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Trashing The Past: Why The Darkness Are Still Smiling

Wednesday, 06 December 2017 Written by Simon Ramsay

For those who only listen to music that’s deemed trendy by self-appointed tastemakers, the Darkness will always be a joke. Their comically anachronistic rock ‘n’ roll shone brightly on their unit-shifting, award-winning debut ‘Permission To Land’ before the novelty factor evaporated.

Yet such fickle listeners are never reliable barometers of taste, something Justin Hawkins and company have proven with a succession of banging hard rock records that burst with guitar-driven anthems and tongue-in-cheek lyrics .

But it’s no surprise the Darkness have endured in rock circles. Riff-loving fans are notoriously loyal beasts who, broadly speaking, don’t give a fuck about what the NME or Radio One think. All they care about is that those acts keep delivering the goods.

And, since reforming in 2011, the Darkness have done so with the same flash, flair and fun that made them bona fide rock stars at a time when their only competition was Coldplay's Chris Martin.

Over the course of three post-reunion records the group - which also includes original members Dan Hawkins and Frankie Poullain alongside new drummer Rufus (son of Queen legend Roger) Taylor - haven’t just retained their idiosyncratic sound, but taken it in interesting new directions that are more accomplished than some will ever give them credit for.

Produced by Adrian Bushby, who’s helmed efforts by Muse and the Foo Fighters, their latest record, ‘Pinewood Smile’, unleashed hard-hitting, in-your-face rock ‘n’ roll along with some deliriously daft tangents. Add to that some surprisingly tender ballads, power-pop bijous and rib-tickling rhymes and it’s little wonder rock fans, both old and new, remain drawn to their live shows.

They’re currently wreaking their patented brand of good-natured, libidinous mischief on the UK as part of a wide-ranging tour, and we caught up with guitarist Dan Hawkins to discuss their new record, why he’s nervous at railway stations and the late, great Malcolm Young.

‘Pinewood Smile’ bettered your previous release - ‘Last Of Our Kind’ - and landed at number eight on the album chart. Some people dismiss you as a novelty band but you must be delighted as it shows the hunger is still there for what you do?

Well, it's great it's going in the right direction, although, worryingly, we had a better chart position having sold less than the last one. That says more about the state of the industry than us, though. We have a new generation of fans, for sure. 

You’ve said you hope to have another hit single and blast back into the public consciousness. Although you’re moving in the right direction, is that still feasible for a rock band like yourselves in 2017?

Probably not, but I'll die trying. Why? We have so many ideas for the live show that we simply can't afford, or have the space for, until we're back in arenas. Also, we're a really tall band [with an] average height of six foot two so we prefer big stages. Less crashing into each other.

You’ve said this is the first album you’ve really stamped your identity on as a group. What did you mean by that?

By that I meant as a band performing together live and keeping the identity and interaction that happens, rather than having millions of overdubs built up and overly perfected, manipulated drum takes. That's the difference on this one, it has exactly the same character as the band have live - because it is. It’s also to do with Rufus as we have a drummer capable of really exciting and adventurous live takes.

Why didn’t you produce the record yourself?

I was about to have a baby and didn't want the stress of overseeing the album, having produced and mixed the last couple. It was really nice to sit on the couch at the back and piss about with guys for a change. Adrian did a sterling job.

There are some seriously funny tracks on the album like Stampede of Love, Japanese Prisoner of Love and Uniball. Are there ever things you shy away from? Does Justin ever pen a lyric where you go ‘that’s too far’?

I'd say he went too far on Stampede..., but was nicely on the edge in the other two. I don't think we've ever purposely done "too far" before so it's a bit of a fun experiment. I think that's Rufus's influence — that guy does not give a fuck. 

It contains some pretty epic songs too, particularly Buccaneers of Hispaniola. Do you enjoy pushing yourselves and challenging expectations?

We just get bored easily. If we have a type of song, or even tempo or rhythm, already we’ll try not to have that kind of song again on the album. Hence why [they] are quite eclectic.

One that’s very different is Southern Trains, which is the protest song Bob Dylan would have written had he been a punk living in Sussex. Have the rail network in question given you any feedback?

Blimey. Compared to Dylan - that's a first. The train network responded to an article in a big daily newspaper but it was the usual point-avoiding blurb about how greatly improved the service is etc. Load of shite. I still use the train service but these days I keep well away from the edge of the platform.

In contrast, Solid Gold is not only the Darkness through and through, but also a very AC/DC type track. As someone who plays a lot of strong riffs and rhythms, I wanted to get you thoughts on Malcolm Young’s passing and what made him such a special player?

Malcolm Young was quite simply my biggest influence. I come from a drumming, bass-playing background and never imagined I'd be a guitarist. I can't really play lead guitar for shit and consider myself a rhythm guitarist at best. When I first heard Malcolm I was immediately inspired by the aggression, repetition, honesty and openness of his sound. I would not be where I am today if I had not spent those two years with the stereo panned hard left, studying his every move and playing along to him. I have never felt so sad playing a show as the night he died.

On a more positive note, the Darkness are about to be immortalised in a documentary that’s due to be released next year. What can you say about that?

It's being directed by an amazing photographer and director called Simon Emmett, who made a heart-warming film called Underhill, which is about the importance of lower league football teams to their communities and their devoted fans. It's really funny and real but basically a human interest story. Our doc will be similar. Painful, heart-warming and hopefully interesting at the same time. We were all adamant it shouldn't be a glorifying look back/PR exercise. 

Finally, let’s look to the future. I believe you had the choice of over 40 songs for ‘Pinewood Smile’. With all that leftover material, might there be a follow up soon?

We are debating our next move. We have been constantly present for three-four years now so it might be time to go away for a bit. Generally, when we turn up for the next record we ditch leftovers and start from scratch. Trash the past before it trashes you. 

The Darkness Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed December 06 2017 - MARGATE Winter Gardens
Thu December 07 2017 - SOUTHEND Cliffs Pavilion
Sat December 09 2017 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Academy
Sun December 10 2017 - LONDON London Eventim Apollo
Mon December 11 2017 - BRIGHTON Brighton Dome
Wed December 13 2017 - CARDIFF St David's Hall
Thu December 14 2017 - BRISTOL Colston Hall

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