The Darkness on What It Means to Release a True Rock N’ Roll Album
The Darkness are best known for their ability to walk a fine line between parody and sincerity. Yes, they technically are a British glam metal band that exists in 2017, and yes, what they write about is often hilarious and the clothes they don often equally as kitsch, but underneath the surface there’s plenty to take seriously. The guys genuinely love rock n’ roll. This became apparent back in 2007 when they released their debut “Permission to Land” and the subsequent smash single “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.” Their sound was awash with the beloved rock tropes of the 70’s and 80’s and while it seemed they didn’t take themselves too seriously, their musicianship was phenomenal, both sonically and lyrically. Each of their records, including their most recent album “Pinewood Smile,” due out Oct. 6, have been received quite well in their homeland, proving the guys are as clever, revealing and talented as they’ve ever been.
Lead singer Justin Hawkins and drummer Rufus Tiger Taylor (son of Queen’s Roger Taylor) met up with Entertainment Voice at the Gibson Guitar Showroom in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen to talk about their latest project and why mixing humor with rock n’ roll is so important to their success.
Compared to your previous works, was there anything different that inspired your approach for “Pinewood Smile”?
Rufus Tiger Taylor: No, not really. We ended up writing about 23 song ideas in two days, not all of them useable. We knew that it was quite a fun, fast process and it was going to work. So the second time around, we just took it a bit more seriously, I guess.
Justin Hawkins: The first session we did; we were just improvising. And it was literally just, ‘Three, two, one, go!’, with no clue as to what the first note each person would play. It was full-on, four people improvising, lyrically riffing. We did end up with a load of stuff and none of it was usable, as Ruf said. Actually, one of the bonus tracks came out from that (session).
Taylor: There were a couple of ideas (that) we stole. Little guitar parts here and there.
Hawkins: To answer the question, there probably wasn’t anything that we wanted to simulate or were inspired. It was just in the room.
Would you describe the sound on this album any differently than previous projects?
Hawkins: I feel like it’s a bit more of a modern sounding record. Things like the “Barbara” song, “Lay Down With Me, Barbara,” I don’t think we’ve done anything like that before. I fee like it’s us trying to do something that’s a bit, sort of, colorful…summer-y. I think it achieves it a bit when the (guitar) solo happens, but before that, it’s four very English guys, well, very UK guys, trying to do California. It ends up sounding a bit like Spandau Ballet or something like that. That’s where all the best music is; when you’re trying to achieve something and you fall short of it, but it’s your own thing. So that’s one of the things that’s totally different. And also the “Heaven” one (“I Wish I Was in Heaven”) as well, that’s not like anything we’ve done before.
Taylor: It’s like an “American Girl,” Tom Petty type of song. It’s nice to have the odd change-up every now and then because it gives you that… like when we listened to the first copy of the vinyl for the first time altogether, it really takes you on a little journey. It’s not all the same thing, song after song. It splits it up nicely I think.
As a band, how important is it to play your brand of rock in a world where rock music isn’t as fetishized as it once was?
Taylor: I think it’s very important. I think we’re flying the old flag very well, in my opinion. I don’t think there is really anyone doing it.
Hawkins: It’s a weird genre, isn’t it? It’s so heritage-based. When a band tries to do something within it that’s challenging in any direction other than the way it used to be, then there’s resistance to it. People are really precious about the way it should be done. (To Rufus) You’ve got very modern influences. Frankie (Poullain) listens to Serge Gainsbourg and The Carpenters. My brother (Dan Hawkins) is really into folk music. We’re not just inspired by the things that we’re supposed to listen to. I think that comes across in the music sometimes and it upsets people. Classic Rock, the magazine that I think we were really hoping to get some sustained support from, because we feel like we’re young enough to actually do something important with this kind of music. (Points to Rufus) Well, he is (laughs). Now that we’ve got Rufus, the average age has reduced to the point where we might have an opportunity to do something important with it. (Classic Rock Magazine) just annihilated the album and it’s like ‘Fuck you. Fuck you, go listen to White Snake.’ I love White Snake, but at the end of the day, you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. You can’t win. The best thing to do is to just be The Darkness and celebrate the fact that it is a bit different. It’s not quite what you expect, until it is. And then one-day people will understand. That day hasn’t arrived yet, I don’t think.
Your first single from the new album “All The Pretty Girls” describes the increased attention from girls you received once The Darkness became famous rock stars. What drove you to write this song at this point in your careers?
Hawkins: The pretty girls-thing was… I’ll tell you a secret, actually. A few years ago, I was asked if I’d sing for a band that had Duff Mckagen (Guns N’ Roses) in it. It was gonna be a supergroup-y thing. They gave me some backing tracks and I tried to write a song with the backing tracks and that was the idea I had. All the pretty girls like me for who I am and the record goes platinum. That was like, the sentiment of that. We didn’t end up doing that band, because I ended up doing Darkness again, it was sort of that period in between. So I’ve always had that thing. On the last album I was trying to get that in there. It’s just something (where) I’ve been waiting for the right riff to be able to sing it nicely. Just waiting for the right home. I don’t want that song to be like a ‘Yea, you’re in a band ‘cus girls like you,’ because it’s not that. It’s more like your success is intrinsic (to) your personality. And also, I think people who have had success carry themselves in a slightly different way and they’re more attractive.
“Solid Gold” has a number of funny lines in it, including the chorus where you sing “We’re never gonna stop/Shitting out solid gold.” How important is humor, or even hubris, in your music?
Hawkins: (Our music) doesn’t have to make you laugh, but if it’s too dour or introspective or serious, to me it just sounds pretentious. And I never want to listen to music that sounds like that. Queen’s not like that, Led Zeppelin’s not like that, I don’t think AC/DC’s like that, certainly not the Bon (Scott) era. I can’t always hear what Brian (Johnson)’s on about (laughs). The Bon era is just hilarious isn’t it? I mean, his stuff’s amazing. To me, without (humor), it’s not the complete picture.
Taylor: Just having fun with it, I think.
Hawkins: Yea, and just acknowledging (what) the whole existence is. The things that you aspire to do, it’s ridiculous. Like, normal people would…
Hawkins: Yea, (they) wouldn’t believe it’s happening. You have to celebrate those things I think. That’s the beauty of doing this job.
Speaking of humor, “Southern Trains” is a damning, albeit hilarious, look at a certain UK railway which you call in the song “a journey into pure despair.” Have you heard a response from fans who’ve identified with your grievance?
Hawkins: Two days ago in the Metro, which is like the London paper that you get on trains in the Underground system, people who commute read it, they did a thing about how The Darkness had done a song about Southern Rail. Today actually, there was another one where readers responded to that article and said ‘Oh yea, we agree with The Darkness’ (laughs).
Have you heard anything from the railway company?
Hawkins: No. But I’ve seen Tweets where both The Darkness and the railway are tagged in it. I imagine it’s just a matter of time before the lawyers come looking around. It’s so expensive to get trains in England, and they’re really shit. Where’s the upside? We’re making friends with that song I think, because everyone on that line has the same experience. It’s a load of rubbish.
Rufus, will you tell us about what happened over the summer which allowed you to become a momentary member of the Foo Fighters?
Taylor: I was just at Glastonbury to see them, really. They called me when they arrived, told me to come meet them in their dressing room. So I went and met them, then Dave (Grohl) and Taylor (Hawkins) went off to a press thing for a half-an-hour, do a couple of interviews. The main one, on BBC 1, they were 10 seconds out of being filmed, and Dave just basically dragged me on, chucked a microphone in my hand and told me to pretend to be Nate (Mendel) the bass player. So, I did (laughs). (The interviewer) said “What’s your name?” I said, “Nate.” So he said “Here we have Dave, Rufus and Nate,” and they just completely left out Taylor (laughs)! We just cracked up, and he never corrected it even when he realized he went wrong. It was really funny.
Justin, how have you enjoyed singing with Rufus, the newest addition to The Darkness?
Hawkins: (Initially), we were trying to get Rufus to do backing vocals. He’s done it with Queen, he’s done it on the biggest of stages. So we wanted to see if we could utilize that and make our live shows more impressive. Of course, it does have that effect, but he’s got a cadence and a way of expressing words that is really quite nice to listen to. So we thought, get him singing. I mean, we have Frankie singing a song and he doesn’t have those things (laughs)! So it stands to reason that we should use that, because it’s nice. So, he’s singing the main vocal and I’m singing the harmony over them on two of the songs on the album. It really works. We’re hoping we can find a way to do it live.
“Pinewood Smile” is available Oct. 6 on Apple Music and the U.S. leg of The Darkness’ tour kicks off March 29 at L.A.’s Fonda Theatre and play Brooklyn Steel in Brooklyn, NY April 20.