- 30 Aug 18
From chart stars to media punchbags, The Kooks have had a ding-dong career. As they prepare to play EP, frontman Luke Pritchard talks about the highs and lows in the band’s history and why Brexit has given him plenty to write about.
Luke Pritchard had just turned 22 when his band, The Kooks, played Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage. It was 2007 and the indie rascals had second billing, below The Killers. The screams that erupted as they lolloped through their biggest hit, ‘She Moves In Her Own Way’, were predictably deafening. But Pritchard was so epically lubricated he can hardly remember.
“We did a good show,” he says of the performance. “But I was drunk because I was nervous. I was in my early twenties and had done a handful of festivals. All of a sudden we were doing a show in front of 80 or 90,000 people.”
The Kooks could easily have served as a cautionary tale to young rockers whose dreams come true too quickly. They became famous overnight, courtesy of ‘She Moves In Her On Way’ and the accompanying 2006 album Inside In/Inside Out. Not only was the song wistfully catchy – it was also ripped straight from the gossip pages, inspired, as it was, by Prichard’s unhappy break-up from singer Katie Melua.
With their woolly hair and sugar-spun melodies The Kooks were never going to be hip. Predictably, critics loathed the band, decrying their perceived middle-class background – a stoning offence in the eyes of the UK music press, a profession stuffed with Oxbridge-graduates – and lampooning their lack of cool. Tellingly, little of the ire was directed at Pritchard’s songs, which a decade on have weathered the years astonishingly well.
“We had a tough time with the press,” the singer reflects. “We didn’t get any accolades. We still don’t win awards.”
But they never gave up, not even when they parted with their major label and said ‘adieu,’ amid some acrimony, to bassist Max Rafferty (he claimed he was fired because he didn’t like their second LP, Konk) and later to drummer Paul Garred (who took the obvious next step of becoming an opera composer). Such steadfastness in the face of a fickle industry has stood them in good stead, with their forthcoming Let’s Go Sunshine album perhaps their strongest since Inside In/Inside Out.
“We had to get through the rain to reach the rainbow – that’s for sure,” says Pritchard. “There were tough times. But we’ve been discovered by a whole new generation. We recently did our biggest ever tour, our first time out in arenas. People think we did arenas on our first album. Actually, we didn’t. We wanted to keep it to Brixton Academy-size venues because we were still developing our act.”
Let’s Go Sunshine is one of The Kooks’ most complete and assured records. Yet it has little of the angst that typically fuels confessional songwriters. In a happy relationship and, at 33, comfortable in his skin, was Pritchard required to dig deep to find something about which to write?
“People say you have to be unhappy to write really good records. I don’t believe that,” he says. “There aren’t any heartbreak songs. But it’s not all personal. On ‘Pamela’ I talk about falling in love with a mental patient and then they come and cart her away at the end.”
And anyway, even if things are going smoothly in his own life that doesn’t mean there is nothing to worry about. For starter’s Brexit and the imminent prospect of the UK’s post-EU sunny uplands looking a bit like an outtake from Mad Max.
“It’s quite an unhinged period of time in general. With Brexit, it really feels the bottom’s falling out of the earth – you’ve got this completely power-mad Tory government ripping the country to shreds. It’s something we need to talk about.”
Does he look back at the Luke Pritchard of 13 years ago and feel a twinge of sympathy for the tribulations ahead?
“We were enjoying ourselves a bit too much,” he says. “It all came from nerves. When our first album was made, we were all quite shy people. None of us was getting the girls or anything and then we were thrown into this situation and ended up drinking through it. If everything had been positive all of the time after that, I genuinely think I would have lost my mind. Sometimes I feel for people who are mega successful – it comes with a whole lot of baggage.”
Let’s Go Sunshine is released on August 31.