Spotlight on The Darkness

The Darkness frontman Justin Hawkins chats with Pollstar about how “there’s nothing quite like touring” America, his fascination with history, and overcoming his biggest fear to release the British glam rock band’s new album.

Pollstar caught up with the vocalist/guitarist a few hours before the band’s Oct. 7 show in Mexico City, where he says “there’s a real high density of Darkness enthusiasts.” The next day it was on to Los Angeles to launch the group’s first U.S./Canada tour since 2013.

This spring The Darkness put out its fourth full-length effort, Last of Our Kind, which the band’s PR rep hails as “an album of unparalleled beauty and power bursting with exhilarating riffs, magnificent melodies and very high voices – as you would expect of these rock mega-gods.”

The album marks the band’s second release since reuniting in 2011, following Hawkins’ 2006 departure to enter rehab. In a few write-ups on the LP, Rolling Stone praised The Darkness’ consistent “knack for big time hooks” and declared that the band’s “sound remains perfectly suited for the biggest stages in the world.”

Last Of Our Kind is the first and only album to feature drummer Emily Dolan Davies, who took over for Ed Graham in 2014. Rufus Tiger Taylor, the son of Queen drummer Roger Taylor, has since transitioned from a touring drummer to a permanent member of the band, replacing Davies.  

Photo: Courtesy of The Darkness

You must be looking forward to getting back on the road in North America.

Yeah, it has been a while. Actually, my visa expired during that time and I was sad because I didn’t know if I’d ever get a chance to come back, really. I’ve got to spend quite a lot of time in Los Angeles when I was doing songwriting. … There’s nothing quite like touring in America. It’s always much more fun. It’s always great to be in America.

Do you think there’s a big difference compared with touring in Europe, for example?

I mean, the venues really look after the artists. … I’m a vegan and actually I think America is one of the best places in the world that you can tour as a vegan. There’s always a dedicated vegan restaurant in every city you go to and they’re always delicious. I’ve had some mind-blowing food in America. That’s one of the things I’ve missed the most, really. The culinary high point for me of touring.

I love America and I have loads of friends in America. I think it’s just really good fun. The only thing I don’t enjoy is when you have to queue for two hours to have your visa inspected at the border. It’s really annoying. I just wish [it] was less [of a] hassle. …You really don’t feel welcome when you come in. …

The last time I came I traveled on ESTA. [That’s] actually pretty good. It takes about an hour and a half. [But] I ended up in the wrong queue. I was traveling [with] an ESTA but I ended up in the visa queue. I was there for two hours before someone told me. … You always tell yourself, “Oh, I’m never doing it again. I’m never coming to America again.” But you know, you always do. (laughs) You quickly forget how bad [it is]. I’m dreading [it] because I’ve gotta do that tomorrow. It’s going to be a nightmare.

Are there any cities that you’re especially looking forward to playing in the U.S.?

They’re all good. Boston is always fantastic for us. We’ve played at that Paradise place [Paradise Rock Club] a couple of times. We’ve had a really amazing couple of gigs there, in quick succession, I think, in 2013. …We came back and sold it out again. … There is something about Boston that really connects with The Darkness. It’s always an outstanding experience. I love all of it, to be honest, but Boston I’m particularly looking forward to.

Photo: Courtesy of The Darkness

The title track of your new album features audio clips from 500 Darkness fans and –

500,000! (laughs)

And you featured 15 of your fans in the music video, as well.

I think the whole point of that was collective effort. I think in the current climate the only thing The Darkness has is its fans. They’re all we’ve got. They’re the people that buy the records. We don’t get on the radio so we don’t have an awful lot of [publicity] … in terms of [selling] the album. And obviously when we play gigs it’s always the same people that come so it’s important to give them something great. Nice to have in terms of ownership by having people perform with us. … It’s just lovely to share these things with the great unwashed. (laughs)

I’m sure it must have been very special for the band as well as the fans in the video.  

The fans in the video are hilarious. They’re such nice people. …They did a great job. They added exactly the right flavor for the video. … And there’s a lot of diversity within The Darkness fanbase. I think that comes across too, hopefully.  

There’s old and young and everyone in between. And lots of different walks of life and creeds. That’s what The Darkness is. … That’s why it’s so much fun to tour because you never really know, you can’t really judge how the crowd is going to be. There will be a mix of everybody there – a cross-section of the entire human race at any one show.

The Darkness’ new album, Last of Our Kind, is the band’s second release since it came back from hiatus. Was there less pressure on the band compared to when you came back to record 2012’s Hot Cakes?

I think there was more pressure on the band in a financial sense because it was completely our own thing. We didn’t have an advance or any recording company to pay for the recording costs. Everything we did was out of our own pocket. Financially it was a quite difficult time. Artistically there wasn’t any pressure. I would say less pressure that Hot Cakes. Hot Cakes was time sensitive in that we had a lot of … commitments that we needed to have the album out, ready for. I don’t know. We just wanted to hit back with something that people would recognize as a Darkness album.

I don’t think we’re too concerned about that anymore. We’re ready to grow artistically as much as possible. Now it’s really fun. We’ve been back long enough to recognize where we stand in the world and basically … our audience wants us to have fun and wants us to express ourselves in as many ways that we can. Obviously, as long as it’s good. So the pressure is to be good as opposed to be a good pop/rock band or a good rock n roll band or whatever.

The Darkness worked with PledgeMusic on this album. How did you like that experience?

I think some people use PledgeMusic as a tool to sort of achieve a [higher] first-week chart position by doing these bundles that involve experiences with the band and that sort of stuff. We didn’t really do that. We did it to a very minimal degree. The sort of things we were bundling were guitars and old costumes and things like that. It was more exclusive than I think other people use Pledge for. We aren’t that interested in being in the Top 10 or Top 20 or Top 100 or whatever. But I do think it’s a nice thing for the fans to get something upfront and it did build anticipation for the release. My favorite part of the Pledge thing is we did a rehearsal on the Pledge at Dingwalls in London and we’d never played at Dingwalls before, so it was a venue I was really looking forward to performing in. And the show was amazing. … The whole thing was just a really good laugh. I have very fond memories of that. I was quite pleased with the experience.

Photo: Courtesy of The Darkness

Did you have a vision for the album going into it, prior to the songwriting sessions?

Not really. I mean, to be honest, before the songwriting sessions I was a bit nervous, which I always am, really. I never know if we’re going to go to a writing session and we’re just going to sit there and not come up with anything. And that’s my biggest fear really – writer’s block or whatever you want to call it. So as long as we’re doing something, I’m happy. (laughs) The vision doesn’t extend beyond that. It could be anything. The first thing that we came up with when we started writing was “Barbarian.” I’m really proud of that song. I think it’s probably my favorite song on the record, apart from “Roaring Waters,” which is the second song we did. We came out of the gates pretty solid and I think those two songs … determined our product for the rest of the material, really.  

For the most part did you set aside time for dedicated songwriting sessions as opposed to writing whenever inspiration strikes?

It’s usually a mix but a more studied, determined approach. We try and go somewhere nice to write songs so we’re away from the world and we’re all together. And it’s usually someplace quite remote and usually somewhere foreign, so we can really concentrate. And we just work and work and work until stuff comes out. … Usually my brother and I come to the sessions with some ideas. I usually have some lyrics, I might have a couple of riffs and he’ll have a lot of riffs. Between us and Frankie we’ll work on stuff. And if in that moment something comes up … then we can pause and document it on the computer and all that. It’s a bit of both. Mostly it’s arduous, teeth-pulling hard work. But then … inspiration comes. It’s like having a child, where 90 percent of it is intolerable and awful but that 10 percent makes it all worthwhile. And that’s what songwriting is exactly like, I think.

And your brother produced the album.

Yeah, he produced it and he mixed it and engineered it. … He did a great job. We recorded it at his house. It was the last thing that was recorded at his house and then he packed it all down and went into semi-retirement.

He went into semi-retirement?

(laughs) No, I was just kidding. He moved out. His studio is all in boxes. He used to live in a commercial studio called Leeders Farm. That was the last album that was recorded there so it was a fitting end to that studio, I think.

You mentioned your favorite tracks – “Barbarian” and “Roaring Waters.” Are there any other songs from the new album you’d like to talk about?

No, those are my favorite ones because they’re talking about sea-based island invasions and that always makes me happy to think about Scandinavian men pillaging and plundering and doing what they do. For some reason, that inspires me. I like anything to do with history. A good collection of historical rock songs on the album. “Roaring Waters” is quite an interesting one because it’s just like a Viking invasion but it’s from the other side of the British islands, an invasion by the Moorish folk from North Africa and Southern Spain. They actually stole 130 people, mostly women, to go and work in the harems (laughs), which is amazing. It’s early 1600s. … I think it’s fascinating. It’s called the Sack of Baltimore, because the [village] was called Baltimore. The boats came up, sacked it. … For generations afterwards, it’s well documented that the people they stole actually really enjoyed their time in the harems. Or so they say. Maybe it’s Stockholm Syndrome.

Had you recently been reading books about this topic or watching a documentary?  

No, I’m really fascinated by history. The [subjects] I was really good at in school [were] history and English and it’s always fascinated me. I do read books about history. They’re the only books I do read, actually. I’m not really interested in anything else, apart from I’ve started to really get excited about the cosmos. So maybe the next album will have a more existential vibe to it. More spaceships.

A new drummer joined your lineup this year. How’s that going?

It’s going great. Rufus is awesome. He’s now a fully fledged member of The Darkness, whereas before he was [playing] on a gig-by-gig basis, as a sort of trial measure because we didn’t want to make a decision like that overnight. He’s in the band now and it’s sort of like he always has been. He’s much younger than us but he sort of reminds us of how we were when we were younger. And it’s really fun to watch him be a rock star. He does all the rock star stuff so I don’t have to. I can just relax. … I can wear glasses on the end of my nose. And not concern myself with the stuff he does. (laughs)  I just watch him and admire it, really. I feel sorry for the three of us sometimes. But he’s a young man, you know. It’s nature, isn’t it – early 20s? I was terrible in my 20s. It’s nice to see somebody who can actually do his job and live like that. (laughs)

Yeah, it must be nice to have new energy in the band.

Energy is exactly what it is. He’s really inspired us all to keep it together. I think we were going to get boring, before. We’re probably still – you’re obviously bored. But I mean, we were worse before. (laughs)

I was looking at your Facebook page and you guys are going to be doing fan Q&As before some of the shows. Have you participated in fan Q&As before?

We did the first one at Dingwalls, the Pledge show I told you about, and it [was] really good. It’s a really fun thing to do. You get lots of laughs. It’s a little bit like being on a chat show or something like that. It’s random questions and it’s good for the people there because you don’t have to answer the same questions every time. …. It’s a good way to sort of practice your public speaking.

Do you remember one of the strangest questions a fan has asked at one of those events?

We’ve only done one so far. They don’t get that weird, yet. I’m sure they will when people get more comfortable [and] when people are going to several, they’re going to get weirder. Really easy stuff like, “What’s your favorite song?” And then I couldn’t think of one so you just say a song and you get a round of applause sometimes for saying a song that you like. … We’ll literally answer anything, within reason.

When your publicist pitched this interview to Pollstar she referred to The Darkness as “the magical U.K. band.”  


I like that’s how she approached us.

I think she’s probably still referring to the way we dress. (laughs)

It made me want to ask what’s the most magical thing about the band. I think it’s appropriate for The Darkness to have a magical origin story.

Well, we do have that. If you’ve ever seen the video for “Growing On Me,” one of our early singles. …  “Growing On Me” tells the story very succinctly, I think. We emerged when a pterodactyl had sex with a spaceship and then some eggs came out and that was The Darkness. A combination of old, prehistoric and futuristic and then some stuff in the middle, I suppose.

There you go – magic.

None of us have bellybuttons though. That’s an unknown fact.

That explains a lot.

Yeah, I think that answers a lot of questions.

Photo: Courtesy of The Darkness

Upcoming dates for The Darkness:

Oct. 20 – Chicago, Ill., House Of Blues        
Oct. 21 – Detroit, Mich., St. Andrews Hall  
Oct. 23 – Toronto, Ontario, The Phoenix Concert Theatre   
Oct. 24 – Pittsburgh, Pa., The Altar Bar        
Oct. 25 – Silver Spring, Md., The Fillmore Silver Spring      
Oct. 27 – New York, N.Y., Irving Plaza       
Oct. 28 – Asbury Park, N.J., Stone Pony      
Oct. 30 – Philadelphia, Pa., Theatre Of Living Arts
Oct. 31 – Huntington, N.Y., The Paramount
Nov. 1 – Boston, Mass., House Of Blues Boston
Nov. 11 – Melbourne, Australia, Forum Melbourne  
Dec. 1 – Cambridge, England, Cambridge Corn Exchange  
Dec. 2 – Nottingham, England, Rock City   
Dec. 4 – Newcastle, England, O2 Academy Newcastle       
Dec. 5 – Glasgow, Scotland, O2 Academy Glasgow           
Dec. 9 – Leeds, England, O2 Academy Leeds         
Dec. 10 – Manchester, England, Manchester Academy        
Dec. 11 – Birmingham, England, O2 Academy Birmingham           
Dec. 13 – Bristol, England, O2 Academy Bristol     
Dec. 14 – Southampton, England, O2 Guildhall Southampton                 
Dec. 15 – East Sussex, England, De La Warr Pavilion         
Dec. 17 – Bournemouth, England, O2 Academy      
Dec. 19 – Oxford, England, O2 Academy Oxford   
Dec. 20 – London, England, Roundhouse    
Jan. 22 – Bologna, Italy, Estragon     
Jan. 24 – Milan, Italy, Alcatraz          
Jan. 30 – Cologne, Germany, Essigfabrik     
Feb. 1 – Hamburg, Germany, Grunspan        
Feb. 3 – Amsterdam, Netherlands, Melkweg

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