Tell Me About That Album: Junk of the Heart by The Kooks

The Kooks
Deirde O'Callaghan
Brighton, England's Kooks are the latest band to participate in our series of interviews about a single record from a band's catalog. Guitarist Hugh Harris answered our questions, which were focused on his group's third LP, September's Junk of the Heart, which The Guardian described as, "winsome, highly listenable harmonic pop," and which debuted in the top 10 in their native England. The record has propelled the band through a successful U.S. run, including a sold out show this Friday at the Showbox at the Market. In our interview, Harris discusses the record's writing process, the origins of the cover photo, and the insect-involving pranks the band pulled while in the studio.

You started making Junk of the Heart with a different producer than the one you settled on. What happened? You've got to take risks sometimes with recording. We recorded eight songs [with Jim Abyss] and then we listened back and just thought, "This isn't really where we wanted to go." We wanted there to be a bigger leap and a much stronger change in direction. And I think that's when we picked up the phone to Tony [Hoffer], and we really didn't intend to go right back into the studio with him but that's how it worked out. We worked on some synthesized sounds and some programmed drums and it sounded really cool, like this Gnarls Barkley meets Simon and Garfunkel meets singer-songwriter meets electro--and that was a winning formula for us. We went in with Tony a few months later. And that's why it took so bloody long to get out.

Do you generally write in the studio? Instead of just slapping a load of modern gear on top of an acoustic song, embedded in the DNA of every song, we wanted there to be an electro feel. So most of these songs were written close to the time of recording and pretty much on a laptop in the studio, which is completely different than our other albums.

Why did you choose the song "Junk of My Heart" to name the album after? It was a song that really made sense to us at the time. It was what we'd been going through as a band, the sort of emotional baggage that people can carry with them. We'd certainly been through what most bands go through in a lifetime in the space of eight years.

How did the cover art come about? It was one of Luke's photos actually. But we had several ideas. I had a friend do a painting which is beautiful, but it ended up being a bit too macabre for what we wanted, so we didn't use it. But this photo of Luke's just felt so free and like the process that we'd been through--sort of, "Fuck it, let's just go to L.A. and get some sunshine and have some fun making music again."

Would you say that the bulk of the songs on the album are about love? I think that Luke writes about love quite a lot. I think on this album there's a few more far out lyrics, like "How'd You Like That?" or "Fuck the World Off," which I guess is a little bit of a love song. But there are a few bridges being made towards the future of the Kooks and lyrically I think we would like to change.

Speaking of lyrics, do you have a favorite line on the album? I'm going to have to pick one of mine, aren't I? [Laughs]. In "Rosie," I'm really quite proud of, "Gonna find you now, I'll walk the beat / And you'll do me a pirouette in the street / And although we'll fall, we'll find our feet."

How about a favorite song? "Runaway."

Is there a memory that stands out from your time in the studio making it? Tony, our producer, is quite a prankster. And we ended up having this huge war of pranks between [the recording engineers] and us. It can get pretty boring in the studio so you do what you can for entertainment. So there'd be cups of water on the tops of doors, and it kind of escalated. Cameron, the assistant producer, laid sushi under Pete's bed and in his duvet cover, which was in retaliation to Pete throwing him in a bathroom with four hundred live locusts that he'd just bought from the pet shop. It's pretty fucked, man. These pranks got pretty dark-sided.

What are your favorite albums of 2011? Foster the People. We met those guys early on in L.A. and they looked after us quite well so I'm excited to hear they're doing well. I've been getting into quite a bit of classical music, like Debussy. His √Čtudes are pretty mind-blowing. There's a country guy called Townes Van Zandt, he's really cool. I really like Metronomy's album, they're a British band. And I quite often put on Ke$ha on the bus, which is quite odd, but I dig it.

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