The Darkness’ Justin Hawkins Talks Touring And Taking On Toxic Masculinity With New LP, ‘Motorheart’

The Darkness 2021 Photo Credit Simon Emmett hi res
The Darkness’ Rufus Tiger Taylor, Justin Hawkins, Dan Hawkins and Frankie Poullain. Photo by Simon Emmett 

God save The Darkness! The British rock band has returned to North American venues with a new album to show off, bringing a much needed dose of fun and a gloriously flamboyant, yet spectacularly human element to the live scene. 

The Darkness first won over the hearts of rock fans in 2003 with its debut studio album, Permission to Land, boasting the mega hit “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.” The next year the band picked up a bevy of awards including BRIT Awards for Best British Group, Best Rock Act and Bst British Alum, along with an Elle Style Award for Best Music Act.

The band has kept rocking (minus a handful of years in the mid 2000s when the band split up) and the guys released their seventh studio album, Motorheart, in November. The LP earned raves from critics including a review from Ultimate Classic Rock that proclaimed, “The Darkness’ rock ‘n’ roll sounds like one of the genre’s last great hopes, all delivered with a wink, a smile and an armful of killer riffs.”

Before the pandemic put touring on hold The Darkness played a handful of shows in Europe in 2020. Box office reports submitted to Pollstar include a Feb. 7 show at Vox in Nonantola, Italy, that sold 1,163 tickets and grossed $38,738.

Following a U.K. tour in late 2021, The Darkness launched its 2022 North American tour March 9 at San Diego’s Observatory North Park. Stops on the routing include San Francisco’s Regency Ballroom, Vancouver’s Vogue Theatre, Detroit’s Majestic Theatre, Nashville’s Brooklyn Bowl and New York’s Webster Hall.

Frontman Justin Hawkins caught up with Pollstar ahead of The Darkness’ show at Seattle’s Showbox, chatting via Zoom while he and his bandmates rode in a taxi and headed to the venue. Hawkins notes, “We’re very proud of the [new] record. … You can’t tell through the COVID masks, but we’re all beaming with pride.”

The Darkness is set to play Toronto’s Phoenix Concert Theatre April 19, followed by shows at Town Ballroom in Buffalo, N.Y., April 19; Asbury Lanes in Asbury Park, N.J., April 22; Brooklyn Bowl in Philadelphia April 23 and Royale in Boston April 24. European festival dates are scheduled from June through September. 

Pollstar: Have you gotten a chance to hang out in Seattle at all before the show? 
Justin Hawkins:
We’ve just been to the SubPop shop because the last time we were in Seattle was about three years ago – we spent all of our time and money in the SubPop gift shop that was in the airport. So we wanted to sort of replenish our stocks because all the children that we bought SubPop T-shirts for have outgrown them.   

How’s the North American tour been going so far?
Whether people would buy tickets and come to [the shows] … we anticipated trepidation among ticket buyers – [some] people are skeptical as to whether things are going to go ahead and so on. But we found that the people who do show up are real enthusiasts. So there might not be full rooms, but they feel full because they’re having so much fun. The crowds have been amazing so far. We’ve had some pretty sensational shows. Portland was great. The Observatory in Santa Ana … lovely little shows. We turn off the air conditioning and just go for it.   

I saw Jonathan Richman play a club show several years ago where he told the audience that he had requested the A/C be turned off.
Yeah, I don’t understand why everything has to be subarctic in America. It’s beautiful here, you should enjoy it – shouldn’t be afraid of profuse sweating. It’s natural.

How has the response been to the new album?   
A lot of people have said it’s our best one since the first one. A lot of people loved Easter is Cancelled as well. I think Easter is Canceled was probably quite challenging for [some fans] to listen to because it’s us being quasi-political, it’s us being very, very, very personal. It perhaps isn’t as much fun as some of our records have been, but this one is all just definitely trying to make a fun record. Our fans love that stuff.

Can you talk about the songwriting process for Motorheart?
It was more difficult this time because I was in a different country than the other guys. Normally we’d be collaborating in the same room. But this time they were sending backing tracks and I was sending them top lines and vocals and lyrics – recording my parts in Switzerland where I was. …It’s actually good because I think if you’re in a room with three other people and then you’ve got an idea that’s half baked, you’ll get shot down before you have a chance to really express it. … So everybody was able to have a more developed contribution before it gets judged. So it took a little bit longer, but I think it was more of people’s ideas got over the line.

Justin credit Simon Emmett 1
Justin Hawkins. Photo by Simon Emmett

What’s the overarching message of the album?
Basically, it’s a lot of mocking toxic masculinity. We do a lot of that stuff in this record. And this character I’m singing from is just a complete dumb ass when it comes to relationships (laughs), he’s had a compendium of failed relationships, all the reasons why that happens. And it’s always because of the character’s faults and flaws. So it’s about toxic masculinity, pricking male vanity and just having some fun, really.  … Being a real man is not always – I get to do that in some aspects of my life. But musically, it’s good to explore the other side.  

What about the title of the album? How’d you come up with that?  
The backing track for the song “Motorheart,” when they sent it to me, they were like, “Oh, this sounds like a cross between Motörhead and Heart.” So I was like, “OK, (laughs) then it should be called this.” And then I sort of worked backwards from there and I was thinking about how sales of masturbatory contraptions probably were going up because of the lockdown. And then I was thinking why stop there? That’s the only song that’s really informed by the pandemic – and only in the sense that people buy stuff to masturbate with.  

For someone who’s never been to one of your shows before, what can they expect? And as far as your fans, do they dress up?  
Yes, sometimes you see people in catsuits or just shiny spangled stuff.

When you come to a Darkness show, you’re going to see several generations of people all enjoying [themselves], big smiles on their faces. …Totally inclusive. And everybody has a great time.

I think people are mostly impressed because we don’t use anything like click tracks, nothing’s to track, there’s no prerecorded elements to it. It’s just rock ‘n’ roll music – old fashioned. The light show is all performed in real time, there’s nothing triggered in any way, everyone’s performing. So it’s very human, I think. It’s different every time so a lot of people come to multiple shows and they get a different show every night. And because of the nature of it, we’re reacting to what’s happening in the room. It’s varied, especially in a country as big and vast as the USA is. I could never predict it. It’s just different every night. It’s always interesting and always fun.   

The Dead Deads are on the road with The Darkness as your opening act. Did you have a hand in selecting them to join you on tour?  
Absolutely. We met those guys on the KISS cruise last year and really enjoyed their music, and they’re great people. And they do something that I think is totally unique. And it’s very grungy as well. They’re fun to watch, nice to have around. It’s great. That’s one of the bonuses of this kind of touring. If you get the support band wrong and you’re in a sort of bubble where they’re the only group you can really hang out with, it can be a little bit soul destroying.   We were hoping to tour those guys two years ago … but I’m glad we finally got around to it and I’m glad they’re available to eventually fulfill that dream. I’d like to take them to Europe. 

Anything you want to add?
Just to say it’s great to be back. I mean, this is a long tour for us – probably the longest we’ve done for years. And so when the world is so tumultuous at the moment, it’s not even clear whether there will be a Europe for us to go home to, it’s wonderful to be able to come and do what we love for an audience that really appreciates us. The stuff we do certainly seems to go over really well here in the States. So we’re just happy to be able to do it.