SMELL THE GLOVE: A Slightly Combative Q&A With Justin Hawkins Of The Darkness



Tom BeckBY TOM BECK The Darkness makes the kind of music I have always despised — cheesy ’80s-style poodle-haired glam metal, complete with ludicrously flamboyant clothing and obnoxious tongue-wagging guitar solos. But for some reason, when The Darkness played their brand of anachronistic rock and roll, I learned to dig it. I got a kick out of the irreverent absurdity of the lyrics and the painstaking attention to the aesthetic details of their performance and the undeniable fact that these dudes could shred. Also the novelty of front man Justin Hawkins’s singing voice, which sounded like a toddler huffing a helium balloon. But his lyrics were genius; only after the thousandth time listening to “Growing On Me” did I realize the song was actually a double entendre about contracting genital warts. But behind the brilliant stupidity of the lyrics and skintight buffoonery of their wardrobe, The Darkness actually takes itself far more seriously than you would think of a band whose stock in trade is nouveau cock-rock burlesque, which, as you’ll read below, I found out the hard way. Appropriately, The Darkness will bring their show to the TLA on Mischief Night, Friday, October 30th.

PHAWKER: Your critics dismiss you as a one-joke band, while your supporters defend you saying, in fact, you are a two joke band. How do you plead? Guilty or innocent?darkness

JUSTIN HAWKINS: I don’t answer to them. I don’t answer to those people. I don’t need to respond to those things. We operate independently of critics, and the people who like us, it’s literally a bonus. We are actually living the cliche where other people’s opinions of what we do is of no interest to us whatsoever. We’ve been around twelve years now, so we don’t need to worry about those things. We’ve got our own fan base, we write records for them, we play for them and we sell them t-shirts! And that’s what we need to do. But back to your question, I have no response, no plead. It’s a mistrial.

PHAWKER: Fair enough. So I guess the second part of that I wanted to ask is speaking from your own point of view, where does the irony end and the sincerity begin with The Darkness?

JUSTIN HAWKINS: I think the irony begins wherever you want it to. I think we’ve always been writing and performing music that we love, we’re fond of this genre of music, at no point have we ever tried to do a parody of it, but if people enjoy and think it’s funny then that’s up to them and if people enjoy it because they think it’s awesome, it’s up to them. We do not give a fuck.

PHAWKER: Would you guys say that you poke fun at some of rock’s corniest cliches? Is that part of the charm? Or would you say that’s not true?

JUSTIN HAWKINS: Can you give me an example of a cliche that you’re referring to?

PHAWKER: I guess one example would be the Les Pauls, the Marshall amps, sort of the glammy-ness of it all.

JUSTIN HAWKINS: Les Pauls are not a cliche are they? Les Pauls are solid-body duel-Humbucker mega guitars that actually sound better than any other guitar, so why DARKNESSlarge_mainwould you want to play an inferior instrument? It’s not a cliche, that’s just a common choice of people who know what they’re doing. And Marshall is an amp that reproduces what you’re doing loudly and accurately and obviously has a lot of good British heritage and is a fine creation. It’s one of the rare examples of a mass manufactured object that is consistently brilliant. And they have a really good international network that supports you when you’re touring. So if my Marshall amp breaks down then lots of people will bring me another one even if I’m in Seattle and I happen to not live in America. So there’s lots of practical reasons why bands often choose those things. It’s nothing to do with cliches, it’s because those are the best options available to you. The thing is as a guitarist, it’s much more rewarding to play a solo on a Les Paul than it would be on a PRS or a guitar that has a flatter radius on the fret board or it might have a slightly lower action or — a guitar that does all the work for you is no fun and also you’re making sacrifices in tone terms and every Les Paul you pick up as an individual, you can’t say that about every band and you certainly can’t say it about some of the more metal options available to you.

PHAWKER: Fair enough. So, regarding the new album, I remember reading something about how when you guys went into making Hot Cakes, you wanted it to sound more like Permission To Land than One Way Ticket. Did you guys have that same mentality going into this last album?

JUSTIN HAWKINS: That’s specifically talking about on aspect of it though. It’s talking about the vocal harmonies. Because on Permission to Land there’s only maybe like two or three songs where I really did some layered harmonies on it. And the rest of it is quite raw. Whereas on the second album, we did lots and lots of vocal arrangements because we were working with Roy Thomas Baker and obviously he’s like the queen of knowing how to do that stuff and we learned how to do it from him. So when it came to doing the third album, we chose a more raw approach to that really. I mean, everything else we’ve never really changed as far as the approach to the music, it’s more just the way we layer up the harmonies, you know?

PHAWKER: That makes sense. So before the hiatus between the second and third albums, which was a while ago now you went into rehab and did you feel that sobriety was somehow untenable with The Darkness? Like, if you stayed in The Darkness something seriously bad would happen to your health?

JUSTIN HAWKINS: That’s a long story, really. I’d rather not talk about that stuff really.

PHAWKER: That’s fine! So after the split, I know the rest of The Darkness formed the Stone Gods and you formed Hot Leg, which is probably one of the greatest band names in the history of rock. Was it a nod to the Rod Stewart song?

JUSTIN HAWKINS: [laughs] No, I can’t quite remember how it came about to be honest. It’s not to do with that though.the-darkness---one-way-ticket-to-hell-and-back-1426613653

PHAWKER: So after that whole thing with Hot Leg happened, The Darkness did reform. So was that a matter of acknowledging that you guys were stronger together than individually? Or was it that important work left to do, was there a lot of money left on the table? What spawned that reunion in 2011?

JUSTIN HAWKINS: Well, the money thing — whether we thought there was money left on the table or not, we hadn’t been paid for years, so that definitely didn’t materialize, but I do think that we had extended the legacy tentatively and added to the catalog this particular new album, which I think is a worthy successor to the ones before it, I mean as long as we carry on doing good work, that’s all that matters, isn’t it? Cause God knows, nobody needs us to do a shit album. We’d rather not bother than make shit music. That’s true.

PHAWKER: What’s it like being in a band with your brother Dan?

JUSTIN HAWKINS: It’s — I don’t know. I don’t really ever think about that to be honest. I think it’s more something that the fans like and critics like and people who interview us like. But it’s makes no difference to us I don’t think really. But Dan’s my best friend anyway, so it’s really sort of — I don’t know really. We don’t argue, we don’t fight. Or if we do, it’s sort of very explosive and over in a second. We don’t  have the sort of resentments that build up, we just sort of deal with them. Anyway, people like it. It’s all we’ve ever known so it’s normal for us.

PHAWKER: So last time you guys played in Philadelphia, I was there and I remember you guys played the Trocadero, and I remember you jumped from the balcony and did a stage dive. Now you’re playing the TLA this time and there’s no balcony for you to climb on. What on stage shenanigans can we expect this time?

JUSTIN HAWKINS: I don’t know! I never really know until I see the stage and even then I don’t really know. And it’s mostly surprising to me. But, rest assured, there will be shenanigans.

PHAWKER: You just make everything up as you go along.

JUSTIN HAWKINS: Yeah, because if you try and plan something it always fails.

PHAWKER: Last question: What would you say is your greatest regret? If there was one thing you could do over, what would it be?

JUSTIN HAWKINS: I don’t know. It’s hard to just choose one! [laughs] When you start to ask a question like that a flood of regrets come cascading into my mind and I’m basically just here with a bucket trying to throw the additional regrets over the side so that my mind doesn’t sink into a swirling vortex of regrets. So yeah, it’s a good question, but it’s also a very difficult one to answer. If I had just one regret — and please don’t take this personally — but if I had just one, it would be the day I said “yeah. I’ll do a promo.” Because I think if you look back to your questions you’re asking me things about recovery, the nature of my relationship with my brother, irony, and whether we’re taking it seriously, and commenting, and these are all slightly negative areas for me at the time to ponder when I’m preparing for a music concert. Do you understand what I’m saying?

PHAWKER: I understand.

JUSTIN HAWKINS: If in the early days of the band I had contemplated an environment where ‘oh, Justin doesn’t do promos.’ Why? ‘Because he’s fucking mental, and he hates The Darkness Last Of Our Kindeverybody.’ Then that would be great wouldn’t it? Because then I wouldn’t have to contemplate physical and remorseful moments of my life on a day when I’m charged with the task of bringing great joy and frivolity to a room full of people in Seattle. Is that a reasonable answer?

PHAWKER: That’s a totally legitimate answer! I actually liked that one. It was my favorite answer of the bunch.

JUSTIN HAWKINS: [laughs] okay good.

PHAWKER: Did you have anything else you wanted to add? That’s all I have.

JUSTIN HAWKINS: What’s the venue we’re playing in Philly? It’s not the Troc this time is it? It’s somewhere else.

PHAWKER: It’s the Theater of Living Arts. The TLA.

JUSTIN HAWKINS: Okay, whats it like there? I haven’t been there before I don’t think.

PHAWKER: I would say it’s slightly bigger than the Trocadero [I looked this up after the interview, and it turns out I’m wrong. The Troc’s capacity is about 1,200 and the TLA’s is a tad over 800]. It’s more modern. I prefer it probably. It’s on South Street, which is a cool area of the city. The Trocadero is only in the middle of Chinatown, so you’ll probably have more fun there.

JUSTIN HAWKINS: And I’ve also got some good friends in Philadelphia. I’m really looking forward to playing there. There’s a local artist called Thom Lessner who’s a good friend of mine. So he’ll be looking after me on the days around the show, so I’m quite excited about coming.

PHAWKER: Thom Lessner?

JUSTIN HAWKINS: His name is Thom Lessner. He’s a illustrator and an artist, photographer. And he used at a space that was right opposite the Trocadero in Chinatown, but it’s expanding now, and it’s becoming somewhat of a big deal. He did all of the illustrations for the Hoof Hearted Brewing Company in Philadelphia.