The Darkness’ ‘Let them Eat Cakes’ World Tour is currently rampaging across Europe.
Just before their Manchester Apollo gig, Dan Hawkins of The Darkness sat down for an extended chat about several million things.
OI: Ok, the first thing I want to talk about is, ever since you got back to headlining, people have been going mental about what they’re seeing on stage because it just seems to be completely wild. Where’s that come from? Is it something that just happened, or come out of something you’ve seen, or…
DH: I think if you compare like performances we were doing in 2004 to now, I think we’re actually a lot more mobile, we’ve got a lot more energy. I especially can’t stand still for more than a couple of minutes these days, and I know Frank’s the same. We used to think that we were more of a performance rock band back in the day than we actually were – I saw some footage of us from around about 2004 – sure enough Justin was going for it but he was no way as energetic as he is now and Frank and I are pretty much planted to the spot, not moving around at all, so… As to where it’s come from, I think that’s to do with confidence, really. I think we kind of.. although we didn’t really give a fuck in the first place, we REALLY don’t give a fuck any more, you know? In a good way.
OI: Is that like a ‘second chance, let’s go hell for leather’ thing?
DH: Hmm.. Possibly. No, because that would probably be based more on nervous energy, and it’s not nervous energy anymore. I think we just know what people want, now, whereas before it was enough just to be able to play the songs properly. I think we’ve moved on a bit really. Literally I don’t think I looked at my guitar in that sound check. It comes from confidence, really. When something becomes really easy for you, that’s when you start doing other things as well like running around.
OI: Yes, you’re definitely much more in the limelight on that stage.
DH: Than I used to be, yeah, definitely. I dunno.. I enjoy it! Enjoy interacting with the audience these days where I actually fucking used to hate it. It wasn’t just because.. I used to literally stand by my amps and play, put my hair over my eyes so I didn’t have to see anyone. I used to suffer from stage fright in the early days. I used to hate it, being on stage. I struggled, because I always thought I’d be a drummer, you see, and things didn’t quite work out that way.
OI: You could have a word with Ed about that. Can he play guitar?
DH: Can Ed play guitar? Yeah, he can actually play a bit of guitar, he can play enough to write songs. But yeah, drums were my first instrument. So.. yeah, it was quite painful for me being on stage before. It’s the only band I’ve felt comfortable playing live in, mainly because Justin was like a deflector – I looked up one day and everyone was looking at him. I couldn’t give a shit about me and I thought ‘Brilliant, this is much better!’ Whereas these days it’s sort of like weird just standing there, I feel like I’d be cheating the audience now.
OI: I don’t think there are any complaints, really!
DH: No, there weren’t any in the early days.
OI: Slightly off track – talking about the confidence and the stage fright and everyone looking at somebody else – in Stone Gods, everyone was looking at you. Did that help or did you not notice that?
DH: Ermm… Yes, Stone Gods was quite difficult, but you know, that’s actually why I’m a bit more confident these days as well. I had to play a major role, because I had to be the lead guitarist in that group.
OI: And that’s why people were looking at you?
OI: But, you know, they came to see Dan Hawkins from The Darkness…
DH: Yeah, that’s true, but I had to play loads of lead stuff and really present everything. And I was playing a lot more difficult stuff than I ever had in The Darkness, well, a lot more technical, so I think maybe coming out of that and back into this, it’s just a breeze, being in The Darkness, it’s so incredibly – I didn’t realise it but my natural state is playing that kind of music, something that comes terribly naturally to me. Sometimes you’ve got to move away from it to appreciate it.
OI: Yes. Is any of that confidence coming from Gaga – seeing what she’s doing and seeing what everyone else is doing there, and thinking ‘We could…’
DH: I think we learned a lot from Gaga herself, actually, and her attitude towards life and music and everything. She’s quite an inspiring person to be around, because I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone so confident – it’s unbelievable – and when you see someone that’s so at ease doing what they do, it kind of inspires you to get to the point where you’re like that too. There was something about the Gaga tour though, that I thought that it wasn’t great for our fans. I understand that. But we kind of had to do it, if only for the fact that it was going to take us into South America and it was a market that we couldn’t actually get into at the time.
OI: Yeah, this is what I said when I first heard, and I did quite a long piece about it, that they can’t possibly turn it down, it’s too good to be true.
DH: Yes, basically because it takes promoters taking a risk on the band to actually book you for a gig. How it works is when your agent is putting together a tour, they do it in conjunction with either one big promoter for all the gigs or with individual venue promoters. The simple fact is, because we’d never played a gig in South America, when we were trying to tour there the year before last and trying to put a tour together off the back of America, we just couldn’t get arrested, you know? No one wanted to take the risk, and say ‘Look, here’s x amount of money guaranteed’ because you have to have a guarantee for the show otherwise we could go bankrupt if no one turns up, so we couldn’t get arrested. Then after we did Lady Gaga, and in South America particularly it was absolutely amazing, I mean, some of those gigs we played to say 75,000 people and it was like a headline show. It genuinely was fucking unbelievable! And now we can go back to South America and promoters are biting our hands off to put a tour together for us. For that reason alone, it was worth doing it. The downside of touring with Gaga was a) the fans were being forced to buy tickets for a gig they didn’t necessarily want to go to, to see us, and also, a lot of people couldn’t see us because they couldn’t afford the ticket and they wouldn’t do it, and I don’t blame them at all. The worst thing is that it took the wind out of the sales of the album campaign because we just weren’t in any country long enough to promote it properly. We couldn’t do anything, so the labels were just like ‘Well, we’ll wait till you’ve finished with Gaga then we’ll have a look at it.’ Sure enough, six to nine months later, it’s kinda ‘may as well move onto the next album’. But I STILL think it was worth it, because it opened up markets for us that weren’t there before and was an amazing experience. I think it did sort of give us a bit more confidence in performance, because you can’t just stand there when you’re a support band in a stadium. You have to fucking milk every second you’ve got on that stage, and after you’ve done that in venues of that size for so long, it’s infectious. You end up acting in a different way. Lots of bands have that experience when they go on tour with another big band, you end up soaking up parts of their approach.
OI: Well that’s right. I’m not convinced it would have had the same result had you gone on tour with someone like.. umm.. some metal band or another rock band. I don’t think that what came out of it would have been the same.
DH: Yeah, possibly, who knows? That was another thing for us, it was good to have the challenge of a completely different audience for us. I’m not sure how many fans we really made, especially on the European legs, but it’s good to come outside the rock sort of thing sometimes. You can’t just sit in your own little bubble thing.
OI: Well, the two gigs I went to there were plenty jumping up and down and singing along. To The Darkness, I mean!
DH: Yeah, the monster pit was an inspired move on her behalf, cos you had your own little gig or club show in front of you, then you have the stadium at the back.
OI: Well, I think that was more of a necessary move, because if she hadn’t done that, views would have been amazingly restricted because they were already, with the walkway.
DH: Yeah, exactly, yeah, it was bad, wasn’t it, yeah.
OI: Although, at the first one at Twickenham, I was watching it on the big screen and it was funny to watch Justin move and his navel pixels just stay where they were… quite an image.
DH: That stuck, did it?
OI: Yeah – little things amuse little minds! It was bizarre. Anyway… that leads into the next question about the real difference between headlining and supporting, especially when you’re on – well, just the scale of the Gaga gigs, as opposed to a similar thing here.
DH: We’ve been out in America and Europe already this year doing headline shows, playing to anything between 500 and 2,000 capacity venues. It just more intense when you do a headline show. It used to be a case of when you’re supporting, you didn’t care less whether people like it or not. You basically expect to go down badly and anything else is a bonus. You just go on there and have fun, really. Whereas, with a headline show, the bar is slightly higher, isn’t it? You’ve got to give people value for money. It can be a bit more stressful doing a headline show.
OI: Do you feel constrained at headline shows when you know people want certain things?
DH: Not really. I think we’re quite good at doing whatever the fuck we want, actually! And not always in a good way! When we were touring America we changed the sets so much, every gig was completely different until we found the right kind of set that reflects our mood at the moment. Basically, we’re trying to get a bit more back to basics and have it a lot more uptempo, and less of a dynamic set. We used to, when we were playing the bigger headline shows, have an acoustic section, a dropdown section, lump the ballads together and also milk/draw things out a bit longer than they probably needed to be. The whole thing at the moment is just to get on there and fucking rock like bastards then piss off, which is what we used to do. When we used to do headline shows that were under an hour sometimes, just go on there fucking hell for leather, and not really know what was going to happen during the gig -all sorts of chaos ensued. It was the chaos that we used to really like. Again, with the pressure that comes with a headline gig, sometimes there’s a tendency to eliminate the chaos because you feel like you’re under pressure to give someone a big show, the sort of thing that other headline bands do. But, we’re not doing that anymore. We’re just fucking rocking out and having a laugh and we’re really at Justin’s beck and call. Sheffield was a difficult gig for us last night, because we fucking hate playing seated venues. I’d like to put that on record. It’s a fucking waste of time sometimes, you know, partly because it’s not – the communion element of it has gone. Fans that want to be at the front and hang out with other people who want to go nuts can’t because they’re in an allocated seat next to someone who’s probably driven someone who’s a big fan to the gig, but doesn’t really want to be there. So that makes everyone feel awkward.
OI: You’re right, it was a lot like that.
DH: Fucking shit, and I hope we never play a seated venue again, although I know Newcastle is, but… ha, I’m waffling now! Apart from that show last night, though, it’s been chaos, really. Justin has taken to riding members of the audience around the venue and stuff like that, there have been some really mental things been going on. I know it sounds stupid, but diving off fucking balconies, riding members of the audience…
OI: Falling off things…
DH: Yeah, falling off the stage… That’s what we’re about on this tour, really, just going for it.
OI: Do you stand there and look at him and go ‘What the fuck’s he doing now?’
DH: Sometimes, yeah. But sometimes it’s fucking hilarious, I do find it hilarious. See, that’s the stuff I love, when it goes completely off-piste. That’s when I know we’re having a good gig, when things start going wrong.
OI: Age has definitely not brought wisdom on that point?
DH: No. And I hope it never does, because at the end of the day I think that’s one of the things that separates us. We’re not just doing renditions of the songs, there’s a bit more to it than that.
OI: Most bands do that in their early twenties, though.
DH: Hmm. Yeah, that’s true.
OI: Perhaps there are just more balconies to jump off these days.
DH: Yeah, maybe. Maybe you lose the will to live after a certain age?
OI: Steady, Mr Hawkins… Well, that leads us into what we’re going to do next! (swift change of subject) You’re off to Australia, but what after that? Are you back to last year’s festivals?
DH: Yeah, well, I dunno… we’re in the third year of festivals so I think our agent is being very careful about the ones that we do, because you can’t just keep doing the festival season over and over. There are a few smaller festivals out there dotted around Europe and there’s one in America planned for the summer, but I’m not sure whether we’ll do anything in the UK. We’ve kind of got to that point where we need to leave it fallow for a year or two now, because we had the comeback thing over the festival season. Then we did a tour, did some more touring, then it’s the festival season again, then Gaga, now we’re in our third year of this album campaign now. It’ll probably be time to hang up the Les Pauls after the summer. I can’t guarantee that though because we’re going to have a meeting with our agent and manager when we get to London to talk about what happens next, and the label, and stuff. I wouldn’t have thought we’ll be doing much at the end of the year. I think we’ll be on tour with the next album and desperately trying to get it out for the end of next year.
OI: So that’s your winter job, is it, to sort that album out?
DH: Hopefully, yeah. But you can never tell with the making of an album. We’ve written loads on the road. This has been the best tour ever – the last two tours in fact – for writing on the road. We’ve got six or seven things on the go now. It may not sound like a lot, but compared to zero having ever been written on the road – we’ve never been able to do it for some reason. I tell you what, you just really have to just keep going at it. It’s quite knackering after a gig. The next day, you’re almost always in pain, and it’s not from being old, by the way!
OI: Some bits of you are suffering?
DH: Yeah, it’s completely unnatural what you do up there to yourself sometimes. You tend to lie around like a slug all day trying to preserve your energy because you know you’ve got to do it again that same night.
OI: It’s the same for us, you know! Often wake up covered in bruises – unless it’s a seated gig.
DH: Exactly, it’s hard work, isn’t it? Imagine doing that every night… But yeah, we’ve written loads on the road, forced ourselves to set up the studio every day and keep chipping away at it. We’ve had some amazing results. We’re really excited about the next album, actually, it’ll be a real fucking creacker, I think.
OI: Are we going along the same lines, or something new?
DH: We’re writing so much at the moment and going in so many different directions we want to go in, so many things we want to explore, it’s hard to know. It’s a shame you can’t make a triple album these days.
OI: Why can’t you?
DH: Well, maybe we can… we’re definitely going to change tack a bit on this one. The stuff is incredibly varied so far. You can’t really think about what people want, what the fans would like to hear when you’re making a record, because it’s almost like a way of instantly watering yourselves down. You’ve got to do whatever you feel like doing at the time because that’s the only stuff that will sound genuine. At the moment it’s hard to say what it sounds like. One of the songs is the most progressive things we’ve ever done by a long shot, and another one is a straight Cult / AC/DC thing.
DH: One of them sounds like the LAs. Its really hard to get a handle on what it sounds like.
OI: I was thinking last night that Love On The Rocks, the end of it, was sounding really psychedelic.
DH: Yes, it started going a bit that way.
OI: I liked it!
DH: I’m trying to do a bit more improvising on my solos and endings and things like that. I’ve got some interesting new sounds as well. I’ve got this fucking pedal that’s absolutely mindblowing – it’s actually speakerblowing as well! I’ve blown a few speakers every time I’ve put it on, it just creates this massive subharmonic sort of thing which is probably what you’re hearing at the end of Love On The Rocks these days. It’s an outrageous sound – sounds like an elephant being shot.
OI: I’ll listen out for that! Next question… Since the split and getting back together, do you think your roles have changed with the new skills or experiences that people gained while they were… ‘away’?
DH: Good question, yeah. Yeah, to some extent. Frank and Ed are a lot more involved in things these days, decision making and the running of the band. I think we all lump in a bit more. It really was all me doing all the fucking dog work back in the day, liaising with management, agents, and all the sort of day to day stuff, decision making – it was really stressful. From the start of this new thing I wanted everyone to take responsibility for themselves and for the band equally, you know. Give people the power to do things and make decisions on behalf of the band, rather than me have to do it all the time. That’s the dynamic – we’re a team, much more of a team than we used to be. It was a bit of a dictatorship, really, it’s not like that anymore. We actually listen to each other, which is something we never used to do.
OI: Is that something to do with being a bit more sober?
DH: I think that probably has got a lot to do with it, although I have got a mild hangover today which is a bit hypocritical, but that’s very rare for me and that will probably be the last one of the tour. When you’re hungover the entire time, which we used to be, you’re in your own little world, aren’t you, in your own bubble, trying to recover and get over the night before. It’s just a lot more pleasant, people are in a much better mood all the time. You can do things like write songs and have a laugh, watch films together, it’s cool. I didn’t think touring would ever be this fun, actually. I was talking to Ginger and his guys yesterday and they were saying the same sort of thing. It adds another dimension to touring when you take the booze out of the equation. Suddenly there’s so much other stuff you can do and enjoy. Before it was literally lying on the bus dying until an hour before show time then forcing your body to do a gig!
OI: It’s strange that you’ve become wilder on stage now – or was it just a case of not moving too far in case your head exploded?
DH: Maybe… It probably has got a lot to do with that. I think you’ll find the adrenaline of going out and getting hammered and doing all sorts of bad things that you’re not supposed to, you’re cramming all that stuff that’s not there any more into the gig.
OI: Have any of you now discovered anything that you’re really good at that you never knew, this time round?
DH: I’m enjoying singing a lot more. Once my voice has warmed up I really enjoy singing, I used to really fucking hate it. Tennis… we got really fucking good at tennis on the Gaga tour, because there were a lot of days off that we weren’t allowed to do our own shows in because we could only do a headline show if her show had sold out which is why we didn’t do too many.
OI: Oh, right.. is that why you did the Glasgow one?
DH: Yeah, and also, if we’re not in the same country we were able to do it, but we’d have to travel to another country then rejoin the tour. Crazy really, but you can understand why, because we are partially, though only partially, to help sell tickets for her. So if we’re doing our own headline show people aren’t going to go to hers, necessarily. So… yeah, played a lot of tennis, Frank, Justin and I got really good on that tour, surprisingly good. What else… I started doing a bit more orchestral stuff and computer programming, things like that on my music production side. A bit more filming things, working with strings and things like that. Just getting stuck into it. Also, having kids, you value your time a bit more, try to make the most of every hour that you’re away from your kids, because you may as well. If you’re going to have to be away, you may as well be as productive as possible.
OI: Yeah… have you learned to deal with the demands on you better, or has it just become easier with experience?
DH: What kind of demands?
OI: Well, things like this. Interviews, all the other demands of being on tour like constantly getting on planes and buses, having to talk to people, people always wanting to see you and that kind of thing.
DH: You know, personally, cos I can’t talk for the rest of the guys, ever since the band split up, I’ve been incredibly appreciative of what we have, and appreciative of the fact that anyone’s even remotely interested in what we do. It all got a bit out of hand really. We were doing, on show days, probably 5 hours of interviews every day, and on days off we would spend all day doing interviews and promo. There was an unbelievable schedule for such a long time. I think after a while you don’t appreciate why people are talking to you in the first place – you kind of lose the plot a bit, don’t you? These days we’re just appreciative that anyone’s interested in the band, you know. Genuinely, we’re very aware of how lucky we are that there’s an audience still there for us. When the band became really big we picked up a massive pop transient audience at the time, which basically just evaporated over the course of a year or two – they’re a pop audience, and they flit from one thing to the next. That, combined with the fact that we split up for a good few years then coming back, we weren’t sure whether there would be an audience at all for us. We thought that the worst it could possibly be would maybe we’d be playing to 300-400 people a night but at least we’d make a living from it. It hasn’t been like that, it’s been amazing to see that there actually is a Darkness fan base that stuck by us even though we fucking split up.
OI: You only needed to ask!
OI: Do you people go round and have a look at what the fans are saying?
DH: Frank’s really good at that. I have to say I’m terrible, but I’m always interested. Frank is our…
DH: Yeah. Every band has one. In Stone Gods, Toby was that guy. It’s always bass players, isn’t it? But yeah, Frank is really good at it – only yesterday he got the band onto Instagram (www.instagram.com/theactualdarkness). Frank genuinely does care about the fans, and he’s always listening to what people are saying about things. He does care about the opinion of fans and is very in touch. He’s our portal into the fans. I keep myself so busy with other things… It seems like every person in the entire world, in the office and whatever, is on Facebook the entire time. I think Facebook is a brilliant thing especially if you’ve got kids and your family can see pictures of your kids and stuff if you’re away all the time, but I just don’t go on there. I’m too busy writing and recording when I’m on the road, always super busy, and I don’t always have time to watch films or have time to read. I’m literally on my laptop making music 24 hours a day. When I get home, my laptop will literally stay in my bag until I’m on tour again. I’m not that great at it. I’ve had a couple of attempts at being good on Twitter.
OI: It’s not going too badly.
DH: The trouble is with Twitter, I think it’s maybe just the sort of person that maybe I am, is that I think ‘who the fuck wants to hear my brainfarts?’ Do you know what I mean?
OI: Dan, you’re a major rockstar, people want… or is it more the sort of people that want to hear them?
DH: It just makes me feel like I’m old, listening to ‘I’m eating a sandwich, aren’t I brilliant’ it’s just so.. it doesn’t sit well with me. I do try, but I tend to only really twitter something when I think it’s really funny or it’s relevant, but unfortunately…
OI: Photos always go down well.
DH: Yeah, like when I did a picture of when I saw my Thin Lizzy Tshirts lined up for the tour, that’s a great one, isn’t it? But I’m not very good at it, because I’ve sort of got tunnel vision now writing music. I desperately don’t want us to finish touring this album then start writing another album. I want it finished, almost done, even before we begin. I think it’s all about the more songs you have to whittle down to make an album, the better the album will be, simple as that. There’s always time pressure when you’re writing in the gap between albums. I’ve been trying, though, trying to get better.
OI: I think Justin does enough for several.
DH: I think Frank gets a bit annoyed sometimes when the labels put things on our Facebook and Twitter because I think he thinks it turns fans away.
OI: There’s definitely a difference in tone, you can tell who’s done what.
DH: Good, as long as you can. That’s the thing, we do want it to be as personal as possible. If you look at Gaga’s site, she’s brilliant.
OI: She’s incredibly involved with hers!
DH: And even if there is a vague sense of trying to sell something like her perfume, it’s still from her, written by her. I think it’s important that social media sites aren’t just fucking shop windows for the label.
OI: I think it’s important these days for bands not to distance themselves.
DH: Yes, that’s the thing. I don’t purposely do that, I just quite often don’t have the time. When I open my laptop, the first thing is opening programs and carrying on what I was working on the day before. That’s after I’ve Skyped the kids. That’s my thing, but most other people in the world these days, the open up their computer and the first thing they do is have a snoop around. Which is fair enough, but I’m just not like that. The other guys are.
OI: You’ve always had a good reputation of coming out and seeing the fans, and stuff, and relating to them that way. I started on the original forum, the official one, in 2003, and the amount of changes that have taken place in cyberspace… we just don’t do forums anymore. There is one! But it’s just not the same and actually the fan base thing has become quite fragmented. The forum was a meeting place, as intended. Now you have people on Facebook, people on Twitter, and fans are not building the same relationships. Well, they are, but it’s not the same. We’re not building that mass relationship the way we used to.
DH: Someone said to me that we should have a forum, because older people don’t necessarily get Facebook and Twitter, they find all that confusing. What they want to do is go to the band’s website, go to the forum, and interact with other fans directly.
OI: There is the Darklings one.
DH: We did talk to management about having a forum, and they didn’t think it was a terrible idea, but what with Facebook and Twitter being so massive now, then maybe why would you? And there’s getting someone to administer it for you. It’s good to have a home, that’s yours rather than via someone else’s program. Also, things that are posted on there by the administrator, you can take as a given that it’s from the band and official. Our manager does a lot of that, he’s quite up to speed on stuff like that, which is good, because we’re dire!
Time was moving on, so we stopped there. Many and heartfelt thanks to Dan Hawkins for a considerable chunk of his time, and for being so forthcoming (and for the flapjack).
Manchester Apollo, 2nd March 2013
If you need any info at all on The Darkness, look around this site or go to the official one – www.theactualdarkness.com
The forum mentioned is The Darklings one.