‘We even did it as reggae’: the Kooks explain how they created Naive | pop and rock

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Luke Pritchard, vocals, guitar, songwriter

I wrote Naive when I was 15 or 16 – before we had the band – but I didn’t like it. I was a pretty paranoid, insecure kid and had a relationship with someone who walked into a world I didn’t understand. The song is about the fear of someone hurting you. The lyrics are real in some ways, but I was too young to have actually experienced that, so it was more me projecting my teenage fears. I’ve been in this situation ever since – it’s become a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.

At that age, I would get up at 2 or 3 in the morning and write songs, and if I could remember something in the morning, I would know it was worth pursuing. Naïve was like that, probably written very quickly. Hugh Harris, our guitarist, was couch surfing at my house. We were at Brit School at the same time but I didn’t really get to know it until we both went to Bimm [the British and Irish Modern Music Institute] in Brighton. He saw me playing guitar on the steps, then later when he jammed, I thought, “This guy is amazing.” Paul Garred, our drummer, was there from the start and we found a bassist in Max Rafferty. We were indie rock’n’roll but had more pop and bounce than the other bands.

Artwork for the Kooks: naive

After we were signed, the record company had a hard time getting us to record Naive. Paul liked it but I think Max thought it was corny. Our A&R manager said, “You need to record this.” I thought he meant B-side, but he said, “That’s the big single!” Nobody really wanted to do it, though, and halfway through, everyone went to the pub. Then we just couldn’t get it right. But when I heard the final mix, I thought, “Oh, people might like that.”

I’m still stunned by the success of the song and how people have connected to it. The video director poured his own experiences into the video, which gave it a different meaning – about cheating. We shot it at Nambucca on Holloway Road in London – the Holloways’ haunt – which was quite decadent. I thought Naive was just a disposable campfire song, but the band brought it to life. Although I can still identify with the lyrics, I am a changed man.

Hugh Harris, lead guitar, songwriter

There are versions of Naive in the vaults of Virgin Records that would put us to death if we heard them now. We just couldn’t get the guitars to syncopate with the most danceable rhythm. We tried it as a ska. We even tried it in reggae. Eventually I found a two-note guitar part and we simplified the drums, then we practiced it over and over. It was tiring. I don’t think the song really suited our band at the time, but it was huge.

Naive was the fourth single from the debut album. There’s a kind of hidden magic to the structure in that it builds tension and then releases it with the chorus. We were listening to Ben Harper and the early Jack Johnsons – it’s kind of a beach and surf song. We recorded it back in the days when bands like Coldplay were moving around stadiums, and their beefy chord sequences on songs like In My Place tugged at the heartstrings. As a band, we took that and thought, “Why not have a big pop record?” The idea was to get people to listen to the weirdest stuff we had to offer.

It resonates with a lot of young people now and always brings new waves of fans to our shows. Parents play it to their children and siblings pass it on to their younger siblings. When he came out he was played to death on Radio 1, but to see him still have power without the aid of the radio is hugely rewarding. Luke wrote it when he was very young but he was confident enough to sing about the dysfunction. It comes from a young mind and is exactly what a young person can connect with.

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