uptight about race like they are here. It's difficult to discuss. In South Africa because of the Truth and Reconciliation thing they did, there's just an acceptance that reaches another level than it does in America. As a white person you are the minority there so you can't go your whole life living in the suburbs and never meeting a black person.

The Afrikaans people who were the government of apartheid, the youth of the Afrikaans whose fathers were the oppressors have done a 180, where now they are the hip liberal kids, and they did it all without being bombed into freedom.

Jesse: There's a vibrancy in South Africa right now because it's young, because they've gotten over so many of the problems; there's still big problems there with crime and poverty but it's just so alive. In Johannesburg particularly and Capetown, just drive around and the streets are alive, people out doing things. Phoenix has its downtown sign that's [doing] well. But in South Africa, there's a bit more lawlessness there so people are tending to live a little more on the edge there.

What was the "edgiest" show you played there?

Danny: Probably this show that was in a narrow club that should hold 1,000 people but 12,000-13,000 people were in there. There was no air-conditioning and no ventilation systems so at one point there was sweat dripping from the ceiling above us. It's called rave rain,.

Johnny: As we showed up the generator went out. They were running on generators cause they have occasional rolling blackouts. But now the generators were gone also. So there are 12,000 people in pitch black darkness, we had t-shirts stolen, the bar ran out of water and as we were playing the power kept on cutting out.

Dylan: Which ended up being kinda cool. You know when singers do the thing where they hold the mike to the audience and let them sing? On "This Time I Won't Forget" the power went out three quarters through the song. That was one of the songs we'd been giving away and the CD had been out for a month so we had 13,000 singing it a capella with us until the power came back on so it made for a hair standing on your neck rendition.

Where is the next market you think Kongos is likely to take off?

Danny: We always think Germany.

Ya! "I'm Only Joking" could almost be made into a German folk dance. Maybe a special "Schuhplattler remix"! The album gets its name from a line in that song. Any other titles you bandied about?

Danny: Greatest Hits was one. Golden Edition.

Dylan: We were going to try calling it Escape but one of the Inglesias' had that as an album title.

All the more reason to call it Enrique Iglesias' Greatest Hits. Think of the lawsuits! Think of the sales!

Kongos is scheduled to perform Friday, July 20, at Crescent Ballroom.

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Serene Dominic
Contact: Serene Dominic