“I just don’t care. And I’d hate to be strung up for something I didn’t care about…” - Justin Hawkins talks The Darkness’ new album Easter Is Cancelled
When The Darkness reformed in 2011, no one was sure if the reunion was just for a few very lucrative shows and nothing more, or if it was something more permanent.
Eight years on, it’s safe to say the Lowestoft rockers have answered that question. Not only have they answered it, but they’ve also been their most productive. Four albums have followed, the latest of which, Easter Is Cancelled, arrives today (October 4th).
Produced by the band’s guitarist Dan Hawkins, the album keeps the band’s trademark 70s arena rock sound with their typically tongue-in-cheek lyrical content. A mini-rock-opera, capped off by a biblical reimagining for a front cover.
As the album arrives, we spoke to frontman Justin Hawkins about how it all came together…
Is it even a question now when you come off tour if you’re going to continue? Do you just assume you’re straight back in album mode?
“The first thing is you decide on the approach, who you’re going to work with, what you want and that determines your strategy. The first thing we decided was that we wanted Dan to produce the album, then the next decision was where we would write the songs. Sometimes we got to exotic locations and heroic landscapes and we write there, then we come back and record in a short period of time. We didn’t do that this time.”
What did you do?
“This time we decided we’d develop in the studio. That had its own risks, it could be wondrous, it could be massively self-indulgent. We’ve gotten quite good at being disciplined now, so we haven’t ended up with something super-bloated and Tolkienesque. There’s always a risk of that…”
Why did you decide that Dan was the best man for the job? Did you ever consider an outside voice?
“Dan’s actually very good at being an outside voice. And an inside voice. It’s quite challenging for him. He’s already got a lot to think about as a guitarist and bandleader and producing is a whole other challenge. It’s hard for him, but he’s just brilliant at it. He knows every inch of the band and he achieved results we wouldn’t have got with an outsider.”
How much material did you have for the album? Do you tend to work a lot on a small batch of songs? Or work on 30 or 40 and slim it down?
“We always write a lot, usually 30 or 40 songs. 29 of those are usually s**t. I quite enjoy that way of doing things. We usually make use of that material. We can give it to TV shows or something. Nothing’s ever wasted. There are always loads of ideas knocking around.”
Does the line-up feel settled now? This is Rufus Taylor’s second album with you…
“He only needs one more album and he’ll be our longest-serving drummer. I can’t imagine working with anybody else, he’s become completely integral to the band. We rely on him for a lot in the studio, we don’t use any electronic metronome or programmed tempo. It all comes from him.”
What kind of album is this lyrically? Classic Darkness, big topics with a tongue-in-cheek feel?
“Most definitely. Even more so. It’s bigger, there are more emotions in it. We’ve ended up with a bit of a concept album, there’s a lot about Multiverse theory, mixed in with a lot of personal stuff.”
When did you decide on the album title and that incredible cover art?
“I’m good friends with Chiara Mazzoni, she does all our artwork and all our merch. We always work together. The title came from something our manager said in response to a terrible Easter poem that I wrote and it made me laugh. Then I needed to find a way to justify that title.”
“Anything that pertains to religious stuff you have to be a bit careful with. I don’t want anything thinking we’re pro or anti-religious. I just don’t care. And I’d hate to be strung up for something I didn’t care about. I just typed in ‘Buff Jesus’ into Google and I found a painting and I thought ‘I can do that’. It’s classic biblical iconography and the technique. Only time will tell if I’ve got away with it. If I’ve not been shot by next year we’ll call that a success.”
It was your teeth last time…
“Which I’m still very proud of. It’s a step somewhere. I’m not sure in the right direction…”
How’s your live set forming up? I guess there’s a lot of Permission To Land you pretty much have to play…
“It’s more difficult now to accommodate everything. I want to do more from the new album than we usually do. It’s so brilliant and really lends itself to the live arena. We do a few of those and then a second set of all the classics. Favourites. Not classics. They weren’t all hits.”
“We’re doing the UK and Europe at the end of the year. America and Australia next year, festivals, it’s all happening.”
Finally, do you feel firmly back in the groove now? Lots of band at your stage of career take long breaks, do a tour, then maybe make a record, but you want to keep working…
“Exactly. Never surrender. I want to be one of those guys they call a wrinkly rocker. I want people to laugh at me for rocking and being geriatric…”