Multiple millions of albums into a career spanning over a decade, Brighton, England’s The Kooks are a terrific example of a band learning how to find balance between growth and development while still maintaining solid form. Playing Columbia’s Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 10th in support of their latest album release, Junk of the Heart, the band is at a point where, though comfortable with a Brit-pop garage sound, new influences have opened progressive sonic horizons. On Tap recently had the opportunity to discuss the upcoming US-leg of their international tour, as well as notes on their history, sound, and creative process with lead guitarist Hugh Harris.
On Tap: Junk of the Heart, especially the album’s title track, really showcases top-notch songwriting, which I feel is one of the hallmarks of The Kooks’ success. What exactly goes into that process? Is there any one particular member of the group that is leaned on more than another to provide this skill?
Hugh Harris: It’s typically Luke and I doing the songwriting. We’re all pretty prolific songwriters, and there’s four of us in the band, so ideas always get shared and become songs. The idea exchange is so varied and diverse. Sometimes Luke will have a chorus, and I’ll get together everything else. As far as a formula for our music, well, there really isn’t one I can think of.
OT: There’s a definite sound on Junk of the Heart that shows that there were possibly some new recording measures used. It’s a fresh take on a (now) classic style. How would you describe where this recording process differed?
HH: Recording this most recent album was different than our other releases. In the past, we were all in the same room, jamming, and then we’d record in that straightforward rock and roll sort of way. This album saw us all working on our individual parts in separate rooms. It brought a lot of individuality to the new album.
OT: Many music insiders noted the switch of producers of Junk of the Heart in mid-stream from Jim Abyss to your debut album’s producer Tony Hoffer. Abyss has credits with Adele and the Arctic Monkeys, alongside working with you; Hoffer’s worked with Beck, the Fratellis and Belle and Sebastian. What precipitated the move, and how was it to reunite with someone very familiar with your sound?
HH: Tony Hoffer’s production work was a huge assist. We worked with someone at first who produced eight songs we didn’t feel comfortable with. Getting back with the producer who’s given us our best success was great. It took a while for us to regain our confidence. Tony got us back to our core, funk and reggae, and had us work on songwriting again. From there, he introduced us to synths and a lot of other new sounds. We trust him, so it turned into a really positive experience.
OT: Press clippings describe the band as “musical whores” because of the multiple sonic influences that are apparent in your sound. What initially were the sounds that brought the band together, and what are the sounds that define where the band has ended up on the current release? What were the styles that precipitated the progression you’ve made as a band?
HH: Our first gig came because we told people we were influenced by the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed. Our band itself is named after a David Bowie song (“Kooky People”), and for a long time we were a soul music cover band. As a child, I loved Flock of Seagulls and The Police. Classical music is big…now, as we’re listening to a lot of Shostakovich and Bach. As far as more current influences, LCD Soundsystem, Lykke Li, and Foster the People. There was a lot more indie music, too. We have great friends who had us listen to a lot of great music that was pulled in as our sound evolved.
OT: Lead singer Luke Pritchard was once quoted as saying that “The Kooks were never meant to be an indie band.” However, in gaining popularity at the same time as fellow garage-styled countrymen Kasabian and the Arctic Monkeys, people tend to loop you into the same “indie” classification. What are your thoughts on being considered indie and on the nature of the Kooks as a mainstream trending band?
HH: Mainstream is a necessary evil. We want our music to touch as many people as possible. We want to stay as indie as we can, but want to be exposed to and hopefully loved and respected by the masses. Going “mainstream” means we can tour the world as well, which is cool. More listeners mean more places to tour and more cultures to be exposed to.
OT: I’ve been reading a lot about what the Foo Fighters did with their last album, how they went back to literally being a “garage band” and trying to use analog recording as much as possible. As a member of band sharing in the realm of having experienced considerable mainstream success, what are your thoughts about analog versus digital style?
HH: We’re purists. We love tapes and analog recording, but in the ten years since we hit the scene, everything’s gone to computers and is so digital. At the end of the day though, as a band, we’d love to stay analog.
OT: You’re in the DC area on June 10th. How has the touring process been? You have a brand new drummer, which I’m sure has taken some adjustment time. How has your sound benefitted from the change, and what can fans expect?
HH: The live touring experience for this album has been amazing so far. With all of the band’s changes of late, it was a bit difficult to find our place as a live band again. So, we got back to basics and realized that, as always, you’re only as good as your last show. What’s happened is that the songs have gotten more aggressive and a bit heavier, giving the fans something exciting to expect out of our live show.
On June 10th, The Kooks will play Merriweather Post Pavillion: 475 Little Patuxent Pkwy. Columbia, MD; 410-715-5550; www.merriweathermusic.com. For more information visit www.thekooks.com.