Cong Josie is a new act to come from the mind of Melbourne-based Heat Beatist Nicolaas Oogjes. Oogjes has been more regularly spotted behind a stack of percussion and dripping in sweat as bandleader of NO ZU, one of Australia’s best bands for getting down to. Cong Josie has just released their debut single Leather Whip on the excellent Melbourne label It Records, which we thought was a pretty good opportunity to get on the Internet Typing Machine with Cong himself and get the lowdown on the new tunes. We also managed to get our hands on some unseen, raw footage of Cong Josie performing Leather Whip in a Greek Kaffenio, that reveals as much about Cong as these questions do. So before you read the words, check out this premiere of Cong Josie Uncovered!
Cyclic Defrost: Who is Cong Josie? Where did you meet him?
Cong Josie: Cong is a mystery. An illusion. On the surface he is a faux-cowboy, sleazy scam-artist that is somehow convinced that being a singer that yelps and croons badly can be a legitimate get-rich quick endeavour. I think if you dig deeper though, he is somewhat of an amalgamation of dark and light parts of my psyche. I’ve known him my whole life I think, but he only just accosted me in the seedy alley of my mind right around the time of my daughter being born and some psychology sessions. We’re now joined at the hip. I’m sort of a personal assistant for him now – he owes me money.
Cyclic Defrost: Tell me about the genesis of Cong
Cong Josie: Like how NO ZU was born, it felt like something that just happened without my knowledge, but looking back it was the result of the right ingredients of frustration, joy, heavy life events and necessity. The ideas had been bubbling away for years (like, just singing in a project or assuming/succumbing to this force of a debaucherous character), and were being nurtured quietly in NO ZU. Finally they found their moment when I really needed a more immediate, free-er and efficient outlet for my musical impulses. NO ZU has become a big beast with (perceived) expectations associated and a lot of members to organise, I needed to smash something out. It turns out that that ‘something’ is really honest and personal – close to the bone.
Cyclic Defrost: How does Cong approach song crafting?
Cong Josie: For the majority, it is shower thoughts – just daydreaming and fantasising. I’ve known the sonic character and the reference points I wanted to hit from the outset for the whole project, yet it always changes in the process and through collaboration which is really exciting for me. I’m very sure and confident about what I like and don’t like so I love being in the limbo stage as things are taking form and making those quick decisions in the moment.
Rhythms, basslines and melodies come into my head or I hear an element or structure in a classic type of song (like doo-wop, rock’n’roll, garage, country, ‘girl group’) and translate it to Cong. What would Cong do (WWCD). Lucky for me, Cayn Borthwick AKA Johnny Cayn (Cong name) was keen from the outset to help me a lot musically, as I know so little technically. I hum something, make a voice recording or create a drum beat and electronic bassline, discuss with Cayn and then he proficiently gets the majority of the music done with great flare in a few hours of us hanging out. Cayn picks up all the kinds of instruments I envisage or we think would fit well as it comes together – or ones we just haven’t used yet. We have a two-take rule so that we can make sure nothing is overthought. It’s important that there is a spontaneous feel and, for me, I didn’t want to burden Cayn too much – to just grow the project as a really fun and free thing to do for him and other collaborators too. I then spend time mixing and cutting up everything, and adding the vocals with the same two take rule. I’ve gone through the same process for a couple of tracks with my Italian friend, Simon Galassi who played guitar and other things on two tracks. After all this, if the track needs it I enlist backing singers to make sure there is at least somebody singing in tune! This is always the cherry on top and really takes the songs to a much higher realm!
Cyclic Defrost: How does it differ from NO ZU?
Cong Josie: Cong is all about the throbbing rhythm, the deeply personal, a singular world view and sentimentality toward music I have loved since I was a child. NO ZU is a more distanced satirical view regarding history and symbols with a rhythm that is funky albeit in an anxious no wave way. NO ZU is about transcendent and collective weird body-music. Cong is a solo midnight drive on an endless freeway reminiscing, facing and exorcising demons and yearning romantically for a kind of love they’ll tell you is cliche. As a dance move, Cong would be a sharp shoulder thrust and pumping fists kept low like jutting from the hips while NO ZU is a squiggly squirming sea creature type of action.
Cyclic Defrost: Wasn’t NO ZU pretty much you when it started off? Will Cong Josie do the same?
Cong Josie: It was, but no, this is different. Interestingly they both have begun with the same sort of impulse for a free and dynamic creative outlet – both inspired by the feeling I got seeing Ollie Olson perform Win/Lose in Dogs In Space all those years ago. Something you could set up at the drop of a hat without many moving parts to organise. The thing is, the wild party-time band thing – that NO ZU has become in a way – is something I hadn’t explored and as it grew we found an unique atmosphere that was just so exciting and unpredictable – completely joyous really. I have that scratch being itched. Cong will allow me to travel easier, play different and smaller venues and just be more spontaneous and agile. Cong has a band actually, ‘Cong Josie and The Crimes’ featuring Johnny Cayn (as mentioned) on guitar and sax and Cassandra Capri (Cassandra Kiely) and Mona Reves (Simone Page-Jones) on vocals. I can’t imagine it growing bigger except for special occasions – I love having just a few beautiful elements (people!) on stage.
Cyclic Defrost: How does Cong relate to NO ZU?
Cong Josie: I have always been happy to see any of my work holistically and to view each element as adding to the greater body. You know, not to pretend like the past doesn’t exist or to reinvent completely with each stage. Cong is definitely from the same world or at least a neighboring planet where aesthetics are shared. Cong could definitely have been a ZU member or disgraced manager who has left to fulfill his crazy fever-dream fantasies. I feel like he hallucinated and a voice told him he was to be the next Roy Orbison and a summation of every type of cool archetype that the 1990’s expressly drilled into him as a child (for better or for worse). Maybe he knows it’s all delusion, but if not, at least he is completely committed and I respect people that give their all.
Cyclic Defrost: What has influenced the Cong journey so far?
* Psychology sessions and learning more about myself and upbringing
* Finally giving in to wearing my influences on my sleeve for the hair-brush singing fun of it
* All the music and iconography I liked and was told to like when I was in grade 5 namely the rock ‘n’ roll/greaser revivals of the 80’s and 90’s
* The incredible musicians that have collaborated with me that believe in that sleazy Cong fella even though it’s definitely all some kind of scam and they’ll probably lose a lot of money.
Cyclic Defrost: I saw you had some gigs just pre-lockdown 4.0, How are you translating this in a live environment?
Cong Josie: Cong got together with The Crimes for one pub show. We’re very grateful. The Crimes have a real nightclub/lounge band gone wrong vibe… fancy frocks, cowboy hats, suits, washed out red or blue lighting, sax, guitar, drum machine and luscious vocals (not Cong’s!). Cong ruins any touch of class or subtlety though :(
Cyclic Defrost: Is Cong Josie a bad boy?
Cong Josie: Yeah. He’s bad. He’s real bad, but like a lot of Aussie machismos the badness is made of layers of trauma and masculine conditioning to protect his fragile beating heart. Don’t sweat it. Say the right thing at the right time, the tears will flow and he’ll confess anything and confide in you.
Cyclic Defrost: What should I make Cong for dinner if Cong was to come for dinner?
Cong Josie: I’d suggest a Greek mezze. A number of small dishes that he has come to appreciate on his travels through the Mediterranean lands. He like them less for their fresh ingredients and simplicity, but more so because he lacks the ability to commit to something singular, flitters from one thing to the next and relates personally to their oily nature. Also he requires something mind altering like ouzo, tsipouro or raki at least a few times a day to dull thoughts of past mistakes and lost loves.
So while you’re making reservations at your local Greek mezze bar, don’t forget to pop over to check out Leather Whip at It Records, and keep your ears peeled for more Cong Josie.