Mix Q&A with Jesse Kongos
Things are taking off for KONGOS, but it didn’t always look like that would happen. If you were to hear the group’s infectious “Come With Me Now” today, it might surprise you that a song so catchy took three years to break through US radio! Thankfully, it finally has, which means the talented quartet of brothers finally gets to enjoy some of the spoils of success, including a slot opening for Kings of Leon, a real tour bus, and the luxury of pushing their album Lunatic for as long as they can. When drummer Jesse took some time to talk with us, we talked waiting for “Come With Me Now” to take off, his eclectic influences, diverse taste, and favorite things! Check it out!
GGM: First off, thank goodness “Come With Me Now” finally caught fire! It’s such a good song! The first time I heard it, I was stunned to learn it had already been out for years. Did you guys expect “Come With Me Now” to take off like it has when you first released it?
JK: We hoped. I think when we were making the record and Johnny, the accordion player, wrote the song and made a demo, we thought it had something special. It sounded like it had hit potential, but nothing’s a guarantee, especially when you add an accordion in the mix. When we saw the reactions to the song when we toured South Africa, we knew that it worked. It was really a question of getting some exposure, getting some radio play. That finally came and we’re very excited about that.
GGM: The video for “Come With Me Now” has some striking, gif-like imagery happening between shots of you guys performing the song. What’s going on there?
JK: We made that video ourselves, and Danny, the guitar player, is the most advanced in terms of photography. It’s a visual concept: the repetition, daily habits, never breaking out of your cycle. That’s the concept of it without getting too philosophical.
GGM: I read that before “Come With Me Now” took off, you were about to push ahead on new material. So now that Lunatic has taken off and you’re about to embark on an epic tour, are those plans for new material on hold?
JK: I guess it’s a good problem to have, putting our new material on hold. We’re glad that Lunatic is finally getting some attention. We planned to tour on it for a while. We have some new songs written and we have some demos, but as to when we get to finish that and when we get to put out new material, that’s up in the air. We definitely want to push Lunatic properly, you know. Go all the way.
GGM: The drums parts in KONGOs songs sound like they’re so much fun to play. Which is your favorite?
JK: My favorite to play is a song called “I Want to Know.” It’s got a kind of reggae-feel to it. I really like the high-energy songs on the record, but in the middle of the set, you know, it’s nice to kind of chill and just play that groove. I’m a huge fan of Bob Marley and his band. I practice drums playing to his records. I think that perfect reggae groove is something to aspire to, and it’s relatively unattainable, but you can still try!
GGM: Who are some of your favorite drummers?
JK: I’ve gone through the whole span of them! When I was a teenager and started taking drums a little more seriously, I was really into the jazz drummers like Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette. On the rock side, obviously Bonham and even Ringo. I like drummers with a unique feel. Lately I’ve been into drummers Carlos McSwain who plays with Snoop Dogg. He just lays it down like nobody else.
GGM: Do you think the music of South Africa influences your writing?
JK: Yeah, definitely. We were relatively young when we lived there. I was 13 when we left, but it definitely gets into your blood, just being around it. There’s so many different subcultures, and growing up, our Dad had a very vast record collection. He played a lot of African music, a lot of Indian music, Opera, everything! The South African music that influenced “Come With Me Now” is a type of music called Kwaito, which is like slowed-down club music with Zulu rap over it. The groove is so strong and it’s something we have tried to borrow from and mix with our weird accordion-rock blend (laughs).
GGM: Can you tell me a few of your favorite albums of all time?
JK: Yeah, I think! For sure, Graceland is on there. Natural Mystic, the Bob Marley record. The JJ Cale special edition. There are so many Keith Jarett albums, but I’ll just pick one: Still Live. One of my favorite jazz records. And I’d randomly throw in there this collection of Puccini arias sung my Maria Callas. That’s pretty heavy.
GGM: Who are you jamming nowadays?
JK: There’s a band called Tinariwen from Mali, this sort of Desert-blues music with electric guitar. We’ve seen them live a couple times, and they’re one of our favorite bands ever. They’re world music not in the pop realm, but they’ve opened for the Rolling Stones and played Glastonbury. A really, really cool band.
GGM: What’s a great movie you guys have seen recently that you really enjoyed?
JK: Well, one of our favorite movies that never got a lot of attention is Idiocracy, by Mike Judge. We just watched it on the bus again recently. I think it nailed a few things about modern culture and it’s funny as hell!
GGM: TV Shows?
JK: There’s a British show called The Thick of It that’s one of my favorite shows. It’s the show that Veep is based on. House of Cards is one of the best out there. The usual HBO list.
GGM: What books are you bringing along on this tour?
JK: (laughs) I can’t really lie and make something up, can I? Most of my reading is about new gear. I haven’t read a novel in a long time!
GGM: New gear? Do you subscribe to drum websites or drum magazines?
JK: I’m also into the tech side of things. We record and produce our records together as a band, and I mostly mix and master it. We just bought a new mixing board, a Midas PRO2. I’m into that. Get some new analog compressors, and I love reading about how they work.
GGM: What’s your favorite road story?
JK: We recently got upgraded to a bus, which has been a huge change for us as a band. The fact we can go to sleep overnight and wake up in a new city makes us lose sense of time and space. You don’t really know where you are or what day it is. The best thing though is that we actually get rest. The last van tour, we had every cliché issue: the van broke down in the middle of St. Louis in February. We had to scramble to make our gig and ended up getting on stage two minutes before our call time. The fact we’ve been able to get onto a bus is a huge deal. It improves the show quality because we can actually sleep!
GGM: And hopefully you don’t
have a Spinal Tap moment where you just forget what city you’re
in! Thanks Jesse!