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Interview: The Kooks

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It is 2004 and I am sat outside a tent at Glastonbury festival with four lads who claim to be ‘in a band’, and after some banter they joke that they are ‘going to be big.’ I was dismissive.

The KooksThe KooksThat band turned out to be The Kooks, who nowadays are unquestionably ‘big’. It first hit me that they were onto something special when sat in the Delph Bar, Lincoln six months after our Glasto encounter guitarist Hugh Harris walked in - “What the f**k are you doing here?” They were playing one of their first headline gigs and they were impressive - I was dismissive no more.

Now in 2006 I am sat chatting to Hugh and front-man Luke Pritchard (who is incessantly strumming on an acoustic guitar) in a car at the back of the outdoor stage at The Farm, Lincolnshire preceeding the last performance of their ‘Seaside Tour’.

I start with that ‘going to be big’ comment. Hugh butts in, “Did we say that, I feel like a fool.”

“I think anyone in a band is quietly confident about what they are doing whether they are successful or not, I think you gotta be. You have to believe in what you are doing to a certain extent, otherwise why would you be playing the music that you are playing - you play the music that you love the most in a band, so obviously you’re going to think that you’re the best and what you’re playing is the best music,” he elaborates.

Luke has some further thoughts on success, it is apparent that this has been on his mind. “Success for me is something different to the music, we always thought that we had good pop songs but being successful, there’s loads of things that go into that like when you come out, what kind of music people are listening to at the time, the people at your record label, how you’re put across.”

“Some really cool bands don’t make it and we appreciate that it is right time, right place and we’ve had all these things align.”

So lady luck has been on their side. In the things ‘aligning’ to get them all this success, the band recognise the current rise in popularity of guitar music has contributed a lot to the situation they find themselves in.

“The fact that lots of people are listening to this kind of music now and there’s been a kind of explosion in new guitar bands - I think that is a lot of the reason why. I feel that we are part of that as well,” says Luke.

Regardless, their success is obvious. The following day stood with Hugh watching Broken Social Scene at Leeds Festival our conversation is interrupted by some giggling girls pointing at him. I tell him I think he’s being pointed at. “I know I've seen them, it's really weird,” genuinely confused by the attention he gets.

After a 10-minute bout of photos, signings and hugs he announces that they have to ‘go rehearse’ and he’ll chat to me later. Later that night what only can be described as ‘crowd trouble’ descends on the NME/Radio 1 stage as literally thousands of eager fans cram into the tent. The noise is almost deafening as a mass audience sing-along occurs throughout each and every song.

This popularity is set to rise to new heights the following week when the band are to support The Rolling Stones at a few arena dates. How did supporting the world’s most popular touring act come about?
Hugh proudly tells the tale, “We were at the Isle of Wight festival and about to go on stage, and the guy who promotes that is the Stones promoter as well. He did it in a really old school way, he came up to us at the side of the stage before we went on and was like ‘do you like The Stones, I saw you on telly this morning saying that it would be fun to support The Stones’. Basically he just said ‘how would you like to do a few shows with them?’” We all agree this is probably one of the easiest decisions they will ever have to make.

The demand to see them perform live means that much of the boys life is now on the road - I know that touring rock groups have many bizarre touring tales, The Kooks must have some salacious tid-bits to share with me.

“Yeah, we’re not very interesting,” says Luke somewhat sarcastically.

I push for more, he wants to tell me a story but then says he doesn’t want to share it after I tease that he has obviously just been practising it for interviews.

Hugh butts in, “There was an old-lady…”, but I don’t think that’s the story so ignore that and move back to Luke, I wanna hear his ‘Texas’ anecdote.

“I went to a Mystery Jets gig, we kinda know them so we were hanging out afterwards and I was with a mate and we decided to get on top of this truck and we were dancing and there were some girls - it was really cool, everyone was having a wicked time, you could hear the music, it was like a festival, it was South by Southwest. We get fuckin’ collared by these cops, one said ‘come down’, I was really drunk and this cop just spat right in front of me. I went ‘You do know that spreads Tuberculosis’ and he just looked at me and went, ‘You get TB in jail, boy’. I was like ‘fuckin’ hell’. It was full-on and they were like ‘can we see your IDs’. I so very nearly went to Texan jail,” says Luke obviously aware he isn’t exactly built for hard-labour on a chain-gang.

I wonder with all this international travel why are The Kooks playing a small seaside venue in Lincolnshire?

“It’s nice to do something a bit different, because you get into the treadmill you do the same fuckin’ venue five times, because we can now, we thought we’d go to places we wouldn’t usually play - it’s more like an event, I think people appreciate it. We’ve met loads of people in all the towns we’ve been in and people are just like ‘man, nobody plays here’ so it’s nice,” explains Hugh.

The Kooks want to play for their fans no matter where they are! Aww, sweet!

Forming in 2003, The Kooks honed their skills at the Brit School for Performing Arts and the Brighton Institute of Modern Music, which has brought some criticism that the band are somehow not as ‘organic’ and ‘credible’ as other bands. This is a question that they have been asked a thousand times, but having seen them progress to stardom I want to hear what they think of such comments.

Luke is straight in with a snappy answer, “Why would you not be in it for the music, if you went to a music college? I think that people get het up by thinking that we went to Fame Academy and because you’ve got all these f**kin’ programmes that are basically showcasing how easy it is to mould people into pop stars. Who cares whether we went to music college? We went there because we wanted to play music, we write our own songs and do what we wanna do. You don’t read about…. there’s tonnes of bands who did the same, it’s just we’re really open about that and try to be honest about where we came from.”

Famously much criticism came from one Mr Johnny Borrell of the band Razorlight who entered into a war of words with Luke via the pages of a popular music weekly. Why enter into some public, childish name-calling bout? Do you hate Razorlight that much or is this simply press spin? I ask Luke how he found himself in that situation and how he felt about it.

“I think it was definitely created, but not by us. I mean we’ve never met them, I think [points at Hugh] you guys maybe met them once. I’ve never met them, I mean why would I slag them off in an interview. The thing is, in the interview where I supposedly slag them off, if you read it, I didn’t actually slag them off. There’s nothing in that article saying that there’s something bad with Razorlight, I was just making the point…..the journalist was goading me into it a bit, he’s a cool guy and the interview could have been a lot worse. The reason why it came up was that he’d been going on at me about us being part of a ‘school project’ and I just turned around and said well you are perfectly happy to ‘put your dick in Johnny Borrell’s arse’ and Pete Doherty when their bands weren't even formed naturally, the record label put their stuff together. Johnny Borrell went through about three different styles of music before he arrived at what they're doing. Why is what we are doing less natural than that? That is all I was saying, I wasn’t saying it was bad but you don’t read about that do you?

“When it came out they just put this big caption saying ‘RAZORLIGHT’, no one actually read the f**kin’ article, they just look at the pictures and read the caption.”

The press obviously wind them up a little, and in my current capacity as ‘journalist’ and not ‘friend’ I feel I should let them air their views on the music press.

“It’s really hard when you read back an interview and there are things that you haven’t said or things are taken completely out of context. We spend loads of time talking about this, it’s a bit ridiculous, I mean, we’re not trying to pretend…we’re not expecting magazines to go writing about our music like they would Bob Dylan, it’s just it would just be nice to not have those people in the magazine wanting you to be really arrogant. I mean, one of the first questions that you asked us was ‘Are you gonna be really big’ because we said that or whatever - I don’t remember saying that.” I have to reassure Luke that the comment was said in jest, whilst drunk, and nothing bad was meant by me bringing it up.

After all they ‘did’ say it and they are ‘big’ now. Hugh quickly turns the conversation back to the press, “It’s changed a lot in the past few years, man. I think it’s more about what people want, the people that are buying the music press is a reflection of it - people want a quick fix of something that is fashionable and something they can talk about, it’s more of a gossip column than actually knowing about a band.”

But as annoying as this rumour mill is they haven’t lost their sense of humour and are still able to laugh at stupid rumours they hear about themselves.

“There’s quite a funny one about Chris De Burgh. One of us said that I like Chris De Burgh in Germany and now every time we go to Japan they ask me what my favourite Chris De Burgh albums are and stuff,” quips Hugh, laughing but slightly embarrassed about the number of times he has had to field De Burgh questions in interviews. So not a fan then? “I’m not the biggest fan no!”

Luke adds, “One of our mates put on the internet that my original name was Steven Bean and that we used to be called ‘The Raisin Boys’ on some on-line encyclopaedia or something. It’s pretty funny, man.” I point out that it’s actually on their Wikipedia entry.
“That’s f**kin’ funny man!”

They are getting fidgety, they want to get back to their hotel to relax before their set. After discussions on manipulative press and the spread of wrongful information on all things Kook, I open the floor - tell us what we need to know about The Kooks.
Luke goes first, “I think people should come and see us play live before judging us.”

“We probably haven’t come out exactly how we are, but then you’re never going to are you? Just come and see us live.”
Hugh is less talkative stating simply, “I’m cool, man.”

Whatever you need to know about The Kooks, I guess, can be heard in their music, and I myself am looking forward to seeing what they’re doing at our next encounter.

Whatever that is, success or no success, they’ll still be the same guys I met at Glasto.

 

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