The Kooks' Luke Pritchard Talks Opening for The Rolling Stones, New Music: 'We're Not Trying to Be Someone Else'

Andrew Whitton
The Kooks

"We’re just definitely being The Kooks," the singer says.

The Kooks will release their fifth album Let's Go Sunshine on Aug. 31, and have gifted fans with a double song release to kick things off. Frontman Luke Pritchard spoke to Billboard ahead of the band's sold out show at Brooklyn Steel in New York City last week, giving his thoughts on the band’s two new songs, their upcoming album and opening for The Rolling Stones on two stadium dates this summer.

You just put out two songs -- “All The Time” and “No Pressure” -- and the tour is underway. How’s it going?

I’m feeling pretty great. I had a bit of tonsillitis last week. Not that we were gonna pull the gigs, but I was in some serious pain. I’ve now recovered!

Do you get nervous to play New York?

Any time I go on stage, I don’t really think it through too much. When you do -- mentally, when you get something in your head, and then you start overthinking it -- you mess up. New York is such a vibey city anyway. You want to be great, you want to be cool. It’s the city of cool, isn’t it?

How are you guys putting together a setlist these days?

It’s tough. When you get to album five, it’s a really hard thing. We’re in this odd time. It’s really great that we’re sharing some new music for the first time; we’ve been playing two or three songs that we’ve only played a few times. We’re also here for the “best of” tour before we release our next album. So we want to be able to get in everything that people want to hear. If I don’t play “Naive,” they’ll probably ask for their money back.

I’m glad you’ve been incorporating some of the old stuff, but I love what I’ve heard of the new material, too. The Kooks really can’t put out a bad album.

Oh, thank you! I think the whole thing with the new album was to basically define ourselves. We experimented a bit on the last one, with gospel, electric church music. That was so cool. We were just like, “What is The Kooks?” because you get to this point where where you’re kind of like, “What are we, what do we stand for?”

I think we’re trying to hold on, or trying to be custodians of this British rock and roll and Britpop music that we felt a bit of responsibility towards and we love. Sort of our four leaf clover songs like “Ooh La” that are so us. I think we’re not taking steps back, but we’re just definitely being The Kooks. Not trying to be someone else.

What’s your favorite song to play live now that you have these new ones in the mix?

“No Pressure” is really quite a vibe because it really does turn the gig into a sort of prom night. It’s a slow dance song, kind of Beach Boys-y. Beautiful harmonies. You can’t go wrong.

Why put out these two songs together?

It was kind of my thing. I had a bit of a flip out on "All The Time"; I just really wanted “No Pressure” to come out in the summer. It’s a summer tune. The album’s very eclectic and sometimes that can hinder us as a band, we go here and there. I think it just shows both side of the record very well. “No Pressure” is the last tune [on the record] and we actually start the album with it as well, as an intro.

And then there’s a Bob Dylan reference on “No Pressure,” which is on brand for you.

Very me, yeah, exactly. I just want to do that as much as I can. I was playing around with it as much as I can. There’s a nod to “Seaside,” too, with the first lyric ["Fell in love with the summer"]. That was where I was going with it.

A lot of my favorite Brits are back, between you guys, Florence + the Machine, Arctic Monkeys...

I saw some funny posts because there’s us, Florence, Arctic Monkeys... it’s cool! And Franz Ferdinand, I love their new track, it’s so cool. And it’s weird. It’s not planned, but all the people we sort of came up with, they’re all sort of our classmates. We’re all releasing records at the same time. It feels good. It’s really exciting.

What are a few highlights of Let's Go Sunshine for you?

There are some really great moments. One that I’m really proud of, which is kind of a cool moment in my life, and this is a great thing about living in the era of technology, is that you can do these things. There’s this song called “Honeybee.” My sister sent me a demo from my dad that he recorded actually in the ‘60s or ‘70s. My dad died when I was a kid, so I never had the opportunity to sing with him, but we spliced his vocal. We have some computer programs now, and managed to clean up. I sing the first verse and he sings the second verse. That’s quite a cool moment.

There’s a song called “Tesco Disco” that’s a nice piece as well. When I was about 18, there was a club night, but it was in the carpark of a Tesco, which is kind of like Walmart or a supermarket. You could buy cans of beer for like a pound. The song is about a female friend who’s going down the wrong path. It’s just kind of was reminiscent of that time, and a particular friend who you’re sort of saying goodbye to and just remembering where we used to hang out.

Friendship is one of those things that’s not like a love relationship -- you don’t put it in that capacity -- but in some ways it’s really as, if not more, important. You think friendships can really last forever. That was the first time I ever really wrote a song for a friend. It was a cool exercise to do.

What else did you get up to over the hiatus?

I spent a lot of time with family and my girlfriend, which was nice. We just got a cat. It’s almost more serious than anything else apart from a kid. She’s cute, but a huge responsibility.

Fair enough. Now, you're on a headlining tour, but next month, you'll be opening for the Rolling Stones in Germany on a few dates.

I don’t know how many people get asked back, so we must’ve made a good impression to Mick [Jagger] and the guys. We did two shows with them in 2008 or something, 2007. I definitely hung out with Mick a few times after because I was friends with his daughter [Georgia] for a while. It’s very nice to be considered again. I just want to see them! [Laughs] It’s like, how can I get free tickets to see the Stones?

The thing is they do constantly inspire you. I remember when we first did it, I was walking past [backstage] and I didn’t realize it was Ronnie Wood’s dressing room. The door opens and it’s Ronnie, and “Gimme Shelter” is playing really loud, and I’m like, “Ronnie Wood, how ya doing?” He’s like, “Oh, I can’t remember how to play the chords, I’m just practicing.” Stuff like that inspires you. They’re so comfortable in their own skins and it’s really grounding, the fact that they take the time to talk to young musicians and give you little bits of advice.

So it was an easy yes this time around.

I was like, “They’d better pay us more than last time.” [Laughs] No, I’m joking! It was like, “We’ll do it, I’ll pay for my own flight.”

Anything else in the pipeline?

I’ve got my first bit of acting that’s coming out pretty soon. An old friend of mine just wrote this script, and my mate Gus Unger-Hamilton from alt-J -- they’re good buddies -- basically, it’s a little true to life, but it’s a comedy. I play someone who used to be a big rockstar and is now sort of having hard times, and Gus is the up-and-coming uber-hip guy and he’s going to support Bob Dylan at his concert. We run into each other in this small town in France and hilarity ensues. It’s a short film, and we wrote a song for it as well. So that’ll be quite fun. I’ve never really done any acting and I wore a fake ‘stache. Because I can’t grow a mustache. My masculinity doesn’t reach to handlebar.

Catch The Kooks on tour.