Interview: The Darkness

With an acclaimed new album, UK tour and the best Christmas single of recent years blasting out across the airwaves December Will Be Magic Again for Glam Rock renegades The Darkness.

Neill Barston caught up wth guitarist Dan Hawkins ahead of their show at Birmingham, O2 Academy on the 1st December.

Armed with a hit-laden debut album, The Darkness swiftly found themselves amid the global limelight with their infectious brand of unashamedly glammed-up classic rock. Their swagger was matched with success as they quickly gained a tally of three Brit Awards for their troubles, which prompted headline festival slots and global tours that delivered a loyal international following.

As guitarist Dan Hawkins explains, it’s been one heck of a ride over nearly two decades, emerging triumphant over naysayers dismissing them for their clear influences of heroes such as Queen, AC/DC and Thin Lizzy. While he admits that in true rock n’roll spirit they’ve endured their share of trials, including member departures and a split for several years, yet it seems they are now enjoying life as a re-united band more than ever.

These days, they are very ably aided by the services of Rufus Taylor, son of Queen’s Roger Taylor, on drums, who joined their ranks four years ago. Deftly demonstrating their renewed spark is their epic-sounding sixth studio album, Easter is Cancelled, described by frontman Justin as a concept record that’s “biblical” in scale. It’s seen them make a welcome return to the top 10 charts, with a collection of catchy riffs resounding with confidence.

“I’ve a slightly different take on the album to the other members as I produced it, as I have done with our past few records. With the previous albums, I’d be listening back to them looking out
for any mistakes I might have made, but that really wasn’t the case with our latest one. I think it sounds amazing,” enthuses Dan of their efforts to restore rock music to its glorious former pinnacle astride the top of the ever-shifting musical pecking order.

It’s this very subject on which Lowestoft’s finest appears to have trained its attentions – Rock and Roll Deserves to Die, lamenting in tongue-in-cheek fashion a perceived lacklustre state of their beloved genre. The track’s accompanying video is one of their most memorable to date, including a finale of Marshall amplifiers raining down from the sky.

“For that song, we went for essentially four styles of music in one – from Led Zeppelin, a Deep Purple scream, to Black Sabbath and AC/DC. It’s not something we are afraid to do with our music. “I do think that there are some really good bands out there, but a lot of what I hear is very linear sounding. So forget being authentic, what’s needed is some innovation to move things forward,” says

Their latest album, recorded and mixed at the guitarist’s self built Hawkland studio, Sussex, contains a number of standout moments including the crowdpleasing ballad Heart Explodes, hard rock tribute in the form of Heavy Metal Lover, and the defiant closing song, We Are the Guitar Men. As he relates, recording the album proved an intense experience, with a spirit of determination to ensure that it delivered its full potential.

“The one thing that I wanted to bring to the new album was just in terms of giving as much of my own studio time for it as was possible – allowing them to come back and spend as long as they wanted on it.

“It’s about as close as we’re ever going to get to making a concept album, with a definite thread of subjects covering life and death, and how we bring meaning to them,” he notes of their new release.

Beyond laying down their latest recordings, they’ve certainly not been slacking off on the live performances – enjoying performances last year with Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp’s band, The Hollywood Vampires. According to Dan, it was something of a surreal episode hanging out with some of the most famous musicians on the planet, yet it proved a blast.

“Our lives are pretty insane really – it was amazing to be playing those shows. I’m not someone that gets star struck, but with Johnny Depp I actually felt a bit freaked out that we were just hanging  out with him. But after talking to him backstage for about half an hour, he was actually pretty down to earth.”

Another major highlight from this summer was their invitation to join fellow Suffolk-raised star Ed Sheeran on his UK tour dates. The shows resulted in delivering footage that served as the basis for their Heart Explodes single, which revealed how they remain very much in their element on the road.

It seems the solo star took time out to chill out with them and share some tales from their home county.

“Ed was very affable indeed – he’d come and see us before and after our shows, which was nice. He’s the only person I can think of that when he is at gigs and there are fans are around, he actually goes up to people and asks them if they and their kids want selfies with him, rather than them having to ask for pictures.

In a world where we have things like Brexit and Trump, thank goodness that we’ve got Ed Sheeran,” adds Dan, who at 42, says that life in Sussex with his family, which now includes three children, is treating him very finely indeed.

He jokes that the two of his youngsters who appreciate the music of The Darkness, will be remaining on his Christmas present list this year.

“I’ve been a dad for 10 years now and it’s the best thing ever, and makes everything else you do worthwhile,” adds the guitarist, who says when he’s not in his studio, spending time with the family is his foremost priority. As he reflects on his career to date, he acknowledges the band’s success was hard-won through paying their dues for years on the live circuit. He recalls that both he and his brother were particularly musical from a young age, briefly playing in a group together called Vital Signs, which Dan joined up with when he was just 12 years old. But far from being overnight trailblazers, he says that it took a long while before they would ultimately make it in a late 1990s music scene that had been dominated by the tail end of Britpop acts.

“Before we got our deal, nobody wanted to sign us, including the label who eventually did. It was a long wait for us to make it – I was 27 and actually at the point where I thought we’d missed our chance. So Justin and I just thought we’d form a band playing the music that we wanted to play,” which would finally see their determination pay off, after self-financing their debut singles.

In terms of overall highlights, he says that while gaining the Brit Awards was something to celebrate at the time, it was subsequently gaining an Ivor Novello songwriting award that meant even more.

As for the present day, he enthuses that there will be plenty for fans to enjoy this time around, mixing their new material alongside a greatest hits set.

“It’s going to be really good to be playing some material we’ve not played before, and the whole thing about this being a concept album will be answered on this tour,” offers Dan of what we can expect from one of rock music’s great survivors as they continue boldly on their journey.


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