Legendary indie band The Kooks are back with the second EP from their upcoming album, 10 Tracks to Echo in the Dark. We sat down with band member Hugh Harris to chat about the new EP, world views, and the band’s evolution over the years.
Hugh Harris, The Kooks Interview by Jenny Medlicott ‘Beautiful World – Echo in the Dark Pt. II’ out now
Hey Hugh, great to chat with you today, thanks for joining us. First of all, I’d love to know, what’s your new favourite track out of the new EPs?
Good question. I posted the other day, actually, it’s ‘Closer’, which we just released a video to. I think for me, that song is the most celebratory song of our new sound, our new kind of foray into this new-ish kind of sound. Yeah, I can call it a new sound. I’m trying not to call it a new sound but I guess I’m just saying it’s a new sound. It’s just got the most, kind of, energy to it. And it makes me feel good.
I remember hearing it in the pandemic. And the lyric was resonant, for sure. Wanting to be closer to each other. We did a lot of the recording in the studio, where we beamed in Tobias, our producer from Berlin, on a zoom call and hooked him up to the speakers and he’d be in our ears whilst we were playing and it was just kind of a spiritual experience. Having this overload talk directly to you, in your head, whilst producing. And that song was very enjoyable, and free. It’s kind of the most free song on the record.
So is that song a product of the pandemic then?
I don’t think literally, I think kind of maybe unconsciously, a lot of music is completely linked to those feelings. I mean the first single was called ‘Connection’, my favourite song is called ‘Closer’, I think there’s certainly a kind of mycelial undergrowth happening there. But we didn’t intend to write a pandemic record. That would be really traumatic, I think. An apocalypse record, not super cool. But yeah, it’s there besides that, for sure.
I love the dichotomy in ‘Beautiful World’ between “it’s such a fucked up world” and “but I’m glad we’re in it”, it has an air of optimistic nihilism to it which can be hard to embrace in this day and age. Is that something that resonates with you?
I think so, yes. I was talking with Luke about the idea of Absurdism the other day, which is just kind of having a laugh at how ridiculous and difficult the world is around us. Not trying to fight it too much, sort of accepting that we have to go with it. But also having the ability to smile and enjoy how absurd it is. There’s a paradox for sure, you’re right. I think that’s just a product of age. When you’re able to cognitively understand two kind of quite conflicting ideas. I think it shows mental growth, and I think it shows, I guess maturity, which is a horrible word. It’s the worst word, but mature people use it.
In the music video for ‘Beautiful World’, it seems to encapsulate the natural curiosity and innocence of being a child. What were you hoping to convey in the video?
I think Paul, who did all of our kind of creative directing, with a company called Say Goodnight Films, I think his idea was to have almost a satellite cross section of the world and people in it. And yeah, I guess the childlike wonder is something that you never let go of, even as an adult. I think that is a good representation of what the future needs to look like, we need to be treating our present as if it directly affects our future, and only a child would have that much care. It’s very easy to kind of get sucked into your own mind, we have enough to worry about in life and the day-to-day struggles everyone’s going through, let alone to be thinking about the future and whether this planet’s actually headed towards chaos or self-destruction.
Those are our only two options, self-destruction or destruction. I think that it’s just tapping into innocence– it also makes me think about how innocent we all are. And childlike we all are. I think it’s nice to highlight that in the video. We are all completely naïve, and just kind of wondrous beasts, hoping for a better future. God that’s cheesy.
It’s very easy to become passive about the state of the world, isn’t it? Because it can feel like it’s not happening in the immediate realm, but it is…
Yeah, it’s also like, there’s so much consumer guilt, I think, in regard to saving the planet. And I find that really hard to see through. I don’t find that particularly, I guess, encouraging, because we’re just sort of shamed, you know, if you don’t have a plastic bag, or if you drive a non-electric car. There’s a lot of consumer guilt and shame. And it’s like the onus has been put on consumers. Even if we all became vegans and flew and stopped flying, there would still be what, there’s like 100 companies that produce 70% of emissions? We’d still be f*cked.
So it’s like, what’s really difficult is all the greenwashing and the turning society against itself. People slashing decent car tyres, and all of the hate and the kind of, yeah, turning society into itself. And I’m not saying I’m an advocate for doing nothing, because we should be leading by example and doing what we can, but it’s frustrating at times.
Just going back to the album, there seems to like be an astronomical kind of theme going in the artwork. Was there a particular reason for this theme?
No, I think the songs aren’t really about space, or space travel, or aliens. I think there’s a hope that is correlative in the music and in that subject. But it’s not literal. I think that’s why it works in a way because it’s not a literal record talking about astronomy. It’s kind of playful, it makes the messages in the songs feel more playful. And I think Luke’s just always wanted to have a sci-fi art campaign.
From the looks of things, it seems like every indie playlist ever has at least one song from your debut album on it. How does it feel 16 years on from its release to see that this album is still so adored?
It makes me feel nervous actually, because I don’t really want that to go away. It’s a strange thing, when you have something like a body of work, which has made its way into the woodwork of the history of music and into people’s lives and their holidays and their relationships. And into the furniture, it feels household. It feels actually secure.
But also it’s like, I still don’t think we’ve done the best album. I don’t think we’ve made our best music yet. So it’s kind of an odd mix of feelings of nervousness. I don’t know where that comes from, the nervousness. I think maybe I’m just a bit haunted by my teenage years when I look at interviews from that time. When I listen to my voice, singing or, I mean, I was confident on the guitar, but in so many other places I was an absolute mess. That’s triggering I guess, is the word.
On the audio video on YouTube for ‘25’, there’s a comment from one person saying ‘the song has an 80s feel – bits of Level 42 And Duran Duran all over it’. Between the synthesiser use, cassette-styled album release, and just the emphasis on youth in some of the videos and lyrics, is nostalgia something you were hoping to create in the album?
I think so yeah, for sure. The whole album and that song in particular. I think anyone who hits their mid 30s becomes a bit of a nostalgia hunter, you seek it out, because it feels really strange, but good. You’re in a more confident place to experience those things that you connected with when you were younger, sounds, bands, even from when we were sort of growing up like in the 80s, early 90s. Some of those sounds were kind of in the reverie, for sure.
And I think the best way to find nostalgia is just to recreate it in your own art or in your own work. And that’s the most empowering feeling because you’re almost generating your own kind of happiness, but it’s not just happiness. It’s not kind of a reactive “Oh, this makes me happy”, nostalgia kind of induces something from within. It doesn’t affect you, it just draws your soul up from your core. And that feeling is beautiful, and the melodies and the simplicity of a lot of this this record. Yeah, certainly trying to do that big time. Just kind of focusing on very primary colours, and very simplistic, open faced sandwiches.
Sorry if it makes no sense. It’s just that accessible kind of pop, 80s, with the complexity of like, Talking Heads and it feels deconstructed, is what I mean by an open face sandwich. But it is deep. It’s got a deconstructed architecture to the music. It’s Bauhaus, it’s simple. And that’s the kind of Berlin Euro flavour as well. Yeah, there’s just something really juicy about that, or that combination.
As a band you’re quite connected to Europe, right?
Big time, we went there the first year of signing, we went there very, very early on. Most bands don’t go until they’re successful in America or the UK. But we went and we just did a really sloggy toilet tour. It was amazing. And we really built a fanbase and they don’t let go of you, Europeans, as fans, they don’t let go of you. Yeah, they’re not disposable, they’re not single-use.
You’ve been around for quite a long time now as a band. How does life in the band compare to when you first started out?
It’s totally different. My life is spent sitting and looking at hills in nature, sober. I have maybe like a fifth of the amount of friends I did. I don’t keep up with many people at all, I used to but I guess the pandemic did that for a lot of people, you kind of hive off a bit. I just can’t deal with the admin, I can’t deal with the “Hey, how are you?” admin. I love people though. I’m not a Scrooge in regard to socialising, I love socialising. But I definitely do less of it now than when we first started.
I think I’m probably just more stable. I think when we started, we all had a huge amount of fire and intention towards one kind of thing, and that was the band. Now I have more of a lateral thing, landscape. I like doing all sorts of things, I love making music videos, I’m writing a theatre piece at the minute, I’m kind of experimenting with orchestral work, there’s other buttons that are being pushed, which I’m getting the same stimulation from. Whereas when we first started, it was just you know, let’s party and play indie music.
I guess finally, I just wanted to ask, you said you feel like this isn’t The Kooks’ best work yet. What do you think that would look like for you? Or are there any particular mediums you want to explore in the future?
I think as people we haven’t explored each other enough. It’s not a curveball, it’s not like a kind of ‘let’s buy an accordion’ kind of thing – although, not no. I think what we are to each other as creatives, I feel like we need to go on some kind of deep dive, some kind of artistic deep dive where there’s no sort of pressure and it’s all just about reaching into the unconscious. Nostalgia you know, but not actively kind of more passively. I don’t know what that means. But I feel like there’s a lot of material that is yet to be examined.
I think the best music does just flow through. It doesn’t bear thinking about all the time. But if there’s a way of capturing the unconscious creative juices, if there was an experiment or a machine or a software that could do that, that’d be interesting.
The Kooks‘ new album ’10 Tracks to Echo in the Dark’ comes out July 22nd via Lonely Cat/AWAL Recordings.
Hugh Harris, The Kooks Interview by Jenny Medlicott – ‘Beautiful World – Echo in the Dark Pt. II’ out now