Chris Allen talks to Hugh Harris, lead guitarist of The Kooks, about their most recent album, Let’s Go Sunshine.
Chris: In the press notes, it says that this album goes back to the early Kooks sound. Was that a conscious decision, or just something that happened while writing?
Hugh: No, I mean there wasn’t a board meeting about it, but I think we all just decided to stick to our strengths. Our strengths were displayed from the first record, and I think we kind of fell under a syndrome that lots of bands fall under of distancing yourself from the thing that people like you for, for a few records, which is what happened. So this record was just about a return to format: not like a return to form, just kind of stick to playing guitar because you like what you do on that instrument… you do your best to challenge yourself with new things as an artist or musician so that can be distancing, it can be deep, profound, but unless you can swim it’s tricky and I think we’ve just paddled back to the shallow end.
Chris: Did you find you were still influenced by similar artists as at the start of your career, or have the influences changed?
Hugh: I don’t really keep track of my influences to be honest… It’s impossible, a very tricky question to answer but yes, there are some definite parallels that can be drawn between where we are now and where we were when we first started playing music for a living.
Chris: There are a couple of elements of other genres on this album, as well as on your early albums, little elements of funk and reggae; is that something you’re still interested in exploring?
Hugh: I think we’d like to make our next record in Jamaica. I think we’ve said that before every record we’ve ever made. I think we’ve earned our stripes now, I think album six we can definitely insist on going to Jamaica.
Chris: There are a lot of references to other artists on this album, for example to Serge Gainsbourg and The Who. What was the motivation behind those references?
Hugh: In my opinion, Initials to Gainsbourg is a kind of homage to—kind of a schoolboy letter written from Luke to Serge Gainsbourg, a sweet little… almost quite a French thing to do to write to your idols, like Dead or Alive, quite cute, Frenchy, slightly twee but in a cool French way. I would say that was just a kind of passion project really.
Initials to Gainsbourg is kind of a schoolboy letter written from Luke to Serge Gainsbourg
Chris: There are a few quite high energy songs on the new album (Pamela, Four Leaf Clover), but it doesn’t quite have the frantic nature of the first album. Did you find that high level of energy is something that’s changed now that you’ve matured?
Hugh: Yeah, we’re just lazy, we just can’t do it, we try but [laughs]. There’s not the same urgency in our lives, as with anyone when you turn 30… there’s no urgency. I guess what it is [on the album] is a bit of a pastiche of our previous selves or [of] a lot of American punk. […] We actually had Derek from Sum41 come into the studio – I don’t know if anyone’s spoken about that, I think we agreed to not talk about it.
I guess it’s a bit of a pastiche of our previous selves… We actually had Derek from Sum41 come into the studio
Chris: I can keep it out if you prefer.
Hugh: Honestly, I don’t care. I definitely remember him being there. It was our producer Brandon Freeson’s idea to bring him in and inject some youthfulness into the equation but you know he’s not exactly a spring chicken anymore… I think a lot of those American punk bands are doing pastiches of themselves these days so I don’t know if that particularly worked, maybe that’s what you’re picking up on. I actually did a version of me singing Four Leaf Clover because I was going to sing it, and I tried singing it with Brandon our producer in the room shouting at me, going [he impersonates a growly American voice] “you know you gotta just pretend you’re a teenager, you’re in your garage, you’re really spotty,all you want to do is have sex, you just gotta sing this song and get yourself a girlfriend.” And I was like, I just can’t, I’m trying but I’m not that guy anymore. So there was a bit of pastiche-y-ness to that stuff which I think came out kind of charming; the efforts involved in connecting with your teenage self in any situation is quite charming.
Chris: What would you say is the hardest part about being a band at this stage in your career?
Hugh: Actually it’s become quite easy now for us… I guess what used to be the easiest bits are now the hardest bits, so things like going away from home is hard now because we have families, whereas that used to be really easy because all you want to do is get away from your family as a kid. Over a long period of time there’s been an inverse effect of fortune and misfortune… I mean we crave homeliness, things like that. I just made a home for myself in Hackney and my bedroom just looks like a hotel room – I’ve been institutionalised. I’m surprised I didn’t build myself a fucking tour bunk.
Chris: For a lot of people, playing in a band is a dream job. Does it ever feel like it’s become less of a dream and more like a job you have to do?
Hugh: Of course, yeah… Everything is relative, you have to accept that—first of all, instinctively we are complainers, being British and secondly being humans, you always look to the greener grass and of course you start complaining about the things that you have instead of appreciating them. But it’s still… it’s one of the best jobs someone can have so that almost makes it difficult to complain because if you do have some genuine troubles like you’re experiencing some form of depression or whatever while you’re on the road it kind of makes it a bit harder to hold your hand up and say, “I’m not actually feeling very well here because of the pressure of it being the best job in the world”, and people don’t really accept your complaints if you have the best job in the world. That can lead to a lot of psychological issues, hence why we’ve been through a lot of line-up changes.
Chris: Right, it’s often difficult, I know there are a lot of charities which deal with musicians and mental health.
Hugh: Totally, and rightfully so, yeah.