The Darkness's Dan Hawkins: The Culture Brats Interview

On June 1st, 2015, The Darkness will release their fourth studio album, Last Of Our Kind. Last month, they released the album's killer first single, "Barbarian." We had a chance to talk with guitarist Dan Hawkins about the single, album, his new guitar pedal, new drummer, and more.

Let's talk "Barbarian." It's an awesome track, an awesome video. But what made you write about the Viking invasion of East Anglia?
Yeah, that's a good question. Well, it's my brother really. On this album, the riffs came first and then we turned the riffs into songs. It was clearly reminding him of a battle of some sort. We got onto a discussion about Vikings and their appearance in East Anglia back in the day and I think he did a bit more research into it, found the story and was inspired by it and picked it up from there. We got as far lyrically as the bridge before the chorus and we ran out of words so we just put a big scream. Hey, presto! There you go.

It's the first track off of Last Of Our Kind. What can you tell us about the new album?
I'd say it's our heaviest album to date, probably most riff-based album. We have a new drummer who's kind of changed the sound slightly. We took a year out to write this album. We didn't do any gigs and just concentrated on doing something that was an album we were really proud of rather than one that was just made in a certain amount of time and a fit schedule. We went to a remote island off the coast of Ireland and didn't come out until we had an album that was something we were proud of.

You worked as a producer on Hot Cakes, but you are the sole producer on the new album. Was there any added pressure with that title?
Yeah, I guess so. I solely engineered it and produced it and mixed it which is the big thing for me this time. I was so sick of producing the band or other bands and handing it over to someone to do the mix. I read somewhere that Steve Albini said, "You can't call yourself a producer if you have to hand it over to someone to make it sound good in the end." I thought, "Yeah, that's a fucking good point." So I wanted to mix it and be proud of the mixes and I knew it would help my production, which it really has.

It's challenging. It's challenging because you kind of have to not be in the band right up to the point to where you're playing on it and then you have to switch to being in the band. That's the difficult bit, actually playing on it when you're producing it because sometimes your quality control goes out the window.

You mentioned this earlier, but Last Of Our Kind is the first album you recorded with new drummer Emily Dolan Davies. How did you find her and what does she bring to the band?
For whatever reason, we had various problems with our previous drummer. I've had Emily Dolan Davies on the radar for a couple of years, actually. We were thinking about when we move on, if we got another well-known male drummer to replace the last one, swap one middle-aged man out for another, that's not very exciting and that chips away at The Darkness. If we got a young male drummer, it's like we're trying to reduce our age and whatnot. We just someone different and exciting, someone who excited us. Why don't we just have a look and see if there's any female drummers out there? To my knowledge, I couldn't name a female drummer in a male hard rock band. I did have a look on the internet, did a bit of scouring about and there she was. I thought it was a perfect match straightaway. She's done a few bits and bobs, sessiony bits and bobs, but nothing that she would be known for and I just felt that she was at exactly the right moment to join a big rock band. We hit it off straightaway and she's just totally awesome. Our shows over the last week with her have been going really well and people are just blown away by her. Happy days.

You guys did a PledgeMusic campaign for the album and one of the perks was a guitar pedal created by you. What was that like?
Awesome. It's been my dream since a really young age. Any guitarist will tell you they become like Star Wars figures to some people. You rely on them and you end up collecting them and to actually have your own one is just awesome. I'm working with these guys who are hand building these things. I'm tweaking, changing the levels each night, different modes as we go along this tour to try and get it perfect. I'll send it back to them with my options and then start producing them. I just thought it'd be a really cool thing to do.

"Christmas Time (Don't Let the Bells End)" is one of my favorite contemporary Christmas songs. What made you guys write a Christmas song?
I think I woke up one day and realized, "Fuck, I haven't got a pension. Better write a Christmas song." It had been a particularly hard touring year and my liver was about to burst so I thought, "Fuck it, I'm not going to being around forever. Best to write a Christmas song."

Fair enough.
The truth of the matter is I was in a bar having played on a big TV show in the UK. Things were going really well. We'd had a hit with "I Believe." I was just chatting to the head of the level and he was asking me, "What do you want to do next? I suppose, coming into Christmas, we'll release "Love Is Only A Feeling" as a ballad for Christmas." I said, "It's a shame to release a ballad just before Christmas without it being an actual Christmas song. That was the last year before the stupid X Factor fucking came and ruined that for the UK. The race for Number 1 was a brilliant thing that just captured the nation's imagination every single year. Unfortunately, that went out the window when The X Factor started releasing their winner's single before Christmas because it was guaranteed Number 1 and so people stopped making Christmas songs basically. When we released ours, it wasn't like that. It was still a big race to Number 1 and I just thought, "Well, fuck it. Let's just do it for laughs." We had half a Christmas song that we pissed around with for God knows why a few years before. I kind of lied and told the head of the label, "We've got a Christmas song and it could be a Number 1." He's like, "Great, let's do that then." So we had to scramble it together, try and finish writing it which we finished in the back of the tour bus supporting Metallica in Dublin. The rest is history.

Cool. I've got one final question for you. You're in charge of a music festival and you can pick any five artists, dead or alive, to perform on the bill with you. Who do you choose?
We're playing as well, are we?

Well, we're on first so we can actually watch the other bands and get drunk and not have to worry about playing. We'll be on first. I'd have Led Zeppelin on early. They'd be on next, the mid-afternoon slot. Not because I don't think they're worthy of headlining but just because I want to take in everything that Jimmy Page is doing. I'd have them and then AC/DC to get things back on track, drinking-wise. I'd have Neil Young on. He'd go on after AC/DC to clear the air. We'll bring The Beatles on for a bit of a singsong and then we'll finish with Queen.

What song do you all perform together for the final jam?
Have you ever seen the footage from the Moscow Peace Festival? It's a total disgrace. All the metal bands of the day, just completely off their heads, doing a big jam at the end. I think it was "Rock And Roll" by Led Zeppelin. It's utterly atrocious. So what would we do? Blimey. It would be quite funny to count everyone in and everyone plays whatever song they want and the result is a horrifying noise. We've done that before. It used to be our sound check thing. I would count everyone in, "1! 2! 3! 4!" And then each individual member of the band would play a different song from the set, but no one plays the same one and no one knows what the other one's going to do. It's a soundman's worst nightmare.

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