Chicago – By now you’ve surely heard of Kongos, the alternative rock band, comprised of four South African brothers, responsible for radio hits like “Come with Me Now” and “I’m Only Joking.” The Kongos brothers took the world by storm with sophomore album Lunatic. The band of brothers – comprised of Dylan (bass/lap slide guitar/vocals), Danny (guitar/vocals), Jesse (drums/percussion/vocals), Johnny (accordion/keyboards/vocals) – was discovered by L.A. Reid of Epic Records, and after signing with Epic, Lunatic was re-released, resulting in astronomical success, topping charts. The single “Come with Me Now” was certified Platinum, after selling more than a million copies.
After taking some much needed time off from the road – the four toured relentlessly, touring with Kings of Leon, traveling the world on the Lunatic Tour, and performing at festivals, such as Lollapalooza and Riot Fest - the men of Kongos holed up in their recording studio for the end of 2015 and the start of 2016. Kongos will release album number three, titled Egomaniac, on June 10th via Epic Records. Like Lunatic, Egomaniac features the band’s signature accordion and slide guitar, but this time around, the four brothers explore plenty of new territory, especially when it comes to songwriting and vocals. Egomaniac is the band’s first album which features songs written by all four brothers. It is also the first album in which each brother has lead vocal duties.
The band has released “Take It From Me,” the first single from Egomaniac. In celebration of this, Best New Bands talked with Dylan Kongos about what inspired “Take It From Me.” We also chatted about the making of Egomaniac, taking a necessary break from music, and the influence iconic drummer Phil Collins has had on Kongos.
You have a new single: “Take It From Me.” I remember hearing you perform this song when you played Lollapalooza in 2014 – man, that seems like forever ago – and in our Lolla interview, your brother Jesse said the song is “about the momentum of an impulse,” when “something goes in your brain” and you find it “hard to pull it back.” Could you elaborate more on that?
That momentum can be anything. It could particularly be the ego inside you, that gets away from you, that you’re not able to control, and then the momentum is like a rolling stone, just nothing can stop it. Now, I’m quoting lyrics from songs! [laughs] It could be your ego, an addiction, whatever it is, that you’re unable to control.
I was looking at the artwork for “Take It From Me,” with the four of you on a couch, with extremely large heads.
Oh, I’m glad you saw that! We were a little worried that people weren’t seeing the big heads.
Really? For me, it popped out right away, and it made me think it had to do with your heads blowing up, due to inflating egos, as you gained success from your second album. Is this the case?
Yes. Constantly, when you’re in this type of business, you’re susceptible to it; when you’re constantly being praised, your ego is being inflated. You have to have people around you or you have to have some internal compass that keeps you from becoming a total dick. It’s kind of apparent, especially in the entertainment business, but it’s not what we limited the scope of Egomaniac to. I think it applies to literally everyone, and they’ll see elements within themselves, if they pay attention to their daily lives. [laughs]
I think it’s awesome that you guys are able to joke about it. It’s refreshing. We can all have an ego sometimes. I think the picture definitely gets that across.
Initially we didn’t plan on having that picture have big heads, but we were all squeezed on this tiny couch and attitudes came across… we made our heads big and it was like, “Yep, that’s definitely the press shot!”
I was listening to “Take It From Me,” the recorded version – which you’ve made note is different than what you had been doing live – and I kept hearing Phil Collins and Genesis in there. I’m wondering if you guys are fans of Phil and Genesis?
It’s funny you mention that! Definitely on some of those drum fills, there’s a Phil Collins vibe, and you’ll see in the music video, that comes out Friday* – which also incorporates big heads in it, having our heads inflated, and walking around in our daily tour lives; we’ve got literally big heads – there’s a little scene in there, where our tour manager comes over, and he starts drumming along with the track. It’s just a funny image of a “suit” playing those Phil Collins drum fills because everyone knows that so well. [starts to sing, “I can feel it,” then hums the drum parts]
*The music video will premiere April 15th on MTV, at 7:55 PM ET/PT.
You guys have been touring in support of Lunatic for what seems like forever, so I can imagine you’re all extremely excited to finally put out your new album, Egomaniac, this June. What can you tell fans about the making of album number three?
Well, it started during the Lunatic cycle. Actually, even before because Lunatic wasn’t really taking off for us in the States. We were already moving on to new material. We were trying to move onto the next cycle and see if we could get anything happening, and then “Come with Me Now” took off and we wanted to give it a real shot. So we toured really extensively and notched it up. We put this material on the back burner. Then we stopped touring last year, locked ourselves in the studio, and started recording it. It’s way more evenly distributed in terms of writing credits and singing credits. Everyone has written songs on the album, and everyone is singing lead on those songs [they wrote]. It’s interesting that way… Our personalities, influences, and experiences come across on the album, which is pretty diverse.
I was checking out the cover art for Egomaniac. I was wondering if the gorilla represented something specific, and I was also wondering if it connects to the lyrics “It doesn’t take much for the beast to bolt / A split second too late / To bring you to a halt,” from your new single?
Definitely. The song was written well before we had the album art and title, but when we saw that gorilla and the expression on his face – he has such a human quality to him, such an attitude you would expect an egomaniac human to have – it just captured the whole vibe of the album and the album title. It tied in perfectly with the single, and yes, especially that lyric but also the deep voice on the song that says, “It’s got a mind of its own,” I would say. Live, we weren’t doing that yet; we hadn’t dropped the pitch of the voice. It was just Jesse singing it. When we got to the studio, it wasn’t coming across that it’s a different voice that’s saying, “Nothing can stop me / Nothing can hold me back.” It was just sounding like we personally were saying nothing could stop us, nothing could us back, like we were the greatest things since sliced bread. We wanted to get it across that it’s this beast inside saying that, so Jesse dropped the pitch of his voice. And you’ll see in the video that the gorilla says that. It ties in really nicely.
You toured relentlessly these last few years, and I’m sure you’ll soon be touring heavily in support of Egomaniac. However, you guys recently took a break from touring. I bet that must’ve been a bit of a relief and a necessity. Besides spending time in the studio, what have you been up to these last few months?
Well, we spent a lot of time in the studio because we realized we weren’t as ahead of ourselves, as we had thought. We expected to have this album done last year, so we didn’t get to do as much relaxing as we would have liked to… [but] we went camping – we all have different interests – I like going up north in Arizona, to get away and camp. We’ve been working on little videos. Two of the guys – Johnny and Jesse – have gotten places in L.A., so they’ve been going out to L.A. a lot more. We did a little vacation to Mexico, to get away from work and music and stop thinking – because you start to realize that you’re literally thinking about Egomaniac all day, every day… it takes over your entire life.
It’s your turn to think about Egomaniac all day, every day! You can now purchase “Take It From Me” and pre-order Egomaniac on iTunes. The album will be released on June 10th though Epic Records. Kongos will be participating in an AMA on Reddit this Monday April 18th at 11AM PST.
Photo credit: Danny Kongos
After attending The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Sarah went on to study education at Dominican University, earning a degree in history. When not teaching, writing, or taking in a show, she is most likely to be found with a camera to her eye or hanging out in a darkroom.
You can follow Sarah Hess on twitter at @Sarahhasanh and view her music photography on her website: smhimaging.com.