by Matt Hensch
The Dutch progressive metal band Kong turned plenty of heads after their 1988 formation with their unorthodox style and bizarre live shows. Mixing stomach-churning technicality with electronic sampling and complex rhythms, the band let their music speak for them, rarely utilizing vocals in their sonic identity. As the band went on hiatus in early 2000, many thought this envelope-pushing act would never play again. As 2007 dawned, however, the band reunited and returned this year with its first album in a decade. Matt Hensch sat down with bassist Mark Drillich and talked past, present, and future of this thinking man's band.
Matt Hensch of Thrashpit.com: Why did you decide to resurrect Kong after seven years?
Mark Drillich: Since KONG stopped in 2000 I have 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 seven years (the seven year itch?) the need and desire to play with a band again became stronger and I decided to try and find people to start something with.
I first checked with Dirk DeVries with whom I played in Kong from the beginning (and even years before that in another band) but it soon became clear that he was not into starting a new band or starting up Kong again.
The other old Kong members were no option for several reasons so I started looking for new people which I found after several auditions.
I never thought or think about musical styles but I knew beforehand that the musical direction (or rather musical approach or attitude) would not be too far from what we did with Kong. When playing in a band this is 'my kind of music', I cannot play anything else. And I do not want to either.
When we started out it was open whether it would be called "Kong" again or not. But as soon as the music started to get shape other people said that it fit the "Kong style" and we decided to go on using the old name and concept.
I never felt that the concept of Kong (meaning both the musical style and the way of performing live) had worn out. On the contrary, with the right people and right songs I thought it could become very much alive again.
Thrashpit.com: What makes What it Seems Is What You Get stand out from the other Kong releases in your mind?
Mark: For me it was a huge experiment to be the creator of the whole project, I really did not know if I would be able to pull it off without the other old Kong members and especially without Dirk. So the fact that I managed to (together with the new guys and girl of course) come up with something listenable and, according to what others say and write about it, can live up to the old albums is what makes it stand out for me. But of course what counts in the end is whether it is, in the long run, a good and interesting album, something which I really cannot judge yet.
Thrashpit.com: Was it difficult for you to get back in the crazy song-writing atmosphere of Kong after so many years?
Mark: No, it took some time to find my own way of working but then ideas which, unconsciously, must have piled up for years, came out and took shape very quickly. The good thing about the "Kong songwriting process" is that basically anything is possible. So when starting with a new song it is just a lot of fun to cram lots of elements and fragments and ideas together. It does become a lot less fun when it is time to structure things and build a proper song out of the mess.
Thrashpit.com: The present-day lineup of Kong features David Kox (guitar), Mandy Hopman (drums), and Tijs Keverkamp along with you, creating the band that recently produced the latest Kong opus. In what ways did your new bandmates contribute to What It Seems Is What You Get?
Mark: The contribution of the new bandmates to the album was determined the moment they joined the band. Tijs joined in more or less at the same time I started working on new songs so he contributed from the beginning. After half a year Mandy joined us and started to work on the drum parts. Tijs and I programmed and when some time later David stepped in he started to collaborate as well. Most of the initial ideas for the songs came from me (some from Tijs as well) but all new members contributed in one way or another.
It was my intention from the beginning that they would be interested in and able to work on the new material together with me. It was also one of the main criteria when auditioning and selecting them.
In the "old days" I think it was one of our strong elements that almost all the songs were created by the four of us, with everyone contributing different elements from a different angle and with a different goal in mind. This helped to keep surprising ourselves and each other and to create unpredictable music which always ends up somewhere else then each of us expected. This was something that I wanted to achieve again with the new Kong.
Thrashpit.com: What It Seems Is What You Get was released on Kongenial Records. Is it safe say this will be Kong's new home?
Mark: If there would a record company interested in signing a non-commercial, underground band like us it probably would not be very beneficial for us. Understandably they do not have a lot of money to invest and it would always be the question if anything would happen at all. So instead of looking for and waiting for a record company we made sure that we arranged distribution in most of Western Europe and released the album ourselves. Up until now this has worked out ok. We have to do almost all the promotion ourselves but with the internet (which was not developed that much in the "old days") it is possible to reach both the press and the audience. So, yes, I guess we will stick to our own Kongenial Records label.
Thrashpit.com: Did the treatment of Roadrunner or Peaceville your band received play a part in the formation of Kongenial Records?
Mark: No, not really. Peaceville has been a good label for us. In the beginning it was a bit weird because it was a typical death metal label so people expected us to be something in that direction. But later they signed more different stuff and did a good job. They were a reliable, small label with people who were in it for the music and not for the money. That changed when they were taken over by Music For Nations with whom we broke up as soon as we could.
Roadrunner was also not too bad. But I must admit that as soon as the A&R guy who signed us left, they completely lost interest. But that more or less coincided with our break in 2000 so it did not really matter.
In general I think record labels are ok for us as long as they are small, really like the music they release and have a commitment to the bands they sign.
Thrashpit.com: Of course, Kong has recently started touring again. How have the shows been so far?
Mark: They have been good and fun. We did about eight shows up until now and I was amazed how quickly the new guys and girl adapted to our way of playing (with four stages and quadraphonic P.A. systems). The new material seems to blend in well with the old songs we are playing and actually there was no difference in audience reactions between then and now.
Thrashpit.com: Do you think the new album will eventually hit non-European stores worldwide, or perhaps a tour into non-European territory?
Mark: We recently found a distributor in the U.S. (The End Records/Omega Order) but for the rest of the world it will probably be difficult. We keep on contacting labels and distributors. A tour is not very likely, I think. Of course it would be cool to tour in the U.S. but the costs are so high and the revenues so limited that it will be really hard to realize.
For us that would not even have to be a reason not to do it, but it makes it very hard to find an agent who is willing to make an effort.
Thrashpit.com: Have you been in contact with the previous Kong members since reforming the band? Why didn't they want to partake in a Kong reunion?
Mark: Yes, they all knew that I was going to start up the band again and nobody had any objections.
As of the last line-up Marieke Verdonk (guitarist) completely stopped playing and our drummer Klaas Broekema is living in Spain so he is not available. Dirk thought about it for a while but just was not motivated enough.
Marieke and Dirk already have been to a show recently which was of course very weird for them, suddenly being in the audience instead of upon the stage. They told me they enjoyed themselves.
Thrashpit.com: Does this resurrected version of Kong perhaps take influence from any new musical artists?
Mark: Sure, but I would not be able to name many. Probably everything I have listened to the last years has its reflections somehow in our music. Tijs, David and Mandy have their specific influences as well.
Thrashpit.com: There seems to be a huge movement of technical/progressive instrumental bands in the metal underground today. Is it strange to think that what Kong started back in 1988 it would transpire into solid form over two decades later?
Mark: Well, I will not pretend that we started it, but it surely is a remarkable development over the last few years.
Of course it is something that has been more common in other musical directions (fusion-rock and of course a lot of techno/dance/ambient music) It has now become "normal" to play instrumental music in some rock music. I am glad that there are more and more bands who realize that it gives you a lot of freedom and possibilities not having vocal or lyrics! In my opinion, without lyrics music is just what it should be about: sound, melody, rhythm and atmosphere. It is not about some silly story that most of the time nobody can even understand.
Thrashpit.com: What does Kong have in store within the near future?
Mark: For me this new album and new line-up feels very much like the start of a new band. So I think there is a lot of musical potential which we still have to explore which means doing more gigs to find the ultimate live set and sound. We just made a deal with an agency which will start working on a European tour so hopefully we will be able to start touring again soon.
Most of all I am looking forward to start working on new songs again. I am very happy with this new album but I think there is still a lot more for us to discover and develop.
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