Interview: Dan Hawkins

Almost twenty years into a career, it’s not very often a band releases an album that is widely heralded as their most ambitious and progressive to date. And it’s even less often that said album is actually a complete triumph, and not an ill-informed, last-ditch stab at relevancy. With bombast, barmy stylistic mash-ups and plenty of the daft, tongue-in-cheek humour that they’re known for, Easter Is Cancelled is an album that only The Darkness could have pulled off.

When you think of the Lowestoft quartet, you think Justin Hawkins – the band’s inimitable frontman and resident ringleader, with his falsetto vocals, colourful catsuits and onstage gymnastics – and less his younger brother, Dan. But armed with a trusty Gibson Les Paul – and usually wearing a Thin Lizzy t-shirt – The Darkness’ long-serving guitarist has been just as influential as his older brother in helping the band to resist their killjoy critics and become the much-loved British rock treasure they are today.

On the eve of Easter Is Cancelled’s release, I spoke to Dan Hawkins about the writing process for the band’s sixth album.

Considering the twists and turns on the new album, do you think it’s the most ambitious Darkness record you’ve ever done?
By far. We sort of made a pact to see through every idea without skimping because you’re always under so much pressure when you go to record an album, but you might wanna do something grandiose or have a large arrangement. But the reality is you just don’t have time, because studio time is expensive. That’s what I brought to this album as the producer, because I have my own studio. So we spent as long as we wanted to and really saw things through. I mean, some of those harmony vocals are in the two or three hundred tracks! And believe me, I really regretted this approach two or three months in, with the eighteen-hour days. I thought I was gonna lose my mind [laughs].

By incorporating lots of different styles, I was always of the opinion that One Way Ticket [To Hell…And Back, the band’s 2005 sophomore album] was the band’s most experimental album, but after listening to this, I’m inclined to agree.
I never thought I’d say it but compared to One Way Ticket this is definitely on another level. On OWT, the songs are all standard arrangements, essentially, but I think every single song on this album is progressive. It goes off on really weird tangents!

How did it come about that you produced the album?
Well, I’ve been involved with nearly every album that we’ve done. I basically co-produced the first album, but I was never credited with my work for various reasons. The second album I worked really closely with Roy Thomas Baker, the Queen producer, and learned from him. He was like my mentor for about a year. Then I built a recording studio in Norfolk and during that period The Darkness had split up, so I kind of just threw myself into production and engineering, and that’s what my band Stone Gods essentially was. Almost like a learning process for production. And then I produced The Darkness’ comeback album, Hot Cakes [2012], as well as Last Of Our Kind [2015]. But I had an album off on Pinewood Smile [2017] while I had a child, and now here I am. It’s kind of my job, but if I can’t be arsed to do it one year, I’ll outsource it [laughs].

Do you think the band is better suited to the progressive material like Rock And Roll Deserves To Die or the three-minute bangers like Black Shuck [from 2003’s Permission To Land]?
I think it’s a mixture of both, we just get bored. For this record, after about three songs we realised it was going in a concept album direction, so it was our chance to just go all out. Whereas I can tell you already that the focus on the next album will be three-minute bangers. With this album, there’s about three themes running through it and it’s all very convoluted and hard to explain. To the point where we’ve already decided that the next album is just gonna be three-minute bangers with the most simple album title. It’ll probably be called Par For The Course or something like that!

As Rock And Roll Deserves To Die critiques the current state of the genre, are there any bands out there at the moment that do renew your hope in rock music?
Yeah, but it’s never the bands that are in the exact genre that we’re in. I get sent a lot of bands as potential support acts and it’s my job to basically vet them, but they’re always the same! A band like Black Keys makes an impact and then you just see waves of bands that don’t bother with a bass player and it’s all about that fuzzy, simplistic singing style. People are like sheep, aren’t they? I like Wolf Alice, I think they’re brilliant. Their last album is awesome. It’s different and it shows a love of something that most people probably thought died a long time ago.

What’s your favourite song on the new album?
That’s a good one. I really like Easter Is Cancelled, the title track, but I’m saying that from a production point of view. Normally for the first year or two all I can hear is the mistakes I’ve made, but with that one everything sounded exactly how I wanted it to sound.

You mentioned producing the debut Stone Gods album way back in 2007. Wasn’t a follow-up record actually completed but shelved indefinitely once The Darkness reformed?
It’s gonna happen! Basically, when Bush and The Darkness both got back together, Rob [Goodridge, Bush’s drummer] and I had to jump ship. The Darkness is my first love so I don’t regret it, but I do regret not bloody finishing that album. I’m still friends with Richie, Toby and Robin [Stone Gods members], but the long and short of it is I’ve moved house about three times and lost the hard drive. It was a real pain in the fucking arse, but in the end I’ve managed to get hold of the album barring one song, so it’s in my studio ready to be mixed. I just need to find three weeks to do it, because that’s how long it takes me. I can still remember all the songs and I’m really looking forward to mixing it.

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