The Darkness’ Justin Hawkins Talks ‘Pinewood Smile’ Disc + Being an ‘Albums’ Band
The Darkness have done it! The band has always put on a solid live show, but manage to capture that energy and verve they typically deliver onstage and have sprinkled it all over their new disc Pinewood Smile, which arrives in stores and online today (Oct. 6).
We recently had a chance to speak with frontman Justin Hawkins about the making of Pinewood Smile and how recording live in the studio helped them to capture the energy that pulses throughout. Hawkins says he also views the group as an “albums band” and remains committed to the full product though the industry model continues to change. The singer speaks in depth about what the addition of drummer Rufus Tiger Taylor has meant to the band, discusses some of the album’s top songs and teases the band’s upcoming “Tour de Prance” U.S. trek. Check out the chat below.
I know you guys did live recording in the studio. How was that process for the band and did it give you any challenges in terms of getting the sound you wanted?
Well, you know, we thought the first two weeks would be the tracks and then the second two weeks would be the overdubs and for the first two weeks we got a lot more done than we thought we would because we recorded written guitars, bass, drums, all at the same time. Once we got the correct take, I would sing the lead vocal and then move on to the next one so within two weeks we actually had all of the songs recorded with lead vocals, everything and that meant that we had sort of a good base for the whole album that we could create a consistent sound being recorded so that the second track matches the overdubs.
I think it almost quite surprised me because then Adrian Bushby, who’s the producer, was saying that lots of bands want to do the organic no clicks, no metronomes, no punch-ins. So the organic recording practice — you really have to be super rehearsed to be able to pull it off and luckily, we were super rehearsed, you know, so it’s just we call it “routining.” We routine the tracks until we have the right takes and then cracked on from there.
Adrian has worked on some great albums. Can you talk about what he brought to the process and anything you may have picked up from him you’d like to use for future records?
We met a few different people and they were suggested because we wanted to make a record that’s a bit more modern sounding, perhaps a little bit more aggressive in places and then we met him. His energy as a person showed us that he was the right guy and he’s really up, you know, really up and really up for it. Really excited. And he’s like a small child on Christmas morning, sort of pounding down the stairs perhaps from the night before and he kept us all in the right frame of mind, I think, and that’s really important and he’s also a brilliant engineer — John sounds amazing and I’m really glad that we used him for the mixes too because it’s a consistent idea of what it’s going to sound like beginning to end, you know, and he’s just all around a really great all around really nice bloke too.
Rufus Tiger Taylor has come in and is drumming with you guys now. If you can talk about what he’s brought to the table? He’s also joined you singing on a few of these tracks.
He’s an amazing drummer and he’s just got a beautiful singing voice as well so, the two sort of more ballad-y tracks at the end of each side he sings a duet with me and in most of the time when we’re singing together he’s sort of singing the lead vocal and I’m doing the harmony over him, and so it’s kind of like a brilliant new texture for the fans to appreciate and next week we’re going to be doing rehearsals to try to work out how to pull it off live and hopefully, for everybody’s sake, it’ll be me on drums, Rufus up front singing. The front row would appreciate that, I think. [laughs]
I was curious on lyrical content on the album? How much of it is you and how much is everybody else contributing and what’s the process of getting on the same page musically?
Well, to be honest, musically it was Dan and Ru primarily and with the odd very caring contribution from myself. But there’s significant, like, world-changing riffs here and there which I just s–t out, you know, in my sleep really and then lyrics is usually my department but I often consult people like Ru and even the others if there is a controversial thing I’m not sure about, I’ll definitely bounce it off the guys and try and get alternatives and routine. That’s it really, but I think because I’m the bloke that has to sing most of those lyrics, it’s usually me that has to come up with most of them too.
On this album, there’s quite an old concept on there that we were trying to squeeze into the song that’s for “All the Pretty Girls” and that’s a killer concept really, because it’s like, you know, it’s just saying that everybody loves you for who you are but what they don’t appreciate is that your identity and your career are intrinsically linked because I’m not a bloke that happens to sing, I’m the singer. Full stop. From top to bottom from the minute I wake up until the moment I fall asleep at about two in the afternoon in front of daytime television.
I wanted to ask, since you mentioned “All the Pretty Girls.” It’s about the certain assumed attractiveness that comes with your status as a musician. I was wondering if you had any specific instances where you saw the situation kind of come into play for yourself?
Even when you’re at school, if you excel at something that’s creative or artistic, it does improve your [status] – it doesn’t hurt your chances. I certainly noticed it being a loser in a s–t band even there, who’s – maybe more attractive than being a loser working in a chamber of commerce. [laughs] But, essentially still a loser. That’s the main thing. If there’s one kernel of truth that I want to take from that whole experience is that I would always be a loser. I’m ready to accept that and embrace my weakness.
I wanted to ask about “Solid Gold.” I love that song and I love the take that you guys have on the industry itself…
It’s largely based on experiences with, and even on this last album we saw, drawing from our experiences now and 15 years ago really. There was a moment when everybody wanted to sign us. So we start talking about that a little bit. The truth is there was interest from Sony on this record but then as soon as they heard “Solid Gold” they withdrew it. A bit of coincidence, but I’d like to think it’s not a coincidence and they were deeply offended by it. If you can offend just one person … that’s what they say, isn’t it? Make it the head of Sony. [laughs]
Since that is about your experiences with the music industry and times have changed so much even from where you guys came into the biz, is there any advice you’d give to young bands going through this process for the first time?
That’s an interesting question because I don’t think I would be able to offer any advice to young bands. If anything, I’d ask young bands for advice because they seem to know how to navigate the pitfalls of social media and the culture around that. We haven’t got a clue. We’re prehistoric in our attitudes towards it. We’re still excited about vinyl releases and physical manufactured product. We still see what we’re doing as a product as opposed to a service. We want to sell millions of records. That’s the really old school way of thinking, unfortunately. That’s one sort of heritage element of the band I want to hold on to. We’re an albums band. We’re not a streaming band.
I feel like – obviously if you want to play the game, you have to be kind towards the Spotify’s and the Apple Music’s and the Google Play, iTunes and all that but I don’t know. It’s not magical. It’s like the difference of looking at a picture on Instagram and looking at a picture on a lovely glossy coffee table book, which has been printed on a really nice shiny paper.
Let’s talk about “Southern Trains” as well. Saw the video here recently. I love that you took your shot there, that’s awesome. I want to know if there’s a good public transportation story that you have?
Yeah, I mean there’s a line in there about trying to eat your dinner with an ass in your face. That is – I have a photographic memory and I can clearly recall my brother trying to eat a vegetarian burrito with an ass in his face because the train was so packed. [laughs] He was so hungry and we had been sitting on the track for an hour and hadn’t moved. It was full of people who were as disgruntled as we were. We were seated because we had got there before the others and so he was eating a burrito literally with an ass in his face. I just really enjoyed that moment and I wanted to bring it into a song and [laughs] obviously I was upset about the state of the service.
Dan and I had to commute a lot while we were rehearsing in Putney and writing the material and it made it nearly impossible to get anywhere on time and it kind of infuriated me. So we wrote that song and I thought, well by the time the album is out, it won’t be so bad. But it just got worse. Now it’s seemed to become a topical protest song and it’s getting really good coverage in the U.K. press as well, because it’s actually speaking to the people that have to endure that. We’ve been quite lucky really.
“Japanese Prisoner of Love” might be my favorite track on this album. Such great tone and kind of got that kind of Queen energy to it. If you can talk about that track as well?
My favorite track as well. We had the title, which is obviously a win anyway. Even if it’s an instrumental, it’d still be a win. Then we had an instrumental track that had been really developed, and for us it was a quite progressive and a detailed arrangement. Then to me it sounded a little bit too serious so I think that the “Japanese Prisoner of Love” is quite important to sort of pull it away from being super serious. But that’s what I think that Queen is like, really. Some of the music on there is super powerful, super heavy and but I think Freddie’s job was to lighten the mood with his take on it.
I think the story of it was, I went to Alcatraz. I visited Alcatraz as a tourist and obviously had the audio to it and there’s a real good bit in there when they describe the sound of somebody being stabbed. They say it’s like a pop and then a slap because the pop is piercing of the skin and then the slap is the blood hitting the wall — [laughs] which is lovely, you know and then after all that sort of quite of attention to detail you get to experience solitary confinement. They put you in this room. They used to do that, and just close the door on you and it’s pitch dark. It’s not just solitary confinement but it’s sensory deprivation as well. But when I did it, solitary confinement but without the solitary to it because there was a couple of Japanese tourists as well and they were taking pictures with the flash on which made it even more terrifying. So that experience has stayed with me.
I also have friends in the band called E wing and who formed on the E wing of Parkhearst which is a sort of a high security prison in England. I used to write songs with those guys so we had songs like “You Look Like a Girl From Behind,” and “That’s Enough” (that was the ballad). “You Want to Get Out More,” it’s all prison-based stuff. I sort of wanted to draw on some of that and tell the story of the “Japanese Prisoner of Love.” Also, at the same time if I’m being really pretentious I would say it’s a metaphor for the cruelties that people in comfortable relationships inflict on each other. But mostly it’s just a brilliant title with a great riff.
The Darkness are coming here to play here in The United States. I love the “Tour De Prance” title of the tour. Awesome. This sounds like a great album that will translate live to the stage. Can’t wait to see what you pull out.
A few songs have already made it into the set and I think we could play the whole album. Aside from trying to find a way to get Rufus singing. Those two tracks might be a little bit too difficult to pull off but the rest of it is definitely road-worthy, certainly set-worthy. I suppose that’s the final test really, when you stand there with your legs apart playing those riffs and see how you feel when you see the whites of their asses. The proof is in the pudding in that moment and I’m really excited to sort of play like the other five songs from that album that we haven’t played yet. But it’s gonna be a great tour. It’s like five albums worth of material and the last one, of which has got the potential to really change the whole approach that we have, really. I’m excited.
Will there be production on this tour? Is it more than just the band up there playing live? Will you have other things that you’re gonna incorporate into the show?
We’ve been going with quite a consistent look for the last five or six years of touring but we’re gonna change that now with a sort of refresh for the band. We still want it to be a classic rock ‘n’ roll show because that is what we do, really, and that’s what we want to do. But we’re gonna turn upside down and try and find a new way to do everything. [laughs] We got a few days of solid rehearsal coming up and then a million ideas. Whichever ones stick will be the ones that you witness when we come through next year.
I know you guys have a documentary coming as well. Anything you can share on the progress or where its at?
Actually the documentarians is with us in New York at the moment and they’re still following us, they’ve been doing it for nearly three years now. There’s also going to be a lot of archive stuff in there as well which they’re securing the use of. So it will tell the whole story and with a bit of luck, if all goes well, it’ll be a happy ending. [laughs] Because the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.
I saw on your socials you got a chance to do the Soccer Six tournament. Obviously if you had more time you’d love to be more practiced at soccer, but is there anybody that you would like to model your game after as a player?
Well I used to play a lot, actually. A few years ago I was in a Sunday team and a Saturday team and then a veterans team … I’ve always seen myself as the English Michel Plantini, but that’s because I am full of myself. [laughs] Who would you say I model my game on, as a soccer man … maybe, Michael Owen [laughs] An 18-year-old Michael Owen meets the English Michel Plantini, I’ll live with either of those things.
Our thanks to The Darkness’ Justin Hawkins for the interview. The band’s new album, ‘Pinewood Smile,’ is currently available to purchase via the platform of your choosing here. You can look for the band on tour in Europe this fall, with their “Tour de Prance” North American run scheduled for 2018. See all their dates here.
The Darkness, “All the Pretty Girls”
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The Darkness, “Solid Gold”
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The Darkness, “Southern Trains”
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