Rock 'n' roll — at least in its most essential form — will never truly die. The organism evolves, splits, and re-forms as time marches on, but at the end of the day, there is absolutely no substitute for what a band like the Darkness does. These British glam-rock revivalists take us back to a time when unitards were acceptable onstage male attire, guitars were loud, and songs were sung in only the highest pitches. A time when rock music was about having fun.
The Darkness released its monster-selling debut, Permission to Land, in 2003. The group has since risen above alcoholism, a failed sophomore release, and infighting between the brothers Hawkins to return in a triumphant tornado of guitars, glitter, and falsettos. This is all courtesy of a well-received fresh release, Hot Cakes; mended bonds between brothers; and a little help from none other than Mother Monster herself.
We spoke with guitarist Dan Hawkins about Gaga, sobriety, and the enduring relevance of rock music as the band recouped from its world tour.
New Times: Are you guys ready to come stateside?
Dan Hawkins: We can't wait! It's just brilliant to be back to being a proper rock band for a bit!
What's it like having a second chance to do what the Darkness does after the band split up so tumultuously?
Fantastic, really! We're just a rock 'n' roll band. We try to kind of put a sort of stadium-sized rock 'n' roll show into whatever venue we're in, and it doesn't really concern us how many people are there, really. It doesn't matter whether there's a hundred or a thousand or a hundred thousand — we still get excited about what we do. There are no two gigs the same, and sometimes that's a bad thing for us, because it's total fucking chaos [laughs], but it's just great to be back out on the road.
What was it like touring with Lady Gaga?
Overall, I think it was a great experience, and it really opened up some markets that weren't actually there for us when we started playing. We've been trying to get to South America, even in the last year and a half that we've re-formed in, but we couldn't find any promoters that would take a risk, you know?
They have to take a punt on you, not the other way around. You can't choose your promoter, and it was an unranked quantity really, about how we would actually do and how we would go down in South America. But every show on the Lady Gaga gig has just been like a headline show. Literally, like you're doing your own stadium show by the end of our set — the whole crowd's going completely nuts, and it's no exaggeration. There's footage out there on YouTube to that effect. And sure enough, we have promoters climbing over themselves to book us in South America now, and we're going to go in at quite a high level. We wouldn't be able to do that without Lady Gaga, and for that, I will be forever grateful.
Was it a weird disparity opening for a pop artist like Gaga?
She's definitely heavily influenced by the same music [as us] really, and you can see that visually as well, can't you? I suppose that's part of why the bill worked in the first place and why we weren't the laughingstock every night. Don't get me wrong — there were certain nights, in Eastern Europe, for instance, where no one had heard of us at all, and the people who had heard of us fucking hated us! [laughs] You get someone covered in glitter and wearing some amazingly ridiculous outfit in the front row with fingers in their ears — the only time they'd lift a finger out would be to give us the middle finger!
It's difficult to find a photo of you without a Thin Lizzy T-shirt on. Do you, as a player, favor a particular guitarist from that group?
I'm a really big fan of Eric Bell's work, the really early, sort of more folky stuff — that was really my introduction to Thin Lizzy, but people kind of often assume, 'cause I guess that's the kind of music we make or whatever, that it would be one of the more later guitarists. I mean, to be a bit shallow here, I think Scott Gorham is one of the coolest-looking guitarist dudes to ever walk the planet, and still is, really! So, yeah, those two.
I absolutely expected you to mention John Sykes or Gary Moore!
Yeah! That's exactly the opposite, yeah? I love Sykes, and they're both just total virtuosos, but the other guys, there is just something that does it for me. Mind you, I've always been more of like a Malcolm [Young, of AC/DC] rather than an Angus kind of guy.
What was it like getting back together, and how has touring sober made a difference?
We only really had one falling out from when the band started to when it split up. We see things from the same angles; we're the same blood, you know? We have the same record collection, we were brought up by the same music-loving parents, so we're good.
Touring sober has just been awesome, actually. I'm a rock 'n' roller, and I certainly have a tendency not to trust people who are sober [laughs], and I can understand why people would certainly not trust a band that were sober — I mean, God, where's the rock 'n' roll in that?! You don't buy into all that when you're a teenager because you're into that music because it speaks to a part of you that basically is drunk. [laughs] I mean, that's one way of looking at it.
I recently met another music writer that had a very negative take on nostalgia acts and revivalist music, and we spent the entire time we had together arguing about its relevance. Do you have any thoughts on that?
People who get a bit up their ass about nostalgia acts and people who think these bands are there just to take people's money should ask how the audience that actually goes to see these people play feel about it. At the end of the day, you're going to be pretty sorry when you don't get a chance to see a band like Aerosmith play when they're all fucking dead — which probably won't be too long [laughs] — and the same goes for the Stones.
Just enjoy them while they're around! No one's made anything like Aerosmith or the Stones for God knows how long. They're a complete oddity. The reason they're around in the first place is because they were so different than everything else, which means it doesn't matter how old they are, they'll still be completely different from anyone else. So get off your fucking high horse and go see the band you want to see and stop fucking whining about it.