‘How long have you got?’ laughs The Kooks’ Luke Pritchard when I ask him about their evolution – the day their new album 10 Tracks to Echo in the Dark comes out.
It’s been over 16 years since their debut Inside In / Inside Out was released, on the same day as Arctic Monkeys’ Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. To say it was a success would be an understatement; it reached number two in the charts and has gone quadruple-platinum, also spawning hits like She Moves in Her Own Way, Naïve and Ooh La. You’d be hard-pressed to attend an indie night anywhere in the UK and not hear at least one of that trio.
‘It’s been a long time,’ says Luke. ‘We’ve developed a lot. We’ve always been quite concerned with not staying in the same place. When you have a crazy successful first album, which we had, it’s quite a dangerous position to be in. It kind of makes you think you’ve got to stay in your box.
'We were trying to push for new ways of doing things.'
‘And I think we’ve done quite well to not do that, and try things and learn and develop,' he explains. 'We’ve been through loads of phases. The second album came off the back of probably 600 gigs – we did a quite live, ballsy kind of blues record, and then went into some electronics, and then funk and a bit of jazz percussion.
‘The key for us has been to just keep enjoying it,’ Luke tells me of their enduring success and popularity. But while their sound may have evolved over time, he notes that they've 'kept the same guitars.'
The idea of second album syndrome is often brought up when an artist has a wildly successful debut, but it’s something The Kooks have been able to avoid – their continued success (while many of their indie counterparts have broken up or tailed off) is a testament to their willingness to try new things.
And so we come to their sixth album. Luke describes himself as having ‘a lot of stability going on,’ coming to the album at ‘quite a good point’ in his life. ‘And so, I guess, that had an impact on the kind of vibe and kind of energy to it – a lot of the songs are about letting go of old traumas, being at peace and being really happy while also being completely, totally confused by the world around. So it ended up probably being one of the more introspective records I’ve made.'
In any interview in 2022, it’s near impossible for the pandemic not to come up at some point or another, and Luke describes 10 Tracks as a ‘lockdown album’, made while 'the world was not available.'
'You’re often writing songs about your experiences,' he says, 'but because you’re not having experiences you look a bit more inward… Mainly, it’s an album for my family, you know? The title was for my son, and a lot of the songs are for my family, and that’s quite cool as well.'
Another inspiration for the album was Luke’s time in Berlin, which he describes as a 'cool town' – indeed, the German capital has been a popular haunt of numerous musicians, artists and creatives over the years. 'I like the attitude,' he says. 'It’s quite a non-commercial place – it’s got a looseness to it. People are so consumed by the rat race, and so it’s quite inspiring to be around.
'It’s all a little bit sort of punk rock – the difference to how it’s been changing in the UK. So it was quite cool to be around the artists that are a bit more disruptive, and enjoying that.'
Luke also discusses Beautiful World, the sixth track on the album and a summery indie-reggae-pop smash that’s a collaboration with German band Milky Chance: 'People – especially the younger generation – are so used to collaborating, which isn’t something that was done so much in 2006. When we started, especially in the indie world, it was quite rare.'
But how did the Milky Chance collab come about? 'It’s amazing that it happened,' says Luke, 'We’d hung out quite a few times – we have mutual friends.'
'I wrote the song and I just thought it – completely subconsciously – had a Milky Chance vibe, so it seemed like a nice time to ask them to jump on something. I love their music, I love what they stand for. They’re quite passionate about the environment and some social issues that I was dealing with in the track that I thought they might resonate with.'
'I think the greatest thing with The Kooks is that we have a young fanbase still, which we’re so grateful for.'
It’s no surprise that The Kooks have remained popular for over a decade and a half given their open-mindedness. They even released their album in an unconventional manner, three tracks at a time in a sort of EP format, before dropping the whole album with the remaining four unheard songs.
'We were trying to push for new ways of doing things,' explains Luke. 'It’s fun to engage with the new way people consume music – which is through streaming.'
While they’ve got plenty of fans who’ve been there since the early days, they’ve gained a whole load of new fans over the years – some of whom wouldn’t even have been born when Inside In / Inside Out was released. Is it a difficult balancing act trying to attract new fans while keeping the old?
'You can’t really concern yourself with that,' Luke tells me. 'If you do that, you end up like a lot of acts who end up sounding the same throughout their career, and that’s not what we want to do.
'We’ve lost some [fans], we’ve gained some. I think the greatest thing with The Kooks is that we have a young fanbase still, which we’re so grateful for. We seem to resonate with kids, and I think that’s one of the best things about the band.'
'We’re not afraid of the new ways of working, we’re not afraid of the new sound, and I love modern music. Maybe there are not quite so many bands as there were, but that will change. I already feel that changing, you know?'