Hugely successful in their homeland of Great Britain, The Kooks have found it difficult to make commercial inroads in the United States. Perhaps it's the band's eclectic mix of rock, pop and reggae that has failed to connect with American audiences.
Speaking from Boston and in anticipation of tonight's show opening for Foster the People, lead Kook Luke Pritchard talked about his band's quick success and how their latest album, Junk of the Heart, signaled a change in direction.
A few years ago, The Kooks made their first appearance in the U.S. at SXSW. What were your first impressions of Texas? It was amazing. I loved Austin and I wanted to stay longer, but we were just there for the festival. I love the people there. I met many musicians there that I have recorded with. The hospitality was incredible. It was a good vibe.
There is a band from Sweden that is also called The Kooks. Have there been legal issues over the name? We have had some trouble with them. We had no idea that there was another band with our name. They had never come to England. We had sort of already made a name for ourselves. We certainly did not have to live off of their name. The legal issues have never been a problem and both bands have been using the name for a while. When we played Stockholm, they got a little bit heavy. They said they were going to come down to the gig and that they were going to get up on stage. Luckily, they didn't.
Why was there a three year gap between the second album and last year's Junk of the Heart? With music, you can't rush it. If you wait, you wait. We needed that time. We had a pretty crazy time after the second album. We needed the time to chill out. I think we just had to figure ourselves out. We wanted the new album to sound fresh. It was a different sort of a journey and we have gone in a different sort of direction.
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Junk of the Heart came out late last year and most critics have noted the stark differences between it and your two earlier releases. Was the change intentional or just part of the band's evolutionary process? Yes, it was definitely intentional. We wanted to keep the essence of the band, keep the same kind of vibe going, but we wanted to toy with a different kind of sound. We stripped things back a bit. We wanted to put in some psychedelia and even a reggae kind of influence.
You started making the record with Jim Abyss, but then went back to Tony Hoffer, who had produced your first two records. Why did you make the change? Sometimes, things just don't work out. Jim is a great producer, but things just didn't click. So, we went back Tony. I always wanted Tony anyway because he had this great vision for the record. I played him the songs that I had written and he knew what I wanted to do. I went back to the guys and told them that a change had to be made.
Your albums have done well in England, Ireland and Australia. What will it take to become as successful in America? I don't know. I don't think it's something you should think too much about. You just do what you love doing and keep putting out records. That's all we need to do. Things will happen. Those things are so unscientific. We have a good fan base in America. Hopefully, the next single will cross over and be very commercial. On the flip side of that, we like not having that kind of pressure. That kind of pressure can cause problems.
The band has had some good press, but then Rolling Stone called your first album, "utterly forgettable, shoddily produced retro rock that at its worst sounds like a Brighton-accented version of the Spin Doctors." Do you pay attention to reviews? I usually don't get wound up over reviews. Even in England, we didn't get the best reviews. We've never been a band loved by the press. You have to hope that eventually, people will turn around and see the merit in what you're doing.
Soon, you guys will have been together for a decade. Has it gone by quickly? I can't believe it's been that long. Yes, it has gone quickly. As a matter of fact, I can't believe we are still making music.
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When the band first began, you got signed to Virgin Records very quickly and then the first album sells 16,000 copies in the first week. What happens to a band when success comes that quickly? Well, we were having fun and getting drunk. It takes a while for things to set in. At the time, it was kind of blur. We weren't ready for it. Any 18-year-old that is suddenly in a big band, he isn't ready for it. We hadn't been a band for that long. It was crazy. We just went nuts. Maybe it would have been better for the band if success had been gradual. You have no control over these things.
A lot has been said about these rivalries your band has with the Arctic Monkeys. Are these things invented by the media? I think the press likes to give us a hard time by making up those things. You are always going to have rivalries with bands that are the same age as you. The press has made those kinds of things bigger than they are. It's not like we are actually fighting with anyone.
The Kooks play with Foster the People tonight, June 4, at the Verizon Theatre.