Let's go inside
All mouth and some resonably tight trousers, Kooks’ lead singer Luke Pritchard tells Kevin Courtney why a bit of chutzpah has come in handy
YOU have to be a bit of a dickhead to front a rock band these days. It’s almost a necessary qualification for the job. Nice guys tend to hide shyly behind acoustic guitars and gentle love songs, but guys who sing in rock’n’roll bands are expected to give it some swagger, be a bit gobby and generally behave like spoilt public school brats. And if they try to go against type, they’re liable to be branded “bedwetters”. Luke Pritchard, the singing, songwriting frontman from Kooks, is young, talented and mouthy, but though he’s not backwards in coming forward to the spotlight, he insists it’s the music that really has the swagger. “I know people think I’m an arrogant fuck – I don’t think that helps,” reckons the 20-nothing South Londoner whose band have become one of the big names of 2006, and whose album, Inside In/Inside Out, has sold more than a million copies so far and spent more than half the year in the UK Top 20. “I think people want you to be an archetypal twat, d’you know what I mean? It’s kind of the thing at the moment, isn’t it?”
Since Pete and Kate started generating more column inches than Posh and Becks, singers with indie bands have been fair game for the tabloids, and if you happened to have found yourself thumbing through a red-top in the past few months, you’d have invariably come across a story about Pritchard’s Fame Academystyle education (he studied at the Brit School alongside the likes of Katie Melua).
“To be honest I think it’s pretty sad,” says Pritchard. “I think journalists are really lazy and just want to talk about the easiest thing to talk about, y’know what I mean? I know the way these things work, but I don’t think it’s particularly interesting. I just find it hilarous that journalists, even journalists who seem to like the album, want to talk about the fact that I went to stage school and I went out with some girl who later became famous.”
As far as he’s concerned, rock’n’roll isn’t all about dating – it’s about timing.
“I think with our music we came at the right time to be in a rock band. I think the fact that a lot of people created a kind of scene – tomy mind it’s bands like The Strokes or The Libertines who really opened up a much bigger live scene that wasn’t there.”
Call it the New Wave of Britpop, but the mid-Noughties are seeing a boom in British bands who are not afraid to show their roots, and are unashamed to borrow from the past. Kooks may not have taken their name directly from the song on Bowie’s Hunky Dory (“that’s about Bowie having a kid, isn’t it?“), but their music certainly nods in that general direction, and to other key co-ordinates on the musical compass.
“We were into that whole kind of period, but definitely I think it’s a new wave. I also think that it’s quite simple – bands are very simple now, and it’s all about the songs. The music I think is kind of becoming more old school, which is really weird, because the internet, what it did was actually take things back a bit. I think songs hang around much longer now than they used to. Like that single, Crazy [by Gnarls Barkley], which is like an independent song coming in, it’s not like a fucking ballad from Westlife. I think we’ve made a record that, yes, some people may just like one song, but I think a lot of people have gotten into our album, and if you come to one of our shows, you’ll see that everyone knows all the songs.”
For Kooks, the resurgence of interest in songs has directly helped their cause, and smoothed the album’s passage into the upper reaches of the charts. Their debut single, Eddie’s Gun (about erectile dysfunction, lads), went in at Number 35, and their next single, Sofa Song, broke the Top 30. The charming Naive went Top 5, and the breezy She Moves in Her Own Way subsequently became the pop anthem of the summer (next to Lily Allen’s Smile). Kooks found their fresh faces splashed across television screens, blogs and music supplements everywhere. It was the fulfilment of a schoolboy dream – and they’d barely even left school when it happened.
With barely time to start shaving, Kooks found themselves playing at all the big festivals, in front of crowds who knew the words to all their songs. They played a blinding set at Oxegen in July, but their big rock’n’roll moment came when they were asked to support The Rolling Stones. In October, however, it all came to a grinding halt when Pritchard came down with a double dose of laryngitis and tonsillitis, marring the band’s big homecoming show in Brighton and forcing the cancellation of the rest of their tour. Pritchard’s chewinggum jugglers are back in full working order now, so expect him to sound pristine when the band play a re- scheduled date in Dublin’s Ambassador on Sunday and Monday.
Growing up in Clapham, South London, Pritchard listened obsessively to such bands as Blur, Oasis, Bowie, The Kinks and The Beatles, but found the songs hard to learn on guitar, so wisely decided it would be better to perform his own songs well than to do other people’s songs badly. He had vaguely known guitarist Hugh Harris and drummer Paul Garred from school, but the trio met properly in Brighton and formed Kooks, recruiting bassist Max Rafferty (who has recently been having stress-related problems of his own, and has been temporarily replaced by Pete Denton).
“It was all very natural, there was no kind of story to it,” recalls Luke. “We just became friends really quickly and just got on. We were such diverse people, each of us was so different. It was a really weird mix, but it worked. I think with us, maybe what makes us a different band is that hopefully what we’re doing is not formulaic. Yeah, of course you have to be mates when you start, and talk about music you love and you hate, obviously. But I think at the end of the day it’s all about creating something new, isn’t it? I know that you would say to me that our album is not particularly pushing boundaries, but I kinda think that we try to do something that is fresh, and we dabble in a lot of things, y’know. Probably from being in our generation, we have so muchmusic we can get into, so much literature, everything is there, so we try not to stick to one thing.
“I think music’s evolving, and that’s the whole point of it, that you don’t have to just find a formula and make shitloads of money out of it, which is what most bands do. The Clash didn’t just stay doing one punk song, they moved on. I hear so many bands, and their song’s on the radio, and then I listen to their album, and every song sounds the same. That’s shit, man. I mean, talk about The Beatles, man – how dynamic are the Beatles? You put on Revolver, which is probably my favourite Beatles album, or Abbey Road or Rubber Soul, and listen to how many different things are going on on each record, different styles of music. The Beatles were so engrossed in different music and loved music from different corners of the world, and were fusing everything together, and I think that’s what we’re aspiring to do, and I don’t think that affects your identity. As long as you’ve got a strong identity in your head, then fuck it, man.” Inside In/Inside Out is out on Virgin. Kooks play Dublin’s Ambassador on Sunday and Monday. Both gigs are sold out.