Even if you only know The Darkness from their 2003 mega-hit "I Believe in a Thing Called Love," you've likely had some sort of reaction to the band as a whole – whether it be a fondness for lead singer and guitarist Justin Hawkins' soaring falsetto or a more averse reaction to their throwback glam rock style. Either way, you've taken notice. What you may not have noticed, unfortunately, is the absence of the quartet over the past five years.
Justin Hawkins completed alcohol and drug rehabilitation and subsequently left the band in 2006, which came as a shock to the band itself – including Justin's brother Dan, the group's backing vocalist and guitar player. They disbanded; other bands were formed, solo projects came together (some of which were excellent, albeit short-lived) and time moved on. And then, in 2011, fate brought them back together again. And the rock n' roll gods were pleased.
"We've been through a lot, you know, just in the last year," says Justin, "and all it's done is made us closer. So I suppose it's different because we understand each other now, whereas I think we were still finding things out about each other along the way. So in a way we kind of communicate less because we already know what's going on in each other's heads. And then on the odd occasion when we do have a sit-down and we clarify things, we already know what each other's thinking. So, you know, it's just like classic brothers, really. And I suppose we're just old enough to understand that now."
The climb back on the horse, to get back to where you were half a decade ago, isn't the easiest one to make. Luckily, they've had more than a few folks in their corner.
"We kind of did what we've been doing since we were about eight years old – just, you know, write songs together," says Dan, "and it kind of snowballed from there and then we kind of weren't supposed to really do anything this year but we had this offer from Download to play the festival in England. It was a really good billing and it was supporting Def Leppard and it seemed like the perfect time to just go for it and we thought, 'Well, let's go for it.'"
The reception, globally, has been exceedingly warm. The Darkness has played a handful of smaller, intimate shows in addition to festivals, all in preparation for a winter world tour, which includes the band's first North American shows since 2004.
"You know, we're making friends again now and kind of finding out that there's a warmth, there's an underswell of warmth towards us and we feel like we're the underdogs again and that makes us hungry and it makes us want to fight for it and it's exciting actually," Justin says.
While these guys are well aware of their style, their sound, their aesthetic and their overall niche in the industry, don't be fooled for a minute into thinking that The Darkness aren't damned serious musicians.
"I think that, for what we do and what I do, particularly, it's good to have a degree of abandon and kind of not think about that and just – I actually think, for me, it has to be total immersion," says Justin. "I have to just completely let myself go when it's performance time. And then when I'm on the road, my whole life is – I get up and then I'm focused on the show. Then I do the show. And then I'm focusing on the show immediately afterwards, you know. And I don't get involved in the post-mortem of it, either. I just have to concentrate on what's next. So I suppose it's true, really, that in a slightly different way, I just have to give myself over to that and be in it 100% or else it doesn't work, you know."
With a new outlook, a new drive and a new album on the way in March, it stands to note that nothing is being taken for granted these days. And thankfully, there's no shortage of songwriting going on between the four bandmates. The new album, which remains unnamed, is going to be a slight departure from The Darkness of the past. While it will, obviously, still have all the main characteristics of their classic style, there are subtle variations we should look forward to hearing – some expected, some entirely out of left field.
"We got like some sort of Spanish and Latin influences in it in one of the songs, just because the theme of it was a bit in romances," Justin attempts to explain. "Like, it just sort of felt like there was something about it just sort of made it seem like it should have castanets and big [-sounding], kind of, and have that sort of pent-up kind of passion to it. And then we're trying to experiment with like – what's it called when you do sound effects – stuff like sound design, and we had this whole kind of theme played out with a small Indian boy selling somebody a map, but then we scrapped all that because it was just confusing everybody including ourselves."
Confusing might be an understatement. But, rest assured, the vocals haven't changed, the brilliant guitar work hasn't changed, the glam/stadium rock edge hasn't veered even an inch, and you can most certainly expect to be entertained.
"I just think you keep adding to stuff and then when it feels like it's going to topple over you subtract a bit, you know, and that's usually a process that involves the whole band, actually," Justin says. "We kind of – we write the kernel of the song between myself and my brother. And then we play it in a rehearsal room and we keep adding stuff to it until it kind of can't take anymore. And I don't know why we do that. I suppose it's like a perversion almost. I mean, we usually try and do it on even the tritest of song concepts. Like, on the first album I suppose, 'I Believe In a Thing Called Love,' and 'Love Is Only a Feeling,' they were the ones that we really layered up and got stuck into in that respect. And, yes, we've done it more on this album because we've had time. And all it is is time plus perversion equals layered music."
And why wouldn't you want your rock n' roll that way? Keep in mind that this is the band with song titles like "Love On the Rocks With No Ice", "Knockers", "Get Your Hands Off My Woman" and "Seemed Like a Good Idea At the Time." And if you expect to see or hear The Darkness and not walk away with your mind blown, then you're fooling yourself – that's just how they do it.
"I'd much rather be poor than do something that I don't feel 100% spiritually, you know, beguiled by," says Justin. "If I don't love it in that way then I'm not going to do it." | RDW
The Darkness with Foxy Shazam • 2/10, 7:30 p.m. • Saint Andrews Hall • 431 E. Congress St., Detroit • 877.598.8497 • livenation.com • $20