Image for The Kooks’ Hugh Harris Reveals His Secret Passion & The One Downside Of Headlining FestivalsPhoto: Andrew Whitton

The Kooks’ Hugh Harris Reveals His Secret Passion & The One Downside Of Headlining Festivals

Written by Sarah Bellamy on November 16, 2018

The Kooks are back with their fifth studio album – Let’s Go Sunshine – and a heap of Aussie festival dates to ring in the new year! The Brighton 4-piece will be playing an epic set at Beyond The Valley, plus Origin FieldsLost Paradise and Beach Life festivals during the last week of the year, then heading out on a three-date tour of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane in early-January.

Part of the British indie rock explosion of the mid-2000s, The Kooks first shot to mainstream fame with the release of their debut album Inside In / Inside Out in 2006. Featuring singles such as ‘Naïve’, ‘Ooh La’ and ‘She Moves In Her Own Way’, the album has gone on to sell over 2 million copies since its release. ‘Naïve’ currently has over 214 million streams on Spotify, alone.

The band followed up this success with 2008’s Konk, which contained singles like ‘Shine On’ and ‘Always Where I Need to Be’, the latter of which came in at #33 on the triple j Hottest 100 for 2008.

In 2011, single ‘Junk Of The Heart (Happy)’ also made it into the year’s Hottest 100 at #45. We caught up with Hugh Harris ahead of The Kooks’ massive New Years schedule to chat about his exploits in painting, how he feels music has changed over the years, and his dream of recording the band’s next record in Jamaica!

Music Feeds: Whereabouts are you at the moment?

Hugh Harris: I’m in Los Angeles, just finishing up my side record. Basically, just opened myself a beer, and it’s kind of cheesy but I’m doing some painting as well. Don’t judge me!

MF: I promise I wont!

HH: I don’t call myself like, ‘a painter’. I’m not like out of art school, I’m just like… basically it’s a gift for a friend.

MF: What kind of medium do you use to paint with?

HH: I just went to the store and bought some really high-gloss acrylics and some glow-in-the-dark paint and a really small black canvas. I’m finding it quite difficult because I feel like, I mean, obviously in your head – I love going to galleries on tour. I’m not like an art buff, but I know what I like.

Obviously, that just encourages you, doesn’t it? Seeing amazing paintings. Like, “I could DEFINITELY do that”. Then you sit down with your easel, your paints, and you get halfway through – not even – and you realise yeah, [laughs], there’s a huge amount of skill required in painting objects. So, I’m having a bit of an existential crisis in my painting hobby. Do I deserve to be a painter? Do I have it in me?

MF: Those are tough questions to ask yourself.

HH: What is this life?!

MF: Have you done painting for long?

HH: No! The first painting went terribly because I found a lovely old photo of my dad in Venice, and I stuck it to the easel and I got my paints together and I was like, great. And then yeah, the same kind of like, existential crisis hit me. I didn’t have a good skillset [laughs]. So, I just smudged it all with my hands and ended up with something pretty hideous and abstract. So, this is my second attempt and there’s been no smudging so far so already it’s going better!

MF: That’s good! Tell me a little bit about your solo album.

HH: I’ve been recording and chipping away at it for about six years. It’s taken me to some quite interesting countries. I did some horns in Cuba, I recorded some drums out in Melbourne, I’ve been working with some strings and choirs in London, so it’s got a pretty broad sound. It’s been really fun.

MF: What was the writing process like for Let’s Go Sunshine, and how does writing in a band differ from writing for solo work?

HH: It was kind of very different, actually. Luke [Pritchard] came out to LA first and worked with our producer Brandon [Friesen] and got the kind of core ideas down, and then I flew out and kind of dusted everything with a bit of glitter and guitar melody. Then we pulled it all together in a studio here in LA. But when we did that it was very much with the intention of having a live band in a room.

So, you can feel the communication between instrumentalists, and I think we kind of lacked that on the previous record, on Listen, because we were kind of sampling ourselves and going down crazy rabbit holes with like, drum syncopation, and all sorts of crazy stuff. On this record we kind of just decided to return to our old format and just keep it simple and do what we feel we’re best at.

MF: So, back to your roots in that kind of sense?

HH: Yeah, exactly, yeah! I mean, that’s the thing, I always say it, but a lot of bands when they achieve some level of success they then do everything within their power to distance themselves from that. I think with us we kind of got itchy feet and fled the nest, musically. I think this album, it was just time to go back to four guys in a room, just loving playing music together. I think you can hear that.

MF: What are some of your favourite memories of playing in a band?

HH: That’s a really difficult question! I look at the last fifteen and it’s like someone flicking a comic book, like this random flutter of crazy but amazing experiences.

A standout moment was probably when we played Glastonbury, like, quite early-on. Just for me because I think I was like 19 or something, and it just meant so much to me. That festival, its history, and obviously its genetics are so powerful. We had something like 180,000 people on the Pyramid Stage, singing our first record back to us.

MF: That would be amazing, I can totally see why it’s a standout. You guys are playing a heap of festivals around New Years in Australia, from Beyond The Valley to Beach Life and Origin Fields. In the theme of new years, do you have any new years resolution?

HH: Oh my goodness, I haven’t thought that far ahead yet! Um, no, I don’t. I’m very happy with my defects of character – I treasure them and I wouldn’t want to be a perfect human, or improve. I love myself as I am, folly and all [laughs]!

MF: What can fans expect from your upcoming festival sets?

HH: It’s gonna be mostly the new record and like a splutter of hits. It’s gonna be a f*cking party, a fun, hit-driven party with some new songs thrown in. Our band like, we’re pretty straight-up. There’s no sacrificial ceremonies, goat sacrifices on stage, not this year.

MF: Oh, not this year, so maybe in the future then?

HH: Maybe next time, yeah.

MF: Who are you most excited to see at these festivals?

HH: I actually don’t really plan my festivals, I just like, rock up and walk around and chat with people,
get drunk and have a good time!

MF: What is the festival experience like for headline bands? You’re playing a lot of different ones this New Years, does it differ from festival to festival?

HH: It’s kind of annoying headlining. I know that sounds really princess-y to say, but you’re off stage at like one or two and the party’s kind of winding down and people are going back to their campsites and you’re like ‘okay… what do we do?’ [laughs]. Especially on New Years Eve. I remember with Falls we always just come off stage and be like… nothing. Especially if it’s like, Tasmania – things will just be winding down. Unless you find a cool party to go to you’re kind of left in the lurch a little bit.

But that aside of course, I mean, headlining a festival is the dream of anyone that’s ever picked up an instrument, so it’s a worthy sacrifice.

MF: Yeah, I’ve always just wondered ‘cause I know for smaller bands they would be on earlier, and they’d then get to check out the other acts afterwards…

HH: That’s always more fun! Like, you play at like, what? 7? You come off stage, you’ve got like, a few hours to hang out with people and have a great time, have some beers. When you’re headlining you’ve kind of gotta keep your shit together for the whole evening. Then rock up and like, perform well. Then you finish and wanna party and everyone is kind of like sodding off home [laughs]. But obviously, like I say, princess spiel aside, it is an absolute pleasure and an honour.

MF: What are some of your favourite releases from 2018?

HH: I played with this band called Palace about 3 or 4 years ago, and they’ve released their debut album earlier this year called So Long Forever and that’s – I mean not just because they’re friends, but like – I do genuinely feel like it’s one of the best records of the year.

Similarly, I mean, there’s a lot of like… indie and guitar music has kind of taken a turn for the introspective, which I really quite like. It’s much less attention-seeking now. You know, back in the day you’d have like, us and the Kaiser Chiefs and people screaming and shouting and dancing around, and it all got a bit annoying. And now it’s kind of, it’s much more profound and inward. You have great bands like… Cigarettes After Sex have an amazing record. Those guys, I would say are also definitely up there.

Mystery Jets have got something coming, and I know that will probably shove everything down the list. Those guys are f*cking geniuses.

MF: Do you have an idea of what’s caused that kind of introspective turn for bands? HH: I think it’s just a natural knee-jerk to the headline-grabbing bravado of the mid-north huge indie thing. Not that everyone was like that. I mean The Strokes were kind of, they’re a very cool band but they weren’t as deep, lyrically and musically as what’s going on now.

I think that’s just a cause and affect thing. You know, when people pick up the guitar today, nowadays, they don’t really wanna smash a load of indie chords on it, because that’s kind of already been done. I feel like a lot of bands are reacting to that now and it’s a great thing.

MF: I know you guys just released an album 2 months ago, but do you have plans for new music or large tours next year?

HH: Lots, yes [laughs]! Oh my god, I don’t think we’re going to be seeing our friends and family at all next year. So, travelling lots and we’re already talking about recording the next album. I really wanna go to Jamaica to do it… I think I’m the only one. We’ll probably cut another record next year, yeah, I think just keep moving, just keep having fun.

MF: Why Jamaica?

HH: Oh, it’s just something we’ve always joked about and I feel like now is the time that a joke like that can become a reality. You know, like, when we talk about ‘what should we do, where should we record?’, the joke has always been ‘let’s just go to Jamaica to get smashed and have a great time and record a reggae album’.

MF: … Please do that, oh my gosh!

HH: [Laughs] Do you know what I mean? Like, it would be so cool I think!

Catch The Kooks performing live at Beyond The Valley festival this New Years! Catch all their other Aussie tour dates here.

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