Fresh off touring with Guns N’ Roses and headlining European summer festivals, The Darkness have returned with their fifth album, Pinewood Smile (set for release on October 6).
Produced by Adrian Bushby (Foo Fighters, Muse) the new album boasts glorious hard rock anthems like “All The Pretty Girls,” the emotional “Why Don’t The Beautiful Cry” and the groove-ridden "Solid Gold," which finds The Darkness addressing the turbulent nature of the music industry and how they’ve enjoyed its flamboyant highs and spectacular lows.
In addition to the distinctive guitar tones of Dan Hawkins, Pinewood Smile also features the drumming and vocal talents of newest member, Rufus Tiger Taylor, the son of Queen legend, Roger Taylor.
I recently spoke with Hawkins about Pinewood Smile, songwriting, gear and more in this exclusive new interview.
How would you describe Pinewood Smile in terms of its sound and maybe how it relates to some of the band’s previous work?
I think it's more urgent than some of the other albums and maybe a little bit edgier. It's hard to sum up. It’s kind of like The Darkness on steroids.
What’s your writing process like? Does it begin with a melody? A hook? What inspires you when you write and create?
It depends and always comes in different ways. The first album was primarily written on acoustic where we’d be sitting around talking about things. Normally, I'd be in my own world making music and riffs and writing backing tracks while trying to pick up on the conversations that are going on in the room. This album was slightly different.
I wrote all of the music with Rufus in a rehearsal room at full volume. There are so many ways of getting around making noise these days with V drums and pods, and every fucker’s got their own studio these days. We wanted to get away from that and get back to it sounding good when you’re standing up playing it loudly. We wrote it in a very uncivilized way.
Let’s discuss a few tracks from Pinewood Smile, beginning with “All The Pretty Girls”
The backing track was written in London and me, Rufus and Frankie had it recorded and demoed. Then Justin came in with this idea based on a line about how all the pretty girls love me for who I am, but only when I’m selling out stadiums. Basically, if you're just a tight-jeaned, long-haired, ugly mother fucker no one really cares. But the second you're doing well it increases your beauty in the eyes of a lot of people. It's a funny observation.
I wasn't actually in the room when they came up with the words for that one. I had the backing track and went down to the pub and when I came back, Rufus and Justin had the chorus and sang it to me. I remember when I heard it, it sort-of made me laugh and I really liked it melodically too. We went with it.
“Why Don’t The Beautiful Cry”
That was written in the rehearsal room. We were just playing around with this Motown-kind of thing. It was Justin and Rufus sparring lyrically and vocally. I remember we were jamming on the verse for quite some time. How it works is that I'll get the chord sequence running and they’ll each have a mic in their hand singing things to each other.
We may go around that ten or twelve times and be recording the whole time. At some point, I’ll make a move and shout, “Go to the bridge!” and almost immediately, someone will start singing what ends up being the bridge. We’ll work out from the versions that we did with the lyrics we liked and put it all together. It's a really collaborative thing.
Is there a certain vibe you look for during the writing process?
It depends on the mood. If I’ve had a crap journey or if something annoying has been happening, I’ll come in and want to play some really heavy stuff. Other days you're in a really good mood and do ballads or more happier stuff. There's no overall agenda but there’s a cathartic element to being a writer. You go in wanting to get out of the day something that helps.
What’s your current setup like?
I've been through every amp that’s ever been made but my latest thing now is that I’m playing 100-watt standard, factory built Marshall Plexis. The only difference is I’m always running two cabs together without any attenuation. If you run the two cabs as nature intended it really is the ultimate sound and is remarkably loud. You can't beat it.
I have a Tube Screamer running into the front of the Plexi and I also mix in a Diezel VH4 on Channel 3 for when it gets really heavy.
Did you always know that you wanted a career as a guitarist? Was it something you always aspired to do?
I always thought I’d be involved with music one way or another but thought I was a bit too shy to be anyone other than someone who stood in the back as a bassist or drummer. I ended up learning how to play guitar just to work out songs. I was a bass player in a band in London when the singer fired both guitarists and then asked me to play guitar instead. I thought ok, I'll give it a go, and I haven't looked back since.
What are you most looking forward to about Pinewood Smile and this next phase of the band’s career?
Normally when you finish a record and the singles are chosen, they're fun to listen to but aren’t necessarily as fun to play live. It's the difference between writing a record sitting down at a computer and standing up in a rehearsal room. When you’re sitting down and then stand up, you may suddenly realize that the song is no fun to play.
The great thing about this record is that I’d happily play any song and really enjoy it live. That's what I’m looking forward to. Supporting an album with touring and genuinely looking forward to playing any of the tracks on it.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.