Good to Hear Music: Q&A with KBong
Whether listening to his recordings or attending a live performance, it’s easy to understand why KBong has become such a beloved artist in the reggae scene. His lyrics and melodies are sweet and inspirational - his music blossoms with energy and positivity. From the moment he steps onto a stage, his grinning, grooving vibe delivers an uplifting and palpable experience.
Oahu-native KBong - who now resides in San Diego - is a multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter with four solo albums under his belt. His most recent album, Smile With the World was released in 2022, to much acclaim. He also plays keys for the legendary reggae/dub band, Stick Figure.
Recently, we caught up on a phone call with KBong while he was cruising up the California coast. He was en route to connect with collaborator/producer and fellow Stick Figure bandmate, Johnny Cosmic - then heading out for a slew of summer shows. KBong is just as warm in conversation as he is through his music - it felt like we were in the car together, chatting like family. It's apparent that he lives a life full of love and authenticity.
Beyond the interview, at the bottom of this page: Enter to win a Solid Spruce Top Mahogany Travel Concert (signups end 7/5 - winners will be notified directly by 7/7)!
Tell us more about your musical beginnings.
My first instrument was ukulele - that was in middle school in Hawaii. We had a choice between taking a band or ukulele or fine arts - [there were] three extracurricular classes there. I decided to take ukulele and that was my first introduction to music.
We had about 15 students in that class. We were an ukulele ensemble and we played with the hula dancing group in our school. We [performed] during school assemblies as well as performances in Waikiki together, where we’d strum along as the dancers did Hula. That was a great experience.
I played ukulele in 7th and 8th grade. The summer before for high school, I picked up the acoustic guitar. I played acoustic guitar and electric guitar and ukulele throughout high school and then I picked up the bass guitar shortly after high school to college.
What is your favorite thing about ukulele?
I love how approachable it is. I always encourage people that have never learned music yet; If they're wanting to pick up an instrument, I always recommend the ukulele. I would definitely say a concert size because sometimes the sopranos can be too small.
You can form chords a bit easier on uke than on guitar. It has such a fun sound. It can take you to a tropical place and it has a nice energy about it.
Tell us more about your songwriting process. Do you start with music or lyrics first? Do you write mostly by yourself or collaborate with others?
I seem to always start with music first. Picking up ukulele or the guitar and kind of just strumming along finding some cool sounds - maybe stumbling on a chord progression and some sort of arrangement of notes. If I find something I like, I'll stick with that. Then I eventually bring in some lyrics I've written down previously, or come up with lyrics on the spot right there. That's probably my most successful process. It's just playing and singing in the moment with friends - just kind of coming up with words then and there - and that ends up sticking.
Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
I’d say Jack Johnson for sure is one of my biggest influences, growing up in Hawaii. He came out with his debut record about the time I was in high school. Also San Diego native Jason Mraz. I love what Jason’s done. His latest album is a reggae record, which I think is really cool. Bob Marley. I'm actually listening to a Bob Marley record right now as I’m driving up to Northern California. So, Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz and Bob Marley are the top three for me.
Between your solo KBong project and your other band, Stick Figure, you're touring a lot. How do you keep yourself grounded on the road?
I go for a lot of walks when I’m on tour. Walking for me is one of the best things I can do for my body to just get the energy flowing. It also allows me to kind of just see the world around me and see the neighborhood we might be in, or see some of the city I'm in. I get inspired by taking in different cultures throughout our country, different ways of living.
As I walk around each city on tour, I end up meeting people whether they're in a cafe or a restaurant, or on the street. We end up talking music, and I might invite them to the concert we're playing.
Sometimes I’ll take my ukulele along and sit at a park. Noodle around on something. Honestly, playing music for me is just a great way to find balance. It's my stress relief. It's such a special thing. Anyone reading this - If you’re ever stressed out - just make sure to play [music]. Music is medicine.
Tell us about one of the most significant moments or opportunities in your music career.
Getting my first solo release. My first album, Hopes and Dreams, was just a big accomplishment for me. It was something that I've always wanted to do. To be able to string some songs together, create the instrumentation needed for the album, and put lyrics together was something that really meant a lot to me.
At that point, I didn't really think or worry about if anyone was going to hear it, it was just for me. Being able to express myself in musical form and put it on a record that's going to last forever was a really big moment for me. It really launched everything out after that. Now I have four KBong Albums and have been on tours and playing music festivals. That was the first step, the debut record really meant a lot to me.
What advice do you have for somebody who's just starting out with ukulele or music?
Just playing. Really keep playing and try to be your most authentic self. Express what you want to say, express how you feel and make sure it just comes from you and your heart. Don't worry about any outside influence, just speak your mind, and do it through music. Allow the experiences that you’ve had in your life to flow out through the music.
There really is no right or wrong way to approach music. There's going to be someone out there that wants to hear it. There's so many people in this world, and I think that no matter what, there's going to be someone that appreciates you for who you are, and then is also going to appreciate your music.
What's happening for you for the rest of the year?
We’re playing a handful of shows this summer. We've got four music festivals we're doing. I'm excited to do those with KBong and playing them with Stick Figure. I'm going to be doing two different sets at the California Roots Music Festival, as well as the Reggae Rise Up music festival in Maryland. We have a really cool music festival in August called Camp Redwoods, which is in Northern California.
[I’m going to] take some time this fall to write music - I'm really looking forward to that. Just writing, sitting down with my instruments and [putting] some new songs together.