The Kooks Mine the Junkyard

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Published September 12, 2011

THE KOOKS. IMAGE COURTESY OF DEIRDRE O’CALLAGHAN

It feels like forever since we’ve heard a peep out of English indie rock outfit The Kooks, but the boys return to relevance today with their third album, Junk of the Heart. At long last, the disc hits US shores and shelves, just in time for fans to begin memorizing lyrics in anticipation of their upcoming North American tour. (New Yorkers can anticipate snagging tickets for Nov. 16 and 17 at Webster Hall.)

In June, the foursome performed at a packed-to-the-gills Bowery Ballroom and set aside time while Stateside to do interviews. Interview caught up with lead singer Luke Pritchard on a sunny Monday at midday at The Chelsea Hotel, a historical landmark for musicians past and present (which is closed to guests indefinitely since late July). Pritchard was everything you’d expect the frontman of a successful lineup to be, looking like he’d had a late night out in New York. But he had a lot to say, sharing details of directional shifts and member changes, as well as what it’s like to rival with members of other British bands.

NELL ALK: First things first. You totally remind me of Bob Dylan right now.

LUKE PRITCHARD: I’ll take that. It’s the right place for that, isn’t it?

ALK: Indeed. They filmed parts of Don’t Look Back at this hotel. Anyway, onto Kooks. Fans haven’t heard from you guys in a while. You must be stoked to finally be releasing Junk of the Heart in the US.

PRITCHARD: It’s been quite a long time. It’s a whole new direction for us. It feels really good. It’s cool to go out and have new material. It’s kind of a nervous excitement. It’s all in the hands of the gods now. I’m really, really proud. I think it’s a great record. It’s just really great to have such a big piece of work finished and about to be reviewed. Hopefully people dig it.ALK: I do. I especially love “Is It Me” and “Mr. Nice Guy.” But the album is a bit different from albums past.

PRITCHARD: There’s two things to me: the production and the songwriting. Two different things. With the sound and the direction of it, we kind of decided that we wanted to move away from what we did before, which is recording to tape, doing everything in a room, very raw. [We wanted] to make something really modern, an album that didn’t sound like anything. Really unique-sounding. That’s why you hear lots of samples and things we’ve never done before.

ALK: What was the process like? Three years is a long hiatus.

PRITCHARD: The actual album didn’t take a huge amount of time to make. But the process to get to that point took a long time. We’ve had some member changes, which is the obvious thing to talk about. Our bass player had gone through some personal things, so we sacked him. Then Pete [Denton] came in. Then our drummer Paul [Garred] had some health problems, so he left. So, we got a new drummer [and] we did some recordings. The direction we were going didn’t feel right, so we scaled it back. It was the right thing to do to take time. We needed to find ourselves again.

ALK: That’s good that you knew yourselves well enough to recalibrate before going too far in the wrong direction. Didn’t Paul return, too?

PRITCHARD: The situation is this: he doesn’t feel ready at the moment to play live, with the rigors of touring and playing every day. But, Paul and I stayed in contact and were writing songs together. I saw him a few months before we went in with Tony Hoffer and asked him if he’d be up for doing the album. He plays with us, writes with us, records with us. But doesn’t come on the road.

ALK: Thanks for clearing that up. That’s great that he’s still involved. And what for Tony? You’ve worked with him nearly straight through since the whirlwind beginning.

PRITCHARD: Tony brings a lot of spirit and direction to the recording. He’s just a great guy for us to work with. It feels like he really gets us and knew where we had to go.

ALK: It’s great when that happens, right? So, why Junk of the Heart? Coming off a bad breakup?

PRITCHARD: I wanted to call the album that before we started recording. I felt like it was the right thing. It kind of summed up what the album was about. The title is in some way trying to sum it up. The good and the bad side of love. You have to have bad to have the good. Junk of the Heart is a kind of conflicting title. The song seems to sum up the album. First track on the album.

ALK: A perfect entry point.

PRITCHARD: I kind of felt like it could be a concept record, because it’s kind of like a journey, like a search. It’s about purity and you can sort of hear the different musical themes complementing that. I wouldn’t go too far. When you write, you try to tap into something that isn’t straightforward in your head. Whatever you’re feeling most strongly about usually comes out in your writing.

ALK: Speaking of feeling strongly, I understand you’ve had beef with some bands in the past. Is that animosity still stirring?

PRITCHARD: There’s always rivalries. Seems to be a very British thing. It’s more created than anything. A lot of people use it to try to generate interest. It’s funny. Some of those bands that we had, like, beef with, or whatever, or said shit about, you end up hanging out with them. Like Razorlight. It’s weird with Razorlight. I was always good friends with Andy Burrows, the drummer who left. That’s part of the problem, because we were mates and Johnny [Borrell] always got a bit weird about the fact that we were friends and decided to shout his mouth off. Recently he invited me down to his rehearsal and we hung out a bit. I don’t particularly like him, to be honest. We get on, but he’s not the kind of guy that I’d hang out with all the time. But we’re perfectly amicable and I think we have some kind of mutual respect. I think anyone who writes tunes has a mutual respect.

ALK: Definitely. On the topic of other bands, anyone you’re particularly into at the moment?

PRITCHARD: There is one band that springs to mind who I’m really into, called Metronomy. Kind of a cult band. There’s this song called “The Look.” It’s scorching. It’s really, really cool. The album’s called The English Riviera. Fucking amazing. That’s definitely something to check out. It’s leaning towards more what I’m getting inspired by now. It’s very modern sounding. Very processed drum sounds, but with great melody, great songs.

ALK: I love them! Great taste. So, last but not least, any funny stories to share?

PRITCHARD: Recording got quite mad by the end. Tony fucks with you a lot. Cranking you the whole time. We got into this whole war with him. One night the studio assistants snuck in, got his key to his apartment and went in and completely fucked his apartment. They put sushi under his bed and glued his toilet to the toilet seat. So that was quite funny at the time.

JUNK OF THE HEART IS OUT TODAY. THE KOOKS WILL PLAY IN NEW YORK ON NOVEMBER 16 AND 17. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.