Out of The Darkness with Dan Hawkins

Out of The Darkness with Dan Hawkins

The Darkness are joyous warriors, here to prick the pompous and kick the arses of those who seek to destroy us. Easter Is Cancelled sees the four maestros embark upon their most ambitious quest to date with their musical opus soon to be thrust into the ear canals of rock fans around the globe, and a tour that will quite literally resurrect the souls of all who attend. With their album slated for release next week, we sat down with The Darkness guitarist and all-round rock legend Dan Hawkins.

Firstly, I just wanted to say when Permission to Land… landed….in 2003, it was like a breath of fresh air! I remember vividly where I was standing when a mate of mine first played it to me in full. It felt to us as young band ourselves, like it was a kick up the ass reminder to everyone that …see kids, rock n roll IS the way! Did it feel to you at the time like you were bringing something back that people may have been neglecting?
Oh thanks a lot man, I appreciate that. Absolutely it did. We are really proud to be the kind of band that has a focus on making albums the old fashioned way.

Do you think ‘rock stars’ in the classic sense, have become a thing of the past? Is there something missing from music today?
Well, I would say, we’re not the kind of band that have our heads in the sand, and don’t understand how things work these days. But we acknowledge there is something great about a record you know, and the process of spending forty minutes of your life listening to what is essentially someone’s art project. And that extends to the artwork and even that special feeling of taking out a vinyl record and putting it on. I think it’s harder for bands to make great albums these days, and to invest in exploring things because the budgets aren’t there, the labels are pushing for everything to sound like a single. And there is that pressure there to make what you do consumable because that’s the market you know, otherwise what the fucking point of releasing something. In that sense, things have changed a lot.

As a band with your successes, do you guys still have that pressure?
No. If we release something that sounds like a single, it’s because the type of music we were brought up on was stuff like the Beatles and ABBA, so we are just really into melody, which is essentially a memory device anyway you know, so that helps!

In that vein, do you still take inspiration in your songwriting from the masters of the past or the artists that made you pick up instruments to begin with?
For me, when we’re writing, I am just completely in that zone, so I’m not really thinking about things on an intellectual level at all, it just kind of happens. Everything is written acoustically, and that’s part of my technique which was developed from only having an acoustic guitar, but wanting to play an electric when we were younger. I’ve actually got this really shit, old Fender acoustic guitar that I still write on, and there’s so much stuff rattling on it, that it sounds like it’s distorting!

That’s fantastic, though… are you even allowed to be playing a Fender?
Ahhh, well I’m allowed to play this one! She’s been around well before I ever had a Gibson! Though the Gibson’s do weigh a lot, and increasingly as I get older, I am wondering if I need to maybe get myself a Fender too, so I don’t end up like fucking Igor, walking around with a hunch for the rest of my life. Though it may be too late for that now anyway…

The new record, ‘Easter is Cancelled’ is an absolute rip snorter…. And like the blues brothers before you with their ‘mission from god’, are the Darkness here to save us all from the powers that be? Can you tell us how rock n roll can save us? Perhaps free guitar lessons for everyone? Start them on bar chords?
Now that’s a good idea! Thanks, mate. Yeah look, these days, unfortunately, music has become or been made overly consumable. Sadly, people think, and this is true of other products too, that this is what they want, but ultimately, once a human being gets everything they want, or think they want, at some point they realise it’s not good for them. Music is not meant to be confined to playlists, with things dancing all over the place sonically that just aren’t supposed to go together. To me, the journey of an album, whether it’s intended by the artist, or whether it becomes a journey to the listener as something that accompanies them through periods of time in their life, is becoming lost. It’s such a shame, even the tribalism that comes from having a band that you feel is part of who you are, ya know, the t-shirt becomes a part of who you are, the time you’ve spent with their albums informs who you are. These are the things that are becoming lost. With downloads and playlists, people aren’t into bands anymore, they are into genres.

You’ve toured Australia many times and are well-loved down under… Other than Vegemite, which I believe they force-feed you at customs as you enter the country now, what do you love most about coming to Australia?
Hmmm, I guess we will have to bring our own Marmite with us then. The great Marmite/Vegemite debate goes on. You know, the people are fantastic, the shows are always great, amazing weather. We are actually considering bashing on a family a trip to the end of a tour one of these days, perhaps when my kids are a bit older though, really make the most of it.

I have two young kids too, a daughter named Bowie & a son, Tomi Lennon…. As a family man and a father yourself, how do you find touring nowadays and being so far away from home for song long?
Yeah, you know it’s tough! My daughter is a diabetic too which makes it hard, so the pressure really is on my wife, ya know. She’s essentially a single Mum at home with three kids, and in a touring cycle, that can be six to seven months of the year! But I mean, it’s actually even harder when I’m not touring and I’m producing the album. Sometimes, I’m working for eight months, 16 hours a day or whatever. But luckily my studio is very close to the house, which helps! I think sometimes, you know, people who have ‘normal’ jobs’, and have to leave before the kids get up and then they’re home after their kids have gone to bed, and are knackered on the weekends, they’ve got it hard. I get to spend real quality time with my kids when I’m not working, probably more than most people get, so it’s swings and roundabouts really.

Is it true that you once recorded with Australia’s Natalie Imbruglia? Do you recall what you played?
Hahahaha Australia’s very own Natalie Imbruglia! SHE’S OURS NOW!! So basically yes, a producer named Steve Bush was a friend of a friend, and I was doing a lot of session guitar work at the time. I was literally on my way down to the pub when I got a call to come in and play on one of her songs. I’m not actually sure what the track was called, but I do remember the guitar line I came up with, and when it came out I was thinking, yay! Oh great, the stuff I added made the grade, but then I listened a little closer and was like, hang on a minute, this isn’t me playing it!

Maybe you’ve got some royalties somewhere with your name on them?
Natalie is cool as fuck. She’s welcome to them!

There are moments in a band when you’re jamming or when you’re recording something, where you all kind of look at one another when you know you’re onto something and you’ve hit that sweet spot. Can you recall any ‘oh yeah’ moments like that during the creation of the new record? And is there a track you’re most fond of?
Oooh, that’s a good question. I guess we are always looking for at least one of those moments in every song really. If a song we are doing doesn’t have one of those ‘wow’ moments, it’s kinda like ‘well, next song then’ really. In saying that though, we all have such different tastes, it is actually very hard to get us all really loving something together. So, my brother is in love with the song ‘We Are the Guitar Men’, which is the album closer. He just loves that tune, whereas my particular favourite is ‘How Can I Lose Your Love’, which is track two on the album. I had to drag that song kicking and screaming through the album process because not everyone liked it, they just thought it was weird. So basically, when it came to mixing it, it was almost like ‘I’m flogging dead horse here’, so I am just gonna do whatever the fuck I want with it’ and suddenly the whole band loved it! I honestly thought it wasn’t going to make the album when I was mixing it, cause it was just so far removed from what we normally do, ya know.

You know, every time you play that song live now, you’re going to have to eyeball your bandmates as if to say ‘told ya so!’
Hahaha, absolutely! An extra rock move, the bandmate death stare! I also really like ‘In Another Life’ which sort of harps back to those big 80’s power ballads.

Finally Dan, it would be irresponsible of me not to ask this very important question, not only as an accomplished musician but as an Englishmen… the Beatles or the Stones?
Well, I guess it’s kind of both to some extent. Here’s the thing, my Dad loves the Beatles and loves the Stones…. Thing is, my mum hates the Beatles, and my Dad kinda, puts up with the Stones. So truthfully, it’s probably like, 60/40 Stones. But the Beatles are obviously the greatest songwriters that ever lived, but the Rolling Stones are actually, despite what people think about them, one of the greatest live rock n roll bands of all time. Actually, I used to work in the tape room for a music publishing company, where this lawyer would send down these incredible bootleg tapes of Rolling Stones shows form the late sixties that no-one had ever heard before, you know, all very hush-hush, and I had to record them for his other lawyer mates. And they would all go ‘oh look, we’ve got these one-of-a-kind recordings that nobody even knows exist.

Wow, that’s incredible!
Yeah, little did he know I was reeling copies off for me as well! Hahaha! So I have this collection of live stuff from the seminal Rolling Stones eras that would fucking blow your mind! The tempo of the stuff they did was just ferocious!

Well we better not publish that part, just in case the lawyers come after you!
I don’t give a shit! Bring it on.

Dan Hawkins, thanks for chatting with Forte magazine mate, looking forward to the record coming out & we’ll see you at the Aussie shows next year!
Anytime man, looking forward to it!

The Darkness will light up the Forum, Melbourne – March 14. Easter Is Cancelled is out October 4 via Cooking Vinyl.

Written by Matt Wilkinson