The Kooks are a bit like Marmite
You either love them or you hate them, there’s never an in-between.
Whenever I talk to people about them I’m either met with, “What, they’re still making music?” or, “I fucking love those guys!” There aren’t many bands, especially British bands, that divide opinion quite like The Kooks. Why are they viewed this way? To me it’s a little confusing.
People obviously like them. Their debut album went quadruple platinum – there aren’t many UK bands that have done this – and they’ve gone on to release three other albums since 2008, with their fifth studio album Let’s Go Sunshine due out August 31st, so people are still buying and listening to their records.
Add to this the fact that they’re constantly invited to play big stages at some of the most famous festivals in the world – this past weekend they played the Main Stage at Reading and Leeds – so they must be doing something right. But if this is the case why is there such a stigma surrounding them?
Regarded as “average” by many critics over the years – there was even a Noisey article where the writer was celebrating how good the band’s debut album, Inside In / Inside Out, was but still proceeded to say they “were holding up the fort with an abundance of average” – I’m not sure there’s a worse criticism out there, and neither does Luke Pritchard, the band’s lead singer and main songwriter.
“I’ll take that,” he says laughing, sitting down with us at the London offices of the band’s new label, Kobalt Music Group. “That’s the most horrible criticism you could really hear, isn’t it? But you’ve gotta take positives from what you have.
“I’d strongly disagree with people saying ‘average’ and things like that. I feel very proud of what we’ve created, especially with our new record. Sure, people can say we’re lucky – which of course sometimes gets annoying even if there is an element of that – but in life you’ve just gotta be true to yourself and take what you’ve got and turn it into a positive.”
Something that has always evaded The Kooks is consistent radio support – in the UK at least. Sure, they’ve had some but for a band who streams in the hundreds of millions you’d probably expect more.
“I don’t know why that is,” Luke admits. “It could be that the songs just didn’t go down that well, it could be… I mean it could be a million things. It could be that there were just other songs playlisted.
“I’m very chilled about it. The songs go out there and if they get a bite they get a bite and you go with it and I think that’s our mentality rather than the big ‘I am’ and the big ‘here’s our one song’.
“With our new record I think there are potentially six singles on it, I really do, just like on our first album. On our first album we had six singles. Whether people think that they’re average or not doesn’t bother me. But they’re tunes and if I’m the guy that writes the catchy hook I’m fine with that but they’re all fucking singles in my opinion.
“So it’s like cool, ‘Four Leaf Clover’ is coming out and hopefully all of radio will get on to it and I think it could sound great on radio alongside a lot of modern stuff. I think ‘No Pressure’ sounds pretty old school, man. It’s almost like Beach Boys old school and old school Kooks, so I think maybe it just didn’t tick all of the boxes next to the modern songs or something, but I don’t know. Then sometimes it’s just timing.”
But it’s not just radio that apparently doesn’t support The Kooks. According to Luke there’s a lot of music insiders and fellow musicians who also feel like they can’t, or maybe shouldn’t, show love to the Brighton band.
“We haven’t been embraced by the music community that much,” he begins. “There’s a lot of artists I know that really like our band but they generally don’t speak out about it. I mean, not mentioning any names but there are so many people. I mean maybe they just say it to me, but you kinda feel like that isn’t reflected out there.
“But I like being the underdog. I like being that kinda dude. We’re quite quirky. The Kooks is a bit weird, it’s an anomaly. We’re not very easy to pigeonhole. We kinda do something different and I think that that’s a good thing.”
Did you know that The Kooks, as successful as they are and with some of the catchiest songs the British music scene has ever heard, haven’t won that many awards, in fact it’s pretty appalling really.
They’ve only ever been nominated for one BRIT Award (British Breakthrough Act in 2007), two NME Awards (Best New Band and Worst Band in 2007) and one Q Award (Best New Act in 2006). They won an MTV Europe Music Award in 2006 for Best UK & Ireland Act and also a UK Festival Award in 2006 for Best Breakthrough Act. But the rest of their award resume is pretty thin and I struggle to understand why.
For me The Kooks scream BRIT Award nominee, they scream Mercury Prize shortlister, they scream NME Award nominee. So why does Luke think they don’t get the nods perhaps they should?
“Sometimes you feel a bit like, ‘Hang on, we’re doing really well and our audience receives our music really well.’ And I think with a lot of people, our songs are really ingrained in their life, right? And I think that’s really important and something to celebrate. So yeah, I don’t think that’s been reflected by the BRIT Awards and it hasn’t been reflected by the Q Awards.
“But then, again, this is the thing, there’s no rhyme or reason to these things sometimes. You could probably try and analyse why that is but I won’t. It’s not just us though. I don’t even think the Rolling Stones, and some others you might be surprised by, have the accolades you might think they do. And I think we fall into that category in our generation as a band. We’re sort of destined, not for being average, but we’re destined to be the outsiders.
“Let’s Go Sunshine might do awards for us, maybe it won’t. I don’t know. We might win awards in Thailand, we just don’t know.”
One thing that is for certain is that the band are pretty fucking popular when it comes to streaming. With over one billion streams worldwide, it’s definitely something that Luke didn’t see coming.
“In the middle of making this new album, the band became big again,” he says. “I don’t know how the fuck that happened. We were making an album to save ourselves, and it gave us confidence towards to end. I didn’t feel vindicated or ‘I showed them’, it just felt right. It felt like something had happened.”
Streaming, how it works and how its algorithms work are still a mystery to most. But when you’re on the winning side of it there really is no cause for complaint. Having a resurgence thanks to streaming, The Kooks join the likes of The Wombats, The Killers and many other bands who are all enjoying the power of what’s hot and what’s not being put back into the hands of the fan.
“I don’t know where it’s going and I don’t think anyone could claim to know where it’s going. All I do know is it’s democratised things and I do like that,” Luke explains.
“I like it because I feel with our band there are potentially some gatekeepers and tastemakers and stuff that didn’t want us around and Spotify for us is a bit like, ‘Well, fuck you.’ I’ve even got a song on the album about it. ‘Swing Low’ is that kind of, you know… it sounds corny but I really wanted to write a ‘fuck you’ song on the album because what Spotify does is it literally levels the playing field and I like that.
“I still don’t know how the algorithms work and stuff like that but what’s really nice is to see some of the younger bands, who are also some of today’s bigger bands, that might have liked our band when they were young or were sort of inspired by us, and a lot of people listening to those bands go from them to us. I think that’s a really nice handoff as well. There’s a lot of symbiosis going on, which I like.”
For me, good music is good music regardless of how long you’ve been making it. Too many people are quick to not like a band because it’s (apparently) cool to not like them. The music The Kooks make is what we love about British music: catchy, well-written, melodic, of a high quality and in no way, shape or form is it average. But hey, what do I know? I’ve only been a music journalist for the past 15 years.
The Kooks’ Let’s Go Sunshine is out August 31st and can be pre-ordered here.