The Darkness: Lighting up a new generation of fans
On the heels of a 2015 North American tour, UK rock band The Darkness – Justin Hawkins (vocals, guitar), Dan Hawkins (guitar), Frankie Poullain (bass) and Rufus Taylor (drums) – has returned to the states on the Back to the USSA tour. The tour comes in the wake of the band’s new album Last of Our Kind. We spoke to Poullain via phone from London as the band finished a writing session for the next album.
You’re currently in the middle of a songwriting session. Do you write as a group or individually?
We write as a group but we try to bring elements to the session. Dan always brings ideas for riffs and arrangements. Justin brings some potential things and I guess I bring some potential bits as well. We just talk and have fun. It’s a relaxed environment. The important thing is that people aren’t self-conscious. Self-consciousness is the killer. I heard it in so much modern music. It’s depressing to hear it. Two characteristics of modern guitar music are self-consciousness and the mechanical nature of it because there’s no air. Nothing is breathing. It’s all over-compressed. It’s very sad. I was recently watching a documentary about the making of Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall. There’s a difference in the way it moved. You can hear the human touch. You can’t hear that in modern dance music. It’s so soulless.
You’re not a fan of EDM?
It’s like someone hammering in your skull. It’s criminal. I suffer most in the gym. It’s hard enough working out but you’re so crushed by this monstrosity that they call music. It’s incredible. It’s just soul crushing. I would like a Zen gym where there’s just silence. I’m sure there’s a market for that. At most gyms, you have to turn up your headphones so loud and I’ve played in a metal bands for years so I don’t want to turn up the headphones too much.
How exactly did the band come together back in 2000?
I met Dan in the mid-‘90s in London. We went through two or three bands together. We had a serious band called Empire in 1997 and Justin joined on keyboards. We had a different singer. We came close with Empire but then we broke up in 1999. On Millennium eve, Justin and Dan made a pact with each other and they would form a new band and Justin would be the singer. I was in Venezuela at the time. I was quite upset. I had to make a decision about whether I was going to continue as a tour guide or whether I was going to take one last stab at trying to make it. I was 33 at the time. I decided to come back. That was one of the best decisions I made and that’s when the Darkness started in 2000. It took us three years of hard work and really pushing each other.
Did you know Justin sang?
Yeah. In rehearsals, when he was having a piss or goofing around. That’s when he switched on. It should have been obvious at the time that that was the direction we should have gone. He would let loose these falsetto screams. It wasn’t a twee thing. There was power in that scream as well. He was quite shy at the time. He was just a nice guy and didn’t want to piss people off. He didn’t want to step on people’s toes. He didn’t have an ego. He was very gentle, in fact. Dan was always more serious. We were living in poverty as struggling musicians. They were sick of it. They wanted to do it on new terms. It was always about finding the musical accompaniment. That’s why a lot of rock bands’ stuff isn’t as high tempo as ours. Live, as well, the BPM is higher than most bands. It’s because of that manic excitable energy that Justin has got.
Was it hard to get signed?
At the time, it was against the zeitgeist. At the time in the UK, it was the Verve and Radiohead. Looking back, it was that millennial angst that people had at the time. We were really against the grain. A&R used to come and see our gigs because we were bringing in big crowds. They thought we were a cabaret party band even though we turned on every crowd and left them all with shit-eating grins. The A&R scouts would like us but the big guys didn’t. I think it had to do with cocaine. In those days, all the big A&R guys were all doing cocaine. When you do a lot of coke, you lose your sense of humor. They had that sense of self-importance and enjoyed dismissing what we did and thought it was silly.
When you were recording Permission to Land did you have some sense it was going to be a hit?
We put so much into it. We really did work very hard. We could feel the momentum. It was very exciting. We were operating at the top of our game. I think deep down we did, but in a sense, we didn’t want to dare to dream. At the time, it felt like it was life or death. That sounds really dramatic but that’s the mindset we put ourselves in. At the time, bands weren’t having a good time and weren’t dressing up. There was Oasis but that was a different kind of thing. That was more informed by indie rock in a way, I think.
What brought the band back together in 2011?
People we had worked with in the past felt like there was an appetite for it. There was another wave. Teenagers were into us. Things go in cycles. There was seven-year gap. Seven years is half a generation.
Talk about the songwriting process for Last of Our Kind. When did that commence and what direction did you guys want to pursue?
At the time, it was backs against the wall. [We had reunited] and done Hot Cakes but that campaign wasn’t a very happy one. We had issues with management and record labels and unfortunately with our drummer as well. We had to deal with all of those issues while we were trying to make the fourth album, Last of Our Kind. We had to extricate ourselves from two record deals and two management deals. Then, we had to deal with lawyers to extricate us from two record deals and managers. We knew we were doing the right thing. We felt empowered and we wanted to be empowered. We were sick of blaming other people. It’s such a negative energy to blame other people. It’s better to make the mistakes yourself. It’s the different between being a child and being a man or woman. The songs were created with all these emails flying around and having to make these professional decisions about our future. I guess some of that energy leaked into the songs. They display that turmoil and are tempestuous. Of course, there are typical silly Darkness songs that have a sense of the ridiculous and put a smile on your face.
Where did you record?
At Dan’s studio in Norfolk, which is southeast of England. He has a farmhouse studio. We were the last band to record there. He’s since moved. We wrote the album on an island southwest of Ireland. We wrote some of it there and some of it on Ibiza, Spain. All of the album is written on two islands I guess because we felt stranded. That’s a good place to be. It’s good to metaphorically put yourself in that situation is good. To be as isolated as possible is good if you’re in that frame of mind.
I believe your new drummer is Rufus Taylor, son of Queen drummer Roger Taylor. What’s it like having him in the band?
He brings glam, youth, silliness and power and skill. He’s an extremely talented drummer and a good singer as well. We’re hoping to get him to sing a song on the next album.
It sounds like things have come together nicely.
In the UK, there was a backlash because we got so big in 2004. In my opinion there’s been a ten-year backlash from 2005 to 2015, but I can feel that it’s ending. This summer, we have more UK than ever before. Things are slowly swinging back. That’s great. We’re touring the States and making money over there and in Australia as well. I think we’ve turned the corner. The next album will be a fun album. We’re really going to have fun with it.
Upcoming 2016 Shows
Dallas, TX @House of Blues
New Orleans, LA @House of Blues
Nashville, TN @War Memorial Auditorium
Cleveland, OH @House of Blues
Cincinnati, OH @Bogart’s
Chicago, IL @House of Blues
Indianapolis, IN @Deluxe at Old National Center
Baltimore, MD Baltimore @Sound Stage
New York City, NY @Irving Plaza
Buffalo, NY @Waiting Room
Boston, MA @Paradise Rock Club