As the UK band get ready to headline Indiependence, they tell Ed Power about adjusting to an era where many people won’t buy music.

IT’S A WEIRD time for rock bands, reflects Luke Pritchard of The Kooks. Nobody buys records any more. But there are positives too — for instance, a group’s success is no longer conditional on the goodwill of an elite circle of music journalists. The days of critics building an act up only to unceremoniously knock them down are thankfully long over.

“I love a lot of the people at the NME, don’t get me wrong,” says the 31-year-old, referring to the once influential British music weekly. “However, when we were starting they were all about creating spats, trying to undermine people. They’d love you for a week; then you’d be on their hate list. You can’t get away with that anymore — fans just want to go to gigs and hear great songs. I think everyone has mellowed out incredibly.”

Ten years ago, The Kooks could justifiably claim to be the biggest new band in Britain. Released in June of that year, the lilting ‘She Moves In Her Own Way’ was one of the big hits of the summer, its success fuelled by tabloid speculation that Pritchard had written it about his ex-girlfriend Katie Melua (at that moment wildly hyped in her own right).

The single catapulted the quartet — all in their teens and early 20s — toward British rock’s top tier. The woolly-headed Pritchard, in particular, became a minor celebrity by dint of his time at the Brit School, the London star factory that has also given the world Amy Winehouse and Adele (and where he had met both Melua and some of his future band-mates).

That was just the start of the success. A tour supporting Dublin’s The Thrills saw these cheeky upstarts blow the headliners away. Released the same day as the Arctic Monkeys debut, The Kooks first album Inside In/Inside Out quickly proved a stealth blockbuster. In its first week alone it sold 20,000 copies and would eventually spend a fortnight at number two in the UK (peaking at number three in Ireland). Here was a rock ’n’ roll fairy-tale come true.

Pritchard shakes his head. Instant fame was a blast at first but soon got to be too much. Celebrity was not something he had signed up for starting The Kooks. When it came knocking, his world splintered in all sorts of unpleasant ways. He partied too hard, too long and forgot why he had picked up a guitar in the first place.

“We fell down some traps man,” he nods. “It’s difficult when you’re 19 or 20. Sometimes I look back and think it would have been cool if we’d had a more steady growth — more albums and then that big hit. Instead, it happened on our first album. You never get to choose. These things have to be taken as they come.”

They’ve since had their ups and downs. Founder member Max Rafferty left under a cloud in early 2008, at which point Pritchard considered calling time on the band. Meanwhile second album, Konk (2008), proved a flop and was enthusiastically savaged by critics. In Pritchard, the British music press had uncovered the perfect punch bag: middle class, occasionally pretentious, and with a mainstream following. The media enjoyed getting stuck in and the blows rained down in force.

“That was tough,” recalls Pritchard. “There were a lot of little digs — whether that be about where you come from or the kind of music that you are putting out. Sometimes people simply don’t like you. It was hard.”

This was hugely ironic considered the Kooks had formed as a lark. Pritchard and original drummer Paul Garred had been shopping at Bob Geldof’s favourite chainstore, Primark, when on the whim they decided to start a band. After graduation from the Brit school, they’d moved to Brighton and had nothing else better to do. Why not take a shot at the big time?

Their influences were reasonably mainstream: Bob Dylan, The Police and David Bowie (whose song, Kooks, gave the group their name). And though at pains not to take things too seriously — they were delighted to book an early gig because the venue owner liked their hats — the Kooks quickly came to the attention of the major labels and were snapped up by Virgin Records. At which point they had been playing together all of two months. They were the almost literal definition of overnight success.

Pritchard has matured conspicuously in the intervening years. The first time we met, in mid-2006, The Kooks surfing a tsunami of media buzz. He spent longer looking at his guitar, which he tuned and strummed through the interview, than making eye-contact.

On the second occasion, the band had flown in to Dublin for a day of press after a night of partying (to celebrate a successful appearance on the Jonathan Ross show). He was pleasant but understandably disengaged. All he wanted was to crumple up and sleep.

The Kooks are still popular and will headline this weekend’s Indiependence Festival outside Mitchelstown. But they have never quite recaptured that early success. Does this gnaw at Pritchard?

“We’re human beings — sometimes you wake up thinking ‘this is amazing, we’re touring the world’. Sometimes you wake up and you want more. The thing is, we’re going on with making records and it feels fresh to us.”

They certainly haven’t stood still. Their most recent album, Listen (2014), was a departure, incorporating blues and jazz. Some long-time fans took heart from The Kooks inventiveness. Others concluded the band were off their collective rocker.

“For us, it was an amazing exploration of different genres. We feel we’ve grown up — gone through so much stuff and are continuing to move forward creatively. I am looking forward to writing and recording our fifth album. It feels like a good time for the band.”

“We still get on fantastically, go for pints even if we’re not working. People have been receptive to the new material. Maybe it didn’t go down as well as the first record and perhaps some people did not understand it initially. But we needed to progress — we’re very, very proud of what we accomplished.”

The Kooks headline Indiependence, Deer Farm, Mitchelstown, on Saturday.

Who ‘deers’ wins: Five acts to see at Indiependence

Idlewild (Friday)

The “Scottish REM” reformed in 2013 after a five year hiatus and will bring anthems such as ‘Actually It’s A Darkness’, and ‘When I Argue I See Shapes’.

Their earnest, open-hearted rock is exactly what a guitar-oriented festival such as Indepiendence requires.

Brian Deady (Saturday)

The Cork soul-man blends bare-boned roots production and confessional vocals to frequently awe-inducing effect.

Second album Non-Fiction, inspired by his tumultuous relationship with his father, was a critical hit. Deady recently signed a deal with Universal Music. 

Pleasure Beach (Saturday)

After forming in a coffee shop, this Belfast indie crew is travelling fast and light, with songs that blend Belle and Sebastian and Snow Patrol. Single ‘Go’ has already racked up more than half a million Spotify plays.

Editors (Sunday)

Having started as a Generation Y Joy Division, Tom Smith’s band have matured into a far more original and sustainable proposition across their past two LPs, with Smith mining a rich seam of early mid-life angst and insecurities.

Bitch Falcon (Sunday)

These Cork newcomers serve up swirling art-pop, where killer melodies and cathartic lyrics collide to create something special.

Latest single ‘Clutch’ posits a surprisingly compelling arranged marriage between Savages and Metallica.


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