A chat with KBong about solo album and Stick Figure
Kevin Bong is an artist and singer most known for his work with Stick Figure, a band he has played with for some time, and grown with as a musician. Top Shelf Reggae had a chance to sit down and chat with “KBong” to talk about his debut EP album, lifestyle, and inspirations:
So, tell us about your new solo EP.
I've got fourteen tracks total, so at this point I'm releasing a four-song EP which I'm going to bring out on the next Stick Figure tour here. It's going to have four songs and then the full-length will probably come out before Cali Roots. I like the EP idea. It's something I wish I could've thought of sooner, but this way it gets out a couple tracks that people can hear while I finish up the rest.
How would you describe your music to people who aren't really familiar with you or your music?
It's definitely reggae. I mean just growing up in Hawaii, I definitely have a style of island reggae sound in my music. It also has little elements of the California reggae influence; so it's a Hawaii reggae meets Cali reggae style. As far as vocal delivery, more island reggae style, but I can also get pretty mellow, like sort of Jack Johnson-y style. So, it's hard to say. Mellow, easy listening, laid back, approachable music. I think a lot of people can listen to the music and enjoy it. Something that's not really aggressive, in your face type stuff. It’s definitely influenced by where I've been. It has elements of some Stick Figure in there as well, because I've been playing with them now for three and a half years.
Just to clear things up being that Stick Figure is mainly Scott [Woodruff], right... but are you a permanent fixture on Stick Figure?
Well, Scott wrote and recorded four out of the five albums, and he started doing that about five years ago as sort of a hobby thing, writing music and stuff like that. And then he started to build a fan base just on that, releasing music out of his bedroom. But when it came to playing the songs live, he moved to San Diego from Massachusetts. I linked up with him and I met him in San Diego, where at the time I was playing bass in a reggae band for three and a half years. I wanted to just continue to expand and play different positions, so I answered this ad that he put up for a keyboard player on Craigslist. That's how I linked up with Scott and I've been playing with him ever since.
In your opinion, is it easier doing a solo album or is it a little more difficult, compared to say, being involved with something like Stick Figure in terms of creativity?
I think it's a little easier in Stick Figure because Scott started as a solo artist, and then he built a band around it. He’s ultimately the music-maker/songwriter and it's the formula that has worked this whole time. Just sort of him in his studio, headphones on, doing his own thing. That allows me room to do my solo stuff too, which has support from the rest of the band as well, including Scott. I've learned a lot from what he's done. But having my solo stuff is something that I've always wanted to do. I mean these songs on this EP I've had for years. I started as a guitar player and songwriter back in high school, when I was listening to punk rock music. There's definitely a challenge with a solo project, you know?
Who else are you collaborating with on the album? I noticed you mentioned E.N [Young] on track list, but is there anybody else?
Yeah, E.N. was on that track. That was cool. I had a track that was pretty much all done and I was looking for someone to mix it, and I handed it over to E.N. He did the melodica and put some harmony vocals on there, and mixed the track in his style with the effects. This next “Hopes and Dreams” album, Scott is going to be on the track, where he mixes it and sings. It'll be more in like a Stick Figure style. Hirie, who's like the huge sensation right now, got down on the track with me. Alific, who was at the San Francisco show also produced a track for me. Then as far as additions, Kevin from Stick Figure played three tracks on drums, and then I got a couple friends here in San Diego who got down on drums as well. I was just pulling various contacts and friends in other bands that I've met... like, "Hey, do you want to do a trumpet solo here? Do you want to get down on a guitar solo here?"
Nice job on the Hirie video by the way. For some reason it didn’t hit me until about the fourth time watching the video that it was you in there hanging out in the background.
Yeah, I was at E.N. Young's studio, finishing up some tracks, and he was like, "Yo, you want to be the bass player in the video?" And I responded, "Oh, I had plans," and I was going to go to Vegas and see some of my family and friends, and then I thought, "Well, I'll stay for the shoot." I'm glad I did because I met her trumpet players that day and then they ended up playing on my album too. So, it was invaluable, like the connections I made on that video shoot.
Whose house was that in the music video?
It was a friend of hers and he let her use the house and shoot.
Who were your biggest influences growing up? It’s always an interesting insight to know where people’s influences are coming from. Sometimes you can hear these come through in certain tracks.
Well, I definitely liked three genres. I've listened to hip-hop, punk rock, and reggae. As far as reggae, Steel Pulse is one of my top reggae bands growing up when I started getting into reggae; and of course Bob Marley. Then I got into the stuff coming out in New Zealand, like Katchafire, House of Shem and Sons of Zion. All those bands out there, who just kill it on the three-part harmonies and island reggae sound.
What was your reasoning in starting up the solo album? Is it more experimental, or do you have bigger plans down the road for it?
For me, it's just something I've always wanted to do. To put out an album and release it is just a huge accomplishment in itself. It’s like a breathe of fresh air. Everything that I've been working on now is out, and that’s awesome. It's set in stone... for life. When I joined Stick Figure, it gave me the opportunity because previous bands I had played in were a little different. It's hard to experiment or do stuff you want to do when the other guys in the band are like: "What? Why are you doing that? You should do this! You should do that!" you know? So, Stick Figure gave me the opportunity, especially since Scott, in the beginning sort of started it the same way, and they're totally supportive of it. So, I'm just really excited.
I graduated college with a graphic design degree, which also helped me when I was developing the branding as an artist. After I got out of college, it sort of gave me that freedom to really go for it and really do it, and so it's been in the works since. As far as the future, I'd like to do a tour supporting the KBong music. I think that would be awesome. Whether it's supporting on a first of four or first of three on a Stick Figure headlining tour, that'd be phenomenal.
And you grew up where? Seattle? Could you tell us a little backstory about that?
I was born in Seattle and then I moved to Hawaii the summer before fifth grade. I was raised in Hawaii from fifth grade to about a year after high school. After that, I moved to San Diego and been here ever since and really started playing reggae here in 2005 or 2006. There are so many good bands in San Diego, it's crazy.
It really seems like California, especially Southern California has been a real hotspot for reggae.
Yeah. When I travel outside of Cali, it makes me realize how much more fortunate we are. All this good music, you know, especially reggae out of this area.
So how is the reggae scene when you’re traveling outside of California?
It's definitely smaller in a lot of areas. It's pretty big in Florida actually. A lot of beach cities on the East Coast are really into reggae including New York. You really don't know what the crowd is going to be like when you go to something like Louisiana. There are markets where we've never even hit before. On our upcoming tour with The Expendables, it will be cool because they have more of that rock sound, so I think they can appeal to these other markets. We're hitting some different cities that we've never hit before, so it'll be cool.
Just out of curiosity, did you design the cover for your album? I noticed you said that you had a graphic design degree.
Yeah, I did all my design. Anything that you see related to KBong is all me, like the logo and the Facebook stuff and whatever I have online. I did do the cover which was actually taken in Thailand. I went to Thailand after I graduated college and shot that photo. I thought it was cool, cool image.