Dan Hawkins: The Darkness Return to the Light!

By: Justin Beckner

On June 2nd, The Darkness will be releasing their fourth album upon the world. The album, Last of Our Kind, boasts the band’s heaviest sonic effort. The band recently announced the addition of Rufus Taylor on drums (Rufus being the son of legendary Queen drummer, Roger Taylor). Rufus will hopefully bring some stability to the band after a turbulent year with several drummers behind the kit. The public opinion of the band has spanned the gamut between love and hate, but if you’ve ever seen the band play live, there are a couple things that are obvious:  they are gifted, hardworking performers and the guys can play the shit out of a guitar. In the following interview, Dan Hawkins talks about writing, producing, and playing guitar on the album.

Justin: So this new album, Last of Our Kind, it comes out next week... I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet, but I’m told it’s your heaviest album to date.

Dan: I’d say it probably is. It’s a riff based album. We wanted to dip a little more into the rock heritage. So it’s a fair comment to say it is our heaviest album... but I wouldn’t say it ever gets into metal territory. It’s mixed more like a rock album should be mixed. The last three albums, the vocals took your face clean off. This one, you can hear the guitars as well as the vocals.

Justin: That’s good, because you’ve got a great collection of guitars and I’m glad we’ll get to hear them.

Dan: Yeah I’ve got a few... I’m not a collector, you see; if I’m not using something, it goes quite quickly. I’m quite ruthless that way. But I think the up-side of that is that every one of my guitars is really great and I can’t get rid of it, I wouldn’t be able to live without them. The bulk of my collection these days are Les Paul Standards pretty much from the same year. I’ve got three Les Paul Standards that I really like that were built in the year 2000. Those are my tools. They are what I need to get my job done. The rest of my collection is made up of odds and sods really; I’ve got a 64 Casino which I just love. I’ve got this guitar that Gibson built for Jimmy Page that ended up in my possession.

Justin: The Black Beauty…

Dan: Yeah it’s a Black Beauty; it’s like the ‘57 one that he has, remade. It’s the untainted one which really was true to the original. It was too heavy for him [Jimmy Page], it’s got loads of hardware on it, I think it’s the heaviest Les Paul ever made so they gave it to me instead because I was looking for one at the same time as it turned out. So I’ve got that and then I’ve got a white Les Paul Standard that’s got Seymour Duncans in it and I call that my metal guitar… that’s my shredder. It’s a very clean shredder and it sits well beneath my angrier sounding Les Pauls in the studio. That’s about it really.

Justin: So the guitar tone on the new record is pretty much just the Les Paul Standard workhorses?

Dan: Yeah it was actually pretty much just one of them, my main one. I wanted something that would work on everything and cut through the whole album, you know. You can tinker as a guitarist, you know, you’re a guitarist. You can tinker around and find so many different options and sounds with just one guitar.

Justin: You said the new album was a riff based album, how does your writing process work when it comes to that? Do you jam together or is it individualized?

Dan: We very rarely jam. Normally I come in with riffs and a rough backing track that is open for discussion. If I’ve written something and Justin [Hawkins] is not feeling it, it gets ditched. We never have been a jam band. On this last record, the writing sessions consisted of Justin on drums and me riffing and getting those rough backing tracks down. Sometimes I would come in with a fully developed backing track for a demo.

Justin: You’ve got Rufus Taylor [son of Queen’s Roger Taylor] in the band now… how did that come about?

Dan: Well we needed a new drummer and we needed one really quickly and when we first announced that Ed [Graham] wasn’t in the band anymore, we got Emily [Davies] in to do that album and that was going pretty well. At the time, my good friend of mine called Pete Malandrone, who is Brian May’s guitar tech, texted me when he heard Ed wasn’t in the band and said, "You’ve got to try Rufus out; give him a chance." At that point we already had a drummer. Then a bit further down the line we found ourselves needing a drummer and I remembered that text that Pete sent. So I got in touch with Pete and he got in touch with Rufus, we spoke to each other and of course we have a gig two days away. Rufus was in Australia and wasn’t getting back until 6 in the morning the day of the gig. It was a press launch in London where we were playing half of the new album. So I sent him the tracks, he got on the plane, and 48 hours later he had them down in his mind and we did a run through and the did the gig. It went pretty well, actually. We were flying by the seat of our pants for a while there, but he’s definitely settling in nicely and hopefully he’ll be a keeper.

Justin: I hope so; you guys have gone through drummers quite quickly in recent years. It’s very “Spinal Tap”.

Dan: We don’t do ourselves any favors, see. We even put in our press release when Ed left the band, or when we fired Ed, we put in the press release that he left under mysterious circumstances. How fucking Spinal Tap is that? And now we’ve had a massive wave of album reviews where it appears our audience is becoming more selective, and what with this last spade of drummers disappearing under mysterious circumstances, we’ve become even more infused with Spinal Tap. But that’s the way it is, you know, if somethings not right you’ve got to fix it. That’s the way we think anyway. We’re not here for the fucking nostalgia circuit; we’re trying to move our career forward.

Justin: You produced this album as you have on the previous records as well. Is it difficult for you to separate yourself from being an artist and step into that producer role?

Dan: I find it very very easy. I just don’t consider myself a guitarist when I’m producing and then with anything, playing guitar is like a nuisance really. I think as far as the producer role goes, I’ve always kind of done it as far as the arranging and pushing to try to get the most out of the songs before even going into the studio. So much work as a producer is done before you get into the studio. That’s been my role anyway. Trying to tighten up arrangements and stuff like that. That’s business as usual in that department really. Then when it comes to the engineering and the recording of the music, I just completely switch off. I know at some point I’ll have to go in and play my guitar and record that as well. Sometimes the band has to ask me to have a “band opinion” because I just try to stay out of it and do the whole producer thing and sometimes I forget about what I actually think as a guitarist in the band. You sometimes forget that you’re a member of the band when you get into that producer mode. 

Justin: I think it’s essential to switch off from being a guitar player for objectivity’s sake, but I would also imagine that when you write a song or a guitar part, that’s your baby; I would find it hard to scrutinize my own guitar parts.

Dan: Yeah I guess so, but all of the scrutiny as far as guitar parts go is done at the demo stage. We really do scrutinize as well. We have huge arguments sometimes and everything is tested, and when it comes to recording it’s so obvious what we need to do, and I like to have it so well-rehearsed that it’s not about getting it right when we go to do a take. That way you can look at it as if someone else is playing it and be objective about it. You don’t hear yourself in it; you can just enjoy it as a whole. The only way to get there is to rehearse the living shit out of every song to the point where you can do it with your eyes shut. That’s when you can play around with it.

Justin: So the record is set when you enter the studio...

Dan: Yeah, some of the demos I did for this record had like 100 tracks on them. You can do that these days quite easily. So there weren’t many decisions made in the studio. It was all sort of hashed out, for the most part, beforehand.

Justin: Having songs fully hashed-out has got to be great for cutting down on studio costs as well.

Dan: Yeah, we’ve never really done that- writing in the studio. It’s funny that you brought it up because I’m in the process of building a studio that I plan for us to do exactly that. We’ve spent so much time demoing and perfecting the demos until they’re spot-on. Then, going in to re-create that in the studio… so I thought, “what if, while we’re writing, we just try a little bit harder and then when we perfect those demos, that’s the record?” So there is a good chance that in the future, we will do it like that. But obviously if you tried to do that, hiring someone else to use their studio, you’d need to remortgage your house to do that, I think.

Justin: Is there a particular part on this new record that you’re most proud of, either as a producer or as a guitarist?

Dan: There’s a couple where I’m really happy with how they came together. When you’re a bit of a perfectionist it’s really hard for me to even say that. The guitar solo on the bridge section of “Last of Our Kind” – that solo into the chorus and out – that was quite an achievement because there’s an awful lot going on there and the mix of that song was quite hard work, but I think it translates. There’s a really heavy section in the song called “Roaring Waters” and every time I hear it, I think, “that’s what I want this band to sound like, these guys are fucking rockin’.”  I’m quite proud of those moments, and I haven’t had moments like that since the first album, I think.

Justin: Will you be touring the US this year?

Dan: We are, yeah, we’re coming over in October. I literally just got the last routing through today to approve it, which I did, so we’ll be going to press with those dates pretty soon- in the next couple days actually. It’s about a month long tour; we’ll be doing the usual places. I wish we could do more, but you can’t be everywhere at the same time. So we will likely come back early next year to do a little more in-depth touring. It’s about 16 dates, but it will be up on the website in the next couple days.

Justin: I’m glad to hear that. I’ve always found your live shows to be an explosive experience.

Dan: It can be; it can be an implosive experience sometimes as well.

Justin: Either way it’s always exciting to see firsthand.

Dan: Exactly; Total fucking chaos.