When The Darkness first exposed themselves to the world of rock’n’roll, anyone who saw their tight pants and heard their instruments’ climactic sounds couldn’t help but think they’d found the lost kings of rock.
“I wasn’t surprised [about the band’s success], to be honest,” says frontman Justin Hawkins. “I kind of expected to be amazing and loved, just because I’m that kind of arsehole. We tell people what to expect. I was amazing them. I knew we’d have people worshipping us – not in the biblical sense, mind you, but close. Expect and ye shall receive.”
For the past 15 years, Hawkins has been gyrating his hips onstage and driving fans wild with his group’s tongue-in-cheek brand of glam rock. It turns out the pants hold more than just his junk.
“It’s a special trick we use in the studio. Whenever we’ve got to record a chorus I get a more generous cut, where if we’re working on a verse I pack everything in to get those high notes. It’s absolutely true. If you condense anything you get more out of it, so I do it for the music.”
Even after all Hawkins’ time squeezing into those pants and hitting those notes, The Darkness continue to hold the world in their loving embrace. The Englishman believes the reason behind the band’s ongoing success is its own ambition.
“The pressure is more from within the band. We’re all trying to be the best. That first album [2003’s Permission To Land] was our benchmark. It was such a strong album straight out of the gate. I mean, bands go their whole career without churning out something that good. So we push ourselves to keep up at our own levels. I don’t think it’s in us just to churn out something that’s less than absolutely awesome.
“When you get a little bit of success, it’s easy to keep going then. I mean, hell, I could be working at Starbucks or something, but instead I’m making incredible music. Success is our only propulsion. Our albums sell, people come to our shows, and with that success we get all the energy we need to keep doing it.”
But 15 years is a long time, and to maintain the same passion and energy for music is one of the greatest challenges facing an artist. Hawkins believes that while you may not feel the same way you did when you first started making music, your levels of enthusiasm will always remain high.
“It’s hard to remember how it used to feel. It’s still exciting, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it. Whether it feels the same is hard to say. All sensations change, [but] something of the original must be there. I know I still get excited whenever we play – I don’t know if it’s the same excitement I felt at the beginning, but it’s still just as exciting.”
The Darkness’ career has seen them release four studio albums and have awards hurled their way like panties from a devoted audience, yet all the while people in the background continue to argue that rock is dead. Hawkins still laughs at a review that once claimed The Darkness were just a big-time ’70s rock tribute band.
“I think our sound keeps changing,” he says. “I wouldn’t say that our sound is a tribute to the ’70s, but more inspired by the rock of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, simply because music from that time was almost always brilliant. If we felt the same about more modern stuff we’d be inspired by that too, but I find the sound of the 2000s is shit – mostly because people are trying to find something new instead of something good.”
While The Darkness have explored some new musical territory, the focus has been to keep things interesting – whatever that might entail.
“We haven’t consciously changed anything. There’s a good cross section of rock within our sound. It’s been straightforward: two guitars, drums and bass. Other times it’s more exploring and adventuring rather than purposefully looking to change everything. I mean, I like synths; I think they’re an excellent instrument for rock’n’roll. But I find electronic music boring, and synths in that sense are boring too, which is why we’ve never branched out into other genres. If it isn’t interesting to us, why should we ever bother playing it?”
With the band about to launch a new tour, performing in Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, Hawkins looks forward to travelling across Australia once again.
“It’s been long overdue. All of Australia is brilliant. Perth is beautiful; I remember doing a show there and being startled by the noise of the crowd shouting directly at me. You wouldn’t expect such an idyllic place to have such a mad group of people, and I say that with the utmost appreciation and admiration. A lot of people are saying that Melbourne’s where it’s at, but we’re just really excited to get to Australia and get the tour going. It’s going to be brilliant.”
While not wanting to spoil the surprise awaiting fans Down Under, Hawkins does have a message for those hungry for the return of The Darkness.
“Put the kettle on love, I’m coming home. Get ready for a bit of mischief!”