The Darkness,
The TVD Interview

Last of Our Kind is the first album in three years for The Darkness. It’s hailed as one of their finest records yet, and a maturation of their sound. “It is the best rock album you will hear this year,” says singer Justin Hawkins. “It is the best rock album you will hear until next time The Darkness makes an album.” It’s difficult to argue for a more appropriate title; they don’t make rock bands like The Darkness anymore.

“We’ve always been a cult band,” bass guitarist Frankie Poullain tells TVD, but that’s quite an over-simplification (and he knows it). It’s been over a dozen years since Permission to Land blasted rock music out of its same-y, neo-garage rut. Its influence punched the genre in the face and reminded people, who were too young to remember, what it was like for rock to be a fun, profane, exhilarating spectacle. With Last of Our Kind, The Darkness again unleash tongue-in-cheek bombastic rock music that delivers in spades and (figurative, possibly literal) pyrotechnics.  

Frankie opined on many different things when we caught up with him in the middle of The Darkness’ latest world tour. He talked to us about what it was like to feature over five hundred Darkness fans on the album’s title track, why the band nests sincerity in their kitsch, and why they continue to love the challenge of defying expectations.

You’d built your reputation as a live band before you ever had a record deal. Now that you’re on your fourth record and your own label, how have things changed? 

Well, we’re more empowered. It’s gotten to the stage where we don’t rely on other people; we take control of every aspect of what we do, which obviously is what a lot of bands are doing these days because there’s less room for mistakes these days—there’s less of a comfort zone, or a buffer zone. The profit margins that bands used to make that the record companies make them make—which basically comes from manufacturing CDs, which are very cheap to make—now you haven’t got that luxury anymore. This is good, because now we can focus more on the music and it’s more… realistic.

It’s good, or we wouldn’t be alive anymore. One [band member] hasn’t made it this far, unfortunately. That’s why the album has a slightly more defined… well, it starts off reflective… it’s more emotional, probably, than most of our albums, probably to do with that situation, which is tough. You can tell from the subject matter of some of the songs; there are personal things going on there, too. Then there’s also stuff like “Mudslide” and “Barbarian” as well. It’s a nice mix of things, and we’re very proud of it. The consensus seems to be that it’s our second-best album.

I think I agree with them. When you talk about it being very emotional, and mixed with that sort of bombastic type of rock music you’re known for. When Permission to Land was released, there was great debate among my friends as to whether you guys were serious or not. I think Americans in general don’t understand how you can walk the line between the two.

Well, we really don’t contrive it, conceptually, to be kitsch. Kitsch is a by-product; we make sure everything from the heart. That’s how we write songs. When we write songs together, there has got to be a genuine emotion there. We’re not doing William Shatner-like kitsch. We use monologues, which are a kitsch thing, but we give ourselves a test.

To pass that test, basically, there has to be emotion in the monologue. And in a sense, that’s what we do; that’s the challenge of using kitsch and things associated with kitsch. We like to nest it with something that’s serious and heartfelt. That’s the challenge: will people take us seriously? Again, there’s a pigeonholing of what should be camp and what shouldn’t be. In a sense, it’s ridiculous, but we like that challenge.

I’ve always gotten the impression that you’ve been able to strike that balance, and that what you’re doing is more artistic than most might think. It’s an interesting line you draw, that you have to include this sincerity and authenticity in there. It’s what seems to make your music so compelling. It sounds like that’s what you’re saying.

Yeah, for sure. For example, there are historical songs on the album, “Roaring Waters” and “Barbarian.” Now, of course, heavy metal has always had this storytelling history. Bands like Iron Maiden wrote songs based on folk tales. We had the challenge of writing songs that have power, that didn’t sound twee.

“Roaring Waters” was a folk story, written on the island of Valentia in the southwest of Ireland where we wrote most of the songs on the album. In Baltimore, the original Baltimore, in the 1400s the Moors kidnapped about three hundred Irish women. There were descriptions of the incident and we sort of tapped into that and imagined a sort of historical reenactment in a sort of homage to Led Zeppelin.

What made you decide to include your fans in the making of the title track, “Last of Our Kind”? 

Well, we thought it was time to do it. As a cult band, you have a closer relationship with your fans, and the fans have grown up with you. Your music evolves over the years, and your reaction to the fans’ responses to it does affect how you do things. We wanted to give them a moment to shine.

And your newfound creative control gives you much more leeway to experiment.

Yeah, exactly. It’s much easier to do things like that, isn’t it? If you had to take cross-sections of fans of all different ages—caricatures, if you like—from our audience… I guess we tried to be like bookspersons for caricatures… or misfits like us, I suppose you could say. [Laughs]

But there’s something so sincere about how you gave them a chance to participate. You took people who were singing out of tune, who couldn’t keep the beat. What a thrill it must have been for those fans.

Yeah, exactly—that’s what it was all about, capturing the reality of the experience.

That’s what seems to be missing a lot from rock and roll—that sense of fun and authenticity—it seems to be harder to find anymore.

Yeah, I think you’re right; I think it has to be a mixture of fun and authenticity because the tendency is I think that good people want to hear things that are authentic, but that eventually can tend towards music that’s po-faced and humorless. Or overly reverential of the past. But we like to have fun with it; it’s just what you described yourself: fun and also authentic.

I’m definitely a bit biased writing for The Vinyl District, but that clamoring for authenticity seems to go hand-in-hand with the resurgence of vinyl LPs. Do you think that’s the case?

Yeah. Definitely. We can see vinyl is what’s happening. I think it’s a good thing. Lots of bands are releasing their music on vinyl. But people do take themselves a little too seriously when they look back to the past.

Agreed. So, do things like winning a Classic Rock Roll of Honour award bother you at all?

It was great, actually. I always enjoy riling up po-faced people. [Laughs]

Are you looking forward to your US tour?

We are, very much. We’ve got Rufus Taylor on drums, and he’s like a breath of fresh air. He’s just come back from the Queen tour; we’ll be practicing for a few days and then we’re hitting Mexico first. It’s great having him on the drums. We just finished a new Christmas song, to follow up to “Don’t Let the Bells End” in 2004. We’re very excited about that. Then we’re on tour in the US, then Australia, then the UK and Europe, then South America next year.

It seems like you guys are really firing on all cylinders and have a lot to look forward to.

Things have never been better, really, but I’m not sure if that comes across in this phone call—hopefully it does! [Laughs]

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