Having endured the full gambit of clichéd rockstar triumphs and hardships in their 15-year career (financial woes! break-ups! rehab! reunions!), the unapologetically outlandish classic rock-revivalist outfit known as The Darkness are back with Last of Our Kind, a fourth installment of their uniquely glorious brand of throwback face-meltery. And this time, they’re throwing their gaze 1,100 years back, delivering 10 tracks of medieval-rock with enough mandolin to make Nicolas Cage blush. From “Barbarian”, which details the death of Edmund the Martyr, to “Roaring Waters”, which doesn’t shy away from a good poop-deck joke, Last of Our Kind makes a strong case for earning The Darkness a second Ivor Novelo Award for songwriting.
On the eve of the new album storming American shores, Nerdist had a chance to speak with wily frontman, Justin Hawkins, a man on a many-headed mission. Better yet, call it a crusade. A crusade to free musicians from the stifling shackles of radio-friendly meekness. A crusade to re-blanket our cargo vans with murals of helmet-headed warriors and buxom maidens. A crusade to… persuade people to eat conscientious and balanced diets? That’s right, and he couldn’t be more serious, or silly, about it. Read why below.
Nerdist: The Darkness reunited in 2011, and subsequently released “Hot Cakes”, but there seems to be a lot of buzz about Last of Our Kind being the quote-unquote “Return of The Darkness.” What’s your take on that?
Justin Hawkins: All of that stuff’s quite tedious, if I’m honest. It’s just a fourth album! We weren’t even apart for that long. I mean, everyone says it was five years, but actually it wasn’t. You know, Dan and I started working together again in 2009, so it was only three years at the most, you know? It’s all been played up a little bit towards that angle, but for us it’s really, [chuckles] really tedious. But, you know, it’s great. I’m glad there is buzz about the album. We’ve worked really hard on it and we’re delighted it’s getting positive feedback.
N: The Darkness has always had this light-hearted self-awareness about it’s place in the spectrum of current rock music—how you have no peers in this generation, how you guys are kind of an anachronism, having more in common with bands from thirty years ago like Thin Lizzy, AC/DC, Queen. Is that what you mean with the title track, “Last of Our Kind”?
JH: It’s about the community of people who appreciate the important things in rock, as I see them. And that means nonconformity. It means guitar solos. It means doing what’s right for the composition and not what you’re supposed to do. It’s about the feeling. The world of rock-and-roll, as I know it, is diminishing, and I think it’s because the mainstream doesn’t allow that kind of virtuoso guitar playing, and it shames people out of celebrating the glory of classic rock. And so our numbers are dwindling. New bands that come through, they’re either gonna be completely retrospectively doing rock and roll as a tribute, or they’re gonna be doing what they need to do to get on the radio and make a good living out of music. And that sucks. Our numbers are diminishing, and we need to stick together, because we are the last of our kind. If we roll over and die, then this particular genre will die with us, and that would be a disaster.
“The world of rock-and-roll, as I know it, is diminishing, and I think it’s because the mainstream doesn’t allow for virtuoso guitar playing.”
N: I heard you do a lot of your songwriting in the gym.
JH: Haha, I used to, yeah. I don’t really go to the gym anymore. But I run outside; I like to collect the wind in my beard. The writing process is different now; we all spend time together focusing on what we are actually doing, as opposed to me taking the opportunity to bench-press my own weight whilst coming up with an empty ballad. It wasn’t always the most sensible approach. It was quite a triumphant testosterone-laden rock bit, but it wasn’t very helpful.
N: The artwork for “Barbarian”—the animated lyric-video and the accompanying poster— are fantastic. Lots of characters. Who was the artist?
JH: The artist is a man called Nick Roche, who is a friend of the band. He is an Irish guy, who’s done a lot of work for Marvel and draws Transformers comics, but most importantly he does The Darkness stuff. Haha.
N: Is there a chance we will see “The Darkness vs. Ivan the Boneless” as a comic book or cartoon down the line?
JH: We haven’t spoken about it, but you’ve just given me a brilliant idea. There’s a good possibility we would do something like that. I’ll wait to ask Nick if there is any chance to explore that. I’m not quite sure, but I got millions of ideas and he’s got tons of talent. Maybe it’s something we can get along.
“I feel like the best party is an intergalactic space party.”
N: If you did something like that, we at Nerdist would go crazy.
JH: Ha! Cool.
N: Permission to Land had a spacey, extraterrestrial magic to it. One Way Ticket to Hell… and Back had a touch of demonry. Now, Last of Our Kind is influenced by Nordic mythology. Tell me, from your experience, who parties harder: aliens, demons, or Vikings?
JH: Wow. That’s a really great question. Actually the demons party the hardest, but there’s something quite sour about it. You get a terrible headache when you party in hell. It must be the heat. I feel like the best party is an intergalactic space party, because you’re really exploring existence. The spacial magnitude of it is celebrated, and the possibility of an endless myriad of experience available to you. I would say Norsemen, they’re pretty limited in what they do —a lot of raping, a bit of pillaging, drinking of meed or one of those other medieval beer-drinks. In space, the world is your oyster, and there’s plenty more fish in the sea, as it were.
N: And how are you celebrating the release of the new album?
JH: When it drops on Monday, I’ll be in Germany, actually. And then I’ll be getting a plane back to England, and expect we’ll go to a nice meal. Hopefully, the record company will treat me to something delicious.
N: Will the “Blast of Our Kind Tour” be making it’s way to the States?
JH: Yes, it definitely will. What we’re trying to establish is the routing, because we either want to go to Australia before or after. I can promise you that, quite soon, we’ll be in America and touring in the way that only The Darkness knows how.
N: One last question: Is there anything you wish people asked in interviews and never do?
JH: I feel like I’ve covered a lot of ground in my career as an interviewee. I suppose if there was one thing, I always like it when people ask me about sexuality. I want the opportunity to reprimand somebody, you know what I mean? It’s a lot of fun. It happened once and I was able to sort of maintain ambiguity, and made the interviewer feel awful —downright awful— for having asked. So that makes me question my motives. I want to be asked those things just so I can tell people off, and then make myself feel like I’ve got the moral high-ground with my ambiguous answer.
N: Haha, catch them in their pre-conceived notions?
JH: I’m here to promote albums!
N: Hey, if you have a soap box…
JH: Yes, I’m afraid if there was a soap box available, I’d stand upon it and say, “Why is it so difficult to create food that doesn’t have animal products in it?” Why is it always necessary to use butter and cream, fish, meat, eyeballs, brains, bones, hands? Human hands? Why do we eat this stuff? It’s quite obvious you don’t need all that protein. And I think it’s misleading, saying “protein,” when what you’re really talking about is something that will undoubtedly —without correct exercise and supervision— end up manifesting itself in your physique as fat. Haha. We don’t need that. You don’t need to kill animal-people to achieve fatness. You know what I mean?
“Be nice to animals and stop eating them.”
JH: I’m not “fattist,” by the way. I’m not one of those people that likes to body-shame folks. I’m just making the point that our food groups are incorrectly labeled. There’s protein in all vegetables. You just need to eat a bit more of it if you want to become Arnold Schwarzenegger. If you don’t want to become Arnold Schwarzenegger, you don’t need to be eating that stuff. There needs to be a re-education about what these food groups are, what they mean, and what you actually need to survive. I think once that happens, the world will be a much less precarious place. If I had one thing to say, it would be: “Be nice to animals, and stop eating them.”
N: It’s fun and refreshing to see this sensitive side of you, considering, as you said, you’re music is often testosterone-driven.
JH: Hahaha, I do have an over-active testosterone gland, but I use it for love-making, not killing.
The Darkness is founding members Justin Hawkins, his brother and guitarist Dan Hawkins, bassist Frankie Poullain, and recent addition drummer Rufus Tiger Taylor (son of Queen’s Roger Taylor). Last of Our Kind is available everywhere Tuesday, June 2nd. Hey, that’s today!