It’s been a few years since Luke Pritchard had taken up temporary residence in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for a break after the Kooks’ heavy touring for their debut album Inside In/Inside Out and I’d bump into him at local dives like Trash Bar. He’s now settled back in the UK, but earlier this summer, the Kooks returned to the States to play a few club shows and to shoot a new video in L.A. I met up with Luke in a penthouse at NYC’s Chelsea Hotel, two months before the legendary artistic landmark stopped taking reservations.
Room 1019‘s double doors opened into a sprawling set of rooms which had doubled as an art gallery suite in recent years. Tattered Empire-style striped couches, rich wood paneling and walls painted dusty azure blue set the mood. When I walked in, Luke was already comfortable on a couch, dressed in a blue sweater, a tee and jeans, all in tones complementing the room’s own. The variations on a color happened by chance, but Luke and his backdrop created the sublime picture of a cool, bohemian oasis in the midst of a scorching afternoon. “Yeah, shades of blue” he said, before we started talking about the band’s latest album, Junk of the Heart.
With this album, it’s hard to pick out favorite songs since so many are standouts. How did you work differently this time?
The idea for this record was that every song has its own place and character. It was a very different process for us with this one. Sonically, we were doing different things, introducing different instrumentation. We’d always been a four piece rock band centered around the guitars, but with this one, we strayed from that quite a bit. In terms of writing, a lot of it time was spent between Tony Hoffer [producer] and me, with a laptop getting sounds. A lot of it was built up from that. What’s come out of that is a much more ‘thought out’ record. Every song on there was worked on quite a bit even before we recorded it, and with every song, we had to make sure it belonged. It’s definitely much more thought out than say, Konk, which was more of just a collection of songs.
There seem to be quite a few different elements, with a classical intro, a nod to Bowie (“Mr. Nice Guy”) and lots of cool, electronic parts. You’ve matured in three years and picked up new inspirations along the way.
We’re just trying to experiment and go to places we’ve never been before, and use technology in the right ways. We haven’t wanted to do that before. We tried to bring inspiration from very modern recordings.
Do you usually work on a melody and lyrics first and then bring them to band?
On almost all of them, yeah. I’d have a song and then would come to Tony and say, ‘here’s the tune.’ He’d sort of figure something out with it and we’d take it to the guys for pre-production. Then we’d all play through it. It was cool. It was done in a very band-like way. We did a lot of the tracking together, but there was room for everyone to do their own thing. I spent my time with Tony, and then I’d come to Hugh [Harris, guitarist] and he’d spend some time with Tony working his guitar parts.
A lot of the songs on this album seem more romantically specific, story-wise.
The most powerful songs, the best songs, are usually the most honest. It’s weird. So many people focus on the fact that I like to talk about girls, but all of the classical music that I love is always about that.
Love is the basic subject matter for most rock and pop music, definitely. Music hasn’t changed that much. There aren’t many young bands singing about science, per se.
It’s quite interesting and it’s something worth talking about. It seems like it’s a trend for bands to be a bit ashamed of doing it [singing about love] so blatently, and now they’re trying to hide it. That’s kind of the trend. It’s kind of an interesting thing to be asked about it so much, since my favorite bands, the Stones, the Beatles, the Police… are always talking about chicks. It seems like a natural thing for me to do. It’s sometimes brought up in a slightly negative way, not by you at all, but often people do. That’s a big part of the album – it’s a romantic record. It’s meant to be. There’s psychedelia within that as well, but it’s definitely what I’m into.
How was it working with your new drummer, Chris [Prendergast]?
He’s a live drummer, and Paul [Garred], our original drummer, played on the album. Paul just doesn’t feel comfortable touring at the moment. He’s had some health problems with his arm and he’s not in that head space where he wants to tour. We’re great mates, we did the album together, he is in the band and he’s a creator within the band. He’s just not touring.
Did you happen to know your current live drummer Chris or was there a long process of auditioning drummers?
We did try some people out and it was weird… You meet some funny people that way.
It’s not like the Kooks are some little garage band. At your level, I would think it would be hard for the people trying out. It must be nerve-wracking for them!
Well, maybe [laughs]. Chris was someone that we’d known for years. He’d played with a guy called Kid Harpoon, who’d toured with us [in 2008]. He’d played in a few bands and we knew he was a good drummer and a cool person, so it was just a matter of us asking, ‘do you want to come have a jam with us?’ And it worked.
It’s a pretty simple song to sing along to, yeah.
Do you have any personal favorites?
I like a lot of the more ‘modern’ ones too, like “Runaway” and “Is It Me” and “Junk of the Heart”. The new instrumentation makes them feel really fresh to me. I love it all and I’m really proud of the record. There’s so much work going in and so much love, and it was so enjoyable as a process. I just feel really strongly about the whole album, like it’s a great journey and a great piece of music.
Were you actually working on it for around two years or did a lot of the writing happen towards the end?
There are some songs that may have been knocking around, like the chorus of “How’d You Like That”, but then the verse for that came nearer to the end of the album. It’s like anything, really, you’re working towards it the whole two years, but then I wrote three quarters of it in the month before we recorded.
That seems to be the best way, when the songs just come out and you don’t have to force it.
Yeah, totally, it has to be natural.
Do you still split your time between London and New York? I know you really like it here.
Yeah, I come here all the time. I always try and get back here, but now that we’re on tour it’s going to be a little more difficult. At one time, I was thinking of moving here, but at the moment, that’s not going to happen. At some point, I would like to. My brother lives here. (He’s not my brother by blood). It would be nice to be here and see him for a while, I’d like that.
You’re in New York to play Bowery Ballroom tonight, which is great since you haven’t played that small of a space here in a while. Last time I saw you guys was at Terminal 5.
Yeah, it’s great. It’s so cool to play smaller venues. Club shows are actually much more enjoyable for us. The bigger ones are cool, but the fans are kind of far away. It’s a whole different sort of thing.
As far as doing your new video tomorrow, are you looking forward to it or is it a chore?
I’m looking forward to this one, [for "Junk of the Heart"]. Yeah, this one’s going to be great.
Is the concept that’s something new for you guys?
Yeah, it’s very much like a piece of theatre. It’s going to be artistic, influenced by artists in the way it’s going to be shot.
[laughs] Yeah, definitely! The whole thing with the album is that we all felt that what was needed right now was some sunshine, and some music that’s upbeat, fresh and exciting. I think that album cover did it too. It seems there’s so much shoegazing happening. We wanted to bring something that was really lively and unashamedly pop, or whatever you want to call it. We wanted to bring on the sunshine in the same way that people who we like and listen to make us feel. When you put on a record, it should be like a carnival. It should be like you’re putting it on and everyone gets excited. That’s what we wanted to do instead of all the dingy guitar music that seems to be going on.
It’s nice to hear an album and be transported to a different place, get out of whatever mood you’re in.
Definitely. That’s what music does, it takes you into another zone. The album cover reflects that, it’s bright and it’s… like joyful.
The Kooks are back for a North American tour on November 15. Find all their tour dates and more info on their official site.