Jack Kong wears many hats from his work with The Prize, Beans, and Gonzo, but now the Naarm/Melbourne multi-instrumentalist is stepping out on his own with the solo moniker KONG, an eccentric dive into instrumental dub reggae with an exclusive Aussie twist. Today we're premiering the VHS-styled video for the project's debut single "Upfield Lovers," the first cut off his upcoming debut LP The Yellow King's Revenge, out October 6th on Holiday Maker Records. To celebrate the release, we also caught up with Kong to discuss the inspirations behind the new project, falling down the rabbit hole of sound system culture, and how the new album pays homage to the history of the Moonee Ponds Creek area.
Best known for his work with The Prize, Beans, and Gonzo, Naarm/Melbourne multi-instrumentalist Jack Kong is introducing listeners to his light-hearted and eccentric take on instrumental dub reggae with his new solo project KONG. Kong grew an appreciation for the genre during the 2021 lockdowns after tracing back what The Clash were influenced by when recording albums like Sandinista! and Combat Rock.
Today we have the pleasure premiering the VHS-styled music video for the project's debut single "Upfield Lovers," the first cut off his upcoming debut LP The Yellow King's Revenge, out October 6th on Holiday Maker Records. The sprawling new single finds Kong reincarnating the magic of dub reggae pioneers like Lee "Scratch" Perry and King Tubby with its splashes of booming bass and crate-digging beats. The entire debut LP is an immersive, instrumental journey that traces the forgotten landscape of the West Melbourne Swamp, incorporating real and fictional places on tracks like "Dudley Flats Rockers," "Blue Lake," "Return of The Yellow King," etc. "It felt natural to use the creek and its stories as the backdrop for the dub reggae inspired music I'd been recording," Kong said in a press release.
To dive further, we caught up with Kong to discuss the inspirations behind the new project, falling down the rabbit hole of sound system culture, and how the new album pays homage to the history of the Moonee Ponds Creek area.
Paperface Zine: Take me through the origins of your new solo venture KONG. I heard you immersed yourself into the world of eccentric instrumental reggae dub during the 2021 lockdowns.
Jack Kong: Yes, it was my eccentric dub reggae lockdown moment and I'm still dealing with the ramifications. I'm a mega fan of The Clash so I kind of just traced back some of their references and that was my gateway. (See: "Rudie Can't Fail," "Guns of Brixton," "Bank Robber," "Ghetto Defendant"). Plus there's a handful of killer radio shows here in Naarm/Melbourne that specialize in all things reggae. I also heard that dogs love reggae because they find the vibrations relaxing.
PZ: What do you admire most about the genre and do you have any favorites?
JK: Initially I was interested in the Ska music era, Trojan Records, and rude boys. Seemed like such a turbo contrast to have such playful music associated with hooligans and violence.
I bought a record called Born To Dub You by Augustus Pablo which I later found out was compiled of instrumental off-cuts from the seminal Screaming Target by Big Youth. Eventually this led me to the origins of sound system culture, the labels, the producers and their session bands; King Tubby, Bunny Lee, Lee Scratch Perry, The Aggrovators, The Soul Syndicate, The Upsetters, etc. I also liked the idea that reggae had standards like jazz or garage rock, tunes that everyone knew and kept recycling.
PZ: Talk about the project's debut single "Upfield Lovers." How did this track come together when recording and what was the vision behind it?
JK: All of the tracks from the forthcoming record came together initially as chord progressions. I'd start with a basic AB format and build it up from there, usually moving to the drums and bass after making up a chord progression. I remember mucking around with different types of reggae grooves which is how I ended up with the drum beat on Upfield Lovers. The train line closest to my house is called the Upfield line and I thought that the song could've sounded like the theme for lovers who lived upfield from one another. It could be romantic maybe.
PZ: We premiering the single's brand new VHS music video today. Take me behind the scenes of how this visual came together and what it was like making it and walking around Naarm/Melbourne with a boombox?
JK: My buddy Willem Kingma and his partner Kelli Blackmore helped me out with the shoot. We'd agreed to keep the location specific to my local area as this was such an important influence over lockdown meanderings and my dub reggae moment. It's a really aesthetically spectacular area in my opinion. It's a very recognizable part of Naarm/Melbourne but not a lot of people would be familiar with it from the street level. The boombox was a last minute prop idea which gave us something to work off on the day. I like the boombox. It's like I'm trying to broadcast my sound from its home out into the world.
PZ: This is also the lead cut to your upcoming debut LP The Yellow King's Revenge. How exactly did this album come together and what were the recording sessions like?
JK: Similar to "Upfield Lovers," all of the tracks from The YKR started as chord progression phone demos and grew from there. It took a couple months to build everything up and I learnt a lot along the way as this was my first real foray into home recording. Fortunately my best buddy and housemate had some amazing equipment set up at our house which he was kind enough to let me use to record with. Apart from that everything you can hear on the record was played by myself so in saying that the sessions were a bit lonely but a lot of fun for me. Self-indulgent some might say. In the future I'd definitely love to get other people involved. So blessed that Andy and Sean from Holiday Maker Records have jumped behind the project and helped me get the biscuits out of the oven and into the world. They've got a lot of very cool shit happening.
PZ: The record traces the forgotten landscape of the West Melbourne Swamp, incorporating real and fictional places into song titles like "Dudley Flats Rockers" and "Blue Lake." I read that you said it felt natural to use it as the album's backdrop. What attracted you to do this and would you say this record should sound like a musical journey through the wetland and understanding Aboriginal history?
JK: Jordan, my partner, and I came up with the song titles after one particularly eventful walk along the Moonee Ponds Creek. If anything, I'd love to know more about the Indigenous history of the area. The place names were once all real places in the space we know today as the Moonee Ponds Creek: Dudley flats was a depression-era shanty town near a rubbish tip on the fringes of the city (behind Costco) and the Blue Lake was a lagoon that existed in the area up until a few years after European settlement. The characters who occupy the song titles are most definitely fictional or based on a true story at best. I think making the record was the only way for me to make sense of all the intermingling layers of imagination, place, time, space and reggae that I was experiencing at the time. I'd say the record should sound like a homage to my dub heroes, the style originators, whilst its subtext and imagery takes the form of a geography assignment.
PZ: Since you've worked with Zak Olsen of Traffik Island, how has his project been a big influence on you at all especially with 2020's Sweat Kollecta's Peanut Butter Traffik Jam?
JK: Working with Zak has been and is always a pleasure. My contributions only extended as far as drum duties on Nature Strip and Shrug of the Shoulders as well as some fun shows here and there but I've always admired the way Zak approaches his work and have learnt a lot from playing with him. I hadn't made the comparison with the Peanut Butter Traffik Jam, but I guess the influence would be just to do whatever you want to do always.
PZ: Do you have any favorites from the new album?
JK: I think my favorite would be "Plot Twist I am the Yellow King."
PZ: What was the idea behind the cover art?
JK: My partner Jordan and I designed the cover together. I'm gonna gas her up because she'll probably read this but her work is really incredible. She knows the project as personally as I do and understood the assignment. The cover is supposed to give the viewer a visual insight into the intermingled layers of the Moonee Ponds Creek and my imagined landscape of the Moonee Ponds Creek.
PZ: Are you planning any live shows around KONG? If so, what would that look like?
JK: I never thought I would but I've been thinking about it. It would have to be a most bodacious gig offer and probably do it as a band with a red hot rhythm section.
PZ: Aside from the upcoming KONG LP, what else is on the horizon for you or other projects you're in? I know it's been a big year for The Prize and Beans released a new single back in April.
JK: I'm not sure how much I'm allowed to say without others permission, but The Prize have been recording and are about to tour Europe with Gizz and then the Murlocs. Beans just finished an Australian run of shows with the Murlocs and have started recording again too. I'm currently in Greece eating gyros waiting for The Prize to get to Europe, and making some more dub in my downtime.
The Yellow King's Revenge is out October 6th on Holiday Maker Records.