It was a Monday: my eyes still puffy from an all too emotional weekend, my heart a little jaded. Yet this was all about to change, because at precisely 12pm that same day, I had a call to make: one to Luke Pritchard, frontman of one of the most quintessential bands of my upbringing, The Kooks.
Funnily enough, this was not the first time I had turned to The Kooks in times of heartache. After my very first breakup, a close friend took me to my first gig — where Luke, Hugh Harris and Alexis Nunez wiped away my tears with their invigorating melodies. But far be it to assume The Kooks’ sound is suited for the sad — in fact, it is their very aversion to this precedent that defines the band’s charm. Fervently different in their approach to tune-crafting, the British Indie-pop band approach the mundane miseries of life with an unfiltered cadence, playful attitude and positive spirit — a recipe that has fuelled The Kooks’ trailblazing tendencies for almost two decades.
Proving that The Kooks is a state of being as opposed to just a band name, they release today 10 Tracks To Echo In The Dark: a fresh-sounding continuation of their classic funk-tinged soundscape. Taking the music chart’s current affinity with the retro and transforming it into something totally anew, The Kooks charge the classic sounds of the 70s and 80s with the chaos and electricity synonymous with their style.
Exploring the culture-rich grounds of Berlin, Luke Pritchard collaborated with singer-songwriter Tobias Kuhn — together creating the intention-setting single of the effort, “Connection”. Taking us on a journey from a tumultuous breakup in “Cold Heart”, to the pain of finally saying goodbye in “25”, 10 Tracks To Echo In The Dark positions itself as exactly that, a track list that comforts us in our most challenging hours. Offering assurance in the rising synths of “Jesse James” and the promise of new beginnings in “Connection”, their sixth studio album feels akin to a completed story — one that captures the beating heart of the band’s DNA. It’s messy yet real, it’s joyful, danceable and unique — but above all, it heals.
To stream 10 Tracks To Echo In The Dark and for the full interview, head below now…
Let’s get stuck in… What is your earliest memory of music?
My really earliest memory is watching Buddy Holly. My dad died when I was really young, I’m not so sure if he was even there or not. But I remember watching this old tape in black and white of Buddy Holly and the Crickets and I remember I loved it because there were two guys playing the double bass and I remember trying to jam along and that was my first understanding of what a band was.
And was it always something you wanted to pursue in yourself?
Yeah, I did. I didn’t think I’d be good enough at all. I think it was always something that would’ve been the dream for me, though. You have to take some risks to get there and put your neck on the line a bit. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else for sure. Whether it was a job or whatever, I could always see music being a big part of my life. I started wanting to do producing and writing — which was ironic because I was always known for being a bit of a performer. I love it. Showing off and all that. But I never thought it would happen, I wanted to make the money behind the scenes.
You are for sure a born performer! But would you change the route you took looking back? Or did it work out for the best?
I wouldn’t change it. After such a long break I realised how much I need performance. It’s so good for the soul, the energy of performing. There are a few people in my life who gave me the confidence to do it. I was lucky really. I love it and wouldn’t have it any other way.
One of my favourite stories that I’ve read is that you wanted to form the band whilst shopping in Primark? Is that true?
Are you sure it wasn’t TK max? You know I actually can’t remember if that is true or not. The band really came from me looking for people around wanting to start a band. I was at music college and met some cool people. We were very keen to make people move and make people dance and to be a fusion musically, the idea was to have quite a few different styles.
My whole life has been a lie! And how did you come up with the name?
Maybe one of the boys said Primark in an interview, who knows [laughs]. The name came from one of my favourite Bowie records at the time. I love the bouncy joyful nature of it and it reflects that outsider, weirdo type. And we’re all quite different people, we’re quite nerdy and odd. It made sense, and it was catchy. Paul the drummer came up with Ape Gone West, but that didn’t stick.
My surname is West so I definitely wouldn’t have been mad about that! Is there a song that you think, I’m most proud of this particular track?
No way! I’m just really proud of our whole first album, it’s amazing that we were able to record it. We were so explosive. Of course, to have a song like “Naive”, was unbelievable. I just look at it and think the whole process was unbelievable. I’m so proud of it.
And you mentioned that you all had a lot of different tastes, and your music definitely transcends a lot of genres. But if you had to describe The Kooks’ sound with one word, what word would you choose?
Chaotic. I love that we’re not perfect. There are a lot of happy accidents. There’s punk rock, soul, and reggae all in one song. It’s chaotic in that respect. It shouldn’t work but it works. I remember my wife saying, regarding my lyrics, “what is that it doesn’t make sense”. I’ve also learned so much from different types of producers, it’s all about the happy accidents.
“Happy accidents” is definitely my new favourite phrase! Congratulations on the release of 10 tracks to echo in the dark. Can you talk us through the title? What’s the meaning behind it?
For me, it was a real rebirth record. I also wrote it when I found out I was going to have my first kid. Echo in the dark came to me when I saw the heartbeat in the hospital. It was all about rebirth. And it also reflected the times, it reflected what we had going on and coming out of the dark after making all the songs. It was also kind of like a playlist. The whole record had this whole Juno feel. It feels like a film soundtrack in some ways. I wanted it to feel like it was a mixtape or something.
It definitely has a new flavour to it, what was your mindset when writing the tracks? Did your process change compared to when writing your last album?
Definitely. In every way really. You want to move with what’s going on, it’s when you’re inspired by what’s around you. When we started making music in the 2000s we wanted to do something no one had ever heard. But now we’re going in on a specific era. We wanted it to be a bit more retro. That meant it was a lot more produced than previous albums. This album was much more stylised. I was in quite a chilled happy place as well so that helped the writing.
And you released the leading track just a few weeks ago, “Cold Heart”. Was there a specific experience among the band that inspired you to explore specific themes?
“Cold Heart” is about when you break up with someone, but you convince yourself that person’s great, then you realise they’re pretty fucked up. The whole song is about celebrating someone that is unreachable. You can’t blame yourself or blame them. It’s about the end of that cycle. People do bad things, but they aren’t necessarily bad people. Sometimes people are messed up. I had fun with “Cold Heart”, it was like everyone had innocence at one point but then it unravels a bit.
So what is most important for you when you’re experimenting with instrumentation? What sort of things do you look out for?
It’s just instinct I think. We had finished “Connection”, and I did something I don’t normally do. We would usually write songs and then discuss them as a band. This time we explored connection, finished the whole song, and then moved on. Because that established the 80s vibe. We needed to do indie 80s – everyone else usually does pop 80s. After “Connection” we expanded and went from there. I felt guided by the producer and the boys.
Do you have a favourite track of the whole album?
I really do love every song. Maybe “25”, which is the funk bass one. It’s got that warm 80s, cheerful vibe. But I love them all.
Does the band tend to agree with you on favourite tracks or do they have their own?
We disagree, definitely. Thank God. I’m the worst with singles. I didn’t want to release “Naive” and Hugh was like, “that’s the one”. So, it’s good to have that disagreement, for sure.
No way! Thank God for Hugh! And looking back is there anything you would change with the Kooks’ journey so far?
Quite honestly, not really. There have been really hard times but we’re in a really great spot. I’m so grateful we have a wave of new fans. It keeps you wanting to keep making new records. We’re not so famous either. Fame is really difficult. Having a dose of it in 2005, it was hard going to the pub without someone wanting to punch you. The main thing is we’re still really inspired.
If you could say anything to your younger selves. What would it be?
Don’t worry so much. We live in a time where fear is being pushed on people all the time, whether it’s scared of saying or doing the wrong thing. It’s hard, but we all make mistakes.
What’s next for The Kooks?
We will be reactive to what people want. We will be touring a lot because we’re hungry for it. We will probably do another album very soon. I’d also like to be more collaborative.
Who would be your dream person to collaborate with?
Lennon Stella. She has an insane voice. Jane Burkin, equally.