Darkness’ Dan Hawkins Talks Classic-Rock Influences and More: Exclusive Interview
The Darkness are not a band people take lightly. It seems you either love them or can't for the life of you figure out what their deal is. Their often absurd sense of humor has certainly puzzled fans. For the record, the Darkness have never been a parody or joke band. Rather, they're one of the most dynamic rock 'n' roll ensembles of the past couple of decades.
Since their 2003 debut, Permission to Land, the group's rapid rise was rivaled by its drastic fall following the release of its second album. But the Darkness picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and cranked up the Marshall stacks. Their roots fall somewhere between the classic-rock world of AC/DC riffs and Queen-size arrangements. Their latest album, The Last of Our Kind, has just been released, and founding guitarist Dan Hawkins takes the opportunity to talk about the road ahead as well as the one behind.
You pretty much produced the new album on your own this time around, right?
I did, yeah! Engineered and mixed. I'd done some engineering in the past, but this was all mine.
"Barbarian" is such a great way to kick off the album.
I thought [the riff] was fairly okay, but it's become one of those riffs already that's just -- it's f---ing mental. It's a bit like Indiana Jones in the fight. You think it's gonna be a knife fight, and then it explodes.
The new one, like all your previous albums, is paced well. You leave the listener wanting more, as opposed to thinking you have to fill up 80 minutes or whatever.
We try and get it right. [Singer] Justin [Hawkins] is exceptionally good at getting the order together. We are essentially, and always will be, an old-school album band. We've always thought that way of a side one and side two when putting it all together. Kind of the old if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it.
You guys definitely draw from that classic model for inspiration.
We want to push that even more too. There's been some misguided management really, slightly megalomaniac in certain areas, especially on the last album. They kept trying to ram the idea of digital content to the point where someone from the management said to me, Why are you even bothering with a track listing? -- saying no one listens to things that way anymore. To me, if we're not an albums band, I don't want in.
People can listen to music however they so choose, but if you don't present it in your own vision, what is the listener really supposed to do then?
Exactly. I think our best chance for survival, is to have the real thing -- CD, vinyl or even 8-track!
What kind of stuff did you and your brother grow up listening to and getting into?
We listened to a very varied, wide range of music, but the things that we really both together gravitated to were the sort of similar sort of artists like Queen, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Thin Lizzy and Abba. And the Eagles, actually. That's one that we've just not talked about really, never really sort of bandied around much. Justin and I could play the two guitar parts, the solos at the end of "Hotel California" when were like like 12 or 13 years old. That sort of thing informs you at that age.
What was the first album you ever bought and the first concert you ever saw?
I really like, in your bio press release, that Justin says of the song "Mighty Wings": "Tones of a Giorgio Moroder soundtrack to a film in which Kate Bush and Pantera go on a bludgeoning spree, featuring an unlikely Kenny Loggins cameo (in a good way)." That's just brilliant, because it makes people go, What the hell are these guys talking about?
I tell you what, it was the best idea to let him write the bio. Finally someone is actually nailing it. And really, that is exactly what that song does sound like! Yeah, it's definitely a melting pot. In some ways, I think it's held us back. Like a lot of bands, it just the same thing over and over. We're always trying to do something that we haven't done before within the song. We just can't help ourselves! You start demoing, and it's a blank canvas, and in a truly artistic way it's like, What can we get up to today?
Whose idea was it to have bassist Frankie Poullain take lead vocals on the album's closer, "Conquerors "?
It wasn't his! We had to convince him. He just sort of went for it, he ad-libbed the whole bridge, and when we played it back, it was just great!
When you guys first came out, you seemed out of place, and now some 15 years later, you seem ...
Even more out of place! I'm glad you said that!
But I think that works to your advantage in a way. You've never been easily lumped in with one group of bands or another.
True, but unfortunately it's led us into cult status. I thought after the first album started breaking that we would ultimately be a global concern. I mean, the music we make, is it something you think of hearing in a pub, or want to see with a massive stage show and all that? I think we're just one of those bands.
You've always had the problem of some people thinking you were a parody or joke band. They don't understand the difference between a band with a sense of humor and a parody.
It's funny, isn't it? Though some of the videos we've made haven't helped that I suppose. You do the best you can. Sometimes you think, If it makes you laugh, someone else will as well. But I know when I play, it's from the heart.
Even your record label didn't seem to know exactly what to do with you at the time.
It's funny. One of the guys who worked at the label that actually signed us, he was a big fan, used to come to all the gigs when we were playing pubs. We asked him, If you like us this much, why don't you get us signed to your label? He said, Well, they all like you as well, but they can't figure out how to market you. So Justin told him, Here's how you market us: You get us in the studio, and we'll record the songs. You get it on the radio, and bang, there ya go!