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
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