It might seem like a letdown for a group like The Kooks to tour the United States.
The band is a major headliner in the U.K., playing prestigious festivals and arenas in that country, where its two albums, Inside In/Inside Out and Konk, have been million-selling hits. But stateside, The Kooks are playing clubs.
Kooks guitarist, Hugh Harris, doesn’t sound at all bothered about playing clubs in the states, where the Kooks have yet to make major waves on the charts.
“(Touring) again in America is actually quite refreshing,” Harris said says in a recent phone interview. “You go back to basics again. You get reminded what it was like starting off in the U.K. And so that’s exciting.
“Obviously the rooms are smaller and the crowds are smaller, but it makes no difference,” he continues. “It’s still people with ears on their faces. We’re still going to play our music for the people who are turning up for our shows, and we’re going to keep coming back. That’s what it’s all about.”
It’s also possible Harris and his bandmates — singer Luke Pritchard, drummer Paul Garred and new bassist Dan Logan (replacing Max Rafferty) — don’t mind getting away for a bit from the fanfare that surrounds the band back in England.
While the band has been embraced in some quarters, The Kooks have experienced a fair share of jabs in the British music press and even some outright controversy.
“We’ve actually had a bit of a rough time with the media in England,” Harris says, summing up the situation with what appeared to be some intentional understatement.
For starters, around the time that the band’s 2006 debut was recorded, singer Pritchard was dating Pop singer Katie Melua. That relationship became a regular topic of coverage and speculation — much to the annoyance of Pritchard and his bandmates.
Some writers viewed The Kooks as having had a privileged upbringing since the three original members attended private schools and the band itself came together at England’s Brighton Institute of Music.
Some critics used the lack of dues-paying struggle as ammunition to attack the group’s musical credibility.
The fact that some other British bands took swipes at The Kooks also generated plenty of column inches. Perhaps the most famous taunt came from Kasabian, which ridiculed The Kooks for writing songs for girls.
The British press also got plenty of mileage out of some seemingly haughty statements from Pritchard. He’s been quoted as saying he always believed The Kooks would be big stars. In another statement that might have been taken more seriously than intended, Pritchard said that as a songwriter, he’s a hit machine.
“I just roll ‘em out. I’m a one-man hit factory,” he told the British newspaper, The Guardian.
The idea that Pritchard and the rest of the band have over-inflated egos is particularly irksome to Harris.
“That’s sort of focusing on a very small part of what Luke talks about. And that’s what the press in the U.K. started doing,” Harris says. “Luke’s not an arrogant guy. We’re not an arrogant band. It’s just everyone (who does this) wants to be successful. Everyone, when you start playing music, you want your music to be heard by as many people as possible, otherwise why are you playing it?”
But plenty of critics apparently see The Kooks as overly ambitious, and Pritchard took plenty of flack when, prior to its release, he described the band’s recently released second CD, Konk, as a “Pop” album, a term that at least in Indie circles translates into selling out by writing superficial hit-worthy songs.
Harris found the critical barbs about Konk being too much like Inside In/Inside Out to be particularly off base.
“The thing is we didn’t want to change (musically),” Harris said. “Why would we fucking want to change? We like playing Pop music, and we just wanted to capture the vibe of four dudes in a room having a good time. I don’t know why a lot of critics expect you to sort of change and adapt and I think if we had gone completely experimental, we would have gotten absolutely (slammed) for it because it would have been false.”
The Pop appeal of Konk is undeniable. Most of the songs at least offer breezy melodic hooks that are easy on the ears. And several songs, including “See The Sun,” “Always Where I Need To Be” and “Stormy Weather,” boast clever twists in the vocal melodies and guitar riffs that have always characterized the best of Beatles-rooted Pop music.
The cheery mood of the album seems to reflect the atmosphere that existed when The Kooks and producer Ton Hoffer recorded the CD at the Konk studio, the London facility owned by Kinks frontman Ray Davies.
“It was a live room,” Harris says. “It’s got an incredible vibe to it. It’s got an incredible feel to it, as a studio. It’s one of the best in London. The equipment in there, it’s old, but it’s good quality. And it wasn’t a tourist attraction like Abbey Road. It was just a very soulful studio that hadn’t been used in awhile.”
Fans who see the Kooks on tour this fall can expect to hear songs from both albums. Harris said it’s nice to have more than enough songs to fill a set.
“We have a lot more material now, so that’s a good thing,” Harris says. “A lot of people sort of know the tunes off of the second record by now. So we’ve got a lot more to play.”�
THE KOOKS play Bogart’s Sunday with The Whigs.