The Darkness are back with new album Pinewood Smile, and they’re firing on all cylinders – when they’re not stuck on the train.
Endless pleasures of the flesh, a hedonistic life, experiencing things we mere mortals can only dream of – this is the kind of subject matter we expect in songs from our hard rock heroes. Not being stuck on the 9.50 from Horsham to London Victoria.
But then most rock bands are not The Darkness, who have had their tongues embedded firmly in their cheeks since day one and a refusal to ever take themselves or anything else too seriously.
The band’s fifth album Pinewood Smile, was released last month and includes a track that is less Motörhead’s (We Are) The Road Crew and more ‘stuck at platform two’. Southern Trains is the four-piece’s ode to commuting during the recording of the album.
Guitarist Dan Hawkins now lives near Horsham and he had his brother, frontman Justin Hawkins, living with him while they were making the record.
‘A lot of the album was written in Putney,’ Dan tells The Guide. ‘I live in Sussex so it’s right in Southern Rail territory. My brother lives in Switzerland and stays at mine when we’re working, so we were commuting in together every day for months.
We’ve always shot ourselves in the foot to some extent and not been the band that people want us to beDan Hawkins
‘Oh my god,’ he audibly shudders at recalling the experience. ‘I think it was from one particular journey where we were three hours late.
‘We were so hacked off. To try and write and be creative after that... it’s obviously going to filter into what you’re doing. Trying to eat with a backside in your face, that’s literally what was happening. I was trying to eat a burrito and there’s someone’s backside an inch from my face.
‘It’s about that frustration.
‘I do love the idea of people listening to that song on the train while they’re running late.’
The band have also released a gloriously daft video to go with it.
‘It’s got the fastest and silliest video we’ve ever done. We literally just used Snapchat filters. And it’s me in my pyjamas.’
And then there’s the album’s lead single, Solid Gold, a fantastically profane tribute to their own supposed excellence.
How were they expecting to get any radio play with something so full of swearing?
‘I actually said “Is there any point in doing a radio edit of this?”’ Dan laughs. ‘Talk about shooting yourself in the foot – your lead single, and the main line has got the word [expletive] in it. Well, we’re screwed then!
‘But we have done a radio edit, and it’s “shooting out solid gold”, so there you go.
‘We’ve always done that though, shot ourselves in the foot to some extent and not been the band that people want us to be.
‘So no change there then,’ he deadpans.
On the day we spoke, the album was about to be released, and the band had been busy the day before signing thousands of copies, pre-ordered by their fans.
‘We went to our label for the day and signed about 5,500 albums, so I can hardly move my right arm today! I think some of the later signatures were just “Da”, I couldn’t even manage the “n”, but it’s really exciting because we saw the product and the artwork for the first time – and seeing all of those albums and knowing that they’re all already sold. The label did some maths and they think we’re almost already beating our first week album sales from our last album.’
And it did indeed improve on the performance of album number four – it debuted at number eight in the charts, whereas The Last of Our Kind stalled just outside the top 10.
While they’re some way from the heady peaks of their early days – first album Permission To Land sold 1.5m copies in the UK alone and spawned rock radio staples like Growing on Me and I Believe in a Thing Called Love – Dan is sanguine about the band’s fortunes. Their last two albums were released through their own label Canary Dwarf, but the new one is with esteemed independent label Cooking Vinyl.
‘This is more of a joint venture, so I guess they’re more invested in us.
‘For anyone to give a damn is great when we’re five albums in,’ he laughs.
Pinewood Smile also marks the recording debut of drummer Rufus (son of Queen drummer Roger) Taylor who joined the band in 2015.
‘He brings a lot of energy, he’s just really full of it, and he plays really loudly and really fast – and he remembers stuff really quickly.
‘The pool of songs we had to chose from for this album must be in the 40s, whereas for the last two we’ve been kind of scraping by with about 16 or 17 and everything ended up getting used one way or another. It’s been really good, it’s adding an urgency to everything which I really like.’
Rufus is also, it’s fair to say, a little younger than his bandmates.
‘It’s only a couple of years if you go by our stage ages,’ says Dan with a chuckle. ‘We’re definitely immature though, and he’s definitely more mature for his age, so we meet somewhere in the middle – that makes us all about 30, I guess!’
Humour has always been an essential part of The Darkness’s DNA. An element that has sometimes seen them dismissed as a novelty act, or joke band.
‘My brother said it one day, “We’re at our best when we’re right on the edge and you can’t tell if we’re being serious or not”. If it’s all-out silliness and too jokey then it’s not us, so the guessing part is good. We play the same game – we can play the same song one night and feel really angry and full of attitude, and then the next we’re laughing to ourselves.’
Do they ever worry they’re straying too far into the territory of famed 1984 rock mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap? ‘Oh my god, only every single day of my life! But the reason that film’s so funny and enduring is because it’s real. All of those things happen to us on a regular basis. Including the exploding drummers.
‘We’re hoping Rufus will last the distance though,’ Dan deadpans, ‘because he’s totally awesome and we love having him in the band, but he might just explode one day, you just don’t know do you?’
The band are, hopefully, soon to become the subject of a feature-length documentary of their own.
‘They’re trying to wrap it up now,’ says Dan, ‘they’ve been filming on and off for years now.
‘I think they’re waiting for us either to have a hit or someone in the band to die!
‘It’s not necessarily going to be what people are expecting. I watched the Oasis documentary the other day [Supersonic], and don’t get me wrong, I love Oasis, but it’s just like one massive PR exercise, isn’t it?
‘But then you’ve got things like Anvil! [a 2008 documentary about the rise and fall and rise again of a Canadian metal band], which is a fantastic story. But we’re not Anvil either.
‘This is more of a human interest story – a study of what it’s like to be us. Simon Emmett, the director made this amazing film called Underhill about the relationship between lower tier English football clubs and their fans and the importance of that, and the dedication. From what I’ve seen of it, it’s a similar kind of feel.
‘It’s going to have to be released next year - they’ve got so much footage, they have to release it soon.’
As Dan acknowledges, the highs of yore may have gone, but The Darkness are a long way from down and out.
‘I think now it’s evident that we’re probably just going to keep cruising at altitude.’
* The Darkness play the O2 Guildhall in Southampton on Thursday, November 23, doors open 7pm. Go to academymusicgroup.com