“Music Is Primordial” The Kooks In Conversation

Luke Pritchard on chemistry, consciousness and the secret to finding true happiness...

"I feel like I’m making the best music I’ve made in years," trills Luke Pritchard off The Kooks. And you know what? Fair enough.

Incoming sixth album '10 Tracks To Echo In The Dark' is brimful of singsong hooks rendered in the same irresistible voice that catapulted his Brighton band into our hearts, yikes, 15 years ago now. The LP is being released piecemeal, in small batches of three-track EPs, cos why not.

Anyway, lucky old me, I had a brisk half-hour to chat to Luke about the art and science of songwriting, his new approach to making records, some weighty ‘career baggage’, and the impact of having his first sprog.

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Hey Luke from the Kooks, what’s the secret to writing a knockout pop hook?

Don’t overthink. Music is primordial. I never sit down to write pages of lyrics and set them to music, like Bob Dylan. Stream-of-consciousness is the way to go. You can confront yourself about certain topics that way. Stuff you’d never put down on a page. And you come up with songs people connect with. That’s my experience, anyway.

Well, you’d know.

My best songs… I don’t know where they came from. Sometimes the wind is with you, sometimes it’s not – but you need to be prepared to capture a good bit when it comes. That’s the craft.

The key is turning on the radio in your mind, and letting your consciousness drift along with it. I’ve annoyed lots of collaborators over the years by constantly throwing new ideas in. So you also need to know when to stop.

The largely guitar-free production on your new record is quite a departure from ‘classic’ Kooks, what’s the deal?

I’ve written with several producers, and they’re all different. But Toby [Tobias Kuhn] on this new album is a vibe guy. He’s a genius, because he’s so impulsive. And a little bit like a psychologist, getting me into a place where I’m as open as possible.

On our first album [‘Inside In/Inside Out’, 2005] we spent days just figuring out drum sounds. It was worth it, probably, but sometimes the vibe is more important. So what we found, this time around, is that very often the original demo drums, from a Linn [drum machine] were cooler than anything we sunk loads of time into. Because they sounded more instinctual. Because they were more instinctual.

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There’s a kid’s choir in there too, on 'Cold Heart'. Trés vibey.

That’s Pauline Quirke [off Birds of a Feather]’s choir! She has this little children’s company. They were so professional it was unbelievable. I’d written a song about the inner child, and about lost innocence. About a girl who kept dumping me. I wanted to create this dialogue between the inner child, and the adult self. Why do good people do bad things, is the question at the heart of it.

I’d always wondered about the meaning of your songs, actually.

‘Seaside’ is obviously mine and Paul Garred’s musical ode to Brighton. ‘Ooh La’ deals with teenage paranoia, about losing a girl to an older dude. ‘Naive’ – it’s so crazy to me the life that tune has had! – is teenage me panicking at the possibility of being cheated on.

Huh, so angst and paranoia are really the Kooks’ twin engines?

When I was younger, even up until our latest album, I felt overshadowed by the death of my father [musician Bob Pritchard, who passed from a heart attack when Luke was just three]. I wanted to make music because he made music, but also because there was a lot of unresolved pain. I didn’t know how to be happy.

Later on in life, I had lots of career baggage to deal with. Because The Kooks enjoyed this huge, independent success that came out of nowhere – literally nobody expected it – a few of the things that we did afterwards felt like failures. Even though they definitely weren’t failures.

Like what?

I remember when our second album went to number one in the charts. Tony Hoffa [producer] called me up saying ‘hey man, congratulations’ and I was just like ‘what for?! We should be playing Madison Square Garden!’

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Well, you seem a lot happier today.

As you get older you get more considered. You think more deeply about your actions. That’s a positive thing. Having a great relationship, with my wife Ellie. Having our first child – Julian – means there’s less time for ego, less time for everything. But also joy, joy like I’ve never felt before.

I don’t have a mantra or anything. I’m not hiking, yet. But I’m sure the key is gratitude. It’s a challenge, but life is about getting to a place where you feel grateful to be alive. It gets muddled up. And life is complicated. Especially as British people, we tend to revel in misery. It’s the source of so much humour, and so much great art.  

Having such a massive first album created baggage. I spent years trying to run away from that, trying to prove myself. But now I just feel grateful for it.

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‘She Moves In Her Own Way’ soundtracked my most significant mid-noughties summer romance. Cheers for that!

That’s the goal in music. More than getting pats on the back from your peers. When the music you make becomes a part of people’s lives. I used to feel embarrassed about that. But we all have huge songs like that in our lives, don't we, and if I managed to write one, then wicked.

What are you looking forward to?

The album coming out, in three parts. It’ll be nice to play the new stuff on tour. We’re off to South America this month, that’s a great place for us, we have some incredible fans over there. Then it’s festival season!

If you could give one piece of advice to young Luke Pritchard, what would it be?

Don’t do drugs.

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'10 Tracks To Echo In The Dark' will be released on July 22nd.

Words: Andy Hill

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