The Darkness's Dan Hawkins on his love for ABBA

Dan Hawkins and Abba
(Image credit: Will Ireland/Future; Peter Bischoff/Getty Images)

It was when they were kids in the '80s that Dan Hawkins and his older brother Justin discovered the pop genius of ABBA

And in the early 2000s, when their own band The Darkness made it big, they scored a huge hit with Love Is Only A Feeling, a power ballad in which Dan replicated the amazing acoustic guitar sound in one of ABBA’s classic songs. “People don’t even think about it,” Dan says, “but the guitars in ABBA play a major role...”

How did your love for ABBA begin?

“When we were young, Justin and I listened to our parents’ record collection, and they had a lot of ABBA. Our joint favourite was Does Your Mother Know. That’s a riff-based song. It’s not far off Def Leppard! And Waterloo has that driving glam rock thing. The guitars and the riffs in those songs are pretty underrated.

In the late 80s it wasn’t fashionable to be into ABBA. 

“No. It became clear early on, when we started growing our hair long and wearing tight jeans, that it wasn’t the coolest thing to profess your love of ABBA, but we always did. And here’s a funny thing – when my dad gave me a Thin Lizzy cassette, it sounded like an extension of the kind of guitar sound I liked when I was as a kid. 

“Listen to ABBA closely and you can really hear their harmonised Les Paul sound. So there was a real familiarity to me when I heard Thin Lizzy from being listening to ABBA.”

In which ABBA songs do you hear that Thin Lizzy sound?

“An example of that, [though] not my favourite ABBA song, is Mamma Mia. The opening guitar line in that is very solidly harmonised with itself in a very Thin Lizzy way. And in ABBA songs when it comes to the lead part, it’s almost always harmonised. 

“So when it came to doing a solo myself, I would always do that. I like to bolster them with harmonies – you’ll hear that in the middle section of Love Is Only A Feeling, it’s the fanfare kind of thing. I like to end my solos with a harmonised fanfare.”

And in that song, Love Is Only A Feeling, the ABBA influence ran deep.

“Massively so. I’ve always tried to make my acoustic guitars sound like ABBA’s on songs like The Name Of The Game. On our first album [Permission To Land, 2003], I wanted to find out how they did it. I researched how they got that acoustic sound, those huge banks of guitars that sounded like 12-strings. 

“I stumbled across an interview saying they would record two stereo acoustics, they would slow the tape down so that the next pass of acoustics they did was slightly detuned, but naturally, so it would naturally chorus with the first two, and then they’d speed the tape up and then those would chorus with the other two above and below the pitch of the note. And they would do that twice!”

Sounds complicated.

“Yeah, I thought, 'Shit, that’s quite a lot of effort!' But I tried it, and that’s basically the acoustic guitar sound on Love Is Only A Feeling. We did the stereo guitars, and because we weren’t working on tape, we were working digitally, we had the option of vari-speeding the whole track, but rather than piss about with that, I actually tuned my guitar 0.05 or five-sixths lower, and then played a pass like that, and then tuned them slightly higher  to get the same effect. And as ABBA did, we did that twice. Which really did take a fucking long time. That was literally me trying to mimic the sound of ABBA on that song.”

What other ABBA songs stand out for you, guitar-wise?

Fernando is another example of that whole western approach, those huge reverbs, everything being multi-tracked to give it that chorusing effect. And another great example of harmonised guitars being an influence for me is Knowing Me, Knowing You.

“The Darkness played that song live at the wedding of our friend Toby McFarlaine [ex-bassist in Stone Gods, the band Dan led in the late 2000s when The Darkness had split]. It was great to play that song, and Graham Coxon did a number that night, too!”

And you also used an ABBA instrumental, Arrival, as the intro music for The Darkness live shows...

“We wanted something dramatic, but not rock. So we pulled out the Arrival album and we thought, ‘That’ll do!’ And it was a nice tribute to them.”

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Paul Elliott

Content Editor at Total Guitar and freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2005, Paul Elliott has worked for leading music titles since 1985, including Sounds, Kerrang!, MOJO and Q. He is the author of several books including the first biography of Guns N’ Roses and autobiography of bodyguard-to-the-stars Danny Francis, and has written liner notes for classic album reissues by artists such as Def Leppard, Thin Lizzy and Kiss. He lives in Bath, UK – of which David Coverdale recently said, “How very Roman of you!”