The Kooks have been through backlashes, tumultuous lineup changes and heartbreak. But ten years on from forming, frontman Luke Pritchard says they're now as settled as ever.
To celebrate their anniversary, the band return with a new single Be Who You Are, as well as a 'Best Of' album and tour, taking in festivals including the legendary Isle of Wight.
On the day they release their first single since 2014, I caught up with frontman Luke Pritchard to look back on the past ten years for the self-described "last of the britpop bands."
Over the course of our half hour together, it becomes very clear that this is a time for celebration, and the start of a new chapter for The Kooks. And that means a new album.
Hey Luke, cheers for taking the time out to chat to me. How's everything going with you?
Yeah everything's good man, just busy working on lots of music. So yeah, busy but good! How are you?
I'm good. Although I've just been reading up on the whole Article 50 stuff and feeling depressed.
Ah man, it's crazy init! We're living in pretty wild times.
You can say that again! I try to avoid it as much as I can to be honest.
Very much so. So, congratulations on your tenth anniversary! You're marking it with a 'Best Of' album and tour – what made you decide to mark it with those?
Thank you very much, man. I guess it's just like a good time to reflect on our ten years as a band. We've put out quite a lot of music, and we're moving onto new stuff, so it feels like now is a good time to maybe mark that.
"We're the last of the kind of britpop bands"
I feel like in terms of chapters it's kind of like the end of one chapter. We're the last of the kind of britpop bands, so we thought we should dedicate some time to talk about it and the amazing ride we've had.
For us even as a band it's good to have a few celebrations and to look back on our music, and especially as a writer you always want to write new things, go into new kinds of genres and new ways of making music. You're always almost running away from the past, so sometimes it's good to pause and look back and be like: "that was a cool moment."
You've also got your new single – Be Who You Are – out today. What was it like getting back into the studio as a band?
It was cool! The last album – Listen – that we did, it was quite guerilla in how we did it. You know, White Album vibe where we didn't do too much live, it was all very much – well we were working with a hip-hop producer so the way that he works is layering up beats and then putting drums on top, so yeah the process was different – but it was cool to go back in and be a band again and we rehearsed loads.
So in a sense it was kind of like the old days. I almost wrote Be Who You Are as a kind of like ode to my previous self. I was like let's sit down and write a tune that I might have wrote at that time, so it was quite a cathartic moment for me.
Does this mean there's more new material to come? Maybe even a new album?
Yeah we do have a new album. I think we're pretty close to finishing it. Be Who You Are is going to be a separate thing, but the new album has been an amazing experience. I'm so excited about it! I feel like I've got a good writing vibe going, and I really feel like I've got a lot to say.
Sometimes you go to your guitar and you don't know what you want to talk about, but right now I feel like I've got a lot in my head, so the album has got quite a lot of good expression in it. So yeah, in answer to your question, we do have a new album coming out hopefully later this year.
You're also about to head off on your 'Best Of' tour in just under a month's time – have you already worked out your set lists? What can fans expect from the shows?
I actually haven't talked to the guys yet about the set list. But what's been really fun is seeing our fans – Hmmm scrap that, I prefer 'people who like our band' – and they've been writing on Twitter and stuff what songs they want to hear, so we're kind of listening to them really.
"We want to give our fans the songs they want to hear"
Of course it is a 'Best Of' tour though, so it'll be all the songs that have defined us a band and we'll probably keep it like that. We might play just one or two new songs, but I don't think anything from the new album yet. I think we'll hold that back and try to make it just banger after banger. That's the kind of idea.
So more of a celebration of your time so far rather than looking forward?
Exactly! It should be nostalgic. I think we're going to put in footage of some old gigs, so yeah, we're gonna have fun with it. I don't really talk much live but I might pull out some old stories.
We've had our ups and downs, and to sell out Ally Pally [Alexandra Palace] now is like fuck! People don't realise what that means to us now we've been around ten years. We feel really blessed about that, and we want to give our fans the songs they want to hear.
You mentioned Ally Pally there – have you got any other venues or cities you're particularly keen for?
Well I think the whole UK tour is going to be very special for us, but then also doing the Paris Olympia will be amazing. I think that's probably the best venue in the world, for me personally. Just the history and the atmosphere when you go to that venue is like "wow!"
Isle of Wight is also going to be amazing. My family are from near there so we're going to throw a big party. We're actually eleven this year, not ten, and eleven is quite a special number for me – I'm a bit of a superstitious bastard you see.
Oh yeah, what's the superstition?
I don't even know. It's like my roulette number, and I just seem to see elevens wherever I go. I mean I don't know why, but eleven just always seems to be a special one for me. So we'd thought we'd do the eleven year old party, and the Isle of Wight will be a big moment in that. Playing alongside Catfish [Catfish and the Bottlemen] who are good friends of ours and then Arcade Fire – it's a great lineup – so that'll definitely be a stand out.
"They get pretty pissed off, but luckily everyone sings along so I get away with it"
Have you been to the festival many times before then?
Yeah I have. I think this will also be our third time playing it and it's always a great vibe down there.
I've been wanting to ask if you still enjoy playing the old songs live? Listen obviously diverged away from your earlier sound, and yet I'm sure your fans always wanted to hear those older tracks, so was there ever any conflict there?
Yeah there's been times when you just don't fancy it, especially in the rehearsals. But when you play Naive to a big crowd you can't not enjoy it because the feeling is amazing. Just play the first chord and the whole place goes nuts. It's really special.
Do you ever refine and adapt those songs to fit in with your with current style?
Sometimes we do. We've occasionally done different versions of songs, but we don't tend to do it too often. Although Hugh was saying to me the other day that maybe we should do that with the old songs on this tour, so maybe we'll do that. We'll see.
I've also heard you're partial to the odd bit of improvisation and lyrical shake-up?
[laughing] It's generally just when I forget lyrics! And believe me I forget. I've got a lot of songs in my head, bro. So it's true that sometimes I just have to make it up, but you're allowed to do that. It's our artistic licence.
And how do the rest of the band react when you do that?
They get pretty pissed off, man, but luckily everyone sings along so I get away with it.
For sure. So, looking back over your career, would you say you're proud and pleased with how it's gone?
I really am. I think I went through stages where I'd look over my shoulder and be like "ah this could have been better", but right now we look back and are like "wow, we've done some amazing music", and I love hearing all the amazing stories.
"As a writer you're always almost running away from the past, so sometimes it's good to pause and look back and be like: 'that was a cool moment'"
We'll talk to people who tell me when they were at university that the first album kind of soundtracked their time there. That's really special, I love hearing that shit: like how many babies were made to that music.
It's a funny way to put it, but of course I'm proud. I also hope we inspired a lot of people and a lot of bands. That's what you make music for. You know, I could do with a Ferrari, but whatever [laughing].
Whenever I hear a track off the first album it takes me back to when I was around 15 and had just started drinking. You know, when someone's parents would go away for the weekend and you'd have a house party.
That's awesome. That's what I'm saying, man. It's all about that time, when you had so many bands about - Franz Ferdinand, The Strokes, Kings of Leon, Arctic Monkeys – it was such a cool time to be around. The memories are great and it's cool to be allowed to remember.
Is there anything you'd do differently if you could go back?
I think I'd be more relaxed. I think when you're in a situation when it's pretty overnight and people suddenly know the stuff, I think I was a bit frantic, you know. I was always pushing myself to do the next thing, rather than taking stock and enjoying it. That might be a cliché but it's totally genuine.
People would talk to me and be like "remember when you did Glastonbury and you got absolutely hammered and played before The Killers to 90,000 people". I was just really nervous and got completely fucking pissed. So yeah, I would have liked to have enjoyed that a little bit more. But at the time you're on the road and everyday is like whatever, if that makes sense.
I read an interview with The Independent around the time Listen came out and you were speaking about the death of your Grandfather and going through a break-up. Do you think going through a time like that mellows you out at all?
Yeah for sure, man. I think that's life, isn't it? That's what happens. With things like death, I've had it around me more than a lot of people [Luke lost his dad when he was just 3], so I guess that period may have mellowed me a bit. But it's just a part of growing up and you know you have to experience that.
"We do all totally believe we'll be playing together when we're 50"
When you're like 18, 19, 20 you think you've figured everything out, but as you get older you've got to let that go and let everything fall into its place, and just do your best to make things a little better for people around you. That's where I'm at.
So yeah, those things definitely do have that kind of impact and when you wake up everyday, it makes you go "oh shit, I'm still here. That's great." Luckily I don't have to worry about too many things so that's good.
You mentioned earlier about now being a new chapter for The Kooks...
Yeah I do think that. I think we're all on very good terms at the moment. We've been through hard times on personal levels but we're in a cool place right now, where everyone is really contributing well to the music and we're collaborating really well together.
And so it does feel like this is the next step, and in a weird way I think we do all totally believe we'll be playing together when we're 50 or whatever. We still believe we've got a long way to go as a band, and that's the coolest thing.
Well I think that's a nice note to end on. Cheers for chatting, Luke, and take care.
Yeah nice one, man. Have a great day.