The Darkness

When Dan Hawkins and Ed Graham of the U.K.’s The Darkness talked to Pollstar, the band was in New York promoting its Atlantic Records debut, Permission To Land, which included a gig at the Virgin Megastore in Times Square and an appearance on “The Late Show With David Letterman.” Not bad for a band previously dismissed as a joke and compared to Spinal Tap.

Since forming in 2000, vocalist/guitarist Justin Hawkins, lead guitarist Dan, bassist Frankie Poullain and drummer Graham worked the pub circuit honing the sound and look that has brought them accolades as well as barbs.

“We worked really, really hard in those days. We still do,” Hawkins told Pollstar. “A lot of bands will play a gig and then maybe spend a couple of months going ‘Oh, maybe we should write some more stuff.’ We were at it all the time. We rehearsed what we had a lot, rather than changing our sound.”

The Darkness’ balls-to-the-wall sound and retro look pays homage to bands such as Queen and AC/DC by bringing back stadium rock. Justin’s falsetto vocals, penchant for spandex jumpsuits and onstage acrobatics adds to the spectacle that is packing venues everywhere. A few months after its U.S. release, Permission To Land jumped from No.172 to No.39 on SoundScan’s Top 100 albums chart and was nominated in four categories at the 2004 BRIT Awards back home.

But it’s taken a while for people to get it.

When manager Sue Whitehouse met the band in 1997, the Hawkins brothers and Poullain were in a prog-rock influenced group called Empire. Even then, Whitehouse sensed the potential.

“A demo tape landed on my desk and, for some reason, I listened to it straight away rather than throwing it in the box of demos. I called them up and went to see them in rehearsal and we hit it off immediately,” Whitehouse told Pollstar. “For me, having solid relationships is very important. I’m very instinctive about the people I choose to work with.”

Hawkins said the feeling was mutual.

“Right from the start, [Whitehouse] was getting us gigs, which is quite hard in the beginning. In London, you’d think it would be quite easy because there are so many venues but we had challenges. All the best things about us worked against us.

“[Working with Whitehouse] is all based on trust and that’s very, very important.”

Those challenges included industry reps going to see The Darkness perform but walking out after a couple of songs, or showing interest but not being comfortable taking a chance.

“It was frustrating, but what we could always fall back on is we had such a great time at the gigs. When you’ve got that, you can quite effectively go ‘Fuck everyone, because we’re having a good time,'” Hawkins said.

The Darkness

“They’re so fashion-based in London, everything is pulled apart and criticized and that’s not what we’re about. Our music isn’t there to be over-analyzed; it’s there to be enjoyed. It’s worked out all right for us in the end. People are obviously ready for a change.”

Once things took off for The Darkness, Whitehouse said going with Atlantic in the U.S. was right in line with the band’s concept and goals.

“We did our record deal with Warner in the U.K. but had already met with (A&R rep) Mary Gormley at South By Southwest last year,” Whitehouse explained. “She fell in love with the band immediately, the two of us bonded instantly and the fact that she worked for Atlantic was a bonus.”

Graham said they also got a good vibe from the label.

“We got the impression that people who believe in you a lot will give you a bit more of a chance,” he said. “The other main contender was like, ‘If you don’t succeed…’ You like to think the person who doesn’t say that is more behind the band and has a slightly better attitude, you know?”

While The Darkness has performed at many types of venues in Europe, sheds and stadiums are where the members feel at home and they plan to bring that to U.S. audiences.

“You could put us in any venue, any size and we’ll kick ass. We’ve played to125,000 people one day and 100 people two weeks later in Germany. The bigger the stage gets, the more natural it is for us,” Hawkins said. “The roof could cave in on a venue, and we’d still be playing. Ed fell off the back of the stage once and we kept playing.”

“I managed to get up quite quickly,” Graham laughed.

With The Darkness set to tour the U.S. in late March, Whitehouse said the band will be logging even more road time this year.

“This is a band that has to be seen live and once they’re out on the road, their fan base will increase hugely,” she said. “We will be concentrating our efforts mainly in the U.S., but a lot of other territories will be covered, too.”

As Darknessmania spreads, Hawkins said the members won’t be resting on their laurels any time soon.

“It’s nice to be where we are, but we’re nowhere near happy yet,” he said. “Once we’re an internationally huge rock band and generally playing stadiums, then I think we’ll be getting there, you know?”