The Darkness were catapulted into success with 2003's Permission to Land, into high levels of attention and, naturally, top-shelf excess behind the momentum of studded-socks go-to track "I Believe in A thing Called Love."
Lead by singer Justin Hawkins and brother Dan, both of whom lived up to their genre's hard-rocking standards, the Darkness rode a massive wave, selling millions in their home country of England. The band's hard, fast-driving, semi-retro '80s hair-metal sound, featuring screaming guitars and Hawkins' howling vocals, created an even greater firestorm worldwide.
Perhaps predictably, the beast became a bit out of control, famously spurring the Darkness to a halt and Hawkins into drug rehab. What took most bands years on a roller coaster ride to achieve, the Darkness' level of debaucherous ascent forced them to swiftly crash, burn, and completely combust in just three years. Triumphantly, after a five-year hiatus, nothing could stop the true force of the Darkness, as they reunited and released the celebratory Hot Cakes in 2012.
Released this summer, new album The Last of Our Kind finds the Darkness conjuring up once again all the beauty of a solid band maintaining their stride. Echoing a theme of struggle and determination throughout the new record's grooves, the Darkness fall somewhere amid the hard and fast power metal of the '80s and the slow groove, harmonized impulses of the truest '70s classic rock.
With a succession of drummers that nearly puts Spinal Tap to shame, the Darkness are currently in the middle of a month-long U.S. tour in support of The Last of Our Kind. After usurping Rufus Taylor, son of Roger Taylor of Queen (whom Hawkins has tattooed on his knuckles), for the drum seat, the band returns to the Twin Cities to perform at the Varsity Theater in Dinkytown Sunday night.
Talking to City Pages by phone from his home in Switzerland, Hawkins seemed proud of his band and his new record, discussing the longevity of the Darkness, their music, and the evolving nature of the music business. Sounding at ease, he seems to have found a calm in his lifestyle and music now.
Though it's possible he just hadn't had his coffee quite yet.
City Pages: Hey Justin, knowing we'd have a chat today, I been binging on Darkness videos a lot lately. A couple things I notice in each one is the evolution of your facial hair and your tattoos through the years. One thing I wanted to ask you straight out was about the current status of your facial hair? Where we at right now?
Justin Hawkins: At the moment, I’m basically looking like a tramp. I don't know, I think you call them hobos. Or streetwalkers, like a street sweeper perhaps.
CP: Oh, so it’s not as well kept as it may normally be?
JH: No, not at the moment. Basically I haven't shaved for a while. I think before we go out, I’m going to shave it all off.
CP: Oh good. I bet you'll look a lot classier then. How about your tattoos? Any new pieces?
JH: Well, it’s been a little while. But I am thinking of a new one. I’m thinking of getting my face on the palm of my hand. You know, so then it’s like “Talk to the hand”! I’m really just trying to think of getting something on my right hand. I’ve got knuckle tattoos on my left. But my right hand is a bit naked. If I was going to get back into that world, it’d be with my right hand.
CP: That’d probably be really painful I’d imagine. I’m guessing your palms are pretty hairy too. Perhaps a portrait of your former bearded self then?
JH: Haha! That’d be ideal wouldn’t it!?
CP: Who’s done most of your work?
JH: There’s a bloke in the south of England named Steve A. He did my sleeves, my chest, my top rocker, my face. My back piece and my knuckles were done by a friend of mine named Oddboy. He keeps winning awards. He’s a really talented artist. He’s in the middle of England.
CP: So I’ve been immersed in the new record, The Last of our Kind. It’s really been the soundtrack to my summer. What I gather from the lyrics and the songs themselves I think it reflects in the band the idea of perseverance and moving on?
JH: Well, I call it defiance. You know when you have all the elements; the industry and the world against you, it’s kind of like at that point you have a choice, don’t you? I mean, It’s really stupid for us to continue! After all this time. It’s always under review. Every time we have to ask ourselves, “Is it worth carrying on? Like, are we better off dead?!” Probably. [Laughs.]
It’s not really about making money. But we are really enjoying it. I think it’s a strong record in terms of the writing and the production and everything. We’re really proud of it. That might be all we got! We’re making albums for our fans and we’ve sort of become a cult band.
We’re doing shows for people that bought our records. It’s a business that’s sort of working. Obviously we weren’t expecting to set the world on fire. So it’d be true to say we wouldn’t be too disappointed if we didn’t. I will say I do think it’s a bit of an overlooked and underrated album in terms of the mainstream.
CP: Well yeah. I think it’s true that the mainstream doesn’t really stick with a hard rock band for as long as you guys have been doing it. You had a real advantage out of the gate with a really strong record and to top that I’m sure in terms of the mainstream there was something they wanted more of and you guys have always done your own thing.
JH: Maybe. I don’t really think it’s ever been about the material though. It seems like it has more to do with things like attention spans. Or personalities or something.
CP: Well, what’s really cool is I’ve seen you a couple times now and there’s a real core. There’s a real solid cast of characters at these shows.
JH: Yeah, we do see some familiar faces. That’s what I mean by cult band. I think that’s a good expression for what we got really, a fan base that cares about what we’re doing. And who cares not about what the mainstream is doing, you know? They’re prepared to come and have a good time without looking over their shoulder.
CP: You seemed to have maintained the control which I think is always a struggle for bands who need to always satiate a mainstream, massive audience. But really you do the Darkness better than anyone else could. What else you have coming up the pike?
JH: Well thanks! So, with the new record there's going to be a deluxe edition. There will be an additional track with a new Christmas song. Traditionally, our song, "Christmas Time (Don't Let the Bells End)" has been something that has been really kind to us. I don't know that it was even released in the states. But every year they play it in England and it really goes someway to keeping the band on the road during the leaner months in November and January.
CP: Well it's great Santa can share a little something with you!
JH: Yeah, it's about time he's given something back, right?!
CP: Did you only ever get a lump of coal for Christmas?
JH: I wish we had that luxury! Me and my brother. We were a very poor family. I mean, I think that's why we keep going, I think you can hear the hunger in our music. No pain no gain.
CP: So what do you remember about Minneapolis? I saw the First Avenue shows. It's always a freakin' blast!
JH: We've played there a couple of times and it's always awesome. A lot of history of course. I am really looking forward to the super-fancy Starbucks team there.
CP: Starbucks team?!
JH: That's the true measure of any town in the world, actually. You've a super-fancy Starbucks team there. Which is super important!
CP: Which team? Starbucks?
JH: I call them teams, because I think they work that way together so well. And well, my coffee drinking exploits are my greatest sport achievement.
With: These Raven Skies
When: 7 p.m. Sun., Oct. 18.
Where: Varsity Theater.
Tickets: $30-$45; more info here.