The Kooks return with 'real band album' Let's Go Sunshine
The Kooks are back with a new album. Frontman Luke Pritchard speaks to Andrew Arthur about releasing a duet with his late father, and why he thinks the music press have got it in for his band
"DON'T ever go in there, man, it's really messed up," warns Kooks frontman Luke Pritchard, his voice adopting a foreboding tone.
The singer-songwriter is talking about the Museum of Death in LA, next door to the studio where his band recorded their new album, Let's Go Sunshine.
"It used to be a recording studio owned by Ray Charles, where he did a lot of his records," the 33-year-old explains.
Pritchard has a bit of a time-traveller air about him. In 1980s-style high-waisted trousers and a button-down shirt, still sporting that mane of curly locks, he reclines on a sofa in the spaceship-like surroundings of his record company's London headquarters.
"The museum has a Charles Manson room, it's so weird, dude! Really disturbed me. You go in there and you've got pictures of decapitated people. Definitely not a nice respite after recording," he goes on.
The morbid surroundings certainly did not rub off on the indie band's uplifting fifth album, however. It marks a return to the band's brand of guitar-driven pop sing-alongs, after they experimented with computer-generated samples and loops on their previous effort, 2014's Listen.
While making the follow-up with hip-hop producer Inflo, Pritchard and his bandmates had an epiphany. They realised they needed to make "a real band record", carrying on the lineage of great British groups such as The Beatles and The Kinks.
They shelved the material they had been working on and returned to recording together in one room.
The sessions yielded Let's Go Sunshine's 15 tracks, among them Honey Bee. The song was written by Pritchard's musician father, who died of a heart attack when Pritchard was a child.
"A big reason why I do music is my dad. I have all his records and his guitar," he says.
"My sister sent me a song he recorded in the 1970s. My stepbrother liked the song and asked me while I was in the studio if I could record an acoustic version for him.
"I just started playing the song and all the boys came in and thought I'd written it. I didn't want to push it, but everyone liked it. So it happened organically. We did it in half a day.
"Then I thought, 'We could get my dad's voice on'. Luckily, we had some expert technicians who got his vocal and lifted it. I sing the first verse and then he sings the second and we both do the chorus, so it's a duet with my dad.
"It was emotional but in a fun way," Pritchard adds. "It's upbeat and a bit like Cecilia by Simon and Garfunkel.
"It's good for my family to put out a tune of his. It kind of keeps him alive, in a very non-creepy way!"
Pritchard followed in his father's footsteps when The Kooks recently opened for The Rolling Stones. He remembers asking Sir Mick Jagger and drummer Charlie Watts if they could recall meeting his father back when his band, The Echoes, supported them in the 1960s.
"Charlie was really nice about it: 'Oh, I sort of remember the name'. They play with so many bands. He remembered the venue in Bristol because they played there a few times. That was nice," says Pritchard.
"Of course, it would be cool to know what my dad would think of our music. It's nice to have a family connection, that I'm continuing something of his."
It's fair to assume Pritchard's father would be proud of his son's band's success.
Their debut album, Inside In/Inside Out, went platinum four times and yielded six top 40 singles, including Naive and She Moves In Her Own Way.
The Kooks were one of a raft of British guitar bands that became commercially successful in the mid-00's in the wake of Razorlight and Arctic Monkeys' success.
But after the overwhelming success of their debut, they experienced a rough ride with the critics. Despite topping the album charts, their sophomore effort, Konk, received some negative reviews.
With the band's music now being enjoyed online by a new generation of fans, does Pritchard feel vindicated that the critics failed to kill The Kooks off?
"You're not really allowed that in music. You're not owed something by the world because you think that you're good.
"One thing that has been nice for us, is probably having a platform that is more democratised," he reasons. "People just go and listen to your music, you don't have to be told it's cool by a radio station.
"We're a bit of an anomaly. We're definitely not loved by the press. We've never been an awards band.
"I hope it flips people out. It's good to be an outsider."
When asked what he thinks caused the backlash, Pritchard jokes: "We're just so good-looking, man.
"There's all kinds of things. The fact we went to the Brit School. Bands weren't supposed to have gone to 'stage school'. It's fine for Adele, but not The Kooks.
"I think there was an element of our first album going really big and quickly. Everything was about Arctic Monkeys that year, and we sold more records than them.
"People were like, 'What the f*** happened there?' Honestly, maybe I'm just not very likeable?! There were some jabs. It was crazy. I remember the second album, my mum was like, 'Why is this happening?' Haters gonna hate."
It's clear from his deeply personal songwriting that Pritchard is not afraid to share his feelings. As our conversation ends, I ask if he worries whether he risks revealing too much about his private life in his songs.
"I'm too honest!" he admits. "I think I am good at the open stuff, that's what people like about my writing.
"It's about sharing a life experience, isn't it? As songwriters, it's our job. To say things people feel they can't themselves," says Pritchard.
"Naive was about being cheated on. People asked, 'Do you really want to talk about that?' I find being honest is potent for writing."
:: Let's Go Sunshine is released today. The Kooks play The Limelight in Belfast on Monday September 3, tickets via Ticketmaster.ie