“We wanted to be outsiders…” - hmv.com talks to The Kooks
For most of 2006, some of 2007 and in every indie disco in the years since, you couldn’t avoid The Kooks, and more specifically their megahit ‘Naive’.
Beginning back in 2004 when singer/guitarist Luke Pritchard, guitarist Hugh Harris and then drummer Paul Garred were still at school, the band announced themselves a year or so later with the ragged, but ever so catchy ‘Eddie’s Gun’ and quickly built up a solid profile. Their debut album Inside In / Inside Out followed in 2006 and unleashed both ‘Naive’ as well as other hits ‘She Moves In Her Own Way’ and ‘Ooh La’, it sold hugely well, over two million copies and took the band straight into arenas.
The band stuck to that formula for 2008 follow-up Konk and 2011’s Junk Of The Heart, working with Belle & Sebastian knob twiddler Tony Hoffer and keeping to their folksy indie with a savvy commercial sheen. It kept them in big venues and high up festival bills, but the band then became tired of it.
They decidedly to change things up completely in 2014 with their fourth effort Listen. They ditched Hoffer and brought in producer Inflo, best known before then for his work with Tulisa. That resulted in a change in sound that saw elements of jazz, gospel and R&B added into their music.
Having experimented on Listen, the band’s new album Let’s Go Sunshine sees them returning to their roots somewhat, with guitars pushed to the forefront and the sunny melodies of their first LP back in spades.
With Let’s Go Sunshine now on shelves, we spoke to the band’s frontman Luke Pritchard about life on their own label and returning to the more simple formula of their early work...
It’s technically been four years since your last album, but you’ve had a ‘Greatest Hits’ and a few other bits in between, when did you start working on these songs?
“It really started when I met the producer Brandon Friesen, so the beginning of 2016. It’s morphed into a record over time, we didn’t decide one day that we were going to make a record, we were just writing and it naturally became a record from collecting songs.”
From what you’ve said about the album, it seems that the songs started off in a similar vein to your LP Listen, but then you decided you needed to change your sound. Did that happen naturally over time? Or was there a moment when you decided to scrap the early songs?
“The way we were, I knew I wasn’t writing my best songs. We’d started out with InFlo, working in the same way we had on Listen, and one day we all looked at each other and said ‘This isn’t working’. There was a clear snap moment and none of those early songs are anywhere near the record. We went back to jamming, working more organically, we didn’t sit down and plan, but we knew what we’d done before didn’t feel like us, we needed to rediscover something.”
It’s been billed as a return to the sound of your first album, is that just because there are more guitars than on Listen?
“It’s a lot less scrappy than our first album, but it is a guitar record. That was a conscious choice, making a guitar record and it feels like going against the grain a bit nowadays. The songs are lot more orchestrated than the first album, the tempos are crisper, the production is better. I do feel though that I tapped into a feeling with my songwriting that I hadn’t had since the first album.”
“The lyrics are far more playful and interesting. In a way it is a return to the early days, we rehearsed a lot and we wanted to capture the band. We definitely had a great chemistry on that first album and this one feels like that. We made the last album very separately, all the songs were built on Pro Tools. It’s nice to capture that spirit, but we’ve definitely moved on.”
What is it about Brandon Friesen that attracted you? He’s not a household name, but you clearly really rate him…
“He’s amazing. He’s got this real rock’n’roll spirit, he loves to be in the thick of it and he’s all about the vibe. He’s done records with big US acts, bands like Sum 41 and Nickelback, stuff that’s not really in my zone, but big band records. He was looking to make a great rock record and that’s what we wanted. It was exciting to work with something new, we didn’t want the guy who’d done the last Kasabian record, we wanted to be outsiders together, that gave us a lot of fight and a lot of creative freedom. We wanted to stand out, sometimes that makes it hard to get on the radio, but what can you do…”
What kind of album is it lyrically? Is there a theme?
“Every song has a little moral element to them and there’s a lot of positivity, but it’s not a concept record, there’s no one theme, it’s a collection of songs. I see it as a hopeful and positive, which we need in the world right now. It’s looking forward, not looking back, it’s a lot more playful, especially the song that’s about falling in love with a mental patient and then watching as she gets carted off in the evening! It’s that kind of thing, all over the place, but cheerful.”
Is the positivity where the title came from?
“It is, I know it’s quite on the nose, but it does sum up what we’re about. We’re unashamed of what we are and that title speaks to that. It’s also a letting go record and it’s a release. We feel like music has had a lot of shoegazing recently, a lot of bands who are just trying to be cool and we don’t want to do that, we wanted to make a classic sunshine record.”
You’ve got a new label set-up this time, it’s your own label with a services partner, how’s that going?
“It’s going great, we’ve got a lot more freedom and it’s a lot more collaborative. We made the album on our own, so the whole creative process was just us and we brought the album to them. That worked for us, it’s our fifth album, we know how to make records. It’s a new experience and we had a tough time being on a major label. We fell into that time where EMI was being bought out and we had no stability for our second and third albums, it was a really tricky and they didn’t know what they were doing. Kobalt are super modern and very artist friendly. I’m excited to see where it takes us.”
Are you glad to be more hands on? Rather than relying on a big machine?
“To a degree, you’ll always need a label and there were great people at Virgin EMI, but in terms of the creative side, I do think it’s better for bands to be left to get on with things. You need opinions, but you need the freedom to stand out and not be homogenised. We have a strong vision of who we are and we don’t anyone to tell us what to do.”
Finally, how’s your live set coming together? Will you be playing a lot of Let’s Go Sunshine?
“We need to rehearse and sort it out! We’ve had a busy summer! The set will be mostly Let’s Go Sunshine, it’s a record that’s ready to be played live and it’ll be nice to revitalise the set. We’ll still play ‘Naive’, I think people would want their money back if we don’t…”