Is Jack Parow the Riff Raff of South Africa: An Interivew with Kongos
Following the 2012 release of Lunatic, the sophomore record from South African-turned-American group Kongos that turned the band into an international, chart-toping, household name in the alternative rock scene, the group has worked consistently to maintain the reputation they now hold of heavy folk-ish rock with the likes of slide guitar and an accordion that can be found on mega tracks like “Come With Me Now” and “I’m Only Joking.” The band of brothers have recently released Egomaniac, a follow-up that proves that they, once again, know how to make a raw, catchy, chart-topping record. While at Float Fest, Free Press Houston had the chance to chat with the band over topics such as the South African scene and the process of naming a record.
FPH: Your recently released album Egomaniac has had mass success and seemed like, to me, a strong follow-up to the 2012 Lunatic. Following such a strong record which charted in the top 10’s for multiple categories, did you guys feel any need to switch up the recording process?
Kongos: Yeah, it was different. We toured a lot more making Egomaniac, so we had a lot more live experience. We started to think how the songs would translate live when we were writing and recording. Also, I think we were able to invest in more gear, we got better. I think that the live show — not only the sound, but also the visuals — had an impact on how we recorded.
FPH: What is some of the new gear you are using on this tour? What about the pedalboard, Daniel? Have you switched it up at all?
Kongos: We got a bunch of new preamps, compressors, microphones — I can list it out, if you want. I upgraded the board, but it is similar. I’m using a [Line 6] Helix as the brain, and just some reverb and delay. I just loop in a couple of pedals. They go through a Super Sonic and a Bassbreaker.
FPH: The first time I saw you guys play, back in 2015, I was very intrigued by the uniqueness of the band. I mean, you guys are a modern rock band playing the accordion and slide guitar. For example, how did the slide become part of Kongos?
Kongos: Actually, I think Dylan was the first one to play slide, he played pedal steel. Then, we started to cover some of it live, and I got into some of it afterwards. After that, Derek Trucks was a big inspiration.
With your dad John Kongos being a successful musician, what would you guys say was the biggest lesson that he has taught you? Did you ever tour with him?
Kongos: Where the middle “C” was on a piano. He taught us to aim back, that was pretty big. Like, don’t get to the finish line yet. We’ve played shows with him, and he has toured with us, but he did sound. So yeah, he’s toured with us. He used to do that a lot.
FPH: Since your move to the United States from South Africa, do you frequent that part of the world?
Kongos: Not that often, but we’re going back soon.
FPH: What do you guys think the South African citizens think of a group like Die Antwoord? I’ve asked a few people from the country and the common response seems to be that the group is somewhat of an embarrassment.
Kongos: They are way bigger outside of South Africa- they’re huge in Europe, Australia, and the States. There is a population that believes Die Antwoord is doing a bit of disservice to South Africa, in terms of image, but it’s tongue-in-cheek. They think that they are representing all of the country, but not really.
FPH: To get a bit deeper into the South African rap scene, would Kongos be bigger fans of Die Antwoord or Jack Parow?
Kongos: We’ve done a couple of shows with Jack Parow! I feel that Die Antwoord translates to the rest of the world, but Parow is so South African.
FPH: Yeah, I dig his cap that extends, like, two feet out.
Kongos: [laughs] Yeah, he sells those! They’re around $25!
FPH: So, in theory, is Jack Parow the RiFF RAFF of South Africa?
Kongos: Yes! I mean, Parow is way bigger, though, and it’s intentional. Riff Raff is intentional, but it is not as widespread.
FPH: The title of your recent record, Egomaniac, seems to fit with the last album, Lunatic. Was that an intentional and conscious decision?
Kongos: We were all writing stuff over the last three or four years, and we started to see a theme of the songs, egomania, I guess, in various facets. Then Danny said the name “Egomaniac,” and we were like “Yes that works!” So then, that really helped us shape which songs made it on to the record. We were initially looking for something that thematically related with the name of the last record. Another mental disorder.