April 15, 2016


Q&A: Kongos Talk New Single 'Take It From Me' & What It's Like to Be an 'Egomaniac'

Epic Records
Epic Records

You've heard Kongos—the four-piece band of brothers from Arizona—at least once a month for the past two years. I can guarantee it. Their anthemic, accordion-driven alt-jam "Come with Me Now" has been all over radio and found a home on the Expendables 3 soundtrack, American Idol, The Originals, WWE, Playstation 4 and more. The guys—Danny, Jesse, Dylan and Johnny— have been touring intensely in the years since their second album, Lunatic, was re-released by Epic Records, opening for Kings of Leon in the U.S. and OneRepublic in Europe. Like I said, they've kind of been everywhere.

But now they're onto something new. On Friday (April 15), the South African-born brothers, who write, produce and mix everything themselves, released the first single off their upcoming third LP, Egomaniac, and it's the epitome of what the album's all about: feelin' yourself and not letting anyone get in the way.

We chatted with Dylan Kongos about what it means to be an egomaniac, the new album (out June 10) and how they came up with the concept of their "Take It From Me" music video, out tonight.

FUSE: Were you always collaborative as a family when you were younger?
Dylan: We always did something artistic. We used to make little music videos. We actually used to make bar mitzvah videos for kids and do it in this MTV Cribs style. We’d play jazz as jazz trios and wine tastings and bar mitzvahs and weddings. We’re always doing something together. That was always the plan, whether it was being in a band or opening up a restaurant, we knew we were probably going to do something together.

Are you still going to open up a restaurant?
Not any time soon, but it’s always in the back of our minds.

When did you start playing instruments?
Our parents started us off on piano at the age of two or three, our dad teaching us the very basics, the key of C and five-finger scale. And then we started taking classical piano lessons  around the age of six or seven and did that into our teens. Johnny and Jesse went and studied jazz at [Arizona State University] and Danny and I picked up guitar and self-taught at that point.

Was that ever competitive?
Not as much as you’d think because of the age gap. Johnny is seven years older than Danny and five years older than me. By the time we were just becoming teenagers and getting serious at piano, Johnny was already way ahead of us. None us were really at his level of musicality. It was more helpful having Johnny and Jesse around when their level of musicality was much higher so they could help us and teach us some of the theory and other stuff. 

So the video for "Take It From Me" was directed and edited by you guys. You really play up that ego theme with the big, inflated heads. Was it weird acting in CGI, knowing that it was going to be edited later?
It was actually way easier. I hate videos where we have to act. Because you have to commit to a performance right then and there and with CGI because a lot of it was going to be green-screened heads, we could do whatever we wanted with our faces, our expressions and we knew that later we’d be able to take our time getting those expressions right when all we were filming was our heads. If you saw some of the root-roll footage where we’re acting out, where you see it before we add on the big heads, it kind of looks ridiculous.

You toured a ton with the Lunatic album. Did you write most of Egomaniac on the road?
Some of it was from the road. We’d been playing "Take It From Me" for almost 18 months during that whole tour. 

All four of you guys wrote and sang on this album?
Yeah, this one is a lot more evenly distributed. On Lunatic, everyone still wrote songs and everyone had some lead vocals but it was mostly split between Jesse and I for the lead vocal department. On this album, everyone who wrote a song is singing lead on that song. There’s 13 songs. We write our own songs and bring them to the table. There’s one song that’s written by all of us.

On this album, everyone who wrote a song is singing lead on that song.

Dylan Kongos

Do you all decide on a concept before writing your own?
We generally don’t. We just all go off into our own spaces and write our own songs, and then when we bring them to the band for arrangement and production in studio, we start to see where the album might go. For instance, on this one, without too much influence from each other, we started to see this theme in a lot of the songs that were written by all of us on Egomaniac. We chose "Take It From Me" as the song that best fit into that theme of egomania.

Why do you think you all came up with the theme of egomania individually?
Basically just by existing. All of the material that was written on the road, when you’re on the road and you’re in the entertainment business, you start to see the ego manifest in other people around you, almost everyone around you, on social media. If you have an inkling of self awareness, you start to see that ego manifest in yourself. It’s hard to control. You’ve got to have people around you to tell you that you’re actually a piece of shit occasionally to keep you from becoming a total egomaniac. It all came out in everyone’s songs and it’s really palpable that egomania and everyone around the world. You can just feel it.

Do you think that’s part of being an artist, though? Because you’re writing about your personal experiences? 
I think being an artist—I hate that word, it reminds me of a pretentious guy—you’re definitely egocentric writing about yourself and thinking that the rest of the world is interested in what you have to say, like you’re different form anyone else. But this is even taking it further that every person is an egomania in their everyday life. They are completely self-centered. Not just limiting that scope to politicians or Donald Trump or Kanye West or Clinton or anything like that. Like literally from the top to the bottom, everyone’s an egomaniac.

Are these songs written from personal experiences or is it kind of a persona that you've made?
A lot of the songs are a mix of both. When you recognize that element in yourself, you write from personal experiences because that’s what gives you the idea for it, but it’s also a little bit of commentary on that. A little bit of self-observation, just kind of psychosis. In order to get that across in a song, like our first single, "Take It From Me," the chorus is "Nothing can stop me / Nothing holds me back / Think you can slow me down? / There ain’t no turning back." It’s not necessarily us, saying, we are the greatest thing on earth. It’s this other voice inside you that’s uncontrollable—this ego that’s saying all these things. We can try to get that across in "Take It From Me" with that really deep voice that you hear before the chorus. In the music video, the gorilla sings that.

I love all the artwork too. You do all that yourself! How did you get the idea for the gorilla on the album cover and music video?
I think it was Danny or Johnny who came across a photo of this gorilla, who was just sitting there with his arms folded, almost sitting there up against the way. And you could imagine his leg up on the wall, just looking like, "I’m the shit." It just embodied everything about this new album, the title. It really struck us. Danny edited it and messed with the coloring of it. All the artwork is done by Danny and we’ve got some local artists doing some paintings for us.

You said that, being an egomaniac, you need people to take you down once in a while, do you have people like that in your life?
I have three brothers in a band that constantly do that. I am one of the other three brothers that will take down the other. There’s definite clashing of egos in a band no matter whether you’re brothers or not. I think we display a lot of egomania between the brothers because there’s that inmate competition, but at the same time, we’re able to get over it really quickly. We’re able to squash it before it gets out of hand. We got our parents, who constantly remind us of where we came from. We got our crew, although they’re less likely to call us out on it.