Latest Release: Last of Our Kind (Canary Dwarf)
British hard rockers The Darkness have lived the rock’n’roll dream to excess and still managed to come out the other side intact. Thanks largely to a self-imposed extended hiatus, that escape valve method enabled the band members to reunite both older and wiser. Now back in the country and touring in support of their latest album Last of Our Kind, guitarist Dan Hawkins spoke to Loud Online about the band, touring and the skills needed to continue playing rock in today’s industry climate.
You’re coming down to Australia again.
Yeah, should be fun. It’s always fun, isn’t it.
What are your recollections of playing the Big Day Out around a decade ago and how does it compare to headlining shows?
Oh, well, the BDO was pretty special. That tour was a really good laugh. Everyone stayed in the same hotels so we were in the lobby afterwards just getting annihilated really and you never knew who you’d be sitting next to – it was Muse, Metallica, The Flaming Lips – all these guys and it was a laugh. Your own tours are always the best because you can do what you want really. Festivals are fun and I’d love to play BDO again but that is probably not going to happen. Festivals can be like a challenge show to some extent but we seem to do quite well at fessies because we like to do our show and whatnot and wear clothes that can be seen for miles, sometimes hundreds of miles. Haha. Everyone prefers their own shows because there is a lot that can go wrong at festivals.
Are you intending to focus on the new album considerably on the coming tour?
Yeah, we’re playing four or five tracks from the new album. If it was letting the side down and the set wasn’t sounding so good with those new tunes in it, we wouldn’t play them because we are quite ruthless. We are very strict with making sure the best songs are in the set, not just because they are new. We’ll play half the new album and loads of old stuff that people know. We may even play stuff from the next album as well.
Do you find that when you’re writing an album now that you have to consider live performance?
Well, yeah, to some extent you do. It is quite easy to disappear up your ass and write long meandering ballads but ultimately you realise that no one wants to go to a Darkness concert and listen to ballads. Well, I don’t, haha. So it has to be within reason. It needs to be able to be enjoyable playing it live to have it on the album. That is the key.
There is a decent amount going on there so did much time go into overdubbing and mixing?
It was relatively quick. The whole album was recorded within three weeks but we rehearsed it pretty well beforehand and we did extensive demoing. So, we went in and we knew exactly what we were going to do. It was a lot quicker than you’d think and was probably the quickest album we’ve ever made.
The comparison to Led Zeppelin and The Cult in some songs has to be mentioned but in a good way. It is just an unavoidable subconscious by-product of your influences?
Oh yeah, I’ll take all of those. If we’re being compared to really shit bands then I wouldn’t like those comparisons but when people say things like The Cult, Queen and Led Zep, AC/DC, then that is fine with me. If anything we try not to sound like them and to not sound like anything that has been done before. We have our influences and some things get through. If things are too close to another band’s sound or songs then the songs gets ditched, sometimes.
I would have thought Rufus Taylor [drummer] would have to be aware of it given his ancestry.
Oh yeah, he is a fully-fledged member of the band and provides a lot of influence when it comes to the song writing. There is a song we’re playing live that we’re yet to record which he came up with the title for so we are all knee deep into classic rock from our past.
Classic rock will probably never go away. It is the bass thump that keeps it alive?
That is interesting. I don’t think that it will ever go away but the people who have been at the top of the game for hard rock or old school rock, whatever you want to call it, are not getting any younger. It seems to be a rare thing that people refuse to stop doing so maybe we are another one of those bands. Looking at the age range, the big guns of Kiss, AC/DC and Aerosmith might even be going for another twenty odd years whereas we’ve probably got another forty years. So, I’d say that rock is safe for at least another forty years. I’ll probably get hit by a f**king bus tomorrow having said that.
How much does having an external producer help?
Well, on the last album, not all because we didn’t have one as I did it all and engineered and mixed it. But, I think that on the next record, we’re probably going to look to someone else. I mean, I’ll definitely do it if the guys want me to but for the last album, the plan was to get someone else but the guys liked the demos that I did so much that they asked me to do it. So I guess the key is that I’ve got to make the demos really sh*t this time and then maybe they’ll go and pass it on to someone else to do it.
The workload in doing that is quite substantial. How did you manage it?
Yeah, that is why I don’t want to do it. I am only joking but it is really intense. It takes four months of my life completely out. It can take maybe more than that where I don’t see my kids, have no social life and I’m working maybe fifteen or sixteen hours a day. I’m fine with that because you do get obsessed with things and I do love it but I think that I might let someone else do the next one. Also, it is because I want to learn as well, you know.
The weird thing is how the industry has changed today. A lot of people listen to music on their little mp3 player ear buds so may not appreciate the amount of work that you’ve put into it.
Oh, tell me about it. You’ve got to put that out of your mind when you’re making a record, really. I do try to listen to stuff on decent formats. I much prefer to listen to vinyl and CDs. For the albums that I have, I try to listen to the .wav file versions. You’ve got to, really.
The vinyl release for the latest album is nice, big and heavy.
Yeah it is and I had to approve the vinyl mastering because you need to be more careful when mastering for the bottom end because you can kick the needle out. So you have to take that into account and that is quite exciting. I love vinyl and this is a tangible thing. I was at a friend’s place a few weeks ago, went to the pub and had a few pints then had some coffee at his place whilst sticking a record on. Whilst chatting I was going through his record collection and picking out the next one. There is just something very right about it.
You must be happy with the Led Zeppelin reissues?
Oh definitely, yeah, even though I’ve got the vinyl it is good to hear them mastered slightly differently. I like stuff when it is left alone and I know that some things sound sonically better but what is better? I like the nasty, mid-range sound of vinyl.
Guitar wise, was it your influences that got you into Gibson guitars?
My dad had a Les Paul copy, like a really shit, cheap one lying around at home. That was the thing, so that when Justin [Hawkins – vocals and guitar] and I thought about the electric guitar, that is what we thought about. So that is what informed our choice when we could finally afford to buy a guitar.
Amplifiers wise, Marshall and Gibson are a meat and potatoes combination.
Yeah, I’m all Marshall now. I was using a Wizard for a while but my brother stole it from me because he really loves it. So he has a combination of Wizard and Marshall. Those Wizard amps are wild and AC/DC use those. I can see why.
Justin does a lot of the guitar solos. Do you do some yourself or trade them off to him?
I’d say that he ends up doing sixty percent. The ones that sound like they have been recorded by someone wearing a pair of boxing gloves are mine. The ones with a modicum of technique are Justin’s solos. But he had lessons, I didn’t, I taught myself and that is the difference.
Most four piece set ups in rock have the side guitarist playing lead as opposed to rhythm.
I know but it is great for me because everyone thinks that I am doing all of those solos too until they come and see me live and they think, ‘oh, he’s just playing fucking A,G and D’, haha.
The hiatus for the band and side projects or excursions were interesting. When you reconvened, were there ways of approaching it to address issues before they appeared again?
Oh yeah, well I think that we just argue a lot more now and I think that is really important. What went really wrong, apart from the fact that we all got completely fucked up beyond recognition for every single night for about five years, was the fact that we weren’t really talking or communicating with each other. So, if someone had a problem, it would just stay in their own little bubble, not get talked about and get bigger so all these problems happened to where it all finally exploded. So we argue over everything now and are completely honest so that it is out there. People think that we are on the verge of splitting up when they now walk into a dressing room and hear us arguing but it is completely the opposite.
Did Richie [Edwards – ex bassist] taking lead vocals cause any issues with dynamics of the band?
The main reason that the thing completely stopped was because we just had to stop, really. That was just more about everyone stopping taking what they were taking and drinking what they were drinking. We’d just got ourselves into a mess. The vibe of the band with Richie for that tour was great but my brother just needed a break from everything.
What would you say is the most cohesive album from The Darkness back catalogue?
Very predictably I will say the latest album. It is the case though, maybe because I produced, engineered, mixed and demoed it. It was just the band’s ideas and I was trying to relate those as well as I could. We definitely had an agenda for the record to be more riff based and I think it all sits together really nicely in forming the album.
The lyrics and their innuendo for your music can be pretty funny and reminiscent of Bon Scott. Do you find yourselves laughing yourself silly over them?
God bless you, Bon Scott. Sometimes when Justin comes up with something like that we might have a giggle about it. But I think that the main thing is not to make you laugh out loud but it is to make people think, really. That is the key because we make people laugh out loud live and sometimes for the wrong reasons. But the main thing is to just enjoy what you do and be true to yourself. You know what, we like to have a laugh and we think that having fun, being happy and having a laugh with each other is the most important thing that we do.
The Darkness are on tour this month:
6/11: HQ, Adelaide SA
7/11: Metropolis, Fremantle WA
8/11: Tivoli, Brisbane QLD
11/11: The Forum, Melbourne VIC
13/11: Enmore Theatre, Sydney NSW