The Darkness are the quintessential rock n’roll cliché. From humble beginnings came stratospheric stardom and all its trappings: drug abuse, alcoholism, fallouts, gig cancellations, rehab, and the inevitable break-up. But true to the finest feelgood film script, The Darkness discarded their differences; returning to their adoring fans just as ironic, and thankfully, more sober than ever. You just get the sense that somewhere, Richard Linklater is inking a contract about a band from Lowestoft with Jack Black penned in for lead role.
Despite boasting a fascinating backstory, The Darkness’ guitarist Dan Hawkins is reluctant to discuss the band’s past. “You know, it’s so long ago now and things are so positive these days that I’d prefer not to talk about our breakup. We’re on a new chapter and it just doesn’t feel right to revisit the past. I will say that we would have taken a hiatus either way, no matter what the circumstances would have been. An artist can’t stare at his canvas forever; sometimes he has to walk away from it to get fresh inspiration.”
With the most awkward question out of the way, I give Dan a moment to catch his breath as he returns to his hotel room following a post-lunch workout. It appears that The Darkness’ more health-conscious second incarnation is a far cry from the time its frontman was reported to have splurged £150,000 on cocaine following the success of ‘Permission To Land.’
Their latest single, Barbarian, is our first glimpse of what the band have been up to. It’s a clear change of tack where a simple but crushing riff plays host to Justin Hawkins’ trademark wail. It’s a world away from the lovelorn fussiness of their comeback LP ‘Hot Cakes’ – a change that Dan claims is intentional.
“I think something went off in our heads when we won the Ivor Novello award [for Songwriter of the Year]. I mean, it’s the highest accolade in music, but we were never songwriters in the strictest sense,” Dan says. “The Novello encouraged us to approach the last two albums from a songwriter’s perspective, but it just wasn’t right. For this album we wanted to go back to how we wrote ‘Permission To Land’ – by buildings songs from riffs. I wanted to right those wrongs.”
Dissatisfied, the group parted ways with their management and seeking a fresh start, they travelled to the west of Ireland to lay down some sketches for a forth studio album. “We went to Kerry to get away from it all. We’re from Lowestoft which is the most easterly point in Britain and I’m pretty sure Valentia is the most westerly point in Europe. It seemed like the perfect place to escape. We thought we were four monks on a pilgrimage – we fell in love with the place.”
But following a brief Ibizan writing stint, the band was forced to deal with the shock departure of drumming stalwart Ed Graham. “We had a huge chunk of material written when Ed parted ways with us,” Dan comments, reluctant to discuss the matter in depth. “After Ed left we tried a number of drummers that we knew though our own circle of friends, but nothing was clicking. We wanted something a little a different from the norm, so I went looking for a female drummer.”
Setting himself a mission, Dan trawled the Internet to find the perfect drummer. “I guess you could say we found Emily on the Internet. We are very lucky to have found her. She’s in the perfect place in her career – she’s played with some big names, but she’s still an unknown.
Emily only came along for our last writing sessions in Norwich where we eked out the last of our creative juices. She co-wrote one of the two tracks that made it onto the album. It’s felt great because we threw her right into the deep end and she still managed to bring a new dimension to the band.”
Though entering the fold at such a late point with one of the most divisive bands in the business is enough to overwhelm the most composed musician, Emily has taken the opportunity in her stride – all to the happiness of Dan. “Emily’s been flawless so far, so it’s business as usual really. That reminds me – last night, neither Frankie nor I had a high enough voice to reach the harmonies for Growing On Me, so here Emily comes along and nails it. Not being able to reach those high notes? We’re getting old.”
True the golden era of glam rock, The Darkness blur the lines of gender, so did joining a band in touch with its feminine side make Emily feel a little more at home? “I’d like to think so”, replies Dan. “We’re not some fierce, swinging bunch of fighting lads you know. I’d like to think we’re far more cosmopolitan than that.” Here is where The Darkness’ nucleus can be found. Sure, their subject matter is absurdly promiscuous cock-rock, but scratch under the surface and you’ll find a true slice of English gentry.
Dan affirms that the fruit of all this labour is the band’s heaviest record to date, where even the crushing riffs of Barbarian are regarded as folk. “For this album you have riffs fighting for the same space. Any Darkness fan knows that we get board very quickly, so there are no two songs that sound the same. Barbarian is without doubt the slowest track, I’d even say it’s a traditional ballad rather than an out and out rock song.”
Before ‘Last of our Kind’ drops this June, the band have decided to generate some stratospheric hype by touring Ireland’s most exclusive venues. Reportedly making a loss on every single performance, Dan explains that the gigs are a far more than just a warm-up tour.
“We would never really call it that as I feel it would be unfair to our fans that have paid good money to see us. Playing fresh The Darkness material at Whelan’s, especially with a new band member on board, means that we can’t dive straight into playing festivals. We need to get to know each other first,” he says. “This is where the small venues come into their own because Frankie, Justin, Emily or I can hear if somebody is messing up on a certain note or beat.” It’s a move born from experience, one that quartet are already reaping the fruits of.
“The people are loving the new material. Playing a song for the first time is always an anxious moment, but the crowds love what we’ve played so far. It’s such a relief to get a round of applause after playing a new track,” he says. “Whelan’s last night was absolutely fantastic; I hope the stage in Cork is a little bigger though because we keep falling over each other. It’s taking some getting used to.”
But if there is one thing Dan has had time adjust to, it’s playing alongside his brother Justin. Having jammed together since kids, he agrees that there’s more at work than sheer graft. “I think there’s defiantly an element of telepathy involved – if that’s what you’d like to call it. I guess you spend so much time with someone like Justin that you just bounce off him when performing.”
Dan’s focus is forever shifting, and as I run fresh out of questions, I resort to good old-fashioned chat. “A lot of people see musicians as lazy people who draw the dole. When you are a musician you make serious sacrifices. A lot of great musicians could easily have been doctors or lawyers. We are incredibly intelligent people.
“We slogged it for ten years and there were times in my mid-twenties when I seriously considered packing in music for good. That’s why admire anyone who has the guts to try and make it in this industry,” he comments, before shifting focus once again. “Ten years ago everything changed – artist development stopped as labels didn’t have enough cash to fund it. Record labels want the complete musician to arrive fully packaged at their doorstep. They don’t believe in nurturing talent anymore.” It’s a concern for all contemporary musicians, but Dan is convinced that he would have been lured into the world of music regardless of the generation he was born into.
“If we were born in our parents time, I think we’d sound like Neil Young or Credence Clearwater Revival – something like that. But there are so many possible variables. We may have gravitated away from rock and became the male Bananarama, who knows? One certainty is that I would definitely have been involved in music.”
If Dan is known for one thing other than face melting guitar solos, it’s his fine collection of Thin Lizzy t-shirts, so what variation can we expect for the band’s Lee Side appearance? “You might see me without a Thin Lizzy t-shirt on this tour. I bought a tonne of them when we started selling records has but the collection’s since diminished. It’s funny – the less I wear my Thin Lizzy t-shirt, the more [our bassist] Frankie looks like Phil Lynott.”
The Darkness’ fourth album ‘Last of our Kind’ is available on all formats from June 1st.