When my editor offered me an interview with The Darkness, I remember trying to accept as calmly as possible, lest I break and nerd out catastrophically hard. I carefully replied with something akin to a, "Yea, sure," and impatiently waited for the day to arrive.
You see, I love this band, and for the same reasons that their millions of adoring fans do. Irreverent, hypnotically lurid, and wildly talented -- Justin Hawkins sings like a satanic angel and Dan Hawkins is a modern guitar-God -- The Darkness unapologetically purvey their unique brand of hard rock.
Now with recently-appointed drummer Rufus Taylor (son of Queen drummer Roger Taylor), and the eagerly anticipated forthcoming album, Last of Our Kind, The Darkness are primed to continue their campaign of world domination. I recently sat down with the brothers Hawkins at Kobalt Music Group in Times Square for a chat and an impromptu photoshoot. Needless to say, they were every bit as fun as I had imagined. Read the full interview below.
Baeble: I want to start light, so; considering the fact that you're both hyper-talented musicians; each of you please give me two musical idols of yours.
Justin: Fred Mercury. Is that too obvious? Because he's a brilliant piano player, cultured, an amazing lyricist, unbelievable man and a great singer: almost the complete package. The only thing is that he had this flick to his finger when he was playing the acoustic guitar, and now (laughs) I can't help but do it. It's not good technique, and it's diminished my own ability; thats why Dan always plays acoustic. And Fred also just had this otherworldly ambience about him. (Pauses) was it two? Edward Van Halen.
Dan: Is it Edward?
Justin: You know who I'm talking about.
Well, you abbreviated the first name, and extended the second
Justin: I have less to say about Edward Van Halen, so I thought I'd make his name a bit longer. When I was growing up, I had guitar idols like Van Halen and Brian May...
Who you've actually performed with...
Justin: We've been lucky enough to do many things with Brian both socially and musically. In fact, I think I'll change it. Brian May. Dan I think I know who you're going to say.
Dan: (laughs) Roger Taylor, even though he's a drummer, and you're probably expecting a guitarist. My first instrument is actually drums, and my absolute hero and the person I wanted to be was Roger. Also, John Deacon, mainly because he wasn't afraid to wear pastel colored clothes. Like, a pastel shirt and exactly the same color trousers.
That's definitely bold. Your band is a fiery, glowing beacon of hard rock. What do you think it is about you that has led to The Darkness' massive success in a genre that conventional wisdom would suggest is not conducive to that?
Justin: I think there are things that pop out in all genres and surprise people. There's a lot of folk musicians who have become massively successful, and folk is traditionally what bearded people who drink out of pewter tankards listen to, but there were a couple of bands that broke through. I suppose we're like the bearded, tankard-drinking guys from our sphere that popped up. It's partly luck, but it's also because we're not quite what people think we are. Although I do agree that we are a shining beacon of fire in an otherwise turgid, and foul smelling music scene (laughs). But yea, the thing is, we don't just do eighties power rock, or whatever it is that people think we do; we also do late seventies power rock (laughs).
Dan: People tend to really like things that are a bit wrong. And I think when we came about, bands in our genre (if we have a specific genre, which we probably don't), were all but gone, apart from the big guns that were still touring. Maybe it was just that we were so wrong it was right.
Justin: A lot of people used to say that we were a guilty pleasure. And I think that when we broke through, there was such an oppressive regime of coolness that the guilty pleasure became sort of a sacred and important thing.
Dan: Weirdly, and I could be totally wrong, but I don't think we really influenced any other rock bands. We probably influenced more pop acts, in that we were a couple of blokes not caring and wearing spangly outfits and things that they shouldn't be. And I couldn't help but notice a change in what pop acts were wearing at the time.
Is that eccentricity and boldness what the title track off of your new album focuses on?
Justin: Yea. On that title track there's a load of fans singing...
You had thousands of people contribute, right?
Justin: Hundreds...of thousands...of millions of people contributed to that recording. And we wanted it to be not just us as a band that are the 'last of our kind,' but our eclectic fan base of 'strange ones,' and I say that with genuine affection because we're all strange ones. But it was supposed to be an opportunity for us to collaborate with our fan base because we are the last of our kind and we need to look after each other.
Last of Our Kind doesn't listen like an album from a band that's had the ups and downs that you've had. In fact, it has the enthusiasm and carefree passion of a first record, "Barbarian" being a perfect example. Was that difficult to channel? Or did it flow naturally?
Justin: Because we spent the time that we did writing the songs, we were able to look past the stuff that was a struggle and only concentrate on the stuff that we were excited about. Over the years we've written so many hundreds of songs, and some of them were difficult to finish, but the reason they were completed was that we were excited about them. But there are tons of songs that we haven't finished, because the excitement wasn't there and we weren't motivated; you're better off moving on at that point. And you've got to remember that there are four equally important opinions (pauses) well, that's the illusion; there are two (laughs) tremendously important opinions, but the point is that everyone has to really love their part and not be afraid to say when they don't. We've been doing this long enough to express candidly what we do and don't love. That's why the process is so time-consuming. But the upside is that listeners can feel that excitement and passion.
Dan: I agree with everything Justin has said. And I think it's indicative of where we are at the moment. There have been some albums of ours where we haven't necessarily had that excitement, but it was just a riot recording this one. It was the easiest, most fun time we've had making a record by far, and I think you can here it.
I'd like to talk about the song, "Barbarian," for a moment. Just as you said in your press release, I did in fact shit my pants upon listening to it for the first time, but that's neither here nor there. The song is about the viking invasion of East Anglia and the decapitation of Edmund the Martyr, all of which actually took place. Where does your interest in this material come from? Why write about it?
Justin: We've always tried to focus on myths, legends, ancient tales and folklore from the region that we grew up in, and 'East Anglia' is actually that place.
Suffolk, right? I'm actually from Suffolk County, Long Island. It's probably very similar.
Justin: Oh, great!
Dan: Brother, welcome!
Justin: Is it like New York and York? Well there's a place in Suffolk called Bury St. Edmunds, and that's actually where Edmund the Martyr's final resting place is. I find it really interesting because everyone thinks that the vikings came to England and raped everybody, but that wasn't the case. It was actually very diplomatic at first, like a truce. And Edmund the Martyr gave them land and some horses, trying to keep the peace with them, but they took the time to grow in strength and number, and that's when all of the pillaging started. It's just a brilliant story, so brutal. They cut his [Edmund's] head off and kicked it into the forest.
What else are you going to do with a severed head?
Justin: Yea, but it was just so unceremonious. It wasn't even a public beheading.
Dan: It was Blasé. I'd have preferred a stake if it were me.
If you can tell me; in "Mighty Wings," to whom are you wishing Godspeed? And what's in the potion that you're asking for a sip of?
Justin: That's a really personal song.
Dan: It had a different title for a while.
Justin: It's very personal. There's two choruses in which the words are the same but they mean completely different things. The context is different and, yea I don't really want to ruin it.
Fair enough. What would you like people to take away from this album as a whole?
Justin: We want people to listen to it in the car, and to drive a little bit faster, but not dangerously fast; you know, to be inspired to be a slightly better version of themselves.
Dan: We're working on a deal with Ford at the moment, in the same way that U2 had there album put onto everyones iTunes whether they liked it or not. Every Ford is going to have a copy of our album.
Justin: Playing all the time.
I think that will change the game for the better.
Dan: Yea, definitely. There will be more accidents as people scramble to turn it off.
Justin: (all laughing) ...people driving and vomiting at the same time.
You've had insane touring schedules. Any noteworthy stories from the road? (that won't get you arrested when this is published)
Justin: Tour stories are funny ones aren't they? Because when you think about it, the only ones worth telling are the ones that'll get you arrested.
Dan: What about the, umm...no, no.
Justin: Applebees (laughs).
Dan: No, don't tell that one. We played a lot of tennis on the Lady Gaga tour.
Justin: Oh, I've got one! I came to America in the middle of a tour for a Spin cover shoot. And as I was coming from immigration, I was pulled over because there was a person on the FBI's most wanted list with the same name as me. He was a bomber, the guy that blew up the Olympic games that time. I ended up in a detainment room for hours, and they were just looking at a picture of the guy and then looking at me and going like, "Well, I think it's you..." I was saying, "I'm a rock musician, this is not a disguise. Would you please let me through?"
So you didn't do any hard time.
Justin: It made the day a bit awkward.
Do you have a tour lined up for after the album drops?
Justin: We're lining it up.
Lastly, because I feel like you're both super creative people and I think you'll have fun with this, please describe The Darkness in one sentence.
Justin: (laughs) Dan's got this. He's already written it.
Dan: (clears throat) Continuation is power. The Darkness, the band, which is well practiced. There is a mountain. There is a valley. And without also forgetting a drive. An early stage for an artist as for today, while experiencing a dynamism, in such a life the activities continued. To summarize: (clears throat) The Darkness, at the place which even makes such mysterious talk believe (laughs).
Spoken in perfect English.
Justin: Isn't that beautiful?
Dan: The Darkness will be quite three-dimensional episode. (laughs)
Wow. Thank you.
Dan: I've been thinking about that question for a while and that's what I came up with.
Justin: The Darkness... is a many splendored thing...semicolon; a national treasure, to the nation of mankind; a peace loving nation; a fun loving nation; our nation.
Dan: The Darkness... are not a national treasure; they are an international treasure.
Justin: The Darkness are.
That's a fact; there is no arguing that.
Dan: The crown jewels in the tower of rock. The Darkness are the newly hatched egg...
Justin: ...that have just fallen out of a golden chicken's asshole (laughs).
Wait, so the egg isn't even golden? The chicken itself is golden?
Justin: The Darkness are a slinky meandering slowly down the staircase of rock.
Pre-order Last of Our Kindhere, and check out the band's PledgeMusic page for some awesome one-of-a-kind gear.