Latest album: Easter is Cancelled (Cooking Vinyl)Website: www.thedarkness.com
If there’s one thing The Darkness knows, it’s rock and roll. If there’s another, it is that rock and roll is a fickle and unforgiving mistress, just as willing to make every dream come true as she is to smash them all apart. The Darkness has ridden that roller coaster as high and as fast as any before them and since, and their latest album is the story of that rocky road.
Easter is Cancelled, which is ready to land in October, is a song cycle that explores the musician’s relationship with their chosen art.
“The themes of the album are heartbreak and struggle, and questioning yourself as a rock musician in 2019,” explains bass player Frankie Poullain. “We had to temper it with a little humour or it would have sounded too baroque, a sad-sounding, baroque album.”
The Darkness’ method has always involved injecting a heavy dose of humour into proceedings, but this time out they have certainly outdone themselves, particularly with the laugh-out-loud ‘Heavy Metal Lover’ and the opening track, ‘Rock and Roll Deserves to Die,’ that somehow wrangles flutes and mandolins into the band’s usual guitar-heavy aesthetic. Clearly, Easter is Cancelled is more than the usual standard Darkness fare.
“I think it’s the most eclectic we’ve done, but I think it’s also the most fully realised because we spent nine months in the studio,” Poullain says. “We wanted to do a proper studio album this time. In the past we wanted to try and do it the same way we would play live and we would do a lot of the takes live. This time it’s completely different. It’s very warm sounding and there’s lots of colouring through the Mellotron, mandolin, acoustics.”
Taking extra time in the studio allowed the band to experiment with their sound and style, to explore the possibilities of the album’s themes in a deeper way. To that end, Easter is Cancelled delivers British pub rock, heavy metal, high energy arena rocking and even a punk song.
“It’s a cycle,” says Poullain, “kind of like the process of breaking up with a partner, and then you’ve fallen back in love – with music. And the process covers hard rock, jazz, metal fusion… there’s all kinds of music diversity on the album. We’ve also brought back on old song from 2001. Back when the band used to play pubs we played a song called ‘Live til I Die’, and for some reason we never got around to doing it. The time just seemed right this time, and that’s a song that’s 18 years old. That’s definitely the most traditional song on the album, and also we’ve got ‘Choke on It’, which is a punk song! It’s the first time we’ve tried to do a punk song.”
Those who’ve followed The Darkness would know this is a band that knows what it’s talking about. From breaking up at the height of their fame, to rehab stints and family estrangements, to re-establishing themselves as a rock powerhouse once again, Easter is Cancelled could well be the band’s own autobiography. But because it is an album by The Darkness, it plays like a celebration.
“We refuse to wallow, that’s the thing. The thing with most modern rock bands is that they tend to wallow in themes of alienation and despair. What we do is try to find a way out, and that’s the journey of the album, really. It starts out with ‘Rock and Roll Deserves to Die’ which is questioning rock and roll in this current age, and it ends up with ‘We Are the Guitar Men’ which is the end of the journey, and that’s redemption, really, and the luck of playing a guitar.”
Poullain even offers his own, rather more enigmatic theory, for the album’s storyline.
“It’s really about man’s relationship with wood,” he suggests, “because musical instruments and music really is all about wood. Classical music and violins and stringing them up and the vibrations of the wood… the image on the cover of the crucifix involved wood as well, and that’s how wood was used to execute people. So in a funny way, this album is about man’s relationship with wood.”
Whatever the bass player’s interpretation of Easter is Cancelled, this could well be the band’s most accomplished release. Frankie Poullain puts it down to the time spent in the studio, and relearning how to work as a team each day through the songwriting and recording process.
“Four heads are better than one. We find there’s a lot of decisions that have to be made, and at the end of the day, there’s arguments, but certainly I think we made the right calls on this one. We’re a family and we can give an opinion. Passion usually wins the day. The one that feels the most strongly about it will make the others stand back and say, ‘OK, he feels really passionate about this, let’s see what he has to say’. It’s a process, and to make something good you really have to go through that process.”
Importantly, the music has to come first.
“You create like an egoless environment,” he explains. “That’s the most important thing. You have to put your ego on the backburner and sacrifice that for the good of the music. Sometimes you have to admit, ‘OK, I could be wrong about this’. So what it needs, ultimately, is a lot of self-awareness.”
After such a long time in the studio, The Darkness are more than ready to be unleashed live once again, and Australia will see them touring in January.
“It’s such a privilege to be part of a live band. I’m so happy I’m in a proper rock and roll band with actual instruments without things like backing tracks and the like. There’s a few things we’ll be testing out live. I’ll be playing a classical guitar live on ‘Deck Chair’. That’s just me and Justin on that one, and that’s going to be scary for me, but that’s how it was written and we have to stay faithful to the album.”
‘Deck Chair’ is something way outside the box for The Darkness. Poullian admits he isn’t quite sure what Hawkins’ take on the track is, or how it will go down with a live audience.
“I have no idea with Justin was channeling. If look into The Darkness back catalogue, on occasion you tell when Justin goes into a character. You can hear it on ‘Open Fire’. That’s not Justin Hawkins singing, that’s a different guy, and I think he did it with ‘Deck Chair’ too. I think he went back to the 19th Century. It’s kind of a formal and ornate kind of character and he matched with this little thing that I came up with and the deckchairs are a metaphor for something, of love and bereavement and the end of something. It’s very moving. I think it’s a beautiful piece. I’m not sure what the fans are going to think of it live. It will be interesting.”
Like the latest album’s recording process, Frankie Poullain admits that the upcoming tour could be uncharted territory.
“This tour could be a learning experience for us as we’ll be doing things we’ve never done before.”