For the three members of Swedish outfit Kongh, the priority is distinguishing themselves. Certainly that’s what they did when they played the Kuma’s Fest in Chicago that got them signed to Seventh Rule Recordings for the US release of their second album, Shadows Of The Shapeless—but even more than that, sound-wise. In an underground scene where ethereal post-metallic droning is the norm, how does a band like Kongh manage to stand themselves out from the crowd?
By crushing, first of all. Where some acts are given over more to ambient interludes and washes of experimentalism, Kongh inject doomed atmospheres with a tonal darkness and weight few of their contemporaries can match. This most of all is where their development—still only in its beginning stages—is best characterized. While other bands seem unwilling to rock as though they’re somehow above it, Kongh get their hands dirty playing in aural mud and sludge and come out all the better for it.
Guitarist/vocalist David Johansson—joined in the band by bassist Oscar Ryden and drummer Tomas Salonen—recently took time out to field email questions about the growth of his band and their experiences on American soil.
How did you get hooked up with Seventh Rule Recordings? Was it playing the Kuma’s Fest in Chicago? How did that come about?
Yeah, there’s this awesome dude in Chicago named Alex who had been into our band since we released our first album. He realized we wouldn’t be able to tour the States for quite some time and he really wanted to see us live, so he put on Kuma’s Fest and flew us over to play it. Luckily, the guys from Seventh Rule were at the show, and after we had played the approached us, said they enjoyed the performance and told us they were interested to release something with Kongh in the States. We were stoked about this, so we kept in touch during the recording sessions for the latest album, and when they heard the final result, they decided to release it.
Despite there only being three members in the band, Shadows Of The Shapeless has a truly huge sound. Was there something specific you wanted the record to provoke atmospherically?
Thanks, that’s what we were going for in the studio, trying to make it sound as massive and thick as possible. I think that’s something that the first album is lacking, a truly massive guitar and bass sound. The drums sound huge on that one though, and this last time they sound a bit more hidden and discreet. The next album will pick the best sides of both recordings and combine them into something even heavier. Both the bass and guitar was recorded with my 200-watt Orange Thunderverb amp and Orange 4×12 cab. There’s three guitar channels in total I recall, one in each speaker and one in the middle recorded with a noisy distortion pedal plugged right into the mixing board.
The sound in the songs is dynamic, but also very dark. Was that an inspiration for the look of the album’s artwork? There’s something foreboding and bleak about it, but intense at the same time.
Yeah, I started doing the artwork pretty much at the same time as we finished the studio sessions. Since the finished album turned out pretty dark and mysterious, I tried to do something that went along well with it visually. Used some photos that I took underwater in Egypt, played around with the contrast and colors and the result turned out good, really happy with it.
Tell me about your time in the studio. What is it that’s kept you going back to Teknikkompaniet? How did this experience compare to when you did Counting Heartbeats there?
Ever since we recorded our demo back in 2006, we’ve done all of our recordings in that studio, and with the same engineer, Peter Lundin. We’ve come to learn the studio really well, having recorded there a bunch of times now. We were under some time pressure so we decided that would be the easiest way. The next album will probably be recorded somewhere else though, we kinda feel it’s time for us to try something different.
Hard to compare the Shadows sessions to the Counting sessions. We’ve been in that studio so much now, it’s starting to feel like one long session.
What was the writing process like for these songs? How does a massive song like the title track take shape?
Well, I guess you’re not surprised if I tell you that we’ve never written a song in one day, or even less than one month. It can be a quite lengthy process, but we put a lot of thought into it and we’re always happy with the result in the long run. We have this huge library of riffs and ideas, and when we’re about to start working on a new song, we choose some ideas that feels appropriate to work with at the moment. Trying out the riffs, trying different variations of them, maybe trying to match them together with other ideas etc. We also think a lot of the riffs and songs when we’re not actually rehearsing. Like when I’m at work, or when I’m about to go to sleep, or going to the store to buy food, I tend to think of riffs. Sooner or later, an idea strikes for one of us, and the next time we’re rehearsing we’re trying them out in order to make the song grow further. Sooner or later a couple of riffs might have turn into a five-minute piece of musical structure, and then we have even more to work with. This kind of building goes on until there’s a finished song, and that can take everything from two months to two years, depending on how hard we’re focusing on that particular song. We’re often working on several songs at a time. So as you see, it’s a long and complicated process, but since we’re very strict about not using any ideas we’re not 100 percent comfortable with, we’re always happy with the final result.
What’s the significance of the album’s title? Where did it come from and what does it mean to the band?
I made up the phrase a few months before we hit the studio and it kinda sums up the lyrical themes of the album. I prefer not to go into detail with the meaning of our titles and lyrics, since they’re written in abstract ways to give the listener an opportunity to interpret them the way he or she wants. Everything is based off my personal thoughts and experiences though, and [the songs] are mainly about the struggle of life.
The album has been out for a year now in Europe. How have the reactions been? Have you gotten a sense of how the crowd feels about the newer material at shows?
Feedback on the new album has been great. People who liked our earlier stuff seems to dig this one even more, and we’ve reached a lot of new listeners as well, especially in the US, thanks to Seventh Rule and Curran Reynolds who’s doing the promo stuff. Great people.
Yeah, the only new songs we’re playing live for the last year are ‘Unholy Water’ and ‘Voice Of The Below’ and they work really great live. ‘Unholy Water’ is dark, thunderous and somewhat aggressive and always works great as a set opener, makes the crowd excited and (hopefully) a little scared. I’ve also seen some dudes singing along on that tune, which is a bit remarkable since the lyrics aren’t even public as of now. ‘Voice Of The Below’ is also a high-energy song that works great live and is fun as hell to play because of all the different riffs.
Anything in the works for more US touring? I know things are tough for European bands with the exchange rate and the dollar being basically worthless against the Euro, but is there any chance Kongh will make it back here before the next album?
Touring the US is something we would be very happy to do and there’s been some plans, but nothing is certain yet at the moment. I’m sure it will happen sooner or later, and if it won’t happen before the next album is released, I’m pretty sure it will be right after it. (North American booking agencies who are interested are free to get in touch by the way.)
Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?
Apart from some European touring, we’re basically going to focus on songwriting for the time being. There’s some stuff written and I think it’ll be our strongest material to date.
Shadows Of The Shapeless is available now on Seventh Rule. More info at kongh.net.