Picked up by and signed to a major record label just three months after forming, The Kooks struck ground and hit pay dirt in January of 2006 with the release of their first record, Inside In/Inside Out (Virgin Records). Luke Pritchard was only 18, heading the band of young rockers from Brighton, England; fresh-faced with a curly mop of hair, looking much like a young Bob Dylan with the songwriting capabilities to match. They turned out single after single on this record, catchy hook after catchy hook. Relatable tune after relatable tune—garnering major radio play, not only in the UK but also right here in the States, on indie and college stations, as well as more mainstream rock and pop stations. Everyone loved The Kooks. Songs like “Eddie’s Gun” and “Sofa Song” were played everywhere; it was like a whirlwind romance—people wanted more, and they always seemed to have, well, more.
When Pritchard and the guys wrote and recorded “Naïve,” arguably the biggest track off of Inside In/Inside Out and definitely a fan favorite, he really didn’t think it would take off the way it did. “You never quite know,” he says, laughing. “But it happens all the time; writing a song you think is just average, and it ends up being the biggest at gigs and the one the crowd goes nuts for—or writing something you think is great that isn’t received as well as you’d hoped. I thought ‘Naïve’ was average when we recorded it, but I’ve come to love it. It’s one of our biggest songs, and we still love playing it.”
The success of “Naïve” and the other singles from their first record set them up for success in later ventures, as proven with their second record, 2008’s Konk, and their most recent release, Junk Of The Heart, which dropped in September of 2011. Fun and energetic, while still staying true to the roots of rock ‘n’ roll, their music has become a bit of a staple, a mainstay. Great rock songs about youthful romances and heartbreaks, teenage misdemeanors, and the party that is young adult life characterize this band and their vibe. You wake up hungover on someone’s couch and you reach for a Kooks record. You’re revving your car engine outside the house of the girl that just stood you up and broke your heart at two in the morning and you’re playing a Kooks record. Anyone could relate, and judging by record and ticket sales in the last six years or so, they sure as hell do. But how? Well, for starters, these kids know the art of a catchy friggin’ hook.
“As far as our songwriting process goes, we’re quite loose with it all, really,” Luke reveals. “We just have fun, with the music, as a band. We go at it from all angles and ultimately try to come up with something people will sing along to at the gigs. We go to a ‘live’ place. We get into it that way—always trying to come up with that unique melody, something new for us, from us. Melody’s a whole other language, really, and that’s always high in our minds. We try to put down something that will translate from the record to the live show.”
Fans of bands such as The Strokes and Arctic Monkeys tend to dig The Kooks, although they’re somewhat less severe sounding while still managing to deliver a punch and make an impact, which is distinct for them, and can possibly be attributed to Luke’s country and folk roots. “Growing up, I listened to a lot of American folk and country, actually. In a way it was kinda weird, being 13 with all my friends sort of listening to hip-hop and Green Day, but me having grown up on classic songwriting, like Bob Dylan. I love Bob Dylan. As a whole, we all love bands such as Supergrass and Blur, and we’ve enjoyed Lykke Li lately. I don’t know if I could say they directly influence our music, but they are inspirational to us.” When asked to choose one song in the history of rock ‘n’ roll that he wishes The Kooks had written, Pritchard laughed and said, “‘2HB’ by Roxy Music. So good.”
The Kooks have made a big name for themselves and done a lot in the years since their formation, but it hasn’t been all roses. In fact, one of the biggest obstacles they’ve had to overcome as a band is the loss of members. “It’s sucked, for all of us,” Luke says of the departure of former bassist Max Rafferty in 2008 due to sickness and rumors of drug addiction and drummer Paul Garred’s temporary split in 2009 due to a nerve problem in his arm that is, thankfully, now mostly manageable. “It’s very difficult, when you’ve managed to build up something great, and then you lose that connection. But life is like that sometimes, you know? I mean, I was only 18 when our first album came out. At times it’s been difficult to keep the band together but it’s even more difficult to walk away from something you love.”
And that much is clear from Junk Of The Heart, an album almost three years in the making, for which the band took time off to really work on and get right. And that’s exactly what they did; growing and maturing in that time and putting out a phenomenal rock record. “We wrote and recorded our second album with almost no break between touring off the first record and heading into the studio. It was quite a different experience this time around, with us taking time off. We weren’t on holiday fooling around and getting smashed—we took the time off to write and just be in one place, we took our time and really focused on the finished product.” And the finished product is a rather matured work, but still entirely their signature style. It’s still The Kooks.
When asked at what point it really clicked for him, that they’d “made it,” and what could be expected from them in the future, Luke paused for a moment before saying, ‘Well, fuck, I don’t know! I don’t think I’ve had that moment yet! I feel like, if you think like that, that’s it, you’re about ready to give up. I mean sure, there are certain landmarks. Like signing a record deal, and knowing that now, that means you’ll get to put out a record. And then maybe another. But as far as the future goes, and our next record, well I can’t really say. I definitely don’t think we’ve put out our best work yet. I think we’re still getting going. So, music—expect music!”
If you’ve yet to see The Kooks play live, I would highly recommend trying to catch them at one of their U.S. shows; their headlining tour kicks off at the end of this month and goes into March, with them hitting Terminal 5 in NYC on March 7. They’ll be back in late spring/early summer supporting their friends Foster The People, but the two New York City dates at the end of May (29th and 30th) have already sold-out—and have been sold-out for about five months now. “I’m really not surprised those shows sold-out five months in advance. Foster The People have been doing so great, and honestly I think they’re one of the best bands out there right now. The ticket sales definitely reflect that. It feels great to be a part of it!” It’s great for them, but a total bummer for anyone who can’t exactly trek out to Ohio, Texas, Georgia, or Maryland to catch these two acts together on the same stage. Nevertheless, Luke and the boys are still excited to be back in America to play.
“Of course we’re excited! We’ve had a really good time in the U.S., we like playing here. It’s always a fun time for us, and to be received so well in America is great. And Foster The People are great, it’s going to be a fun tour. We haven’t supported another band in a long time, in years, really, and we’re looking forward to it. We get to play a shorter set each night and have fun and just enjoy it all!”
In his closing statement, almost mischievously, Pritchard said in a way that might make some nervous—“See everyone in America very soon!” God only knows what The Kooks have in store for us—but we’re gonna enjoy every damn minute of it, I’m sure.
The Kooks will be playing with Morning Parade at Terminal 5 on Wednesday, March 7. For more information, as well as to purchase their new album, Junk Of The Heart, go to thekooks.com.