The Kooks are the four-piece Peter Pan of indie – times change, fashions come and go, but the band are still there, unchanged, a force to be reckoned with.
The past 12 months have seen the band push into uncharted waters, completely selling out huge London venues Alexandra Palace and Wembley Arena, before linking with The Rolling Stones to support the World’s Greatest Rock ‘N’ Roll Band on tour.
New album ‘Let’s Go Sunshine’ arrives this week, and it’s timing is nigh-on perfect. It’s the sound of The Kooks accepting themselves, matching some familiar indie pop tropes to a flurry of fresh ideas, and new sounds.
When Clash calls up frontman Luke Pritchard he bounds on to the telephone, munching down a bowl of Coco Pops and exclaiming: “How you doing today? Everything good?”
We sit down for a lengthy chat, discussing the perils of the music industry, the importance of independence, and why – despite everything – The Kooks are still absolutely committed to music, and each other.
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It’s funny speaking to you with all these rumours about the Lock Tavern – do you remember doing a Sunday Session there for us?
Yeah! I used to go there quite a lot. Not religiously… Sensible Sundays and things. It was good – we used to hang out in Camden quite a bit! I remember those days fondly, and don’t remember much about them if you know what I mean…!
It feels like a long time ago now – your new album drops next week. Does that buzz of anticipation on releasing new material ever go away?
There’s something slightly different to the way you put out music now. From our point of view it’s slower burning. It used to be that you’d drop your song, and it’s be this big: here’s the new song! Now it feels a bit slower, like things gradually build more so it’s not so much pressure on one song.
Even on this album we dropped two songs because I couldn’t decide which one would go first! We all disagreed to we put two songs out. It’s not ‘spaghetti on the wall’ but you put songs out and see how they breathe. You can see that up to the minute without having to put marketing in it. It’s do-it-yourself now, you’re independent and you can see what people are diggin’.
It’s a different game than ‘Inside In / Inside Out’. Do you almost feel in competition with your own catalogue?
I feel like we’re in a bit of a bind with our first album. It’s not just how big it was – because it was a big album, and that’s a great thing – but it’s an album that sums up that time to a lot of people, and for that music, or our sound, it can be hard for people to break out of that era.
For us it’s a little bit of an anchor. But on (2014 LP) ‘Listen’ moving so far away from it was really refreshing – some people received it really well and some people didn’t, which is a good thing, polarising people a bit. But I was really proud of the record, and creatively it was really exciting.
Whereas with this one what we’ve done is we’ve kept a bit of the DNA. The new single I was even playing with the ‘oooh la’ riff – it’s just being comfortable with that, and putting a bit of that back in. I enjoyed that on this album, really, where it wasn’t running away from who we are.
Do these things become an albatross? Well, I think on this one we had the mentality of being comfortable with that and acknowledging it in the music as much as anything else.
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It sounds like a band at ease with themselves. The album is coming out on Lonely Cat via AWAL, which is about as independent as it gets – does that heighten those conversations within the group?
On this album it wasn’t like there were discussions in the band on this, but there were a lot of people around us saying things like, oh, you should go more modern, or use this producer… We made a very clear decision to stick to our guns, and to stick to being what we think we stand for. It becomes this weird Descartes thing: we think we are, so we are.
What we love is guitar work, and we love Britpop and we love being part of that ilk. We wanted to go in and make a classic record, we didn’t want to follow trends. We didn’t want to look at what other people were doing and then put our sound through the grinder. So this one was very much like, go against the grain.
We all as a band collectively decided that and I think what you hear on the album is our band coming back into focus as a band, and the chemistry of the band is really good, and we worked a lot on that.
I wrote all the songs before we recorded – which sounds like a pretty obvious thing to do, but on the fourth album I was writing a lot in the studio. This one was more like, we have the songs so when we got in to the studio we were focussed on our chemistry. And that was great! It was a real cool bit of magic in the studio.
It works as a band, so you should use that. The past 12 months have brought some amazing live highlights – playing Ally Pally, supporting The Rolling Stones…
It’s been great! Being asked back and having the respect of the Stones does give you confidence. They’re hard gigs, they’re tough gigs… it’s not a walk in the park but you’ve got to just enjoy it and let go at those shows. By the end you get half the crowd into it, and that’s great.
Not only then, but I felt a lot of love from other bands and artists recently, and that puts you in a place where you get to these slightly mad existential moments or crises where you think: what are we still doing this? Because when you’re 18 it’s really fun, you go and play gigs and everything, but when you get a bit on to your fifth album you feel like you really need to do something that means something to you. I really think that.
It’s not even getting older, it’s just doing something for that long. Regardless of money or travel or holidays, you do think: what am I trying to do here? So to have an ongoing thing where other musicians are really in to what it is that you do, then that gives you belief that you’re doing the right thing. You’re not doing it to be on an advert, you’re doing it to progress something within the industry that you’re a part of.
A lot of your peers have sat back and done anniversary shows, but you’ve refused to take the easy route.
Yeah. We are a band that always goes the hard way round. We never take the easy road, and we’ve not really been allowed to. But it’s toughened us up, really. I feel like we’ve gone through most things that a band could go through and we still enjoy playing with each other.
I’m not trying to go over the top, but it’s got to be enjoyable, you have to feel free. Music is about feeling free, feeling that you can do what you want. I mean, I totally believe in that. It’s the reason why you get in to music in the first place – it’s because you want to do something creative, something fucking fun! And I think that’s what we’ve always tried to keep.
Even though we’ve been pushing and pushing and yes, there’s been hard times, but we’ve always enjoyed it, enjoyed making music. I love going in the studio, I literally love it. I cannot get enough of it. The touring gets a bit rough and we’re on leerjets or anything so I can be tough, but the music’s great.
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You’ve worked incredibly hard – we’re talking about more than a decade of The Kooks now. Sometimes in this country, though, the perception of your achievements as a band isn’t quite there.
I don’t think if I really agree. I do to a degree – we’re not on the front covers of magazines, we’re not winning awards – but when I meet people in the UK they really give it up for the songs, and the songwriting. Our music has soundtracked people’s lives and that, I think, is more important.
I feel very strongly that the fact that we did do Wembley Arena – which is a very big deal for us, the name holds so much weight – after doing Ally Pally earlier in the year. And the crowds were giving it up – not just for a few songs, it was every song.
Maybe some days you get out of bed and think, oh we should have done this, but I feel quite appreciated… and not a lot of people get that. There’s not a lot of writers out there who get that support, so I do feel it.
That’s a really refreshing thing to hear. Doing Ally Pally and Wembley Arena within 12 months is phenomenal, but your next shows are at the other end of the scale – London’s Moth Club, and Oban in Scotland…
I spoke to a journalist who is from there, who said it’s quite a cool town. It’s beautiful! I’m really excited, I do like doing those small shows. I like the fact that we’re going to be doing the new record and it won’t be big shows, it’s going to be quite cool for us.
A lot of the songs we haven’t actually had the chance to play live, and we haven’t rehearsed them that much because we’ve been so busy. It’s not that it’s a rehearsal, don’t get me wrong, but it’ll be really fun for us, as we know everyone there is going to want to see the band – it’s not like festivals where there’s four dudes who have dragged their girlfriends along!
What does the rest of the year hold for The Kooks?
We’re pretty chocka block. A lot of back and forths to festivals – one here, one there – and we’re going to announce a few more. October could get creative… I really want to work on some of the songs that didn’t quite make the album.
We did about a month’s work beforehand, so I’ve got all these stems of this cool music stuff, so I want to get something going as I don’t want to miss out on the moment with those pieces, as sometimes they just get lost. October will hopefully bring something cool.
That’s very industrious, have you always had that work rate as a songwriter?
Yeah! I’m extremely hard-working, in that I keep writing and chipping away at songs… I don’t tend to give up on ‘em. There’s a song called ‘Weight Of The World’ on the new album – it’s one of my favourites – and we’ve had that for years, we tried to record it and the guys didn’t like it, the label weren’t sure, and I finally cracked it!
You’ve got to do that sometimes, you’ve got to keep the faith. And now I’m getting a lot of love from my friends about that track, so it feels good when you persevere.
Having people around you who can be honest is so important.
Completely. I’ve got a few – my brother Giles, for example – who can give it straight. Damn straight! My girlfriend Ellie as well, knows her shit and can guide my perspective a lot.
And it’s good to get a fresh perspective, it’s good to have someone who is not in the team but will say the things you don’t want to hear. That’s so mega important to have that around you – so long as it’s done in a gentle way! Songwriters are quite sensitive folk.
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'Let's Go Sunshine' will be released on August 31st. Catch The Kooks at the following shows:
3 Belfast Limelight Club
5 London Moth Club
8 Oban The Corran Halls
9 Middlesbrough The Middlesbrough Empire
10 Bexhill-on-Sea De La Warr Pavilion
For tickets to the latest shows by The Kooks click HERE.
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