Widely known by many across the reggae community, Kevin “KBong” Bong has been lighting up the stage with his always positive mindset and uplifting, high energy spirit for many years. With what started as a smaller live show many years ago, it’s no longer a secret that Stick Figure has evolved into one of the most sought-after touring artists today.
What you should also be aware of, however, is that KBong is generating plenty of hype and momentum with his own music in addition to his trademark vocals and keys while on tour with Stick Figure. KBong released his debut album, Hopes and Dreams, in 2014, and to the delight of many, will release his second full-length album Easy to Love You on August 24, 2018. The new album will feature 12 tracks, with guest features to include Stick Figure, Raging Fyah, The Movement and Johnny Cosmic.
We had the chance to sit down with KBong and catch up with him on the release of his new album, his solo performances, and the always evolving live show of Stick Figure!
Interview: KBong of Stick Figure
The Pier: From Slightly Stoopid’s School’s Out for Summer tour to several supplemental solo sets with Pepper for their “Summer School 2018” – What’s the reception been like at those shows and how did that come together?
KBong: That came together because, well the Slightly Stoopid Tour was booked four shows on, three shows off. With the School’s Out For Summer Tour, its Thursday through Sunday. So we have Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday off. Pepper decided to put some headlining dates in there in between because they wanted to continue, and they asked if I wanted to jump on those as KBong for some solo shows. When we first looked at it I was like “wait, whaaat?!?!” Like it was just this incredible opportunity for me and I haven’t done that many solo shows. I did Cali-Roots in like 2015, I did one show in San Diego, and I did a couple of acoustic things before on tour, but this is kind of the first consistent run of shows for me.
The Pier: And how long have your sets been, have you had the chance to play any tracks from the new record in addition to Hopes and Dreams?
KBong: Yeah, the sets typically been the same at around 45 minutes. I’ve been performing a few tracks from Hopes and Dreams – “Hold On”, “Rising”, “Livin’ Easy.” And then I’m also doing a bunch of new ones, “Open My Eyes,” “Good Lovin,” “Easy to Love You,” and a few unreleased tracks that will be on my album coming out August 24. There’s two songs on there, “One More Song” and “Music and the Message.” They’ve all been received really well! It’s been fun to present these songs live and bring the experience that I’ve gained from playing with Stick Figure but it’s a different delivery and different dynamic.
The Pier: Absolutely! And you also had the chance to debut “Travelin’ On” in an acoustic setting out at Cali-Roots!
KBong: I did! Yeah, that’s going to be on the new record, too. And there’s an acoustic version of that online and on Spotify that we did at Grace Stone Studios; Johnny Cosmic and I.
The Pier: We’ve already heard “Good Lovin,” “Open My Eyes” and now “Easy to Love You” featuring The Movement. It was just revealed that the full-length album will drop August 24. What caused the record to be push out a bit — the original plan was April, correct?
KBong: It’s funny, it’s just kind of the way people consume music nowadays, you know? I dropped “Open My Eyes” in February with the music video, and that song is still getting discovered and still getting received. And so just watching that, and the success of that, and that was just one song, I was just like: “Well hey, we can kind of slow release this stuff one at a time.” And I’ve got a music video for “Easy to Love You,” and I’ve got a music video in the works right now for a song called “Middle of the Ocean,” which I feature Scott Woodruff on. I have another music video for one of the tracks called “Heavy as Gold” coming out. So I’m still going to be rolling those out as well, but I decided lets get the full-length out August 24th.
The Pier: Awesome! The album art looks epic, like a tropical party planet in outer space! Can you talk about how that came together and who designed it?
KBong: Yeah, the artist is Justin Oltesvig. He interned at Ineffable Music a few years back, and that’s where I made the connection with him. He did some artwork for Stick Figure and did some posters, he did various projects for the artist on the Ineffable label. Then he continued on to get a second degree in art, and he’s just been continuing to do graphic design. He did an album cover for a Jamaican artist Jah Fe, and I just thought it was such cool artwork. He also did something for my buddy, Robert Ledesma, who use to play guitar for Clear Conscience and put out a solo record–That album with the octopus on it! That’s Justin’s work. And I saw that, and I reached out to him — I’m a graphic designer as well, I’ve done a lot of my merch stuff, and I do all the online design for all the KBong stuff. I took a crack at the album art, but I realized I’d like to bring in someone like Justin.
The concept from the album is having this sort of universal image. If you look at the album artwork, we tried to hit with four different kind of climates. You’ve got the desert with the cactus, and the tropical thing with the palm trees. And then you have a more urban feel with some city buildings and stuff like that. On top of that is a little bonfire happening with a jam session!
The Pier: We’ve been enjoying everything we’ve heard so far. Can you highlight any unreleased tracks from the new album as well that we haven’t heard yet?
KBong: Yes! I’d love to highlight “Middle of the Ocean” featuring Stick Figure. That one came about during a jam session in Tahiti. We’ve gone to Tahiti twice now and played shows down there. We were on the back porch of the hotel we were staying at, and it was just the most comfortable environment where we were jamming and kicking back. I started free-styling the chorus to “Middle of the Ocean” and in that moment I could just tell that we had something special. I think either Scott or Johnny, I think both of them at the same time, put their phones out with the voice memos to capture it so we didn’t forget it! In that moment it was like, man this song would be perfect to collaborate on and have Scott sing on. There’s a music video in the works by Spencer Groshong who works for Ineffable. He recently put out the “Above the Storm” video for Stick Figure and the Collie Buddz “Legal Now.” He’s done incredible work. So, look out for that music video coming out soon.
The Pier: What was it like working with The Movement for the title track? I know you had mentioned the track itself was written while on tour, but what was it like working with them and what was the concept for that video?
KBong: The video was shot in Miami & I had never been down to Miami. We always play in Fort Lauderdale, so for me it was really cool. We brought the Sugarshack guys on board, and they picked out all the locations. We went to the Wynwood District, we went to Little Havana, we went to Miami Beach–Biscayne Bay was the other location. For me, it was a really cool experience and I’ve never been down to those parts, so I also got a tour of the city at the same time while shooting the video! Working with Sugarshack was awesome, they’ve done incredible work, very professional. And then collaborating with Josh and Gary [of The Movement] was like, I mean for me it was great. I discovered their album Set Sail 7 years back, even longer maybe. I remember just becoming such a big fan of that record and their sound and so to be able to fast-forward a few years later, we’re touring with them and friends with them now and to be able to collaborate with them was really cool.
Watch: KBong – “Easy to Love You” (featuring The Movement)
The Pier: Going back to being on the road with Slightly Stoopid for School’s Out For Summer and the Above The Storm Tour several months ago, which was a huge tour, can you talk about the overall feeling of how Stick Figure’s live show has evolved from when you started touring?
KBong: Man, I was just thinking about this last night actually! I’ve been thinking about it throughout this whole tour. This tour has been the biggest group of guys we’ve had as far as a band and crew. We’ve got 12 people total on this tour. That includes three stage guys, merch, tour manager, a lighting guy, and of course we have Cocoa! I trip out about it because we started with four band members and a tour manager, so we had five people the first few tours–That was our crew. We were driving ourselves, setting our own stuff up; we were hustlin’, ya know? We were doin’ it, we were hitting merch every night, getting out there and just really pushing the music as hard as we can. And now we’re on this tour, in a big tour bus, and we’ve got twelve people! We have guys that can set up the stage for us, we have a driver where we can comfortably sleep after shows, it has been an amazing journey for sure. Its been an amazing experience.
And the live show has definitely evolved, big time. Scott used to have a keyboard up there, he had his own keyboard in front of him in the center of the stage because the studio production is so layered and stuff, it’s a lot to emulate live. That’s what happened when we added Johnny Cosmic in 2016, that took our sound to a whole new level. So many more options, and Johnny Cosmic is incredibly talented with his guitar tracks and he gets keyboard licks in there, his vocals are great. So the sound has definitely evolved. We also brought TJ O’Neill on board now, and he’s got three songs he can sing: “Let the Music Play,” “Livin It” and “Weight of Sound.” So there’s that addition, too! We just keep it movin’!
The Pier: Once you get done with the School’s out for Summer Tour with Slightly Stoopid and Pepper, are you going to be hitting the road for any additional KBong shows?
KBong: Yes! We’ve put together about a 3-week tour where we’ll be hitting the west coast from San Diego up to Berkeley, CA – it’ll be the first KBong Tour, I’m super excited!
The Pier: For sure! Last question – what do you hope listeners feel and take away from Easy to Love You?
KBong: The overall theme and concept for me, was inspired by a relationship. For the overall theme that I wanted to push and relate to everybody, was finding those things in life that you love the most. Whether it is your girlfriend, wife, husband, friend, your dog or the passion you have in life; Surfing, playing music, rock climbing. Whatever it may be, that is the overall theme of the record. What makes you move in life? What’s your passion? What are the things you that you love? These collection of songs can help remind people to find and hold on to those things! Find the inspiration, because its all around us.
We can’t thank KBong enough for taking the time to catch up! Looking forward to your new album and fans, don’t sleep on grabbing tickets for KBong’s Debut Headlining Tour in September! His dates can be found below!
Watch: KBong – “Open My Eyes” (Official Music Video)