The Kooks – Interview 2018

On 11th July, 2005, The Kooks released ‘Eddie’s Gun’. The first fruits from their deal with Virgin, who had signed the band barely four months after coming together, on the basis of a strong look (skinny jeans and hats) and a handful of catchy songs that harked back to the classic pop period of the 60s, topped with influences from British new wave, The Libertines and Britpop.

13 years later The Kooks are one of the great survivors of the mid-00s, when British guitar music was enjoying one of its periodic renaissance’s. Indeed, the Arctic Monkeys released their debut album the very same day The Kooks released theirs, Inside In/Inside Out, helping to shield the band from what could have been overwhelming attention. “God bless the Arctic Monkeys because if it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have been so shielded. We were so overshadowed by the success, because it was so monster and we crept in behind everybody’s back,” singer Luke Pritchard said at the time.

Whatever the case may be The Kooks have survived, and Let’s Go Sunshine is their fifth album, their first since Listen in 2014, and somewhat of a return to their musical roots, which pleases the Lewes-born and raised founder guitarist Hugh Harris. “There’s been more buzz,” he says. “More reason to celebrate. We’re still here! Thrilled it’s still happening for us.” Are you still excited pre-album release? “It’s totally different from what it was like when we started. It’s definitely more balanced, and less hectic. On the whole we are a little less fearful about judgements and criticisms and things like that. As you get older, as an artist or musician, or as anyone doing anything expressive, or puts their emotions on the line to be judged, you relinquish the shackling fear. So, this time around it’s never felt so good.”

It has, however, been a struggle of late. While the band continue to operate as a going concern, in particular as a live act (they easily sold out the Brighton Centre last year), their recordings haven’t always hit the mark, splitting fans. While Inside In/Inside Out and the follow up and chart-topping Konk were packed full of classic pop songs, and will forever be associated with the initial excitement that The Kooks generated, subsequent albums Junk of the Heart and, in particular Listen, saw the band branch out into more experimental waters, but failing to make much of an impact, either commercially or artistically. The future was very much on the line for the band, but in 2017 they released a Best of, which contained a couple of new tracks, produced by American punk producer Brandon Friessen, and which found favour amongst fans old and new. “This one’s very much ‘us’,” Pritchard has said. “All rehearsing songs, all arranging songs, all playing together. It’s got the same sort of energy that we had on our first couple of albums, which we were probably running away from a little bit for a while, but now we’ve gone back to it.”

Hugh Harris concurs, “The ship is steady, we’ve got a great equilibrium. We’re all quite settled into the relationship, the four of us. That’s hard to find, that chemistry. I think that comes across on the album as well. You can hear there’s interaction between us, not just a series of rehearsed parts that have been recorded There’s a lot of interplay between the members of the band. I don’t think we’ve made a record like that since we first started. it feels communicative. We haven’t been able to get to that stage as a band on our last two albums.”

Let’s Go Sunshine is packed full of razor-sharp indie-pop songs, with tales of love and longing at its beating heart. It’s also a record that reflects the maturation of this quintessential indie-pop band, one that has fully lived the tumultuous life of rock’n’roll, and is now ready to reflect on that, whilst returning to the roots of what they do best musically. “Its not like a return to form, I wouldn’t say that,” says Hugh Harris. “It’s just a return to our format, and sticking to your strengths. The trouble with a lot of bands is that if you gain some kind of success if you’re lucky enough, and the timing is in your favour, they will often do everything in their power to differentiate themselves from the very thing people liked them for in the first place. We are very quick to jump at the opportunity to go off-piste”. What took you there in the first place? “It’s that interplay, and the genuine love of pop music, delivered through guitar, and the band medium. It’s that kind of format that people really kind of celebrate the band for. And we definitely tried to throw a spanner in the works with that. This record has been about trying to get back to what we know we are good at and what people like us for.”

On the back of the release, and the working class commentary that has infused their videos for songs such as ‘All the Time’, and ‘No Pressure’, The Kooks have decided to do a short UK tour, that takes in places less visited, including the De La Warr Pavilion, in the sleepy seaside town of Bexhill-on-sea. “We’re not underestimating our popularity,” claims Hugh. “It’s fun to play different places. Venues in the UK are all kind of homogenised now. It’s hard to find character. These places are so down trodden. They just need some life and love, and it’s nice to be able to do little gigs like that for our fans.”

It’s a different world from their recent gigs, headlining Wembley Arena, and playing a couple of dates with The Rolling Stones, a band they’ve had a long relationship with over the years. “We played with them the first time, in Cardiff, at the Millennium Stadium, around album number two, and then again at the o2 a few years later,” says Hugh. “Mick Jagger came to one of our shows, at Brixton Academy. I remember looking up and seeing him, and my dad was sat behind him. The look on my dad’s face was just priceless. I mean imagine seeing your parents with Mick Jagger at your own concert. That is one of my best, fondest memories. He must’ve dug it, so he asked us to support. They just seem to get better and better. This year was the best we had seem them. It’s ridiculous. It’s outrageous. The spirit is just so strong, they get stronger the longer they do it for. There’s something funky going on there.”

What about you guys? There must be something funky going on there, this chemistry that exists between you and Luke! “We always wanted to be in a band, it was a case of finding the right line up,” explains Hugh. “We went to the Brit School. Not together at the same time, we didn’t really know each other. I remember he had the same leather jacket as me, and I was furious,” he laughs. “Oh, and he also played an Ibanez with a volume pedal, which made me furious as well. We discovered we were both going to BIMM in Brighton, and started to hang out there. I marched him into town, and made him change his Ibanez for a Telecaster. That was the beginnings of it. He was brave enough to want to sing in a band, and I was the guitar player, and that was the dynamic. We clicked immediately, we needed each other. It’s a jigsaw. Its been ups and downs ever since,” he laughs.

Their first ever gig was at the Freebutt in Brighton, with their current manager in tow, and a record deal soon beckoning. I’m guessing you weren’t dreaming of playing with The Rolling Stones and having number one albums? “Oh my god, that was about it, just wanting to play a few gigs, maybe release a record. A lot of bands would be a lot bigger if they were able to stay together and remain functional as humans, and as friends. That’s the hardest thing, overcoming dysfunction in a group of people, of being in a band. There’s so much corruption,” Hugh laughs, “the lifestyle of a touring musician is so corrupt, it’s just ridiculous. Surviving that is a pretty major key to success.”

Jeff Hemmings