Interview: The Darkness

Friday 1 March 2013

Interview: The Darkness

Out of Darkness - Justin Hawkins walks his own path. 

"Nobody’s forgiven anybody," laughs Justin Hawkins, reflecting on the return of The Darkness. At home in Lowestoft, Suffolk, Hawkins is in his element, his next tour is weeks from kick off and the band’s most recent album Hot Cakes has satiated longtime fans enough not to ask for more from four men who, sadly, are still fleshing out differences and still find it difficult to even be in the same room.

"Unbearable, unbearable," he says of the first tour after the five-year breather. "That’s why it took so long to do it. It’s still unbearable now," he booms. "If we had four individual tour buses, and left me alone, it would happen. It’s very personal, very personal, I’d rather not talk about that stuff."

The Darkness – Hawkins, brother/guitarist Dan Hawkins, returned bassist Frankie Poullain and drummer Ed Graham – ended their hiatus in 2011 after a much-publicised rehab stint and less-publicised side projects. This isn’t to say Hawkins isn’t in the best shape he’s ever been, by his own admission he’s shaken the harder vices and is revelling in a drug-free quiet life; for now, he says, the press aren’t as interested in knocking on his front door. 

"When it was like that," he recalls, in the voice you would expect from a falsetto-singer, "they literally turned up and said 'we're going to write a story about you, would you like to comment or let us do our thing?' It was kind of like blackmail almost. But let’s not talk about that."

Interestingly, the seemingly fragile state of the band is off limits but discussing his drug abuse isn’t. Hawkins says it never affected his creativity because he was very controlling of what he would take and when.

"I think I was always terribly professional with drugs. There were certain environments where I wouldn’t do them and then every other environment where I would do them. I wouldn’t do it at a show, but I’d do it before and after, you know," he laughs.

Hawkins then offers a 'how-to' rundown of drug types vs. creativity. "I’ll give you examples of what’s been good and bad so far," he says seriously. "For music, sobriety’s good, and alcohol is okay, cocaine’s bad, heroin’s amazing, and marijuana is pretty good.

"So you have to be careful what you take and when you take it, and it’s just a constant battle. The best is sobriety; it’s the only thing that’s sustainable. Mind you," he chuckles, "think of all the great music that’s inspired by heroin."

In the opening verse of 'Every Inch Of You', the first track on Hot Cakes, Hawkins shrieks "Every man, woman and child wants to suck my cock." It’s a jape at the absurdity of glam-rock, but also a testament to the discourteous manner we’ve come to expect. Hot Cakes may have been The Darkness’ highest charting release in Australia (#15) and Germany (#16), but it pales in comparison to the 2003’s debut album Permission To Land ("It’s not our best by any means"). Hawkins puts the diminished results down to first-time label input from independent Wind-Up Records.

"I think people think they know how to A&R us," he says. "We’ve never had an A&R person before, but on [Hot Cakes] the label did have a bit of input and I don’t even know why really. They wanted us to keep on writing until we had songs that were right for radio and stuff, and I hate that stuff," he argues. "I’m really quite bitter about it to be honest and it won’t be happening again because the third album’s not the best.

"It’s not a true album if it’s had input from the record company. And that’s not just me being a punk; if it’s an artistic statement it should be from the artist and not from the artist and a focus group and somebody who thinks they know what they’re talking about."

This was destined to be the case though. In the early noughties, The Darkness were courted by all the majors, however early on, none had the "courage and the audacity" to sign them.

"We used to have three or four really quite highly placed scouts and they’d come to all of our shows and they’d all say the same thing, they’d say ‘your band is brilliant but we just don’t see where it fits in and we don’t know how to market it’," he remembers. "I’d say, ‘Well if you don’t know how to market this band you’re in the wrong job, you’ve got to put me on the cover of a magazine, put the music on the radio and people will buy it!’ I was completely correct."

Although they’ve had label ties with Atlantic Records since 2003, The Darkness have long prided themselves in their creative independence; receiving top 20 hits in the U.K. on the back of self-funding. Understandably, Hawkins wouldn’t consider himself successful if he were so easy to box.

"If our music did fit in I’d be more anxious to be honest, I don’t want to sound like other bands, it’s much more fun to be part of a movement and walk your own path."  

- Poppy Reid at The Music Network   

The Darkness tour Australia with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts this April.