There’s no arguing The Kooks sound like where they’re from.
The English rock band (from Brighton, specifically) was heavily influenced by the British Invasion on their first two records. That garnered them plenty of sales in their homeland, but also some scorn. Kooks guitarist Hugh Harris said during a recent phone interview before their show at Deluxe, that they weren’t intent on trying to sound retro.
“We were only focused on sounding good,” he said. “What we sounded like was what we liked.”
What the four-piece is, it turns out, is a lot. Aside from the aforementioned British Invasion, the self-described musical junkies in The Kooks (rounded out by vocalist/guitarist Luke Pritchard, drummer Paul Garred and bassist Peter Denton) are also big into post-punk, ska and even reggae. As a guitarist, Harris said you can’t help but be influenced by the British Invasion. There’s plenty of inspiration for him on this side of the Atlantic too.
“It’s a happy sort of back and forth,” Harris said, of the two countries. “There’s something about a British pop song that has a certain eccentricity, a lovableness and nostalgia to it. Americans can be more brash with their writing.”
He’s fond of the protest songs and hardcore aggression that have emanated from here. There’s also Motown, soul, the blues.
“American music is so diverse it’s almost impossible to pinpoint everything that influences me,” Harris said.
Within The Kooks, he's not alone in that sentiment. And with so many ideas in the mix, combining them in a coherent fashion can make writing difficult.
“It makes for a much longer process,” Harris said. “If one person has an idea, they can just get on with it. With us, it takes some convincing of others to get ideas across.”
There was a lot of that on last year’s Junk of the Heart. Not content to just convene in one room and bang out songs together, The Kooks took a more studied, compartmentalized approach to their third album.
“We did things separately and each spent a lot of time on parts,” Harris said. “Then we brought it all together. In the past, we’d all be in the same room jamming ideas out. This time we’d each take a piece away, sort of like homework. I’d spend days on synthesizer sounds. We didn’t really see much of each other then.”
The idea wasn’t just to slap synths or strings on top of an arrangement for more color, though.
“We wanted it to be in the DNA of the song,” Harris said. “We wanted these atmospheric sounds part of the writing process from day one. Otherwise, it would sound contrived.”
The new method also served to place more pressure on The Kooks compared to their debut, 2006’s Inside In/Inside Out, and the 2008 followup, Konk. It didn’t help that they scrapped half an album’s worth of material during the making of Junk of the Heart.
“That pressure can be healthy sometimes,” Harris said. “Usually, it’s good to care about what you’re doing.”
The evolution they’ve shown, he added, is ongoing.
“We haven’t necessarily done our best work yet,” Harris said. “Junk of the Heart was a necessary album to make. It’s opened doors for us.”