With four albums released, a hearty reputation established, and many a teenage fangirl amassed, British rock band The Kooks’ fourth album has a lot of expectations to live up to. As tracks were slowly fed to the public, it became clear that this new album would take on a rather different feel. With fresh influences, including Ethiopian jazz; a new producer; and a crop of new experiences — from guitarist Hugh Harris’ backpacking in Southeast Asia to the London Riots — it’s no wonder the sound of Listen is a new taste. Some say the rawness of the “old” Kooks is back, and perhaps this is the case; as Luke Pritchard explained, “that kind of fearlessness when you make the first album kind of crept back in.”
Prior to their upcoming performance in Boston, we spoke with Luke about the latest album. As he chuckled at an unintentional pun, reminisced about meeting the talented producer who joined their team, and described the search for “happy accidents” that arose from their improvisation, it was easy to forget that we weren’t chatting in a sunlight kitchen over tea and biscuits. Here’s a snapshot of our chat:
On More Improvisation
The band will be greeted with a sold-out crowd when they return to Boston this weekend, and Luke tells me… “We’ve spent quite a lot of time in Boston. It’s got vibes, for sure” On Listen, The Kooks will be incorporating more improvisation into their set — “I think it has given us an element of freedom live, as well as on the record… they’re quite jammy songs.”
A Genreless Description
As lines between genres blur more and more and with descriptions like “upbeat soul” floating around, we wanted to know how Luke would describe the new album without using the usual crop of musical categorizations. He takes a moment before he comes up with “percussion sonnets.” For fans of The Kooks, percussion is likely not the first thing that comes to mind when describing the band’s music, and it’s one of the key elements that makes this release stand out from the others. “The first couple albums I made I never really thought about rhythms, I focused on the recording and the lyrics.” Luke explains, “I wanted percussion all over this album — we wanted to go deep into cross rhythms.”
The Mysterious Producer
“Inflo? Yeah, he’s quite mysterious.” Luke tells me about the 25-year-old London-based hip hop producer: “I had written ‘Around Town‘ and I thought maybe for the beat I might want to bring in someone from hip hop.” A friend ended up sending Inflo’s SoundCloud Luke’s way and the two hit it off after meeting up for a coffee. “It’s not really what I wanted to do, but the sound of it was so impressive… More than me, he thought it wouldn’t work because he’d never worked with a band before,” Luke explains. “He’s kind of like a young Quincy Jones. He’s very conceptual with production, very brave.”
Escaping the Bullshit
Like most celebrities, Luke describes how the music industry is affecting the band and how it’s easy for artists to forget why they’re making music in the first place. Despite differences in the music Inflo and The Kooks create, this shared desire to break out of the institutionalized music industry brought them together. “We were in similar places actually, both looking to work with someone new and looking to get out of the bullshit. It just clicked instantly. ‘Forgive and Forget’ was the first song we wrote together.” Luke says.
See Me Now: A Letter to His Dad
Among the tracks on the new album is “See Me Now,” a letter to Luke’s dad that took on the form of a song. “My dad passed away when I was really young. That’s it really, it’s a ballad. It’s hard to do but I’m glad I did.” After four albums, why now? “I got pushed into it by Inflo really. We’d been talking about it all day and I was telling him about my dad and he just said you should write a letter to him. And I didn’t really want to because it’s a bit cheesy, but from there… the song came of it. I think it’s really beautiful. I dunno why at that point I decided to let that happen,” Luke tells me.
Themes, New and Old
From the storytelling of “Forgive and Forget,” a tale of a couple breaking up in a bar, to “West Side,” a track about his two best friends getting married, fans can expect more of the usual themes — but a few surprises will be sprinkled in among them, including a gritty tune “It Was London,” recounting the London Riots. Luke explained how the song tried to capture their feelings at the time; “A big city like that, London, Paris, you have this illusion that everything’s safe, and that sort of thing happens and the walls come crashing down. The police brutality that happened around that time… we wrote a song about that. That’s one of my favorite songs on the album, actually.”
Music Videos: Leaving Paris Behind
One look at the music video for “Around Town” and the differences from their previous material are glaringly evident. What’s so different about it? Cinematic beauty aside, for once, the band doesn’t make an appearance. (Let’s admit it, most of The Kooks’ music videos are of guys gallivanting around Paris, serenading their fans through the screen.) Directed by a friend, Luke admits it was a project they’d been talking about for quite a while and finally, they took it on. “We definitely wanted to go down the more conceptual route… that video is really what the song needed: Something fresh and bright. It was a real departure for us.” Luke told me.
After I finally got confirmation that “Seaside” is indeed about Brighton and we wrapped up the interview, I was left feeling that Luke’s earlier comment about the return to the “fearlessness” of the earliest album held true. Or, as he puts it, “the hunger is back.”