Storytellers with a Mission: Kongos invites fans to come with them on a new journey

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Calling from Kongos’ Los Angeles studio, bassist Dylan Kongos is predicting fans will like the new record 1929: Part 1.

After all, he says, the alternative rock band heard glowing reviews before it was released in mid-January.

“We’ve had a great initial reaction from fans and people on our team, and from venues and promoters,” says Kongos, who adds there will be two more parts. “I got a good vibe from the initial visceral reaction from people.”

Kongos — accordionist/keyboardist Johnny, drummer Jesse and guitarist Daniel — grew up in London and South Africa, before settling in their mother’s hometown of Paradise Valley. Their father is recording artist John Kongos.

Kongos formed in 2003 and released its self-titled debut album in 2007. Formerly signed to Epic Records, the act writes, produces, engineers and mixes their own music.

In 2011, Kongos make its mark on the music industry with the single “Come with Me Now,” which sold more than 2 million copies. Kongos spent the next two years on a worldwide tour.

In the last year, the band relocated from the Valley to Los Angeles to make that easier. They built their own studio, with Kongos’ front-of-house engineer shaping the room that gave the band the ability to experiment on the new album.

“On the last record cycle, we were touring so much,” he says. “We found a studio space in Los Angeles to rehearse out of between tours. In the last year, we felt like we settled in the studio here. It feels like we live here now.”

Kongos is returning home on Saturday, February 16, to showcase 1929: Part 1 at Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix.

“It’s great to have a hometown show,” Kongos says. “We spent 20 years in Phoenix, honing our chaps at so many local shows like Last Exit Live and Valley Bar.”

The last time Kongos played Phoenix, he says, was October 2016. Things will be different at this show.

“We have a bunch of new material, obviously,” he says. “We always try to change it up in terms of production, whether it’s a small theater or larger club room. It’s dancey. It’s high energy. It’ll be in the middle of winter so we’re getting people heated up.”

Besides the new album, Kongos worked on a 10-part documentary series called Bus Call, which follows their story and gives a compelling look at life on tour. The project began as a way of recapping tours to have short-form content for Instagram or YouTube. It snowballed.

“We thought we could do a travel documentary, showing all the cities we play, eating the food, seeing cultures,” he says. “It wouldn’t be as good as Anthony Bourdain, but no one’s really done that to the extent we were trying to do. We kept the cameras rolling through arguments, the ups and downs and the difficulties.

“We’re capturing a really good sense of what it’s like to be on the road. We were miked up every tour we did for almost two years. As hard as that was, getting into the editing room with 100 terabytes of footage is an enormous task. We had to score the incidental music for it, too. This is about a mid-sized band struggling to breakthrough, paying things out of pocket and grinding it out for a couple years. It’s the unglamorous side without depressing people.”

Kongos says he gets emotional sometimes watching the footage.

“To see South America and South Africa, we get sad that we’re not out on the road yet,” he explains. “It’s hard to watch the arguments. The ones we captured, we had to sit through and decide what we were going to leave in the documentary and take out.”

The brothers also host a weekly podcast, “The Front Lounge,” where they discuss music, ideas and more with guests that include other musicians, artists, touring professionals and entrepreneurs.

Part of the tumultuous year has been getting out of its deal with Epic. Kongos says the band tried to get out of the deal and were able to secure that in 2018. Now they’re on their own label. The documentary captures the relationship with the label.

“We show the struggles with the label. We argued with them constantly,” he says. “It was a relatively difficult time. It was emotionally draining to watch that again.”

Ultimately, Kongos has its masters, and controls each part of its career.

“For new singles, we self-release them on our schedule,” Kongos says. “We decide on a date, get a little closer, and sometimes push it up a week or back a week. That’s the freedom you have. We’re deciding which songs we want to put out. It’s important for us to give the right impression.”

What is that impression?

“I think it’s similar to the last time around,” Kongos adds. “We want people to get the sense of the wide variety of songwriting and sounds.

“We were pigeonholed into being that band with that one sound. We created a career for us and a touring base that put us on the map. We could go around the world playing our music. This album is a little more experimental.”

Kongos w/ Fitness, Crescent Ballroom, 308 N. Second Avenue, Phoenix, 602.716.2222, crescentphx.com, 8 p.m. Saturday, February 16, $22-$199.

Words by Christina Fuoco-Karasinski.

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