“It’s great to see all the pieces of the puzzle coming together. Everybody’s happy and in a good place right now.” That’s Jesse Kongos, drummer and spokesperson for the band of brothers whose rockin’, stompin’, accordion-fueled wonder, “Come With Me Now,” not only knocked Lorde’s mighty “Royals” from atop the Alternative Radio Airplay chart, but has made history as the fastest ascent to the peak of that chart by a new band. However, it was a little over one year ago, in early 2013, that the Arizona-based Kongos brothers (Dylan - guitar; Daniel - bass; Jesse - drums, Johnny - accordion) were laboring like so many other unsigned bands––playing local gigs, recording tunes and sending them to anyone who might listen.
Today, with the unique, ubiquitous “Come With Me Now” rocking a sports arena near you, and as the band gears up for festivals like Firefly, Sasquatch, Lollapalooza and a high-profile tour with fellow sibling enterprise Kings of Leon, the band is, as Jesse put it, seeing “all the puzzle pieces coming together” in a big way. In the following interview, Music Connection dissects that puzzle to understand how this distinctive band broke through.
By Mark Nardone
Music Connection: We’ve been following Kongos’ rise for quite some time. We recently did a Signing Story on you guys, and over a year ago, back before you were signed, we reviewed your demo, which scored high and made it into our year-end Top 25 New Music Critiques of 2013.
Jesse Kongos: Yes, I remember. Good for us!
MC: You guys have an unusual story, in that you came from about halfway around the world to America to make it. Yet you settle in a city, Phoenix, where your mom now lives, which is not known for a music scene that’s going to catapult anyone to stardom.
Jesse: Yeah, in Phoenix there’s not really a lot going on scene-wise. So the good thing about it was we played a lot of gigs and got our act together there. We started making singles for our next album. And we started to send them out to radio stations. A DJ from a local Phoenix station––not a very powerful station––started playing “I’m Only Joking” and really got behind it and all of a sudden we went from playing to 40 people to playing to 400-500. We saw the power of radio.
MC: Which is why you sent your music to radio stations in South Africa.
Jesse: Yes, kind of simultaneously back in South Africa a DJ there picked the same song and started playing it. This was a national Top 40 station. So overnight we had an influx of fan response from there, and that pushed us to go ahead and finish our album. Once we did that we ended up playing some big shows in South Africa.
MC: That had to have been strange for you guys, to suddenly be popular half a world away.
Jesse: I think cracking a market like South Africa gave us the confidence that this thing could work, that our music could work in a commercial way. And it gave us all kinds of footage and stats that you need to show people that you’ve got a viable project.
MC: Looking at your new success here in the U.S., if you can trace it back to a key moment, a new music connection that you made, what would it be?
Jesse: In August 2013 we were playing a big South African festival, called Oppikoppi, and there was bit of a cock-up on stage where the stagehands thought we were Seether, and so there was a 45 minute delay as they had to reset the stage, and that caused Seether’s booking agent to come see what was going on and so he saw our set from the side of the stage. He really, really liked the music, and we signed with him the next day. He opened up a lot of doors for us, introduced us to our management in L.A. He got a bunch of people to come to our American showcases. It all took a year, but we were able to get in front of people.
MC: Your manager is Marc Pollack from The MGMT Company. How did you decide to go with him and that firm as your manager?
Jesse: What impressed us was the nature of the company. It has a structure and they all work together in a relatively small office, like a family, like a team. And they have people who are experts in radio, other people who are experts in online and all that. And also just Marc, we clicked with him philosophically and that made the decision relatively easy. [Pollack discusses Kongos at http://www.musicconnection.com/Pollack-discusses-kongos]