Over the last 14 years, British indie rockers, The Kooks, have been mastering and experimenting with their signature starry-eyed sound; a sound that has served as the soundtrack to many angst-filled teenage lives. Now, after thousands of shows around the world, babies, marriages and four studio albums, the group have returned to their roots with new highly-anticipated ‘party record’, Let’s Go Sunshine.
We caught up with guitarist Hugh Harris to chat about the band returning to the sound that made them famous, the current state of indie music, dreams of playing the Sydney Opera House and more. You can catch the Kooks playing Beyond The Valley over the New Year.
“It’s not necessarily a return to form, it’s more of a return to our format.” We caught up with Hugh from The Kooks to dig into their new record.
HAPPY: The Kooks just been announced as the headliners for Lost Paradise and Beyond the Valley, which will make this your second consecutive NYE in Australia. Tell us about playing over New Year’s last year. Any good stories from your time here?
HUGH: Yeah, of course. My sister, she lived in Melbourne at the time and basically we all just had a right royal romp in the field, and yeah it was fun. Stand out moments are quite difficult to pinpoint these days because one, I’m old, and two, we’ve done quite a lot of Australian New Year festivals. I feel like that Falls was perhaps our sixth time at the festival, and within that occasion probably our fifth time at the Tasmanian New Year Falls. We always seem to get the Tassie Falls which is great because I love Tassie, but we always make the mistake of leaving the festival after we’ve played, and so we always go back to Hobart and get to our hotel rooms, and say “what’re we doing? It’s dead! There’s nothing to do in Hobart on NYE because everyone’s at Falls festival”, so we never seem to learn, and probably never will.
HAPPY: So what do you get up to in Australia when you’re not playing shows?
HUGH: I see friends and family. My dad was Australian so a lot of his mates are in Sydney and across Melbourne, so I hang out with those guys. I do a little pilgrimage trip for him and go and have a pint where he used to drink, and walk down to Edgecliff shopping centre where my grandma used to live, go and buy some groceries, then I get on the tube and go to Bondi Junction, meet some friends on the beach, have some lovely food, get a bit blotto, and go home for sundown. So that’s about it really, I’ve kind of got these five point things that I do in Sydney when I’m there for Christmas every year, it’s good.
HAPPY: Now, you guys are about to release your fifth album Let’s Go Sunshine, which is super exciting. Tell me about the album. What are some of the common themes?
HUGH: It’s kind of a party record, to be honest. The producer who we worked with was partial to that way of recording, there weren’t any rules. So, it was a bit of a hark back to 1980s style rock and roll recording, it was about having fun really, and going back to what music was about for us in the first place when we were teenagers starting out. I think there are a lot of themes on the record musically that have been renaissanced if that makes any sense.
For instance, we were all sticking to our strengths and not being too experimental, which is kind of doing what people originally decided to like us for in the first place, and we’ve done everything in our power to escape that in our last few records, which is fine and fun, but it’s a different thing from your true colours. With this record, it’s not necessarily a return to form, it’s more of a return to our format, and getting back to what we are and what we do, and that’s been really exciting, it’s been really fun to reconnect with the inner 18 year old guitar player.
HAPPY: Yeah, I can imagine! What’s your favourite song on the album?
HUGH: You know, that’s a really great question. What’s really cool about this album is that unlike any other record, except maybe the first, if you ask each of us what our favourite song is there will be four completely different answers, and I think that’s what’s really compelling about it, it’s a pretty eclectic record. So I find it hard, it changes every day, but I’d say Fractured and Dazed is probably my favourite at the moment because we’ve just started playing it live, and it’s killer, it’s really fun to play, basically it’s just one massive long guitar solo which is why I enjoy playing it…
HAPPY: Understandably. So, how did you go about writing the guitar parts for the album? How do you stay inspired in that sense?
HUGH: I kind of just kept digging deep, really, and not accepting the first idea that I’d come up with. I’d throw something down and then I’d keep working on that idea for about an hour or two with the engineer, and we would kind of track out the melody and that would take a long time. Then we’d throw out some other ideas that would be competitive but not as good, then at least I gave it a shot. So I layered; I just layered and layered and layered and layered – it’s like throwing spaghetti at a wall basically, I just threw a bunch of spaghetti at a wall and looked for what stuck.
HAPPY: Was there anyone in particular at the time who was inspiring you?
HUGH: Yeah, absolutely. A lot of Amadou & Mariam, the guitar parts on some of their records are quite melodic, big melodies and stuff like that. My antenna for guitar music is constantly up, I don’t particularly go through cycles of listening to one band forever and ever at one time but I’ve definitely been slightly influenced by people like Palace who are this great band from North London. They have this kind of wash of guitar, this beautiful diamond-like sound of dripping guitars. I was really into the War on Drugs for a little bit actually, the blanket of reverb is really cool.
I think Indie music at the minute is going through a bit of an introspective, very mellifluous, dark, twisted kind of guitar sounding period. It’s less stabby and attention seeking. When we first started it was all about seeking attention through loud guitars, and things like that. I think now it’s kind of cool because all that loud attention seeking music has been taken over by EDM, so indie music can be a bit more chilled, and reserved, and introspective. So I’ve been picking up on quite a lot of that. I say I’ve been picking up on it but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’d play it like that at all, because I think The Kooks will always be The Kooks no matter what’s going on around us.
HAPPY: You guys have been together for 14 years – how do you keep things fresh? How do you feel the music has evolved?
HUGH: The music’s just gained its own identity, finally. When we first started out there wasn’t really a solid path, we would try out all sorts of genres from reggae to folk, and it was just mental, we were just a bunch of gadabout teenagers throwing things around, and that’s now our sound in a way. There’s a Kooks sound now through the thread of some melody in Luke’s voice and strong musicianship, and I think we’ve finally settled in our identity and that’s what’s so good.
HAPPY: Yeah, for sure. You guys have worked super hard and had incredible luck in your careers so far. What’s been the highlight for you? Is there anything you haven’t done as a musician that you’d love to do?
HUGH: Yes, Sydney Opera House, would love to play there! That would be just incredible as a show, obviously just growing up around that image of Sydney Opera House my whole life it would just be a crowning moment.
HAPPY: I’m surprised you guys haven’t played there already!
HUGH: Right! I don’t know why we haven’t played there either. We always seem to do the Hordern Pavilion. So I’ll have to chat to management about that, and do some research. I guess the most fulfilling moment in my life would be my daughter, but in my career, I think doing Ally Pally [Alexandra Palace] for me was a real big one because I’ve always been aware of that venue growing up around London and seeing it’s beauty. It’s a palace, I mean what could be more incredible to look back on?
Catch The Kooks playing at Beyond The Valley alongside Joey Bada$$, PNAU and more at Lardner Park, December 28th to January 1st. Find out more info and buy your tickets here.