Feature

Dylan Kongos talks touring with family, the downside to the success of their biggest single, and the reality of going independent

I got Dylan Kongos, lead vocalist, bassist and songwriter for the KONGOS, on the phone fresh off-stage after a show in Denver. Full of energy Dylan starts, “Denver set the bar for the tour. They’ve always been a good crowd, so it’s always a really excellent show.”

The KONGOS Brothers grew up in both London and South Africa, so before we get into the nitty gritty, I want to know if I should use my English or Afrikaans notes and Dylan laughs when he says, “Ek kan praat kak Afrikaans.” English notes it is.

Sibling rivalry is a game of egos and power play, so I ask, when they started the band, how they decided who’d play which instrument. “Surprisingly it wasn’t that difficult or in-depth of a process,” he says. “We all grew up playing piano and Johnny [being the eldest of the brothers] was the best at piano and keyboard, so he naturally picked up the accordion and kinda stuck with that. Jesse always had a natural inclination towards drums so he gravitated towards the drums.”

There was a bit of ego-bruising when it came to picking a bassist and guitarist, “At the time I had bigger hands but I didn’t wanna play bass — I wanted to play guitar. So I kind of refused for a bit but then I started playing bass, started enjoying it and it just worked out. Nowadays, we switch it up quite a lot though. Danny and I play both guitar and bass on the record and for live shows.”

I poke a little deeper and ask how they picked the lead vocalist, thinking that there’d be some hot gossip here but alas, just honesty. “I’m going to say something that will sound very egotistical but my brothers would attest to the same thing, and that’s that I had the most natural singing voice.”

Now their approach to lead vocals has changed. “The other guys wanted to sing their own songs, so they put a lot of work into practising and eventually they were able to sing their songs better than I could sing them, because there’s nothing like the songwriter singing their own songs and really being able to express what they’re trying to say,” he admits.

For a lot of musos, touring means saying goodbye to the family for extended periods of time and I ask if touring with your family makes it easier or more difficult. “I think 95% of the time, it makes it easier,” he declares. “We can almost read each other’s minds, we have this kind of brotherly intuition. We’re almost always on the same page about business and the musical choices.”

The other 5% of the time, Dylan confesses, is the real test, “It makes it very difficult ‘cause you can move past issues with people you’re not close with but with family it becomes difficult to get over stupid little things.”

Their double multiplatinum award-winning single, “Come With Me Now”, a song they released six years before it blew up, really put them on the map, so I wonder if there’s a curse to what seems like the biggest blessing. “Yeah, there definitely is. It’s kind of a first world problem — when it finally broke in the States, it became like the biggest synch song of the year [TV shows, radio stations, movies, etc.] and when we finally got onto the other songs, we literally could not get radio stations to focus on anything else but ‘Come With Me’. We just could not get out from underneath it,” he explains.

Having struggled to get out of their two-year contract with a major label, I ask what going independent with their own label, Tokoloshe Studios (in Hollywood) has been like. Dylan’s very candid with his answer stating, “The negative side is that there’s no real safety net but the rest of it’s almost all positive. We can do whatever the fuck we want. We can record a song this week and release it next week, and we don’t have to ask anyone’s permission and it’s a great feeling. We’ve put out two albums this year and I don’t think we’d have been able to do that if we were still on a major label.”

From singles to lyric videos, their 8-episode documentary Bus Call, to podcasts, KONGOS clearly put a lot of effort into producing relevant content. And with a quarter of America listening to podcasts weekly, it makes all the sense that KONGOS host one of their own.

The Front Lounge with KONGOS, covers everything from Game of Thrones to fitness, so I ask what the idea was behind this, “We sit around talking shit all the time anyway, so we thought you know, the world is interested in different kinds of content and it was just a fun way for us to articulate some of our thoughts in a more official manner, so that people would be interested in listening to it.

I end off with a question I know South African fans are dying to know the answer to: When they’ll be returning to SA. He says exactly what I want to hear: “It’s just a matter of figuring out the timing of the year, but we’re coming back [next year after the release of “1929: Part 3”] for sure!”