“My Gibson is still the coolest looking bass guitar ever!” Frankie Poullain remains a committed Thunderbird player – just don’t ask him about beer-throwing fans

Frankie Poullain during the Darkness perform live at the Estragon club in Bologna for their "Blast Of Our Kind" tour 2016.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

You couldn’t make The Darkness story up, but essentially it runs as follows. Formed in 2000, they rode on the success of their multi-platinum debut album, Permission To Land, building a loyal fanbase who enjoyed their curious blend of soaring falsetto vocals, pop hooks and guitar heroics led by brothers Justin and Dan Hawkins.

At the peak of their powers they won three Brit awards, and an Ivor Novello, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. “There’s only so much partying you can do before it starts to turn sour,” says bassist Frankie Poullain. “No one wants to be around people who are just partying all the time. We were winning all these awards, but it gets tedious, you know?”

The band eventually split in 2006 after the release of their second album, One Way Ticket to Hell... and Back, but they’ve since reformed and are currently on tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of their chart-topping debut.

A new feature-length documentary has also been announced. The press release describes the film as “a unique account of a band of brothers who are still haunted by the demons that ripped them apart. A band who can defiantly laugh in the face of adversities in their ultimate quest for happiness and redemption.” 

Check out a clip below:

“The film made us all squirm a bit, but that’s actually a good thing,” says Poullain. “We owed it to ourselves to let the director, Simon Emmett, do his own cut. He enjoys studying these little eccentric outposts of English society, so we didn't interfere or block anything. With it being 20 years since the first album, I'm feeling quite philosophical about it. It certainly isn't a vanity exercise.”

On October 6th The Darkness released a special 20th anniversary collection called Permission To Land… Again, before embarking on the U.S. leg of their Permission To Land 20 tour. Reckon you could play in a low-cut catsuit under boiling stage lights every night? No, us neither. Read on…

The Darkness perform on day 1 of the Great GoogaMooga at Prospect Park

(Image credit: Getty Images)

What were the highlights of your early days in The Darkness?

“I'll be honest with you, I don't remember much of it! I remember strange little moments and observations, but it’s like watching a great movie, by which I mean that it's not always the epic moments that you really remember, but the fleeting details. That’s when you really connect with each other as a band.”

But it wasn’t always smooth sailing?

“There was an unraveling at one point, and it was at a time when we really should have been enjoying it the most. We were receiving awards and accolades, but it gets tedious, you know? That’s what most people who've been through the same experience conclude. It's not really about the awards. It's more about the process and the struggle that comes before all of that.” 

So where does the reward come from?

“We get rewarded every night when we're out on the road. The fans are right in our faces and screaming! The point I'm making is that we’re already extremely fortunate. We don't really need award ceremonies and all that kind of stuff.”

You’re still playing your Gibson Thunderbird bass, right?

“My 1990 Tobacco Sunburst Gibson Thunderbird is still the coolest looking bass guitar ever. I just love the vibe and the feel of it. I’ve also got a new bass tech who’s really helped me with it. His name is Nick Wade, and he’s brilliant. It makes a big difference on tour when you have a good crew with you.”

Do you have any new bass gear? 

“We’ve been trying a RAT distortion pedal, a SansAmp and the Aguilar Tone Hammer, which is really good as well. That one kind of squeezes the sound. I used to like the EHX Big Muff, but it doesn’t work so well with the guitars.”

Frankie Poullain of The Darkness performs live on stage at Wembley Arena on June 20, 2018 in London, England.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Is there still an expectation to embrace the rock star lifestyle?

“What does being a rock star even mean? It’s something I’ve heard Johnny Marr talk about now that he’s vegan and doesn't drink. You have to reinvent what it means to be a rock star. You can't behave in that stereotypical rock star way. It’s certainly not what the TV talent shows are telling people, which is a complete joke. It’s more about having the creative freedom to be unique.”

There's a YouTube video of a show in Austria in 2020 where someone in the crowd threw beer at Justin. He immediately stopped the song.

“That was a great thing that he did. He just confirmed what other people in the crowd were thinking, but he had the balls to stand up to the guy and stop the gig. Everyone could have laughed at him. It could have been a disaster for him on Twitter and YouTube, but everyone supported him. That’s a good example of what it now means to be a rock star. It’s about standing up for yourself.”

Do you think your role in the band has changed?

“I haven’t wanted it to change. We have quite a complex dynamic within the band, but it’s not what people think. The limelight is always on Dan and Justin, but I kind of savour it. We're always learning from each other. Most of the time it's hidden behind humour, but humans are complex, aren't they?”

Permission To Land…Again is out now. The Darkness tour the US from October 2023 – see thedarknesslive for full dates.

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Nick Wells

Nick Wells was the Editor of Bass Guitar magazine from 2009 to 2011, before making strides into the world of Artist Relations with Sheldon Dingwall and Dingwall Guitars. He's also the producer of bass-centric documentaries, Walking the Changes and Beneath the Bassline, as well as Production Manager and Artist Liaison for ScottsBassLessons. In his free time, you'll find him jumping around his bedroom to Kool & The Gang while hammering the life out of his P-Bass.