Dan Hawkins, (seen here second from the right), guitarist with The Darkness chats with Kevin Cooper about releasing their album on cassette, opening for Guns N’ Roses, their latest album Pinewood Smile and their forthcoming tour of the UK.

Dan Hawkins is an English rock guitarist, best known as a guitarist and backing singer with the UK band, The Darkness. The band fronted by his older brother Justin, achieved notable mainstream success between 2002 and 2006.

Hailing from Lowestoft, they formed in 2000. The band consists of Justin Hawkins (lead vocals, guitar), his brother Dan Hawkins (guitar, backing vocals), Frankie Poullain (bass, backing vocals) and Rufus Tiger Taylor (drums).

The Darkness came to prominence with the release of their debut album, Permission To Land, in 2003. Backed by the singles I Believe In A Thing Called Love, Growing On Me, Get Your Hands Off My Woman, and Love Is Only A Feeling, the album was certified quadruple platinum in the UK with sales of over 1,300,00. In 2004 the band won three Brit Awards; Best British Group, Best British Rock Act, and Best British Album.

After extensive touring in support of their debut album, Poullain left the band in 2005, and was replaced by former guitar technician Richie Edwards. The band’s second studio album, One Way Ticket To Hell… and Back, was released in November 2005. The following year, Justin Hawkins departed from the band after successfully completing a course of rehabilitation from alcohol and cocaine abuse. As a result, the remaining members formed Stone Gods, and continued to perform and record without Hawkins, who subsequently fronted his own project, Hot Leg.

On 15 March 2011, The Darkness announced reunion shows with original bassist Frankie Poullain, including Download Festival 2011, and the Isle of Wight Festival 2012. Their third album, Hot Cakes, was released in 2012 and in 2015 a fourth studio album was announced, entitled Last Of Our Kind. In 2017, the band released their fifth album, Pinewood Smile.

Whilst busy getting ready for their forthcoming tour, Dan Hawkins took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Dan how are you?

I’m really great thank you Kevin, how are you today?

I’m very well thank you and firstly let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

No problem, it’s my pleasure.

And just how is life treating you?

Life at the moment is really good. I am currently in the middle of my usual six weeks schedule in order to get ready for touring. It basically involves running ten kilometres every day with a day off after every four days, eating nuts, seeds and just shit like that and just basically generally being quite unhappy but allowing myself to get drunk at the weekends so at the moment that is my life (laughter).

You have to make sure that you have a day off (laughter).

(Laughter) yes you do, you really do. However, when I feel fit enough for the tour I then have about six months off (laughter). So there you go.

I have been trying to work out exactly how many years ago it is now since I first saw The Darkness live and it was here in Nottingham at The Arena and Justin (Hawkins) got stuck over the audience on a flying tiger (laughter).

Oh god yes, I remember it well (laughter). Justin really was pissed off that night to the point where his guitar had cut out and he had to climb back down off the flying tiger and onto the stage (laughter). That’s classic. The trouble is that nothing ever goes to plan, not in our world anyway. If it did we would most probably be running the world by now which is no bad thing.

I was fortunate to photograph you last year here in Nottingham at Splendour. Did you enjoy playing here?

Yes we did, we really did. We loved the festival and people up there in Nottingham are now doing the independent festival thing really well. We also love playing at the Y Not Festival too, that’s great isn’t it.

Yes it is but it has never been dry yet. This year they called a halt to proceedings due to the rain after two days and paid out a huge amount in refunds to the punters who had turned up hoping to see a few bands and hear some music.

Really, that’s a shame but it doesn’t matter really does it (laughter). We will bring the heat with us (laughter).

It’s not so much fun when you are trying to dry your cameras out for three weeks after the event (laughter).

Well perhaps not for you people then (laughter). Why has no one developed a water proof camera by now I wonder? They have developed water proof phones perhaps you should try one of those next time (laughter). From what I see and read I afraid that is the way that it is going at present.

I recently asked a well-known PR Company why they were sending me crap PR photographs to use and they said ‘the honest answer is that we are paying crap prices for them’. How do you compete with that?

Is that really what they said, well what can I say, you can’t compete with that under any circumstances. Perhaps you would be better with an easel (laughter). You could then charge them a million pounds claiming that it is art (laughter).

Anyway moving on to the new studio album, Pinewood Smile I have been playing it for a couple of weeks now and I really do think that it is a great body of work.

Thanks a lot Kevin, cheers for that.

I recently spoke to Frankie (Poullain) and he told me that in his opinion you were producing some of your best work to date. Do you think that is correct with this album?

(Laughter) what can I say; every band in the world will always say that in relation to their latest work. I can honestly assure you that I have said that about every album that we have ever released (laughter). However, now that you have asked me the question I will tell you that I honestly feel that Pinewood Smile is some of our best work to date. I’m actually chomping at the bit to make the next album now because I feel that we have finally got to that point where we just don’t care anymore and it just seems to make us do the best stuff really. So yes, we have finally hit our stride and I feel like although this album is amazing I really can’t wait for the next one already. It really is the right time for us.

How far ahead do you work; are you already thinking about the next album?

Absolutely yes. In a way I was kind of writing songs in my head while I was out on my run this morning. I am itching to get some of them down. It never stops really; whenever we get some spare time we all like to just get together and write. That is how it works the best for us.

Where did the title Pinewood Smile come from?

To start with it is one of the lyrics in the song All The Pretty Girls and it is just something that Justin picked out from that song as a potential album title because it is saying that we are English without going over the top. It is taking a swipe at the age old Hollywood smile too. There is a confidence in a pinewood smile which the album is; it is not taking itself too seriously, and it just seemed to work. Nobody thought too much about the reason why, we just thought ‘yes that’s it’ so that was it (laughter).

You mention All The Pretty Girls; you have released that, Solid Gold and Southern Trains as singles from the album. Have you been pleased with the reaction to those three songs?

I have to say that I can’t profess to be someone who has his ear to the street; I am not on Twitter or Facebook. Whenever good news comes in or a good review gets sent over by the management then I might read it if I am feeling that way inclined but generally Frankie is on top of all of that type of thing. He tells us whether things are going down well and so far he is telling us that the fans have loved what they have heard. We are getting some fantastic reviews in some of the monthlies; we have recently got our best review ever in both Q Magazine and Mojo, which is extraordinary really because they couldn’t be bothered to even rate the last album (laughter).

Getting a review is hard enough these days never mind having it in a big box and getting really good ones so that I have to be honest did give me a buzz. I don’t want The Darkness to become one of these bands that settles into playing the same venues every other year. We are ambitious and I would be lying if I said that I don’t want to see us back in arenas at some point sat astride flying tigers (laughter).

I really do like I Wish I Was In Heaven, I think that is a brilliant track.

Ah thank you. You know what, some idiot who has no idea what they are writing about wrote in a recent review that I read yesterday whilst we were at the label ‘the first half of the album is classic Darkness who are back to their best but they then simply threw a load of stuff at the second half of the album after they had run out of both time and money’ (laughter). I just thought that is such a load of bullshit. What we do which some people and some journalists don’t really get or more to the point don’t like, is that we are eclectic in the same way that Queen are. We don’t care about being boxed off and being called a classic rock band or even being accused of paying homage to our elders and our heroes. We don’t actually really give a fuck.

That song is probably more influenced by The Eurythmics and the late Tom Petty than anything that you will find on a classic rock album. So thank you for liking that because that is an important part of what we do. We make whatever kind of sound that we want to make. A little off piste at times I think but nevertheless it is what we want to do.

I’m actually faced with a similar dilemma because whenever I interview anyone, I can always picture the artist thinking ‘oh no not another wanker’ (laughter). I once interviewed Steve Cropper and he said to me “I do hope that you have done your research young man because I get sick and tired of young kids asking me the same god damn questions day in and day out” (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) I personally don’t actually mind, however, I do think that you can tell when someone is simply reeling off stuff but I also think that you can tell when someone has actually had a listen and they actually care. It doesn’t bother me if someone doesn’t particularly like it, because sometimes you can actually get involved in an argument with journalists and let me tell you, I don’t care (laughter). If someone thinks that something is not convincing or we don’t mean it then I will take the time to explain to them exactly what we do. Or if we didn’t then I will be honest with them and say “yes you’re right, we didn’t really care about that” (laughter). So yes, it really does help if someone actually cares.

Or at least be bothered enough to do a little bit of research.

Having that said I do think that research nowadays can be difficult. A couple of my best friends are journalists and I sometimes look at them and think ‘just who do you trust’. It’s very easy to look at Wikipedia but a hell of a lot of that is bullshit. The problem is that anyone can add anything to it or more importantly omit stuff so it is a difficult one which I both appreciate and accept.

The joys and pitfalls of modern day journalism (laughter).

Yes indeed.

I see that you have released the new album on cassette, so what I would like to ask you is why (laughter).

I know it’s crazy isn’t it. I thought that it was a bad move but apparently people out there still have Walkman’s and they want their cassettes. It’s quite amazing (laughter).

No, you are winding me up surely.

No not at all, the kids are demanding cassettes. A lot of the early albums that I bought when I was a kid are all on cassette. Whenever I look at them or indeed play them I tend to get very nostalgic. I actually saw Pinewood Smile for the first time on cassette yesterday when we were at the Cooking Vinyl offices signing some copies of the vinyl and stuff like that. It just takes me back to the excitement of buying Queen’s Live Magic on cassette back in the day. You took out the centre of it from the cassette case and it just seemed to go on and on like a massive fan (laughter). There was a massive crowd shot on it together with the Queen helicopter on top of it. God yes, I love cassettes.

I have heard that Technics are to open a new plant here in the UK specifically to manufacture cassette players and recorders.

Wow that really is amazing isn’t it. It is only perhaps five years ago now that I was trying to find a cassette tape, not a player, not a recorder, just a simple run of the mill cassette tape. The reason was that at the time I was producing this band and the idea was that I was going to master one of their tracks after recording them on a standard tape. I had a cassette recorder so all that I had to find was a cassette tape. That sounds easy doesn’t it? However, could I find a blank cassette tape anywhere, could I buggery (laughter).

You recently signed to Cooking Vinyl, how does that feel, is it a good fit?

Yes it is, it feels very nice. Cooking Vinyl really do have a very good roster with the likes of Alison Moyet, Billy Bragg, Feeder, Counting Crows and Hayseed Dixie to name but a few, oh and us of course (laughter). I was looking at some of the artists who are also signed with them yesterday as I was raiding there record shelf (laughter). It really is all good quality stuff. They have got the balance right I think as far as independent labels go with their commitment to the record together with yours. Because it is not an out and out licensing thing where they are simply facilitating the release of our album.

They are actually invested in it so it feels as though we have become partners and that really works because it takes the pressure off us. We are not just being asked to supply stuff all of the time, they are actually helping us to do it. So it feels a bit like we are back on the labels if you know what I mean because for a couple of albums before that we have basically been using a label service. So it’s cool, it feels good.

And just what was it like working with Adrian (Bushby) on Pinewood Smile?

Absolutely great. I was really hoping when I initially met Adrian that he would like the record, listen properly to the demos and that he would feel up to doing it. There were a few people who we were talking to at the time but when I met Adrian it was just an immediate feeling that everything seemed to fit. He has got so much energy and a certain madness about him which for me was totally spot-on (laughter). I think that comes across in the album and you can hear that energy and madness coming through. Adrian is the kind of guy who is right on the edge all of the time (laughter).

You mention being on the edge all the time, I have to say that to me the album sounds so fresh, was it recorded on one take?

Good spot (laughter). One of the good things about Adrian is that he is one of the best engineers in the world. The problem is that whenever you go into the studio to make an album and you want to do it live, it is an incredibly difficult thing to do because it never feels the same way as it does when you are in rehearsals. The key thing about when you are in rehearsals, for us anyway, is the fact that we are really loud. The drum kit is mic’d up, the kick drum is pounding though the PA, the guitars are roaring and everyone is feeling it. What often happens when you go into the studio and try to setup to record, your amps are often a million miles away, everyone is on headphones which immediately fall off the second that you start head banging, and it is just not the same.

You are all in different booths and it’s just not right. So what I said to Adrian was that I wanted us to be in the room like we are in rehearsals with the PA, with the amps really loud in the room which I know is the most difficult thing for Adrian to deal with as an engineer. I know that from personal experience. There are guitars and the bass flying around the room that you are trying to play the drums in is just a disaster. But having said all of that Adrian did it. If you had walked into that room while we were playing you would have thought ‘how the hell is he actually managing to turn this into something that we can use’. It simply sounded exactly like we wanted it too.

So I can safely say that most of the songs on the album were maybe take three or take four. In fact there are some of them that were take two because we really did rehearse like buggery so that we could come up with the goods from our end knowing that it was going to be a challenge for Adrian on his. But judging by your question I think that it is safe to say that he nailed it; he totally nailed it so thank you for that.

I have to ask you, apart from his boyish good looks and the fact that he is a tremendous drummer just what does Mr Rufus Tiger Taylor bring to the table?

(Laughter) what does Tiger bring to the table; I have to say that the main things are his energy, pace and confidence. I really can say this hand on heart and tell you that I used to have really bad stage fright especially when The Darkness really got going, and it was when I realised that everyone was looking at Justin and not me that helped me manage to get over it. However, I still used to get very nervous before we went onto the stage. However, I always felt that we were on the edge of messing up and I could feel our original drummer (Edwin James) Ed Graham who was not the most confident guy in the world, was similar to me in that respect and he would get very nervous before playing.

However, I can now quite honestly say that Rufus is the most confident drummer in the world (laughter). I will give you an example; when we first met him he had just got off a flight from Australia. We had sent him over a copy of the last album before he got onto his flight, we met him off his flight and we all went to rehearsals in Shepherds Bush. We had a two hour rehearsal slot and then we went straight from there to the Gibson guitar showrooms and played the entire album during an album release launch. I looked at Rufus and it was ‘okay, yeah, whatever, no problem’ (laughter). If that had been me then I would have been shitting myself.

Rufus simply oozes confidence so much so that now, whenever I go out onto the stage I just know that it is going to be good. I can feel it and I know that I am going to enjoy playing with him. I trust him to keep things at the right tempo, so nowadays it is just an easy gig for me and I love it.

Having said all of that surely you must now be looking forward to your forthcoming UK tour?

I can’t wait, I really can’t wait. I am proud of the new songs and I can’t wait to play them. I have to say that it hasn’t got boring playing the old stuff either; it is a joyous experience. We really can’t wait. I love touring the UK especially near Christmas time but no doubt this year we will be fucking freezing (laughter).

Well the good news is that your gig here in Nottingham at Rock City on 2nd December has already sold-out.

Has it really, I didn’t know that.

Yes I checked this morning and it is all sold-out. Is Rock City a must play venue for you?

Rock City is just one of the most legendary venues of all times. We have had some amazing experiences there from supporting The Wildhearts back in the early days to some of our very early shows. Geographically I think that Nottingham is about where the UK audiences start to get good (laughter). It is just about up North enough if that makes any sense (laughter).

You recently opened for Guns N’ Roses over in Italy, how was that?

We headlined a lot of festivals across Europe this year and we were out in Australia earlier this year but I would have to say that probably the highlight really was playing Imola racetrack with Guns N’ Roses. They opened the doors at nine am; it was a beautiful day and it was around thirty degrees. Our dressing room was just above the racetrack so we had a perfect view of the fans coming into the show. So we basically watched a hundred and thirty thousand people walk past our dressing room (laughter). When we played it was just like we were doing our own headline show. The Darkness are very popular in Italy and they have been really good to us; we often play to four thousand people in Milan.

What can I say, what a day, what an experience and a real celebration of Guns N’ Roses. What was interesting was seeing just how young the audience was; I would have to say that a thousand out of those hundred and thirty thousand must have been under twenty five. People will constantly tell you that rock is dead. Well let me tell you, rock isn’t dead, it isn’t going to die, and we just need more young rock bands that are actually good.

Dan on that note let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been fantastic. You take care and I will see you here in Nottingham.

Thanks Kevin, it’s been great speaking to you and I will most definitely see you up there at Rock City. Bye for now.