Interview | The Darkness

UK glam-rockers, The Darkness, burst onto the scene back in 2003, breaking up the sea of brooding rock with brash, catchy pop metal in the form of Permission to Land. Known for their outlandish costumes, wailing falsettos, screaming guitar solos, and eccentric music videos, they were immediately labeled as an ironic rock band, and were the only band of their kind with a number 1 hit record. A rift between the Hawkins brothers and issues with drugs and alcohol saw the band cool things off in 2006, but they returned in 2010, strong as ever, to the delight of loyal fans. I had a chat to guitarist, Dan Hawkins, about the misconceptions surrounding The Darkness, getting the band back together, and the new album in the works.

So you’re touring with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts soon, how did that come about?
Yeah, we were both looking to tour Australia around the same time and we thought, “Hang on a minute, why don’t we just do it together?” I think for anyone who is into old school rock and roll, it’ll be worth coming and having a look.

When did you decide you would get back together as a band after a pretty decent break?
It was probably around about 2010. It was when I started hanging out with my brother again after we had a falling out and what not. Blood’s thicker than water, isn’t it? We started having a laugh and doing what we always used to do which was play computer games together and then one thing led to another.

Was it hard to get back in the swing of things, making music together, after that rift happened?
Not really, I think it comes quite naturally for us. We’ve been writing songs together in different bands since we were about 8 years old. It’s just the absolute norm. We come from quite a musical household, you know, our parents are massive music fans. There were guitars knocking around from an early age and we were always really encouraged to get into music. Apart from when I wanted to get into drums, they started resisting a little bit then.

How does the dynamic work between you two in the process of writing music?
It’s always different. It needs to be done in a controlled environment for me. Sometimes I’ll just be in front of the TV and something will pop up, but usually, I just like to be sat with Justin in front of me and I’ll just play my guitar and jam. But songs come about while doing normal daily things. I’ll play guitar in the gym, he’ll (Justin) be in the kitchen making lunch and I’ll be playing guitar. Songs come about from just talking about song titles and concepts all the time, trying to write new chord progressions that haven’t been done before. It’s hard to explain really, the process of writing a song. It can be really funny, even the most serious song quite often starts off as something really stupid; a stupid lyric.

How did the idea of starting The Darkness come about? Was it your intention from the outset to have that parody element?
This is the thing, a lot of people think we do parody but all we really do is channel, really. Parody is basically doing things purposefully, that people have done before. I think we’ve always been thought of as a parody act because when we started, what we were doing was so unfashionable that people thought we must have been doing it to get a reaction. It’s not, really. In our country, when the band really broke for the first time, we were the only band in the Top 40 that had long hair, and the only band in the Top 100 that had a guitar solo. For some reason, some people thought that it must be some sort of joke or a parody thing, but we were just doing what we love.

There are a lot of more notable influences in your music but who are some people you personally find inspiring musically?
Queen are a big one. I’d say songwriting-wise, ABBA. Some of our songs are very inspired by ABBA. I’d say ACDC, sonically as well. It’s balls to the floor, no fucking around, sort of pub-rock sound. Thin Lizzie… The list goes on and on, really. Musically, we’ve taken pages from a lot of different things.

There’s word you guys are putting together an album for next year, is that true?
Yeah, that’s right. If we can pull that off, it’d be brilliant. We’re writing it now, you see. We just don’t want to keep fans waiting another four or five years between albums and want to up the output of the band, really, and not be so precious about it. Sometimes, poring over every last little detail of the album and producing it within an inch of its life is not the way forward. I don’t think it is for this band. We’re looking at basically putting out a 14 track album, a really interesting old school album and start using albums as platforms for just experimenting with music rather than just trying to sell records, you know what I mean? I think we’re at that stage where we can do that now. I think we’ve re-solidified our fan base and we’d quite happily have that cult or underground fan base, that’s fine for us. I think that’s our plan, to try to reward the fans that actually stuck around for us and not keep them waiting so long between albums.

Who do you think those fans are? Can you see a distinction between the people who follow you because they genuinely like your music and those that do because of that whole parody idea or because it’s reminiscent of 70s and 80s rock?
I think, um, not really. I’m always surprised at the people who like this band, like the Prime Minister. Well, not the current one, but it’s like, “Oh right, woah.” Then you read that he plays guitar… I think, we haven’t made our lives particularly easy for ourselves by making fucking ridiculous videos. We were always a bit embarrassed by what we were doing anyway, so we thought we’d might as well have a laugh. I think a lot of people had only ever seen our videos and haven’t seen us play live. There’s a big difference between the videos we make, and some of the singles we’ve released, and us as a band playing live. It’s basically just a really old school rock and roll show, really. You know, where the whole thing might break down at any point and you don’t know what might happen next. I think, quite often, the people who are dragged along to see us play end up being our biggest fans.

MM: Do you find it’s different playing live these days compared to around the release of the second album and the things that were going on then, now that a lot of those elements have been eliminated?
DH: I have no regrets at all, but I would say that now it is a much more enjoyable experience. It was just… Imagine waking up every day of your life feeling fucking awful and spending all day trying to recover, and you still haven’t recovered, but you have to go on stage in ten minutes. Then you’re on stage, and about five songs in you’ve sweated it out and then at that precise moment, your stage hand starts handing you beers and then you’re onto the next one. It’s just a bit of a weird existence. Now, our days are so much fuller and more rewarding because we get together and write songs and demo things and we talk a lot more than we used to. When everyone’s got a hangover, you just sort of exist in your own misery, you’re in your own little bubble. You don’t really want to talk to anyone, you just want to curl up on a sofa and die, don’t you? But when you’re not, it’s just more of a laugh, you know. I’d say, ultimately, it’s just a much better laugh these days.

What do you think the weirdest tour experience was back in the day, during all of that chaos, I guess?

I don’t know, really. Cor blimey, it’s funny isn’t it? I think just coming home was always the weirdest part. We would be away for a while, usually about four months at a time and come back for about a week. I would usually just lock the door, turn my phone off, and that would be it, but just as it starts getting normal again, you’re off again. I think that’s why people prefer to stay on the road and stay in that sort of state; it’s such a weird place to be. That tends to have gotten a fair amount of band members into trouble because they can’t shut off when they’re at home. I moved out of London to the countryside because when I came back from tour, I would basically start turning it up and having massive parties ‘round my flat and I thought, “Hang on, if this carries on I’m probably going to be dead in a couple of years.” The whole experience is quite surreal, to be honest.

You’ve spent some time in Australia haven’t you?
Yeah, we’ve toured there on all of the albums. We did Big Day Out, then we toured the first album, Permission to Land, and then we came back again for One Way Ticket. Then when we re-formed, we came back to Australia for our comeback tour. So we’ve been there quite a lot, we love Australia.

MM: How do you find the audiences here compared to back home or in the US?
DH: They seem to be far more drunk. They’re on a par with Scotch audiences for that, really, which is brilliant. For us.

MM: The Joan Jett tour will be amazing, where else have you got coming up this year?
DH: Well we just finished the first US leg of our tour for Hot Cakes, and tomorrow we start a five-week tour of Europe. Then we come and see you guys, then it’s back off to America. Then we have festival season, so basically darting around Europe and whatnot and bits of bobs around there. If we have some sort of major worldwide hit record, then we might even do another tour at the end of the year but I wouldn’t have thought so. I think we’ll be shutting up shop after this summer and putting our heads down and working on the next record but who knows, who knows.

MM: Do you guys ever write on the road or do you wait until your downtime?
DH: Yeah, we’ve never been able to before. You know, because of the aforementioned hangovers tending to get in the way. But we’ve managed to get our shit together and it’s brilliant. It’s added another dimension to touring, you know. Rather than just sitting around in a dressing room, we’ve got a small, really quaint recording set-up on the road so we can easily record at pretty much album standard out of the box. So that’s exciting. I’m hoping to finish writing the album, have it finished by the time we stop touring. We’ll probably have to do a little more towards the end of the year but then knock it out next year. This album is going to be really old school.

MM: Sounds great. Well thanks so much for having a chat with me.
DH: Cheers, thank you, Ash. Um, I’m interested, is Moustache Magazine about moustaches? Because I can’t grow facial hair.

MM: I guess I can’t put you in now.
DH: [laughs] I’ll look like a pedophile if I grow one. It’s not a good look.

MM: Never know, maybe it can be the new look for the next record.
DH: [laughs] It could, yeah.