They move in their own way

The Kooks are hot prop­erty. Per­fect indie boys with hair to die for. Their album sales aren’t bad ei­ther. Fresh from play­ing a head­line gig at Lon­don’s As­to­ria, lead singer Luke Pritchard tells Tony Clay­ton-Lea about his love of old-fash­ioned rock’n’roll

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Cover Story -

IT WOULD be fair to say that Luke Pritchard, the slim-fit lead singer of The Kooks looks de­cid­edly un­der the weather. It isn’t too sur­pris­ing, par­tic­u­larly when you take into ac­count that the pre­vi­ous night in­volved a cel­e­bra­tory head­line gig at Lon­don’s As­to­ria, fol­lowed by a post-gig bash at one of Soho’s most in­ti­mate gay clubs.

As we en­ter the club, its crushed vel­vet wall­pa­per adorned by se­lected pithy words from cel­e­brated gay writ­ers, the thrum of par­ty­ing is al­most bal­anced by the sense of ex­pec­ta­tion.

The Kooks haven’t ar­rived yet, so there’s a lot of chat­ter about how the gig went (very well, new songs slot­ted in quite neatly with old), how their new album, Konk, might do (fin­gers crossed) and how the band are cop­ing with­out orig­i­nal mem­ber Max Raf­ferty (whose de­par­ture­was an­nounced by the briefest of men­tions on the band’s MyS­pace page).

Af­ter some min­utes have passed, The Kooks en­ter. A fris­son of an­tic­i­pa­tion runs through the crowd, a few hand­shakes are in or­der and then it’s off into the night. We leave the band to cel­e­brate, and cel­e­brate they do. Which is why Pritchard looks slightly the worse for wear to­day.

Elfin is prob­a­bly the best word to de­scribe him; he comes across as a re­luc­tant fig­ure of idol­a­try (in cer­tain parts of the world, where The Kooks are the band du jour, Pritchard is li­onised), and of­ten cuts a soli­tary, pos­si­bly som­bre swathe through the con­ver­sa­tion.

Born in 1985, Pritchard is a Lon­doner through and through. He re­fuses to play the work­ing-class card, how­ever, stat­ing that it was far from a hous­ing es­tate he was raised. When he was three his fa­ther, a part-time blues mu­si­cian and full-time busi­ness­man, died, leav­ing Luke’s char­ity-worker mother to raise him sin­gle-handed.

Luke at­tended var­i­ous schools, in­clud­ing Lon­don’s North­cote Lodge boys’ prep and Hamp­shire’s co-ed board­ing school, Bedales, where, through a schol­ar­ship, he boarded along­side Lily Allen and So­phie Dahl. Here he be­gan to for­mu­late a plan that would take him into the realm of rock mu­sic.

“My roots are based in folk,” he says. His fa­ther’s books and records – of blues artists, as well as such singer-song­writer hardy an­nu­als as Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell – meant the world to him. “I liked the fact that so many of the lyrics were not just sweet and sour but also very clever.”

At Bedales, Pritchard kept his own coun­sel, mak­ing friends with like-minded teenagers, play­ing folk mu­sic and lis­ten­ing to Dylan on the dorm CD player (“only for the older guys, who loved hip-hop, to break the CDs”). At 16 he left Bedales and en­rolled at Croy­don’s Brit School for Per­form­ing Arts. It was here that he met and went out with (for three years) singer Katie Melua.

Ro­mance aside, Pritchard couldn’t find any in­spi­ra­tion at the school, so he and other for­ma­tive Kooks mem­bers Hugh Har­ris and Paul Garred opted to en­rol at Brighton’s In­sti­tute of Mod­ern Mu­sic. In 2003, Vir­gin Records signed them fol­low­ing a four-song set at Brighton’s tiny Free Butt venue. It was the band’s first per­for­mance.

Less than three years later – hav­ing been in the record com­pany creche, thereby prov­ing once again that if time and nur­tur­ing are given over to cer­tain acts, ev­ery­one will reap div­i­dends – the band’s de­but album was re­leased. Inside In/Inside Out has since passed the two mil­lion mark (more than 700,000 copies sold out­side the UK), mak­ing the band and Konk very hot prop­er­ties in­deed.

Sip­ping what looks sus­pi­ciously like a Bloody Mary (in fact, yes, it is – we see a cel­ery stick), Pritchard is pre­pared for a grilling. He de­flects ques­tions about the jet­ti­son­ing of Max Raf­ferty through a se­ries of pained ex­pres­sions, al­most forc­ing the

fol­low­ing re­sponse out of him.

“It’s sad, but I love the guy. His goals and ideas in life weren’t ours. He wasn’t around that much even in the stu­dio. We all felt like he didn’t want to be there. A good anal­ogy is that you have a girl­friend and be­cause you don’t want to con­tinue go­ing out with her you start be­ing a dick to her. And be­cause of that she breaks it off with you.” Sub­ject closed.

As for Katie Melua, well, it’s old and tat­tered hat by this stage, so I don’t even men­tion it. He will say, how­ever, apropos of not very much, that early queries into his private life used to an­noy him, but that it doesn’t re­ally hap­pen much th­ese days.

“We’re a big band, but we’re not in the tabloids very much at all, and that’s fine. You make a clear de­ci­sion by court­ing a par­tic­u­lar type of cov­er­age, and you live or die by that de­ci­sion. The tabloids have been quite re­spect­ful, to be fair to them. As a band we just want to get on with it. And we’ve found that kick­ing up a whole load of fuss in the pa­pers is just point­less.”

Such me­dia at­ten­tion is a long enough way from Pritchard’s ini­tial ca­reer choice. For him, it was al­ways go­ing to be mu­sic.

“I’d like to think that I could turn my hand to any­thing,” he dead­pans, “but that’s prob­a­bly not true at all. There are loads of things I wanted to do. I’d love to be a writer, for ex­am­ple, but I don’t have the pa­tience. I write short sto­ries, but I’m ter­ri­ble with the pa­tience thing, and the words – it’s al­ways a strug­gle. I ex­press my­self through my songs, of course, but I find that melody helps me a lot with plac­ing the words to­gether. There’s a sym­bio­sis there, whereas with pen and pa­per – in the cold light of day, in a pre­sentable form and in a way that has a struc­ture – it’s quite dif­fi­cult.

“Mu­sic be­came less of a dream and more of a re­al­ity in a grad­ual way to us, in that peo­ple were be­com­ing more and more familiar with our songs. Yet there was this un­usual state of be­ing a big band in a small pool. That change in sta­tus oc­curred when we played Top of the Pops in 2006. I was so glad to have been able to play Top of the Pops, with Naive [a song that Pritchard’s Croy­don teach­ers were unim­pressed by]. It was No 5 or there­abouts, and I felt some­thing like a shift change in our lives.

“In a small, pa­thetic way, I felt like we were part of pop cul­ture for hav­ing played the show. It was great that our songs were sit­ting in with the world.”

Pritchard be­moans the fact that pro­grammes such as Top of the Pops aren’t around any­more. That’s an in­ter­est­ing re­ac­tion from one so young – but some­one clearly old enough to un­der­stand the show’s im­por­tance in terms of cul­tural ac­cept­abil­ity and over­all ku­dos.

“For fans of mu­sic, it’s quite dis­con­cert­ing in that there seems to be lit­tle di­rec­tion any more.” Top of the Pops, he ar­gues, was a cul­tural barom­e­ter in that the acts that were on it were the acts that were suc­cess­ful – even if they just scraped into the Top 30.

“Now,” he says, with an un­der­tone of de­ri­sion, “any­one can pop up any­where for the best part of a few sec­onds and then they’re gone. That isn’t a bad thing, but it does piss me off in that we have to do so much pro­mot­ing of the records in or­der to gain ac­cess to peo­ple. Whereas 20 years ago you could do one television show that would get you mil­lions of view­ers.”

If they have any­thing to do with it, The Kooks will still get those mil­lions of view- ers – and fans, too. Sor­ties to the US have un­cov­ered a groundswell of com­mit­ted fans. Per­haps the Amer­i­cans can de­tect el­e­ments of Pritchard’s folk roots among the band’s ob­vi­ous nods to 1960s Bri­tish groups such as The Who and The Kinks.

“Amer­ica has be­come im­por­tant to us,” states the by now wilt­ing singer, who, af­ter we fin­ish talk­ing, is off to bed. “We’re pretty am­bi­tious peo­ple with our mu­sic – we want more, more, more. Plus, we’ve been re­ceived quite well over there. Peo­ple seem to know the songs. It’s im­por­tant, I think, to bring Bri­tish mu­sic over to Amer­ica.

“It’s funny, be­cause I view it in quite a ro­man­tic way, bring­ing a folk tra­di­tion and a rock’n’roll tra­di­tion of ours over to the coun­try that started it all. It’s like when Amer­ica gave us the blues and Elvis, and then we gave them The Who and The Kinks. I like it that we take from lin­eage and his­tory.

“Yes, we take a lot of our in­flu­ences from Amer­ica, but with The Kooks we want to give it back.”

The Kooks (left to right): Dan Logan, Luke Pritchard, Hugh Har­ris and Paul Garred

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