When you’re free, it all begins to flow.
Because it can.
You can do as much as you want, whenever you want, whatever the hell you want.
It’s something the four brothers in U.S.-based pop band Kongos recently discovered, something they’re taking full advantage of — with a new album, a documentary series, a podcast and now, their first full North American tour in three years.
“These last two years we’ve been really, really creative and energized,” says bassist Dylan Kongo, prior to the band heading out on the road, which will bring them to Calgary for a stop at the Commonwealth Wednesday, Jan. 16.
That freedom actually came in the form of their emancipation from their major label deal with Epic after their third album 2016’s Egomaniac.
It was, of course, their second-ish record for the company, with them being signed to their deal thanks to the huge success of the single Come With Me Now from their self-released sophomore effort Lunatic, which Epic re-released when the ink dried.
It’s a journey you can actually follow in the eight-part, 30-minutes-each docuseries Bus Call, which is available on YouTube or at the band’s website, and which shows them, warts and all, touring, making it big, signing that deal, and then the frustrations that followed.
“I remember signing the contract and being really relieved and excited that something was starting to happen with our career because we’d kind of been banging our heads against the wall for so long. And then when that happened it was a pretty pivotal moment,” says Dylan, with an early episode actually showing the moment when they shared the news with their parents (their father, John, was also a recording star in the UK in the ’70s).
“But still, I think, maybe because all of the stories that you’ve heard and all the experiences that other people have had there’s still something that lingers in the back of your mind that says this is not necessarily permanent …
“It just happened to be good for a couple of years. When you’ve got a hit, when you’ve got a hit song, everything and everyone around you is working and excited, and they will do the job because the jobs are easy for them. The world’s listening to a song and everything’s being thrown at you, it’s kind of an easy job to do for everyone involved.
“The difficulty is when you don’t have a hit and you have to actually work a project and find the essence of what a band is trying to do and get the world to see that. I think that’s what we ran into is a typical major label story, which is, ’Oh, there’s no hit right now …’ ”
He continues. “For so long, for 18 months at the end of the relationship with Epic, it was just feeling stifled and not able to do what we wanted to do. You had to think about everything — every piece of music that we wrote or put out it was still tied to this major label, which we were really starting to resent as the documentary portrays.
“When that finally ended it was pent up and really ready to come out.”
Now, it is. And how.
On the purely musical side of things, that will begin with the release of their new album 1929: Part 1 two days after their local performance.
It’s actually the first of a three-part series which they’re hoping to drop over the course of “the next 12 to 18 months,” with Kongos having 30 or so songs in the can, be it ones that didn’t make it on previous releases or new tunes that have come since their newfound freedom.
The first instalment of 1929 finds them at their catchiest, with that same mainstream appeal, but with an energy and an edge that shows they’re not beholden to anything including those past glories or limitations.
Part of that comes from the fact that it was recorded in their new studio in Los Angeles — all of their previous ones were done in their home studio in Phoenix.
“You’d be amazed at how much difference changing rooms makes,” Dylan says noting the physical differences in the new space, high ceilings and wood, as well as even the energy of the location itself.
“We’re in the centre of Hollywood, so there’s chaos around us. So everything changes.”
That energy, the chaos, is something the quartet harnessed not only in the sessions sonically, but also thematically and in the overall mood of this and, presumably, the two other parts that will follow.
While Dylan notes that because all four of the brothers contribute in the songwriting there isn’t one real concept driving things, he also says there will be a couple of tracks on each album that will “anchor” the records thematically, even if they don’t reveal themselves immediately.
A hint, though, can be found in one of the first album’s singles Pay for the Weekend which references the year that the three albums get their name from — a pivotal one for many reasons, most notably for the Wall Street Crash that led, in part, to the Great Depression.
“The world feels a little bit chaotic right now,” he says. “A lot of times it feels enormously chaotic and on the verge of some major bubble — whether it’s financial, political, emotional. Individually people are living in their own bubbles being completely attached to social media, being completely attached to external things as opposed to any type of internal lives.
“I don’t think it’s unique that we’re feeling that or that I’m feeling that and it’s coming out in our music. I feel like a lot of the bands that we’ve toured with and I see their new albums coming out there’s a similar theme … especially in the last couple of years.”
Again, Part 1 and the tour to support it are the most immediate concerns, with the second and third entries to follow throughout this year and the next.
When pressed for a more concrete timetable, Dylan defers, instead wielding that newfound freedom he and his siblings are now enjoying.
“It’s hard to say. We’re not held to obligations by some label and with due dates so we might just change our mind at any moment,” he says and laughs, “and just say we’ll put those albums both at once or put out four EPs, but right now it looks like somewhere in the middle, like, late summer for the second album, and the end of the year for the third one.”
In other words: As much as they want, whenever they want, whatever the hell they want.
Deal with it.
(Photo courtesy Jeff Olsen.)
Kongos perform Wednesday, Jan. 16 at the Commonwealth Bar and Stage. For tickets go to livenation.com.