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The Kooks – ‘10 Tracks To Echo In The Dark’ album biog
When you look back at the sea of mid-noughties indie bands, there are few still standing and even fewer, some fifteen years later, who are still experiencing career highs. But this was the precise spot The Kooks found themselves in, four years ago.
After a worldwide arena tour, the release of their 2018 UK Top Ten album ‘Let’s Go Sunshine’ saw the Brighton band topping the bill at festivals across Europe and at home. The streaming boom had opened up The Kooks up to a new audience of young fans who loved their distinctive brand of indie rock and were itching to see them play live.
Coming off the back of a punishing tour schedule, frontman, Luke Pritchard – vowed to take a bit of a breather. But instead, found himself right back in the studio.
“I started going to Berlin for three or four days at a time. I was really affected by Brexit and I wanted to make a bit of a statement by creating a European record,” he explains. “We’re a European band, we practically lived out there and have so much love for Europe, so we wanted to keep that connection.”
Berlin has long been something of a creative Mecca for artists from all over the world and Pritchard found himself moving in those circles, meeting the collaborators he would work with on their behemoth of a sixth album, ‘10 Tracks To Echo In The Dark’. The period was one of work, inspiration and creativity as opposed to partying. “I wasn’t doing any drugs,” Pritchard attests. “It was more dive bars and a bottle of whiskey than Berghain.”
The environment quickly started to work its magic. “A lot of songwriters have found refuge in Berlin”, he says. “It’s a free place, it’s not so consumed by commerciality. I was looking for something a bit rawer, a little bit more minimal. Sometimes you just pick up these nuances somewhere. It’s not necessarily the people, it’s the place.”
Armed with a new mantra – to not overthink things and just make a record that he’d want to listen to at home, the ideas came freely and easily. Pairing up with Tobias Kuhn to co-write and produce the bulk of the record, their first writing session saw them pen intention-setting lead single, ‘Connection’, in just a few hours. Things were moving well with the pair laying down five tracks, but in March 2020, COVID put a stop to Pritchard’s European dream, forcing him to return home to the UK to finish the writing sessions over Zoom until Tobias was able to fly out to London and record with him and the rest of the band, Hugh Harris (lead guitar/synthesiser/bass) and Alexis Nunez (drums).
Despite the dual locations, there’s a distinct Berlin sensibility to ‘10 Tracks To Echo In The Dark’. Flirting with genres from 80s synth-pop to funk to prog rock, the album is still, at its core, an indie record and a Kooks one, at that.
It’s a record that doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel but takes that classic Kooks sound and adds something of a retro-futurist slant – both sonically and in mindset. It’s an album about being hopeful and seeing the great in the world, despite the darkness. There are unapologetic love songs (‘Without A Doubt’, ‘Oasis’), tracks about partying through pain (‘Connection’), terrible exes (‘Cold Heart’) and even a song for Pritchard’s newborn son, Julian. (‘Beautiful World’), born prematurely while the band were on tour in Mexico.
Getting married and becoming a father you get a sense that we’re hearing from a new Pritchard – one whose demons are behind him and is optimistic about the future.
“I really hope that sense of inner peace comes across,” says Pritchard of the album’s resoundingly optimistic outlook. “I really want to have fun with my life at this point. But also – it’s kinda a reflection of what I was feeling in real-time in a pre-and-post COVID world. I was reading a lot of sci-fi – like Philip K. Dick, Azimov and surreal stuff like Boris Vian – which is obviously really distracting from what’s going on in the world, but helped me be imaginative with the songs.”
It’s a relief to hear a healthier perspective from a band who have had their struggles played out in the press for fifteen years. Bagging a slew of top 20 hits in their teens (‘Naive’, ‘She Moves In Her Own Way’) with 2006 quadruple-platinum debut album ‘Inside In/Inside Out’, the young band didn’t always know how to handle everything that came along with superstardom.
“Mental health has been a big focus of our band for quite a while now. Because we’ve all struggled in our own ways. That’s not to say we haven’t had amazing lives, but just we struggled with fame big time, like really struggled. And we got it wrong a lot of the time.
“We did get famous quite quickly and we didn’t have a lot of the stability required to not let that seriously affect you. All of us, in our own ways, have made some very poor judgements and some really good judgements. And we’re here, so it means we’ve done very well to keep it going and to keep ourselves sane. But I have ultimate compassion for anyone who gets famous anywhere.”
But as with everyone, there comes a point in life where you reach a sense of stillness, you become more comfortable in your own skin and the right path becomes clear to you. The band have been experimental over the years – most notably on 2014’s Inflo-produced jazz-funk album ‘Listen’ – something that has been key to their longevity, but getting back to what people love about The Kooks was front of Pritchard’s mind: whether that person was “a fifteen-year-old kid in South Africa or someone who was at our first concert.”
The result isn’t a rinse and repeat of their earlier sound, though. Instead, we get those infectious Kooks melodies and riffs, but over synths and electronic beats. There’s even some saxophone in there, moving their trademark sound well into 2022.
“Indie is a word we were running from for quite a long time,” he admits. “The band’s done a lot of different records, but we do have quite a style. A big part of it was not running from anything. We’re gonna just do what we do, but better and with a few more fresh ideas.”
In the studio, he made some rules: not to overcomplicate things, throw in some old-school Kooks riffs, “the very classic, Naive-y kinda stuff, but with more minimalism” and to get back to that noughties thing of treated vocals. “It’s not that I hate my voice – I just mainly dislike it. So the more you can disguise it, the better!”
Having that focus helped make a cohesive record that leans on the band’s legacy while still sounding fresh. “On certain albums you make decisions based on other things and you start
trying to chase your own tail. This record isn’t about trying to smash everything up and reinvent. COVID hitting in the middle of recording was a good time to kind of really reflect on all our albums and be really happy with our journey.”
As The Kooks, continue to reach an ever-growing audience of young fans, ‘10 Tracks To Echo In The Dark’ feels like a mission statement. It’s a celebration of getting through troubled times and a rallying cry for our future.
This is a band whose career highs are still to come. They’re right to feel optimistic about what’s next and that the future might be a little bit brighter.
And the key to seeing fifteen years of success as a band?
“Hard work,” says Pritchard. “And a lot of luck.”