Though it may seem contrary to the notion of becoming a successful band, ignoring trends may be the best way to get discovered. At least, that concept proved successful for The Darkness.
Formed in 1999 by brothers Dan and Justin Hawkins, the pair set their sights on the big time. It wasn’t long, however, before they tired of the effort and realized “you can’t make good music when you are thinking about who is going to buy it and whether they like it and whether it will be successful,” Dan Hawkins explains during a recent interview. Instead, the band decided to simply have fun and play the music they grew up loving: glam rock complete with massive riffs, bombastic stage shows, and over-the-top guitar solos.
“Our agenda was solely to build a fanbase and try and eke out a living somehow. Justin and I agreed that if worst came to worst, we could create the greatest covers band of all time, but nevertheless we would stick at it until we were able to make a living,” Dan Hawkins says.
Strangely, it worked. There was some strategy involved, however. The band played only Saturday nights to avoid “London chin strokers coming to the gigs and laughing at us,” which Dan Hawkins admitts occurred during mid-week gigs. In short order, the unsigned band playing their favorite music of a bygone era eventually left the pubs for concert halls.
“Word spread that there was this amazing old-school-rock party band playing regularly at a certain pub in London and, cut to a year later, we were … selling out 2,000-capacity venues. I think rock people like an underdog — and we were a stinky, mangy mutt ready for adoption,” Dan Hawkins says.
Despite the obvious talent and potent stage show that built their following, an air of skepticism followed the band. Many considered The Darkness — unitards, spangled outfits, and those endless guitar solos — a band simply parodying others’ music, not one capable of commercial success.
“As far as the parody element goes, those outfits, moves, riffs are completely normal to us,” Hawkins says. “It’s what we grew up considering to be awesome, so wanting to be awesome ourselves, we thought we would do the same.”
The Darkness’ debut, Permission to Land, was released in 2003. It went straight to the top of the British charts, proving the doubters wrong.
“You fucking bet,” Hawkins says defiantly. “I don’t think anyone thought we could write songs as well as wear women’s clothes and play guitars behind our heads.”
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One aspect of the glam-rock era that proved detrimental to the band was the off-stage excesses. Drugs and alcohol took a toll, and in 2006, shortly after the band’s second album release, Justin Hawkins quit the band for a rehab stint.
“It was the best thing that could have happened,” Dan Hawkins says of his brother’s decision. “It had become so excessive and twisted someone would have died.”
Though both brothers formed other bands in the interim, in Hawkins’ mind, there was little doubt The Darkness would eventually reform. That reunion came in 2011, but it has taken the ensuing five years to recapture the attitude of the early days that made the band what it was in the first place, and is clearly evident on the recent Last of Our Kind.
“It’s taken us a while to get back to the ‘not giving a flying fuck whether anyone likes or buys into it’ level of confidence,” Hawkins says assuredly. “We love it — so be it.”