Since reforming in 2007, Dutch progressive instrumentalists Kong have released two albums “What It Seems Is What You Get” and their latest opus “Merchants Of Air.” ThisIsIsNotAScene‘s Ian Girle caught up with the sole surviving original Kong member Mark D for a quick chat.
The current line-up has really found its feet with this album. “What It Seems Is What You Get” was a good album, but “Merchants Of Air” takes it to the next level again. Why the long gap between the two albums?
For us it didn’t really feel like a long gap. That is; after finishing “What It Seems…” and having done some touring, we pretty soon started working on new stuff. This was a slow but continuous process which lasted from the beginning of 2010 until the beginning of 2011.
We have our own studio/rehearsal place where we can work whenever we want so there is no need or pressure to work quickly. Which is good but probably also a bit too luxurious, giving us the opportunity to keep concentrating on details and changing and polishing forever.
In March 2011 we started recording, aiming on finishing and releasing the album in September 2011. Unfortunately, Mandy, our drummer, had a sailing accident in May which resulted in a serious concussion, making it impossible to drum for her until the end of the year. So everything was postponed and we picked it up beginning of this year. Then Dirk, our sound engineer, suddenly got a new job which gave him much less time to work on the album. So finally it became June before the album was finished.
And apart from all this I have to add that we, or at least I, after all these years, don’t have any clue how to write a song. I have to sit and start experimenting, wait and see if something happens. Which makes it a fascinating but sometimes a pretty slow process.
What made you decide to pick up the Kong baton again in 2007? Was it a case of “unfinished business” or did you simply feel that you had – musically speaking – more to say?
Both! Since Kong stopped in 2000 I’ve been doing several other things music-wise. Most of it was almost purely electronic for film/documentaries and dance performances. I did (and do) enjoy it and found it very interesting after having played in a band for so long. But after about 7 years (7 year itch?) the need and desire to play with a band again became stronger and I decided to give it a try. It soon became clear that none of the former Kong members were available and/or interested so I had to find new people.
I never thought or think about musical styles but I knew beforehand that the musical direction wouldn’t be too far from what we did with Kong. When playing in a band this is ‘my kind of music’, I can’t and don’t want to play anything else.
When we started out though, it was open whether it would be called ‘Kong’ again or not. But as soon as the music started to get shape and also other people said that it fitted very much in the ‘Kong style’ we decided to go on using the old name and concept.
Also, because I never felt that the concept of Kong (meaning both the musical style and the way of live performing) had worn out. On the contrary, with the right people and right songs I thought it could become very much alive again.
There are so many elements and influences on display in your music. How would you categorise yourselves?
As a mix of those elements and influences, something like “industrial-prog-ambient-dance-metal”. This combination of elements or styles has always been a natural and essential starting point for our music. I have found it always strange that musicians limit themselves to a certain specific style. Of course ‘commercially’ it’s a wise thing to do but I find one of the unique and great things of making (underground/non-commercial) music that you’re not bound to any rule or convention, nobody tells you what to do, anything is possible as long as it feels right for the people who are making it. And hopefully for some who listen to it as well.
Which bands have influenced you over the years, and who are you listening to right now?
That’s a wide variety. To name just a few: Talking Heads, King Crimson, The Swans, Underworld, Beastie Boys, Ministry, Porcupine Tree, Killing Joke, Arnold Schönberg, The Chameleons, Helmet, Alice In Chains, (old) Pink Floyd, Doors, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Soulfly, The Young Gods, Wire, Leftfield, Massive Attack…
I try to keep listening to ‘old’ and new music equally, so this is basically what I still listen to (and of course a many more).
My latest ‘discoveries’: Pitch Black (dub-dance from New Zealand), Karel Goeyvaerts (belgium composer), Russian Circles (instrumental post rock)
How do you feel the band has developed over the years and what – apart from the line-up – has changed along the way?
We always worked without any plan or goal in mind. So there has never been any deliberate change of style or development. But of course, and luckily so, the music has changed over the years. Roughly you could say that the first few years we were mainly experimenting and finding out what we could do with the combination of the 4 of us, with our idea’s, our instruments, musical capabilities (or the lack of) etc. (albums Mute Poet Vocalizer, Phlegm).
Then there was a period in which we sort of ‘found our way’ but also introduced dance and more electronic elements in the music (Push Comes To Shove, Earmined). This culminated in the album Freakcontrol which was the least guitar/rock oriented and most electronic. And looked back upon the least typical Kong album.
Then there was after a long break What It Seems Is What You Get, which was again more experimental (also because of the almost totally new line-up) and going somewhat ‘back to the roots’. I think/hope that with Merchants Of Air we again found a way to incorporate metal/rock and dance/electronic elements in a sort of even mix.
Is writing for Kong a collaborative process or do you have a main songwriter?
This is something that definitely changed along the way. Kong used to be a very democratic collective, we wrote songs always the 4 of us, jamming together until a beginning of a song somehow emerged.
Freakcontrol (1999) was written entirely by former guitarist Dirk de Vries and myself. This was because we didn’t have a drummer at the time and the other guitarist didn’t feel like participating in the process.
Since we started again in 2007 we have been working solo or in duo’s. It started like this because when I restarted the band I first only worked with guitarist Tijs, about half a year later drummer Mandy joined in again sometime later guitarist David. And to my surprise it works very well like this, it proved to be possible even with 3 new people to make music that (as far as I can judge it) blends into the old Kong stuff pretty well.
Technical developments also play a role in this way of working; all of us have a computer at home on which we can record and program simple stuff, share it over the internet, work on each others idea’s, send it back and so on. And apart from this we regularly meet in our studio in different combinations to work on the songs together.
What made you decide to include vocals on “Back To The Trees”?
Basically, just the desire to experiment with something we hadn’t done before. I asked a friend of mine (Michael Jahoda, a dancer who uses spoken word in his performances a lot) to ‘do something’ on a simple drum/bass loop. When we made a song out of it, the vocal part was just one of the ingredients, which we felt, fell into place with the other instruments. This gave us the idea to ask another friend (singer Björn Warning) to try some ‘real singing’. Which ended up in the end of the song. He actually sang on a few other songs which are not on the album but might be on a future release.
Do you have any plans to tour this album?
No specific plans. We’d like to but, apart from a few clubs in which we play quite often, it seems to be very hard, if not impossible, to find gigs… In the Netherlands, as well as abroad.
What’s next for Kong?
I’m looking forward to start working on new songs! Maybe also continuing with the ‘vocal-experiment’, although we probably will regard that as a side project. It’s funny that after so many years and albums it feels like there’s still a lot to explore.