New Kooks on the Block
Back with their third album, The Kooks have been doing a whole lot of soul-searching. Andy Welch catches up with frontman Luke Pritchard, who reveals the band are finally heading in the right direction
Whether he was born with it, or the demeanour is something he's picked up since his band, The Kooks, released their debut album in 2006, it seems pretty natural.
The 26-year-old is pleasant and well mannered, although slightly aloof, while his skinny jeans, pale complexion and corkscrew hair mean he could quite easily be cast as a young Bob Dylan - a fact that probably hasn't gone unnoticed by Pritchard.
He's an interesting conversationalist, too; abstract at times, drifting off occasionally, but thoughtful. He's certainly not as cocky as he's been painted in the past.
"I'm just a daydreamer," he admits later. "And I've always got a journal on me for any thoughts I might have," he says.
The diary certainly came in handy for recent single Is It Me's sinister refrain of "bring me a pig's heart and a glass of wine".
It's just one of numerous lines on the album that surprise the listener; just when you think you have a song worked out, in comes an off-kilter lyric or idea that shifts it into different territory.
"You wouldn't think I'd been in LA for three and a bit months," he says changing the subject while looking at his alabaster arms. "I never tan. My 'heroin chic' look never goes away."
Pritchard was in Los Angeles with the rest of The Kooks and producer Tony Hoffer to record third album Junk Of The Heart.
There's no radical change in direction from the band: it's still two guitars, bass and drums, Pritchard's idiosyncratic vocal over the top and plenty of nods to The Kinks and David Bowie.
The album seems more focused than their past work, though - less whimsical, and showing signs of their maturing years. Despite only being in their mid-20s, the band formed almost 10 years ago.
"Whimsical? What's that, like floaty?" asks Pritchard, slightly defensively.
"Actually, that's fair enough. I think this album is a lot more controlled than before..." he trails off. "It's difficult when people ask you what you did. I think it's up to everyone else to make those comments, although I'm glad to hear it sounds more solid. I don't want to make the same stuff for 20 years.
"I might say it wasn't intentional. The only intention was to come up with something different.
"There was an important meeting where Tony Hoffer [producer of albums by Beck, Air and The Kooks' previous album Konk] came to London and we talked about what we wanted to do. I was pretty unhappy with the way things were going with the band, in terms of our own music.
"I couldn't work anything out and I was in a bit of a mess in my personal life. I was a little afraid to branch out at that point, but we came up with a plan."
Hoffer suggested the band went to LA to record rather than working in London as they had done previously.
"We were hesitant at first, but we got an apartment, hung out with lots of LA bands and that was an inspiration on its own. We met Foster The People, and Mark from the band has become a really good mate. It was definitely different from hanging out in Camden."
So what was up with Pritchard? Why was he feeling so unsure?
"Well it's not all roses, you know, being in a band. And after eight years, you start to wonder if it's what you want to do. You question everything."
Certainly there must have been much soul-searching after their second album, Konk, went straight in at No 1 but only managed to sell around 100,000 copies. Compare that to debut Inside In/Inside Out, which more than two million people bought, and you can't blame Pritchard for having a few existential concerns.
"Some of it was age, too. At 26, you think about different things. You ask, 'Do I want to be on tour all the time?' and other practical, logical things. You know?
"I've had my wild moments but I'd done all that in the past, so I started to think about where to go next."
Fortunately, the other three members of the band, Peter Denton, Hugh Harris and Chris Prendergast, felt the same way and knew things had to change.
"It never got so bad that we were going to split or anything," he says. "But it just didn't feel right. We would have loved to have banged out a record a lot sooner, but we needed to get excited again."
It's important to take a break, Pritchard believes. He relaxes by reading science fiction or philosophy, and watching films - at times avoiding music altogether.
"It's a cycle, where you draw stuff in and put stuff out. If you're not consuming, then how can you expect to be inspired?"
After an unfulfilling period of time, something finally clicked and sessions for Junk Of The Heart got under way, resulting in an album done and dusted during a productive two-month burst.
"It was a big turnaround when the music started going well. Finally, I think we've got a good thing going with this album and we have a future again, but before, I couldn't see that.
"I thought we were doing the same thing over and over. I think you're going to see us be a lot freer now, and I look forward to that.
"But, let's face it, it's just music. You can't take it too seriously. Even talking about this album, it's in the past and that's it. Done.
"I think it's great, but we have to keep moving on."
EXTRA TIME - THE KOOKS
:: The Kooks formed when original members Luke Pritchard, Max Rafferty, Paul Garred and Hugh Harris were all students at Brighton Institute Of Modern Music.
:: The band were signed to Virgin Records just three months after they formed.
:: Bass player Rafferty left the band in 2008 due to 'musical differences', while drummer Garred left the band in 2010 because of nerve problems in his hand.
:: In 2006, the band won an MTV award for Best New Band, while single She Moves In Her Own Way picked up a Brit nomination for Best Single.
:: The Kooks release their third album Junk Of The Heart on September 12