It’s been almost two years since The Darkness charged onto Aussie stages with their powerful new lineup and a collection of fresh material from the 2015 release, Last of Our Kind. Back then, the band had just recruited their third drummer in a year, Rufus Tiger Taylor (Queen Drummer, Roger Taylor’s son). Original members, Justin Hawkins (lead vocals, lead guitar), Dan Hawkins (guitar, backing vocals) and Frankie Poullain (bass, backing vocals) have always been a force to be reckoned with but the addition of Rufus has changed the way they play—adding new life and an amped-up sound.
The band has been hard at work on their fifth studio album, and has just arrived in Australia for Groovin The Moo and a string of headline shows. TEO was lucky enough to touch base with the infamous catsuit-wearing king Justin Hawkins during some time off from recording. Surrounded by English greenery and an abundance of frogs, Justin reveals his thoughts on the state of rock ‘n’ roll today and how The Darkness ended up on the 2017 GTM lineup—it’s safe to say that his banter game is still strong.
TEO: You recently had a birthday—in fact, it was exactly two weeks ago. Happy belated birthday! How does it feel to be 28?
Justin: Well, I had been looking forward to it, to be honest, because 27 is obviously the dangerous year. It’s just nice to finally turn the corner. I’m entering my prime now: 28-50, you know, the golden era for me. So, I’m just excited to get started.
Onto more serious things, how do you feel about the current state of rock ‘n’ roll and the future of the music industry?
There have been really good advances in recording technology but then people use it in the wrong way [laughs]. Everyone knows that vinyl sounds better and that should make it a worthwhile format to buy and own—like collecting books. There’s a difference between collecting books and looking at some words on a computer screen. It’s the same difference, for me, as it is between streaming and buying records. But not everybody is a hobbyist like that, and if you want maximum reach, then you have to play the game.
Unfortunately, for bands like us, the game is rigged. You’ve got to be 17 years old, not 27—can’t be 27 anymore—and you’ve got to wear really tight jeans. I’m okay with that bit, I can do that. You’ve got to have your hair side parted with some shaved bits. I can’t do that; I think I would rather kill myself [laughs].
There’s a greater or lesser degree to which I care and I don’t think I can care enough to be successful in the pop music area again. I am, however, expanding my collection of catsuits. I’m not gonna tell you what colours they are but suffice to say that to describe them as colours may be inaccurate. Perhaps, I should say that they’re more metals or elementary: they’re shiny, um, one of them is silver and one of them is gold, basically. I managed to keep that one a secret.
I might be rambling a bit here—did I answer the question?
Ah, yeah—you sort of did. What do you think about the state of rock ‘n’ roll at the moment?
Oh yeah, it’s fucked. They’re all fucked. They’re going under. They always say that rock ‘n’ roll is dead; this time they’re right [laughs]. I’m just kidding. I think there are loads of really great bands out there: you’ve got Aerosmith still going; AC/DC are still going—they sound brilliant with Axl; Guns N’ Roses: still going, sounding great. These bands are filling out stadiums, and sooner or later, young bands are gonna realise that if you wanna fill out stadiums and play the kind of music that belongs in stadiums, then you’ve gotta stop fucking around and start playing proper music like The Darkness does. Maybe I’m biased [laughs].
I was actually surprised to hear that you’re gonna be playing Groovin The Moo, ’cause you’ve toured with heavy bands like Metallica in the past, and the other bands in the Groovin’ The Moo lineup have a pretty different sound. How did it come about?
We were asked if we wanted to play a touring festival in Australia which would probably sell out before they announced the bands. We were like, ‘fucking hell, of course we do,’ [laughs]. We’d love to play to a captive audience that’s already paid for tickets, and potentially make some new friends.
There’s a lyric in ‘Every Inch Of You’ from Hotcakes, that says “I’m in a band with my brother and my two best mates,” but you’ve now parted ways with [original drummer] Ed, said goodbye to your second drummer and taken on Rufus. How is the dynamic of the band with Rufus on board?
I’m glad you chose that line to ask me about. I just got a new best mate. When Rufus came along, as soon as he turned up we knew he was a mega star. Definitely too young for us ’cause he’s obviously only 26 and I’m like a full two years older than him [laughs]. He’s just got a brilliant attitude and you can tell he was brought up around rockstarness. He knows how to do it, he knows why we all do it; he’s super talented and a really great laugh. It’s the same thing: it’s my brother and my two best mates, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Apparently you consider Australia to be one of your strongest markets. You do have three headline shows in Melbourne, alone, with two of them sold-out. Does this happen often in other cities around the world?
Yeah, there are some cities where that’s the case. Boston is very good for us, in America. London’s always really good for us. The places where we go and make the effort and we try our hardest, I think we get rewarded for that—especially when you have to travel a long way. I feel like Australia is the place that appreciates the work that we do and the effort that we make, and we love ’em for it, so we’ll always come back.
Can you tell me about the creative process of the upcoming album? Have you done anything differently this time?
Yeah, we’re working with a producer that’s not in the band, for the first time in a couple of albums. His name is Adrian Bushby and he’s been working with Foo Fighters and Muse and some other top-end, modern rock goliaths—he’s making us sound 26 again. He knows how to make everything really powerful. We’re not playing with any click tracks; we’re putting the backing tracks down live and I’ve been singing them as we go along.
It’s different with Rufus. The way he plays is totally different, and has changed the way we play. He’s as powerful as you could possibly imagine. He’s really hitting them hard and breaking stuff, but he’s super in time and he’s quite technical as well. The challenge is keeping up with him and once we do that it sounds amazing. That’s what we’re trying to achieve—to keep up with racy Rufus [laughs].
Finally, the most important question is: do you believe in a thing called love, or is it only a feeling?
[laughs] As soon as you started to ask it, I thought ah, she’s gonna ask that. Yeah, I firmly believe in a thing called love; I think it’s a diagnosable, recognisable emotion in the spectrum of emotions that we have to endure as humans. It is only a feeling—a fucking powerful one. It could heal us all, couldn’t it? It could save the world, or it could tear us apart. Suffice to say the answer is yes and yes! [laughs]
HEADLINE TOUR DATES
Thursday April 27 – Eatons Hill, Brisbane (18+)
Tuesday May 2 – Max Watts, Melbourne (18+)
Wednesday May 3 – 170 Russell, Melbourne (18+) – sold out
Friday May 5 – 170 Russell, Melbourne (18+) – 3rd and final show
Wednesday May 10 – Enmore Theatre, Sydney (Lic/Aa)
Friday May 12 – Metro City, Perth (18+)
Headline show tickets available here.
GROOVIN THE MOO TOUR DATES
Friday 28 April – Wayville
Saturday 29 April – Maitland
Sunday 30 April – Townsville
Saturday 6 May – Bendigo
Sunday 7 May – Canberra
Saturday 13 May – Bunbury
Groovin The Moo tickets available here.
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Photo: Simon Emett