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I met The Kooks in a hotel in Alabang, just the morning after their midnight performance at Wanderland Music Festival. They were this year’s headliners alongside fellow indie rock band Two Door Cinema Club, and it was pretty obvious how long the Filipino fans waited for them. Hands were raised and swayed left to right in sync. I’d jump on the stage if I could, just to sing along.
Composed of Luke Pritchard (vocals and rhythm guitarist), Hugh Harris (synthesizer and lead guitarist), and Alexis Nunez (drummer), English rock band The Kooks, I think, is a band that can teach us a lot of things. As an outfit that’s been making songs since 2004, their deep-rooted, strongly built music history was an obvious moving entity during their Wanderland set. The setlist was a total time-travel in tunes. From their classic “She Moves In Her Own Way” to their newest album Let’s Go Sunshine, it felt like we were visited by a good friend we haven’t seen for years. But who cares? We still memorize their habits by heart. I believe everyone, at least once in their lifetime, has bopped their head or swayed their hips to a The Kooks song.
What would you find in this interview? Aside from spilling coffee and jokes in awkward timing, you’d read how it feels almost impossible for Luke and Hugh to imagine having fans in the Philippines. I’d say, it’s very unbelievable in our end, too. And it’s about damn time.
Congratulations on your Wanderland performance. What was it like performing for the Filipino crowd?
Luke: Thank you very much. It was really good; it felt like a homecoming. You know, we’re not from here, and we had a warm audience. And it’s quite mindblowing, really. Because we knew we had some fans here, and people seem to know our songs. It blows my mind that people in a country at the other side of the world know the songs I wrote in my bedroom. It’s kind of amazing so it was really great, the festival’s amazing, great lineup. Really great people. Really well-organized, so yeah, it was really fun.
I agree! I, myself, have been a fan for four years. I loved your album Listen from 2014. That was included in my college freshie playlist.
Luke: Oh wow, thank you! Well, you know, it was commercial failure, but it seems to have stood the test of time. It’s kind of amazing we got into a real difficulty in that album. It just didn’t connect on radio, it didn’t connect with press. But those songs seem to build, it’s so cool that you like that record.
So The Kooks has been in the scene for more than a decade now. Do you frequently think of maintaining a bit of who you are from the past, when you were just starting, do y-
Luke: It’s Hugh! Hey, mate.
Hi, I’m Jelou!
Hugh: Nice to meet you.
Luke: Good morning, Sir. How are you feeling?
Hugh: Absolutely nice.
Luke: We’re good!
Hugh: Sorry to interrupt.
It’s alright! Going back to the question, The Kooks has been in the scene for more than a decade now.
Luke: Yeah, she’s making us feel old. (Laughs) I’m joking!
(Laughs) alright. Well, do you guys frequently think of how you can take something from where you started, and carrying it or maintaining it to what you are right now? Like a certain brand or personality. Or do you just go with flow?
Hugh: Like, maintain a mantra or an idea?
Luke: Yeah, I mean, in both ways, if you see our albums, we never try to make the same album twice. We’re quite free with our sort of music and choices. We don’t really sit still creatively, but I guess we do take with us a mantra, like things that we started with. And there are some unwritten rules in the band. Unwritten rules about what we do, which are probably quite concise.
Hugh: There’s an unwritten, overhanging lore of pop.
Luke: Lore of pop, yeah, I like that.
So there’s a certain band brand or personality that you find yourself keeping?
Luke: Yeah, we don’t sit around and talk about it. I think we just know it. It would be when we were just working and you would know with the sounds on what works and what doesn’t. That’s the best way to describe it. But yeah, like what you said, the album you really liked is Listen. On that record, we went on a really difficult tangent, but we still had to maintain being The Kooks. So, we had that at the back of our heads.
Hugh: It’s a really weird record, by the way.
Hugh: I mean, I was thinking about it the other day, I don’t imagine our contemporaries making a record like Listen. I really don’t think that… Well, I’m not saying we pulled it off, but I definitely don’t think anyone else could do the work.
Luke: Yeah, it was like a lo-fi, RnB, Gospel record isn’t it?
So, how do you manage to grow along with your music? What advice can you give to young artists—(Luke spills his coffee)
Hugh: Uhm, just be careful.
Hugh and Luke: Don’t spill your coffee.
Luke: Do you see the skill? I totally missed my foot.
Hugh: That was really skillful.
Luke: I should’ve been a footballer. I’d be way richer. (Laughs) sorry, what was the question?
(Laughs) you should try some time. Okay guys, so how do you manage to grow along with your music? Like, what advice can you give to young artists so they can avoid feeling lost at one point? Although it’s inevitable.
Hugh: I have a good thing to say here. To anyone who’s a musician or a creative, I think [you should] do everything in your power to get to your source. As fast as possible. Write constantly and play constantly. And get to whatever it is that’s there. What makes you unique to get there quick. Just stick with it and be that person and get your identity fast and own it.
Do everything in your power to get to your source. As fast as possible. Write constantly and play constantly. And get to whatever it is that’s there. What makes you unique to get there quick. Just stick with it and be that person and get your identity fast and own it.
Luke: That’s good advice.
Hugh: ‘Cause once you’re there, you’re untouchable, no one can bring you down if you’re yourself. If you get to your character, everyone’s got an original take on something. You get there quick, without being smashed or brought down.
Luke, would you like to add something?
Luke: I agree with that. It’s probably the most true thing about doing what we do. Like, do not be swayed by stuff around you, and be yourself, and stick with it. Because essentially, music’s all about relation. How people relate to you for being real. But you know, it’s a great lifestyle.
Hugh: It’s difficult, though. It’s not an easy place—to choose art as your life.
So what do you guys want to try in the future? Is there anything more you’d like to achieve, in terms of your music or your career in general?
Luke: So many things. We’re a band. I mean, it’s kind of the best thing about us and the hardest thing. You know, we’ve always been in the cusp of light and we’ve never really gone over the top. So we haven’t done some of the bigger things that you would aspire us to.
Hugh: I’d like to be President of the United States.
Luke: (Laughs) Well, we’ve heard things about you.
Hugh: Yeah? I have the same hair.
Luke: Well, I’ll be the Prime Minister of Switzerland? (Laughs).
Hugh: Well, I’m really stupid now for asking this, but is there a royal family or a monarchy here?
No, but there are a lot of political dynasties.
Luke: Oh, a lot of Clintons. (Laughs) Kennedys. Oh god, sorry this is getting weird.
(Laughs) it’s okay!
Luke: We love the political party that’s ruling our country right now.
Luke: (Laughs) we’re strong-minded humans.
So are you guys familiar with any Filipino artists? Do you like anyone?
Luke: We should. Can you give us some we might know?
Have you listened to IV of Spades? They’re quite a young band, and I think they’re the biggest right now.
Luke: Oh, cool. I’ll check them out.
Hugh: We should.
Read also: The boys of IV of Spades are just like us
The sound treads along disco rock to psychedelic rock to funk—
Hugh: Disco rock?!
Luke: We’re all about disco rock. Are they stealing our moves? (Laughs) let’s have a word with these IV of Spades.
Hugh: Yeah, I’m pretty sure we have copyright…
Luke: I actually feel like us and Two Door Cinema Club basically, we’ve covered disco rock. I will check them out.
Hugh: I will check with their lawyer.
So, do you guys have a dream collaboration?
Luke: IV of Spades. Honestly, let’s do it. I’ll put the word out, via Scout Magazine. IV of Spades, let’s do a collab. That’ll be sick.
If you can spend an hour talking to or hanging out with a certain musician, living or dead, who will it be?
Hugh: An hour. That’s a long time, actually.
Luke: Especially if they’re dead. (Laughs)
Hugh: That’s a one-sided conversation.
(Laughs) you took it literally, but go on!
Hugh: I don’t know, this is a really good question.
Luke: I’ll go with Sam Cooke. Because I think he’s a really interesting guy. I love Sam Cooke, I recently watched the documentary. I think Sam Cooke would be really interesting to talk to, and you know, he’s one of the first ever singer-songwriters, let alone what he was trying to do for music. He’s like the original Jay-Z. He’s like in a way revolutionized music.
Hugh: I think Quincy Jones.
Luke: He’s not dead.
Hugh: Living OR dead.
Luke: (Laughs) what, did you say living or dead?
Luke: Oh god (laughs) okay.
Hugh: I think like five seconds with Quincy Jones would probably be the most inspiring, especially now.
So for the final question, what is your message to your Filipino fans?
Luke: Thank you for listening, even though we haven’t given you shows. Thank you.
Yeah, we waited so long!
Luke: Yeah, you know, ask us here. (Laughs) And you know, we love it here, genuinely. We’d love to come and spend more time here, and collaborate with bands like IV of Spades.
Hugh: I mean, yeah, when you think about it, where we came from… a couple of dudes growing up in an island over the other side of the planet, to now be here playing for all of these people, is insane. Completely insane.
Luke: I remember when everyone was singing “Naive.”
Hugh: Yeah. It was mental.
Luke: First verse, I was like, “how?” It’s crazy. Pretty crazy.
Photography by Renz Mart Reyes