» Justin Hawkins - The Darkness
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Interview conducted August 3 2019
Interview published September 29 2019

"I think the day will come when social media is banned, because I think no good can come of it."

The British rockers The Darkness put out their new record Easter Is Cancelled on October 4th and as they were coming to Sweden's Skogsröjet festival in early August the band's frontman Justin Hawkins was kind enough to take some time with Metal Covenant.

Tobbe: In what way does your new record follow The Darkness' musical direction?

Justin: I think it's a little bit more progressive in the arrangements. So it has bits of the usual AC/DC / Queeny stuff, but every song is taken to its ultimate conclusion this time. It's a record that we've made without worrying about what people want us to do. So that when we're writing a song we do what's best for the song; not what's best for our audience necessarily. [Laughs] So, it's a better album.

Tobbe: Would you even dare to say a little bit experimental as well?

Justin: In places I would say it's a little bit experimental. Like if you have the deluxe edition, the opening bars are played on a mandolin and the closing bars are played on an accordion, and there's everything in between, and there's a load of AC/DC meets Queen stuff in the middle.

Tobbe: What might trigger your creativity this day?

Justin: I just think we just made sure we tried everything, you know. We were in the studio for 8 or 9 months. It's quite a long time really to make a 10-track album. It gave us an opportunity to sort of really develop the material. Quite often you end up with, like, 10 songs that just about make it and 4 songs that are not quite good enough for the main album. And that's normal when you have a restricted amount of time to write and record something. That's how it always ends up.

But this time it was, like, 10 songs that we're 100 percent happy with. And then we are able to select some interesting songs to do as the bonus tracks. So in fact then you can feel like the deluxe edition is something that you're happy to sell to people, you know. Or for them to stream. It's not stuff that you're embarrassed by; it's interesting stuff.

Tobbe: No normal Japanese bonus tracks on this one?

Justin: There is one. We had to do an extra Japanese bonus track and it's something that doesn't sound anything like The Darkness at all. And it's very short. But they only needed one extra for the Japanese edition, so.

Tobbe: Is there anything in particular that you want to deliver to your fans lyrically on this album?

Justin: I sent the lyrics to a friend of mine, who's an author, and I asked her to sort of proofread them before they went to print on the artwork, and she said it was completely unhinged. [Laughs] Which I'm quite happy about, really. You know, thoughts shouldn't be hinged, should they? They should be, you know, allowed to permeate the ether in whichever direction they want to go in. But nothing was off-limits, really.

I mean, there's some allegorical tales, a lot of heartfelt stuff, heartbreak, heart this/heart that. Yeah, the whole spectrum of emotion is on there, I suppose. I'm really happy with just the way childhood memories have turned into allegorical tales from adulthood, you know. But that goes back to the thing I'm always saying about learning. You know, learning lessons.

Tobbe: If we look at your vocals, what kind of progress do you personally hear even to this day?

Justin: In the past I thought I was looking after it, but I wasn't really, you know. But in the last year and a half I've been training a bit more, for maintenance, and it's opened up a bit of range that I didn't really know how to use properly before. I'd use it, but now I've found ways to keep it going a bit more effectively, you know. Those sorts of things: I think it's just training, 'cause it's just like if you stop doing archery you can't really expect to pick up a bow and arrow and be brilliant at it. I think I'm trying a bit harder to sing more often; when I'm not working, you know.

Tobbe: People will always look back to bands' early days, and you made a record in the beginning there that was very successful. [Permission To Land, 2003] So, do you feel quite a strong pressure when you go in the studio now to record?

Justin: I think we have done in the past. I mean, that's what I meant about, you know, trying to make a record that you think your fanbase likes. You know, there have been times when we've sort of written a song where we thought "Oh! This is this album's…" and then, you know, you have an equivalent song from the first record that it would sort of mirror. We've stopped doing that now, which we're quite happy about. It's quite liberating actually, because the songs are their own thing now. The first song doesn't have to be, like, a Black Shucky type of thing, you know.

And the second song doesn't have to be like a Get You Hands Offy type of thing. You don't have to have ballads where you normally put ballads. It's almost a concept album in a way. Almost. There's a thin line that goes through it as well. We've never done that before, you know. It's always been a bit like a blunderbuss of ideas and inspiration, but now it's got a bit of a common phrase.

Tobbe: What does progress and growth mean to you personally now?

Justin: I think it's just having the courage to try new things, really. We all know what happens now when we try and do what we're supposed to do. For the last 2 or 3 albums, the things that we've been frustrated with are issues that you can address really just by having the foresight and to prepare for things properly.

And I think that means looking at every point throughout the campaign. It's not just making the record; it's the way you behave afterwards and what you do; the things you do. And it frustrates me when we don't learn from those things, you know. I'm hoping this time we'll pay attention. [Laughs] Do things properly, you know.

Tobbe: Your music contains influences from the '70s and would you rather have been a musician in the '70s than in the 2000s?

Justin: I don't know actually. I think the cocaine was stronger in those days; I'd probably be dead. [Laughs] But musically it would have been really rewarding to be around in those days, I think. Those were the things that we were brought up on and the reasons why we wanted to play music in the first place. And I think music is an artform where everybody around it is responsible for the thing itself, if you see what I mean?

Like for one decade, the radio was the really powerful thing. For another decade, MTV was a really powerful thing. Then the internet's a really powerful thing. Press is a really powerful thing. They're the hype machines that decide who hears about what. But I feel like the '70s was a time when music of real quality was always rising to the top. At the end of the day you can lead the horses to water, and the hype machine to a degree says "Look at this!", but in the '70s when there was sort of an economic depression and things like that… What you actually spend your money on is what you love.

So the radio is a powerful thing, because the radio played songs and it's like: if you like it, you buy it. But now I think it's anybody's game. I think it really is quite easy to manipulate a population. We've seen that with Brexit and we've seen it with Donald Trump and we've seen it with all kinds of stuff and I don't think the music industry is any different, really. It's just very difficult for things to get the attention that it needs now, because at the end of the day all we have is people buying tickets. And they have always bought tickets.

You know, they have always been all right with that, so that's why we carry on, really. But, you know, in the days when people bought records, they bought the ones they loved. They didn't just stream things 'cause they were told to. [Laughs]

Tobbe: And let's see what the next powerful thing will be. Like you said, from radio to internet, and I wonder if the internet and streaming services will stay as the powerful things.

Justin: I don't know. I think the day will come when social media is banned, because I think no good can come of it. I mean, it sounds a little bit paranoid, but I think it's easy to bend large sums of people to your will, without them realizing that that's what's happening.

I think that it makes people feel really miserable and I think people who walk around taking pictures of themselves all the time are unhappy. I think people are enslaved by their phones and there'll be some sort of revolution. Maybe it'll be like the end of the world or something like that. But something's gonna change and then it will all go back to basics.

Tobbe: I've personally been fooled a couple of times by false news and stuff. Like with statistics: Like 100,000 people do this and do that and in the end you find out it's only 10,000 people doing it. So it's first start reading and then do some kind of background check.

Justin: You're never gonna believe anything anymore. It's quite sad, really. Isn't it? It's funny, maybe one of the reasons why the printed press is a media that's in decline is because there are so many regulations. It's been around for so long now that it's impossible to lie. [Laughs] You know, you're not allowed to print anything false, are you? Because it's defamatory or there's some sort of legislation that prevents the lies.

And then the internet is basically the Wild West. [Laughs] You can say anything you want; it doesn't matter, does it? There's a lot of lies in the internet. People lie all the time. From dating sites to news providers. It's just a load of lies, you know. It's sad, isn't it? I stopped doing Facebook before all the problems of it. I stopped about 7 years ago. I hadn't been on it that long, but I remember thinking "Oh, my God! Everybody tells me that I need to be in touch with my family, or my fanbase, or whatever.". That's not true. You don't need it.

You know, people phone you up. Somebody dies; somebody calls you. [Laughs] You always find out what you need to know. I think that must be a myth that's perpetuated by the makers of Facebook or something, 'cause you don't need it. Nobody needs it. I feel sorry for people, who I work with, just staring at their Facebook. Music's true though. You can't lie about how music makes you feel, you know.

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