Rolling Stone South Africa – Q&A: KONGOS on playing stadiums Dec 12th, 2012

POSTED: FRIDAY, 30 NOVEMBER 2012 11:50 | By STUART BUCHANAN – Read article on the Rolling Stone website

“These are the biggest concerts we’ve ever played – 50 000 people in Cape Town, 64 000 in Joburg”

It’s the day before Linkin Park play their very first show in South Africa. Kongos, the supporting act for tomorrow’s gig, have just finished their sound-check at the Cape Town Stadium. A year ago, nobody had heard of them. Since then, Kongos have had five singles in the local Top40 chart and played to sold out audiences in every major South African city, not to mention headlining several music festivals. The culmination of their hard work and determination to find an audience here has resulted in this: opening for one of the biggest bands on the planet, and playing to the largest crowds they’ve ever seen. South Africa has certainly embraced Kongos with open arms, and their success here is spelling success for them back home too.Rolling Stone caught up with Dylan, Danny, Jesse and Johnny Kongos to ask them how it all started.

Briefly describe how Kongosmania hit South Africa.

Jesse: In 2011 we started sending singles out into the world, and figured “why not South Africa?” We have roots here and it would be cool to be get a song on the radio. 5FM picked up “I’m Only Joking” first and because social networking had become really big, we immediately had a sense of how good the response was. And then when TuksFM picked it up shortly after, that Pretoria madness started to happen! The proof was when we went to play there – it was our first time in Pretoria and it was our biggest headlining show. They had to keep moving the show to a larger venue and we ended up playing in front of something like 3000 people. This was after only hearing two singles…our album wasn’t even out yet.

Honestly, did you have any idea how last year’s tour was going to turn out? Did anyone in the Kongos camp expect the massive response you got?

Dylan: No! We put tickets for our very first show up on Ticketbreak for online sales, and we really thought we’d maybe draw a couple hundred people. Earlybird tickets sold out after 36hrs! After that, we kept playing bigger and bigger venues: from Up The Creek, which was 2500 people to playing Joburg Day, which was 25000 people. And now we’re getting onto these [stadium] stages where you have to learn to use such a massive space as opposed to trying not to knock your brother in the head with your guitar on a tiny stage.

Danny: He still manages to do that even on the big stages!

Did anything change when you got back to the States?

Dylan: We got some really good press from the South African success, and there was a bit more of a story to us than when we were just a regular, local band. Local radio station KWSS and our Facebook community really pushed stories of our success here, and so people who never knew of us in Phoenix suddenly heard about a local band playing to thousands overseas, and came to check us out. We did a three-week tour of the states and played 20 shows in 20 different cities, and at every show there were some South Africans who came to see us too!

You’ve been back and forth five times in the last year. You must be used to the long-haul flights between the US and Joburg by now.

Jesse: We’ve watched every movie that there is! If I watch The Avengers one more time…

Johnny: Let me put it this way, it got so bad I watched that Snow White movie.

Is it like living a double life? Many ex-pats have a duel identity. Is that something you feel? Is it weird?

Johnny: When we come here, we’re Kongos, the guys from the radio. It’s cooler than being nobodies in America! We don’t have a duel life, but there is a different lifestyle here, which we enjoy.

Jesse: There’s a warmth here that’s hard to find in America. People there tend to have a hard exterior, or are a bit guarded. In South Africa there’s this cool openness, even with regards to things like race. Although America went through its civil rights protests in the sixties, it’s still an awkward topic. In South Africa, even though problems are more recent, and in some ways more deep, there’s a willingness to talk without feeling like you are stepping on eggshells.

And what do you think of South African politics?

Johnny: The corruption here is very blatant and infantile compared to the corruption in America. Here, corruption means some guy gave a bunch of money behind a closed door to this guy, and its obvious. In America, it’s happening on such a profoundly deep level that it’s genius. In a bad way.

To the matter at hand. How big is tomorrow night’s performance in the grander scheme of the Kongos band biography?

Jesse: It’s pretty big. A milestone. Just to even set foot in that stadium and look around, I have a hard time grasping reality…

Johnny: Put a full stop there!

Jesse: … even basic physical perspective. It’s hard to judge how far away those seats are until you walk over there, and by then you’ve lost your breath. It’s unfathomable. It’s an amazing opportunity to play in a place like that when we haven’t personally had to sell the tickets. It’s a big deal, and being able to put it on our resume means people around the world are going to take us more seriously. Everyone knows who Linkin Park is, even if you don’t like the music, and they are one of the few bands around that are still able to sell out a stadium.

Dylan: We’ve said for a long time that the song “Kids These Days” would make an excellent stadium song, so we’re looking forward to playing that! These are the biggest concerts we’ve ever played – 50 000 people in Cape Town, 64 000 in Joburg. After the first 5-10 000 people its hard to fathom the others or even see them properly!

Danny: It’s mind-blowing how the entertainment industry can even justify this! The amount of staff and logistics and expertise and everything else involved in a stadium show is just insane.

How do South African bands feel about your success? It’s a small industry and most slog at it for years without getting any radio play. What’s your reception been? Are you treated as outsiders, or a quasi-local band?

Johnny: Most of the bands we’ve met have been supportive, helpful, and friendly, and hanging out with lots of them has been hugely positive.

What is the most valuable advice your father [John Kongos] gave you from his hard-rocking days in the 70s?

Johnny: It’s the same thing his manager told him when he was starting to really get things going: “Don’t start believing your own publicity.”

Jesse: … and don’t get anybody pregnant.

Which dead musicians instrument would you most like to own as memorabilia?

Danny: Benjamin Franklin’s Glass Harmonica.

Jesse: Tony Williams’ cymbals.

Johnny: Dead musician? Ok, kill Jeff Beck and then give me his guitar.

Dylan: Vladimir Horowitz’s piano (so I can sell it for a shitload of money!).

How do you feel about the following things: a Kongos KFC bucket?

Dylan: Definitely. Fucking. Not.

‘I’m Only Joking’ featured on Guitar Hero?

Jesse: Pretty cool, I’ll take it.

A Kongos fan getting a tattoo of your face on their face?

Dylan: That’d be awesome. Go for it! As long as they know there’s no refunds.

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