The Summer of 2015 sees the return of a an undeniable force in rock as multi-award winning band THE DARKNESS triumphantly return with their most powerful album to date — ‘Last of Our Kind.’
‘Last of Our Kind’ is the meaty and impassioned follow-up to 2012’s ‘Hot Cakes,’ which saw the band reunited having enjoyed a well-publicized and well-deserved hiatus. As distinguished guests of Def Leppard, The Darkness destroyed Download Festival in 2011, then waved goodbye to their loved ones and toured planet Earth for over 18 months. They rounded off 2013 with a celebratory tour marking the 10th Anniversary of their legendary Number One debut album, ‘Permission to Land,’ which featured the classics “I Believe In a Thing Called Love” and “Get Your Hands Off My Woman.” It was the fastest-selling debut album by a British band in America since The Spice Girls.
‘Last of Our Kind’ is the fourth studio album by The Darkness and was produced by guitarist Dan Hawkins. Penned in Ireland and is bursting with the very finest rock-based music available to mankind, as one might expect. Additionally, ‘Last of Our Kind’ is the first album by the iconic band to feature new drummer Emily Dolan Davies. She replaces original drummer Ed Graham who departed under mysterious circumstances. Having been drumming since 1999, Emily has played with everybody from the likes of Bono, Bryan Ferry and Tricky. Now she has shown herself to be equal to the ultimate music challenge. A legend in her own right, Davies brings an undeniable new spark to this already amazing rock and roll outfit.
The band recently unveiled the animated video for lead single ‘Barbarian’, a typically hefty piece of riffmongery that only The Darkness could bring to life in such a unique way. Frontman Justin Hawkins describes the song as having “not one but two dramatic monologues, a guitar solo that has been declared ‘irresponsible,’ a riff that weakens lady-knees and a chorus that makes grown men shit directly into their pants. The lyrics describe the Viking invasion of East Anglia which culminated in the decapitation of Edmund the Martyr. So yeah, classic Darkness.”
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with guitarist/producer Dan Hawkins to discuss the band’s longevity, the inspiration for and creation of ‘Last of Our Kind’ and what the legendary band might have in store for us in the years to come!
It is a treat to talk with you today, Dan. I have been a fan of The Darkness for quite some time.
Great stuff! A long suffering fan!
Going back to your early years, what are some of your earliest memories of music?
Oh, blimey! My parents were quite into their rock ‘n’ roll. They used to party quite a lot. It was the ‘70s, so it was definitely acceptable to have lots of people around, drink lots, smoke lots and play the music really loudly with the kids upstairs! My earliest memories of music are trying to get to sleep but not being able to because of the sound of rock ‘n’ roll downstairs!
What performers had the biggest impact on you early on?
Much like a lot of people, my main influences were the music my parents were listening to. My dad was a big Queen fan. He was also into Neil Young, Deep Purple and David Bowie. He loved artists like those and was a bit of a Pink Floyd fan. The type of music you like is very much defined by the type of drugs you take, isn’t it! [laughs] My parents were more drinkers than smokers, so less Pink Floyd and more Blondie, Rolling Stones and so on and so forth! [laughs]
They say the music business isn’t for those faint of heart. What made you pursue music as a career?
That is an interesting one. Primarily, you don’t think of it as a career when you are young. My brother and I picked things up from when we were very young. I was playing and a competent drummer by the age of 8 and learned to play guitar a bit, and certainly bass, by the age of 12. At that time, I was playing in pubs on bass. I only ended up being a guitarist by default really. I also thought I would be a drummer or a bass player. I wanted to sit in the back and not really have to do much! [laughs] Unfortunately, things didn’t really work out that way! I happened to be in a band where the guitarists were pretty dire. We were in the studio for our first proper session with this name producer, Rick Nowels. The guitarist was taking so long to get this one really simple guitar part and it was ruining the whole session. The producer called time and said, “Everyone go to a break.” I stuck back and started to chat with him. He said, “Do you think you could do this guitar part?” I said, “Yeah, I can do it in no time.” I put it down in one take. The singer came back and heard it and fired the guitarist straight away! [laughs] I started playing guitar and that is where I have been ever since! I never really thought it would happen that way. If anything, I thought I might be a studio engineer or someone else behind the screen, if you know what I mean.
The Darkness has had their fair share of highs and lows over the years. Is there any secret to the longevity of the band?
Blimey, yeah. We have had our tough times, yeah. It’s like a marriage isn’t it? There are ups and downs but you just have to keep sticking to it. People always ask me advice for up and coming bands, the only thing you can really advise them to do is never give up and not change what you are doing because it is not particularly trendy at that point in time. There are so many great musicians that haven’t really gotten anywhere because one minute country-rock is the big thing and the next alternative-grunge is the next big thing and they keep changing what they do to suit what they think people might like. At some point in life, you basically have to put your flag in the ground and say, “This is what I do. It is who I am.” The sooner you do that, the better. I think that is what has kept us going all this time.
The Darkness will soon release “Last of Our Kind.” What goals or expectations did you have for the album going into the process?
The main thing was I got to be a bit more in control of what happens on this record. I got to engineer it, produce it and mix it. We were finally able to have one vision, so it wasn’t watered down at all. We were able to actually see through what we wanted to do in the first place. I guess the main thing was a realization after the last record. which was it doesn’t matter how good the people working on the record are it is going to get watered down if you use different people to do the different elements of the album. One of the main objectives was that we shouldn’t think of ourselves as songwriters anymore. [laughs] It sounds stupid but at some point someone handed us the Ivor Novello Award for Songwriter of The Year and, at that point, we thought we must be great songwriters, whereas, we are primarily riff writers. That is what we should be anyway and that is what I tried to put right on this album. I tried to get back to the way we did the first record, which was to find an unbeatable riff and then try to turn that into a song, rather than writing a song and trying to add a riff to it. Most of the backing tracks on this album can be played instrumentally and will still sound really tidy. That is what we really wanted to go for!
The Darkness always had a sort of medieval vibe through the music and the same is true of this new album. What took you guys down that road early on?
Yeah, we have always had an element of that, especially on the first record. Songs like “Black Shuck,” where it is basically storytelling about East Indian folklore, or “Curse of the Tollund Man,” which was one of the B-Sides from that campaign, have always been there. I think Justin [Hawkins] just has a keen interest in history and he just got his teeth into a couple of ideas really. For whatever reason, I think it really suits our sound. There was no real theme and I can’t even remember why we started it or went down that route! [laughs]
It seems to be working for you! [laughs]
Thanks! Yeah! [laughs]
What can you tell us about the typical writing process for the band at this point in time?
I suppose it is always changing really. As I said, I think it is more a case of having a bunch of riffs or a backing track that really kicks ass before Justin will attempt to write anything over top of it vocally. We were really, really harsh on ourselves on “Last of Our Kind.” Anything less than really, really brilliant wasn’t going to cut it. We actually started writing for this record a long time ago on the tour with Lady Gaga, which was a long time ago. We had a lot of stock to choose from. I would say we had 30 to 40 songs this time. We wanted to write in inspirational surroundings as well. We wanted to be inspired instead of just writing to do something because it was time to do it. We wanted to do something because we were inspired to do so. We started off the writing sessions in Ibiza and then we moved to Glenshire Island, which is just off the west coast of Ireland. It is a very remote, and I would say medieval, island. I think that is where we drew a lot of inspiration for songs like “Roaring Waters” and “Barbarian.”
You have some new blood in the band these days with drummer Emily Dolan Davies. What are your recollections of meeting her and what does she bring to The Darkness?
It is a real shot in the arm for us. So far, the people who have seen Emily play live have been completely blown away, just as we have. It is really great that someone is flying the flag for female drummers in hard rock. It is unheard of really. She is great! When we first got together to play, it was in my bedroom. [laughs] Basically, I set up the whole band in my bedroom and made some sort of makeshift soundproofing on the walls. I have to say, I didn’t do it particularly well! [laughs] We fired up and we were playing as the rooms shuddered and everything was falling down around us! She must have thought we were a complete bunch of fucking idiots for the most unprofessional audition she had ever seen! [laughs] I knew straight away that she was a perfect fit! I really wanted to make a record without click tracks, without a metronome guiding the drummer and keeping the drummer in time. I didn’t want any mucking around on Pro Tools or anything like that. I wanted it to be whole takes. Apart from one song, which is cut between two takes, every song on this record she has done in one take! It was literally myself, her and Frank playing together and that is it. I think you can really hear it on the album. I know we are all very happy with her.
As a producer, what is the biggest challenge of making this new album as both an artist and a producer?
Weirdly, the thing I find the hardest as a producer when I am producing my own band is that I find it so hard to not really pay attention to my guitars as much as I do everyone else’s parts. By that, I mean I will go to the nth degree to get the drum sound I want! Fucking tedious! I can’t settle for anything less than a brilliant drum sound and then I get to the point where I am overdubbing my guitar and tracking them down and I have to try not to rush. I think because I have been a producer/engineer all of that time, I find it to be an inconvenience recording guitars! [laughs] I would much prefer someone else do them! I had a really good assistant on this record, who is also a guitarist, so I spent a bit more time than I normally would on my guitar. I think this album came out being one of the best sounding albums I have been involved with.
You have seen a lot of changes in the music industry over the past decade plus. What is the biggest obstacle you face today as a member of a band like The Darkness?
I guess the biggest obstacle is being able to fund the art. That is the bottom line. Essentially, I think we have reached a broader audience through the videos and that kind of output that we have had. Making videos, for instance, like “I Believe In A Thing Called Love,” cost a lot of money. To get to that level of production is quite a production. These days, the money is just not there and people aren’t buying the records for $13.99 in the millions. They are buying the song they like that they heard on the album or they have already downloaded it for free. Ultimately, there is just less money in the industry, which means you have to work harder to make things happen. There is less freedom in a way. Some musicians would argue that is not the case and, because it is a level playing field, people have to use their brains a bit more. I just think if the budget wasn’t there, some of my favorite films would never have been made and this is the case with albums and videos these days. Do you know what I mean? Record companies used to invest a lot of money into making albums, putting out videos and developing bands but the money just isn’t there anymore, so we aren’t getting the chance to do the more outrageous things that we could once do.
Looking back on your career so far, how have you most evolved as an artist and where might you see yourself headed in the future?
I often think about that. You look at the Rolling Stones and you think, “They are showing no signs of stopping in their 80s!” Look at AC/DC and the fucking bullshit they have had to deal with over the past year and they are still going on tour! [laughs] We’re not fucking stopping! [laughs] I’ve got the feeling that is really how we see ourselves now. I certainly do! It’s hard work being away from your family but ultimately it is the best job in the world, so why the hell would we want to stop doing it? I love producing bands and I will continue to produce The Darkness as long as The Darkness wants me to produce them. If I have time to produce anyone else, I will certainly do that but my priority is being the guitarist in The Darkness, rather than the producer. I would definitely consider working with another producer, perhaps even on the next record. Who knows? I am always open to learning from people and seeing what else others can bring. I do seriously think that we can possibly regenerate some sort of glam rock revival in a way! [laughs] I still think the hard rock riff in a tuneful way is something that will never die. If anything I think it will have a resurgence in popular music. Who knows, maybe we will be the ones to do it again! We will be there trying, that’s for sure!
Absolutely! Thanks for your time today, Dan! “Last of Our Kind” is definitely a record to be proud of and we look forward to spreading the word!
Brilliant! Thank you so much, Jason!
CONNECT WITH THE DARKNESS:
The Darkness is Justin Hawkins (vocals/lead guitar), Dan Hawkins (guitars/backing vocals), Frankie Poullain (bass/backing vocals) and Emily Dolan Davies (drums/backing vocals). ‘Last of Our Kind’ – due out June 1st through partnership with Kobalt Label Services.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.