A SELF-PROCLAIMED college band reformed to a heyday later in life that far exceeds their 90s peak, King Kong Company are fast becoming Ireland’s go-to festival act, and with good reason.
The Waterford-based act are a high-energy, upbeat dance six-piece with plenty of stage moves.
One member performs in a cardboard box with crudely cut eyeholes, while recent outings include a trip to iconic UK festival Glastonbury, a tea party at Michael D Higgins’s house, and even the launch of their own unlikely beer infused with Buckfast, with King Kong Company plastered across the front.
Colin Hoye, the group’s trumpeter, is the one member currently based in Dublin, and met The Gazette to describe what’s been a strange journey and a wildly busy summer to date.
Amazingly, their self-titled debut of 2016 is the band’s only formal release to date, despite performing together from 1996 to 2000, and then from 2011 to today.
“The technology wasn’t really there to do what we wanted to do back then,” Hoye recalls. “We had this massive eight track and you couldn’t even get the drums alone onto it. We have so many channels now. We had a manual drum machine that we started and stopped for every track back then. We did the best we could, but trying to actually make an album would have been too hard, or too expensive at the time.
“Second time around [following the band’s reformation in 2011], I think we were looking for a mid-life crisis and found one. We had no misconceptions about what we were going to get out of it this time, but we’re surprised at how well it’s gone for us.
“When we decided to get back together, we used the power of social media to help us along the way. We decided to do 12 tracks in 12 months, and our friend John Loftus basically said that he’d do the videos for us.
“Those videos sparked a lot of the characters we have now, and those characters came into the live shows. It’s almost more of a product at this stage.”
When it came to the album, Hoye recalls the live set-up being very much a key factor.
“We had to do everything we could to bring the live sound into the album,” he explained. “It would have been very easy to just do it very electronically, but you want to move the music around to have that live effect to it.
“We are very much a live band, and we wanted to show people what we sound like live with the album. In a way we were kind of dreading the album as we knew it would be so much work. We used to be more like acid jazz, so it’s a bit of a change of direction from what we sounded like in the late 90s, but nobody sounds like that anymore.”
Whether the album or an incredibly notorious live show are the defining factor, there’s little doubt that King Kong Company are on an all time high this year. Last month, their striking imagery appeared on the front of a new brand of beer from Wexford craft beer company, Yellowbelly, entitled ‘Commotion Lotion’, and infused with Buckfast. The launch came within days of their Glastonbury appearance, a lively slot at Body and Soul and a toned-down show at Aras An Uachtarain.
“We did a gig down in Cork, at the Irish Beer Festival last year,” Hoye recalls. “It was a really good festival with a lot of craft brewers at it. They approached us then about it, and we made the beer. Yellowbelly did all the imagery and everything. It’s very surreal to have your own beer, really odd.”
Then came the recent trip to the Phoenix Park. “We had to censor [hit track] Donkey Jaw a bit,” Hoye says of the performance at the President’s house. “We were thinking of doing the full version at the garden party, but there were a lot of young kids there. It was censored enough to not offend. It was the strangest gig ever. We were very nervous about it at first, and I think the organisers were a bit nervous about it, too, wondering what we were going to do!
“But our frontman, Mikey Graham, got on the mic at the start and said: ‘Listen, we usually play in muddy fields at festivals, so what we’re going to do is ask all the children if they want to come up to the front of the stage and dance’. So they did, and they all started dancing and it was great; we won everyone over within five seconds. It was a great honour to do it.”
And the future? Hoye admits that a new album isn’t really on the horizon, but adds “we’re always in some shape or form working on new music”.
He added: “A lot of the stuff that made this album we played live for a long time before we recorded. I think that’s just the way it’s going. We make music to play live, not to make an album, so it’s good to road test.”
Few bands ‘test’ with quite such a sense of fun.