Sometimes you have to change everything, retool everything, rethink everything
in order to move in the right direction. The Kooks' Luke Pritchard knows this,
in fact he positively delights in it. His band's new album their third, always a
crucial moment has always had one great goal. To reinvent the band from the
ground up. Rather wonderfully, they've done it.
"The whole way we work has changed," Luke smiles. "We're not just a band
making noise in a room anymore. We've moved on a lot and I'm really proud of
what we've done. There are elements of all the music we have ever loved in this
new record, but it still has our roots. Junk Of The Heart is very different and
hopefully something that no one's ever heard before. It's upbeat its' an album
to play in the sun..."
So Junk Of The Heart marks a rebirth for The Kooks. Written and recorded in
London and Los Angeles over the last nine months, the songs came in a great
rush, with Luke playing guitar as the band's long-time producer, Tony Hoffer (a
man so integral to the band Luke calls him, "our George Martin") built beats and
basslines and atmospheres on his laptop. The songs they created were then
taken to the band (including new bassist Pete Denton who joined towards the
end of the recording of Konk) who fleshed out all the ideas and added a whole
new layer of invention. What they've ended up with is a string of bright and
emotional, deeply melodic pop gems that draw on a whole world of new
influences from electronic music and the Rolling Stones to luscious string
quartets and hip-hop.
"I've been listening to Lykki Li and LCD Soundsystem and I found them really
inspiring," Luke says. "They made me want to do something that's truly part of
this time. I will always love 60s and 70s music, that's my roots, but I think we
went too far into it."
So the album opens with a dramatic breakbeat, builds across acoustic guitar and
warm washes of synth before collapsing into the sort of chorus you'll be singing
for days on end. Actually there's a few of those. New songs like "Runaway" or
"Taking Pictures Of You" match Luke's innate melodic suss with dub and
electro, sub-aqua guitar and soaring great strings. "Is It Me "("I began to
breakdown searching over time, bring me a pig's heart and a glass of wine...")
rides a crisp, skittering drum patter that leads the way past some scratchy
Velvet Underground guitars to this massive great guitar-led chorus, while
"How'd You Like That" pitches a lush disco-funk piano-figure to a singalong, hand-clapping
climax. As if that weren't enough, "Killing Me" has a wonderfully slippery guitar
riff held together by a big, bold 80s keyboard figure. Junk Of The Heart is, in all
honesty, quite a remarkable turn-around for a band once famous for their
unstinting veneration of and devotion to older sounds and styles.
"What we really wanted for this record was for it to be a proper, full album," says
Luke, "something you can listen to from front to back. I see this as a journey that
everyone can come on with us. I love records with ups and downs, and this one
even has an interval."
That will be the extraordinary "Time Above The Earth", which would, in an
earlier age, have been Track One, Side Two of the vinyl LP. Featuring an exquisite
score by guitarist Hugh Harris, this is a bold example of where The Kooks are
heading, as is the simple, gorgeous acoustic lullaby, "Petulia" the album is all
about great ideas done with honesty and a sense of place and direction.
"That is certainly part of the conceptual element to this," Luke says. "I'm inspired
by Yeats and love poetry and this album looks at that search my search for
purity and honesty. It is a warm record, that was crucial to us. It had to be
comforting and tender, but with bite and vibe too."
Go back five years and their genre-defying debut Inside In/Inside Out proved
The Kooks were something special. This was a band who could do brash and
breadth, from balladry to wiry, scratchy pop. In 2008, after a prolonged spell of
intense touring, came the heavyweight Konk, where The Kinks and the
Bunnymen met Bowie, Bolan and The Beat. "We went to a really dark place on
that record," Luke says. "Too many gigs, too much travel, too much of everything.
We have clarity and stability now and that's so important. Without a healthy
mind you can't write good songs."
Drummer Paul Garred had to leave in late 2009 due to a nerve problem in his
arm. They ended the longest tour they'd ever done with a stand-in drummer and
no new material. In late 2010, after scrapping a whole load of songs they'd
worked on with Jim Abyss, Luke started to produce things himself on a small
scale, just making beats on a computer.
"I had shit loads of words and melodies," he says, "but I needed to think about
the sonics, and how we would progress."
So Tony came to London and the pair spent five days working on the songs that
would become Junk Of The Heart. Soon after, as the songs came too life, Paul
returned to write and play, something that still cheers Pritchard immensely.
"Having Paul back meant we tried and still try things we've never done
before," he says. "We ended up working quickly, keeping it fun." Three years
after Konk, Junk Of The Heart is like a whole new band. Over the last
nine months The Kooks have reimagined what it is they do, what they are for and
now they seem stronger and happier than ever. Their mission was to move on, to
never repeat themselves, and the new record shows they've certainly done that.
"There was pressure building up," Luke admits. "We felt lost. But now we feel
free. It seems easy again. Music should be experimental, not constricted. We're
not turning our back on what we have done, but we're different people now. So
everything is evolving, the live show will be evolving it will have too, even the
old songs will be changed a bit. I don't know what will happen next, but I know
I'm looking ahead. This record has opened the floodgates for us."