Luke Pritchard: Indie's cocky so-and-so is back – and now he wants to be friends

Luke Pritchard of The Kooks has a flair for rubbing people up the wrong way. But, he tells Gillian Orr, people have got him wrong

Friday 12 August 2011 00:00
The Kooks
The Kooks

Don't call us that... an indie band; I hate that. I never wanted to be an indie band." The Kooks' 26-year-old frontman, Luke Pritchard, is on typically mouthy form and it looks like it might be one of those interviews. After all, this is a man who has started public feuds with both Alex Turner and Johnny Borrell in the past and has nurtured a reputation for being a bit of a cocky so-and-so.

Whether you were a fan or not, The Kooks provided the soundtrack to much of 2006. Their debut album, Inside In/Inside Out, was released in January of that year, went quadruple platinum and spawned several top 10 singles. Defiantly catchy hits such as 'Naive' and 'She Moves in Her Own Way' were impossible to escape.

Their debut album was released on the same day as Arctic Monkeys' Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, and with the Sheffield quartet getting all the attention, the pressure was off for the four young wannabes from Brighton who enjoyed a slower, more gradual rise to stardom. But the music industry is a cruel one and, five years on, Arctic Monkeys have just celebrated their fourth consecutive No 1 album and are firmly embedded in the cultural landscape. The Kooks, meanwhile, are nowhere to be seen. Their 2008 follow-up, Konk, might have charted at No 1, but it made less of an impression on the British public and sold a small fraction of their debut.

Now they are gearing up to return with their third offering, Junk of the Heart and, to be fair to Pritchard, he appears a more humble figure, a mixture of excitement and nerves.

"We've taken time to sort of readjust and try and find the band again," he says. "We tried to just get back into enjoying our music and being experimental and having fun and having freedom within what we're doing. For a long time we had felt a bit stale; it felt like it needed a bit of revival. We wanted to make a really modern-sounding album and to try and fuse our more traditional influences with modern ones."

Having employed Tony Hoffer on production duties for the last two albums, the band decided to take a new approach and hired Kasabian producer Jim Abbiss. Despite "some really good sessions", early recordings were scrapped because they weren't "enough of a step up". Pritchard decided to pick up the phone to his old buddy Hoffer. "The band, the label, they were all like, 'whoa, you're being scared, running back to Tony,' but it really wasn't like that. I just wanted some inspiration and he really knows our band, so it was just a great thing. He took all the pressure off me."

Pritchard had been listening to artists such as Lykke Li and LCD Soundsystem, carefully deconstructing their production in the hope of coming up with a more contemporary sound. But it was Beck who ended up being one of the driving influences of the record. Hoffer had worked with the American singer-songwriter and encouraged Pritchard to check him out, despite Pritchard's own protestations that Beck was too wacky. He has clearly been converted, and talks excitedly about Beck's ability to fuse genres and create musical tapestries.

Junk of the Heart should please fans who fell in love with the group's early work. Less backward-looking and derivative, it is a modern and infectious slice of pop, a lighter, sunnier affair than the dark and turgid Konk.

This is not surprising, considering the band have finally overcome internal struggles within the band after a number of line-up changes. Drummer Paul Garred was forced to leave after enduring a nerve problem in his arm, leaving him unable to drum for extended periods of time (although he ended up contributing to the recording of the new album) but Pritchard is more discreet about the departure of the band's bassist Max Rafferty.

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"We were really close and then stuff with the band got really weird and we weren't seeing eye to eye. Musical differences, that's what they call it, eh?" Rumours that escalating drug abuse was the reason for him leaving seem to be confirmed when Pritchard adds, "It was very cliched, put it that way." After hiring and firing another bassist, Pete Denton has now been drafted in full-time, joining original guitarist Hugh Harris and the band's new drummer, Chris Prendergast.

Although it has been suggested that the band's internal struggles were affecting their work, Pritchard shrugs off the idea. "Since we've started it's always kinda been a very rocky road with different members. I don't know if I see it as being that much of a hindrance, it's just the way it's always been; members coming in and out."

Pritchard's own reputation received a bit of a battering following Inside In/Inside Out's success, as his antics caught the attention of the tabloids, and the partying and women threatened to eclipse the music. But he seems determined to turn around such perceptions of him. He's happily settled with a long-term girlfriend now, and goes out far less. He announces that in the future he would love the opportunity to write music for a film and, hinting that he'd like to let bygones be bygones, announces that Alex Turner "did a wicked job" on the Submarine soundtrack.

He acknowledges that, after the second album, "there was definitely a backlash" in the UK. Now his eagerness to avoid offending anyone suggests a man wanting to make amends; does he ever feel like he has been misunderstood?

"Everyone thinks they're misunderstood, don't they? Yes, I do actually, I do. People perceive you to be a certain way and I don't feel like that person. I don't know. I know what you're getting at. When I was in Brighton, you get that backlash of being successful from other bands, it's easy to feel under pressure for that. Because people think that what you're doing is a sell-out, you're trying to be too commercial. Whatever. I don't know, I don't know how people see me. Yes I'm paranoid sometimes. I think people think I'm shit, yes of course I do. But now I have this album and I feel like nothing can touch me, I think it's great." He stops and bursts out laughing. "This is like therapy!"

Pritchard is confident that the band's followers are still there. After all, they continue to sell venues out and even have a strong following in the US. But you get the overriding impression that he just wants his band to resonate with people again.

"I really hope that it goes well in the UK. To take it away from selling out the O2 and all those other dreams you have, to take it away from that, I just feel like it would be great for our music to connect again. That was a great moment for us; it's an amazing feeling when your music connects with so many people in the country you're from."

The Kooks' new single, 'Is It Me', is released on 5 September, followed by the album, 'Junk of the Heart', on 12 September

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