It's Christmas Time, but The Darkness tell us Easter is Cancelled as they head for The Pyramids, Southsea
Given their career-long embrace and clear love of the over-the-top aspects of hard rock, it’s almost a surprise to find that it’s taken The Darkness until now to release a concept album.
But with album number six, Easter Is Cancelled, they’ve gone the whole hog.
Its release was preceded by the suitably epic single, Rock and Roll Deserves To Die, which makes Bohemian Rhapsody sound like the work of amateurs recording in a tin shack.
The accompanying press saw frontman Justin Hawkins declare the album would be ‘the grandest statement any band has ever made, and the endeavour has taken its toll.
‘In achieving such a mighty goal, a line is drawn and this will be the last traditional music album from The Darkness – having confronted the eternal and ultimate, we must now move on to higher art forms. The future is an open door. Who’s in here?’
The Guide caught up with guitarist and the album’s producer, Dan Hawkins – Justin’s brother – to find out what no earth it all means. But first, he says he’s sorry: ‘I've had way too much coffee. So if I chew your ear off, I apologise...’
So is this a full-blown concept album?
‘Yeah, 100 per cent,’ he laughs, ‘so basically, it’s safe to say we got a bit carried away.
‘The original idea plan for this album, as producer, I kind of said, let's do everything properly, because the actual recording end of it always seems to be the bit that we rush.
‘We always spent ages writing the songs and demoing them. And then you have to knock them out in about 10 days, if you’re lucky, because studio time is so expensive.’
Now that Dan has his own recording studio, he figured they could take their time and ‘fully realise every idea that we have and not cut corners.
‘So, that backfired somewhat!
‘We had three songs, each of them about five or six minutes long, and each one taking about a month of 16-hour days, seven days a week to record. It was: “Oh my God, why on earth did I say this? Why have I done this?”’
The album didn't start off as a concept – the original inspiration is a little unexpected.
‘I was very inspired by going to the Motown studios in Detroit and taking the tour – they made all these incredible records in quite limited space.
‘I thought well, for starters, I could do that in my studio. And then secondly, they had this A&R process where they opened every song out to everyone that worked for the company. Before they released a song, everyone would have to vote on it, would you buy this record instead of your sandwich at lunch?
‘And that's how they got things through the vetting process.
‘The original plan was, as soon as we’ve got something to play to the label, we play it to them, we play it to our management, and everyone around us, and then we take their advice,’ he gives a chuckle. ‘That all went out the window after the first song took about six weeks to record, and it was just sprawling. That was Rock and Roll Deserves To Die, and it was at that point I just turned the phone off to the label, management, everyone. We essentially locked ourselves in and hid from everyone.
‘It wasn't always the intention to make a concept album, it made itself really, I suppose.’
The album also sees the band experimenting stylistically. While there are still plenty of their signature riffs, there’s a lot more going on.
‘Well, I never thought I'd record jazz. I never thought that half way through the album it would suddenly sound like Edith Piaf meets 10cc. If you actually wrote that down and planned to do that, someone would say you’re insane: who’s going to want to listen to that?’
But The Darkness have hardly built a career on sane choices have they? ‘For better or worse,’ Dan agrees with a wry laugh, ‘mainly for the worse. But there you go, hey ho.’
With the initial press release talking about ‘higher art forms’ and this being their last regular album, what does this say about the future of the Darkness?
‘We just feel like we’ve taken this thing as far as we can. By the end of making this album, it was, my god, what can we do next? We’ve done it now. We're going to say something different.
‘We were talking about maybe writing a musical, maybe making a film, or each of us doing a solo album and releasing them all at the same time.
‘I don’t know, we’re going to do something different, and we won't come back until we’ve done it with conviction.
‘That's actually quite a big commitment, because I'm looking at writing screenplays or producing plays or operas or musicals, and it takes a hell of a long time to do that, and it's a whole new set of skills that we're going to have to learn from scratch.’
It’s certainly been a wild ride up to this point – from the madness of their debut Permission To Land going multi-platinum, and all of the excesses that brought, the subsequent split and triumphant return with Hot Cakes.
The four-piece have gone on to carve themselves a place outside of other musical trends while remaining a hugely popular live act, and their albums still sell respectably.
So if this is the end of The Darkness as we know it, what does Dan think their legacy will be?
‘Legacy-wise? We're nowhere near finished yet.
‘I think we might be remembered for something else by the time it’s legacy look-back time – I strongly feel that.’
At this point Dan tortures an interesting metaphor to describe the band’s trajectory.
‘For the first three albums, we were grubs, then we took an evolutionary turn and we turned into caterpillars. I do realise that grubs and caterpillars aren’t the same species,’ he laughs.
‘At the moment we’re quite a good looking caterpillar, and we’re about to cocoon.
‘We’re currently covered in the horrible, thick crusty shell – that’s what this album is, our thick, crusty shell.’
This suggests that there will be a Darkness butterfly eventually?
‘Something like that...’
Away from their regular output, the band has popped up somewhere you’d probably only have noticed if you’ve got young children – they have provided the theme song and incidental music for the CBeebies show Catie’s Amazing Machines and it’s follow-up Grace’s Amazing Machines.
‘It came about because, and I’m quite proud of this, we were on (another CBeebies show) ZingZillas, and that’s quite a prestigious thing – Julian Lloyd Webber’s been on there, Dame Evelyn Glennie, all kinds of musicians.
‘But people who don’t have kids and don’t know it would think, what the hell are you doing?
‘We did that and it went really well.
‘And then I think we got a bit of a reputation within CBeebies for being a band that can deliver. So they asked primarily me to do this, and they sent me some rushes of the show, and it was like, wow, this is Top Gear for kids!
‘They put in place holding music like AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, and they wanted music like that, so that’s what I gave them.
‘It’s a really great program. I love it!’
The Pyramids Centre, Southsea
Monday, December 9