For Justin Hawkins, being the singer of the Darkness has often involved getting ready for battle. “If you’re not prepared for it, you’re not doing your job properly,” he says cheerfully.
At least a few songs on the British rock band’s upcoming new album, Last of Our Kind, deal with being under attack – which is just how it ought to be, Hawkins explains. “We should be doing things that are challenging in the sense that people can’t tell if we’re serious or not. We should be welcoming that kind of reaction. There’s a line, and when we’re doing our best stuff, we’re walking directly along that line.”
Sessions for the record began last year in Norfolk, England, where the foursome quickly started working on what would become lead single “Barbarian.” “It’s stupid and it’s heavy and it’s got the right kind of riffery,” Hawkins says, remembering how the track set the tone for the rest of their efforts. “It’s got a bit of Genesis and AC/DC and all those things I love. If that’s our first thing out of the gate, then we’re going to be all right.”
The album’s closing track, “Conquerors,” a rousing Celtic ballad sung by bassist Frankie Poullain, diverges sonically but holds true to the Band of Thrones vibe. Hawkins predicts that it will become a permanent part of their live show. “We really had to talk Frankie into singing it, but it really suited his voice more than mine. I love the idea of him taking center stage and really delivering a heartfelt super-ballad. It’s awesome.”
Twelve years ago, the Darkness’ playful reconstruction of Eighties pop-metal earned early success and quick scrutiny. “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” made them a radio fixture, and debut album Permission to Land that topped the British charts for a solid month. The poor reception of their 2005 follow-up led to a period of turmoil and hiatus. It also robbed them of their most importantly quality: “It made it less fun, definitely,” Hawkins recalls.
The 10-song Last of Our Kind is the second album released since their reunion, which followed a period of inactivity, rehab and side projects. Their previous collection, 2012’s Hot Cakes, was rushed amid the frenzy of the return and preparations to appear with Def Leppard at England’s Download Festival.
“There were sacrifices and compromises made,” Hawkins admits. “This time we took a year off and didn’t do any live work. We wanted to make sure we made the best record we could write. We wanted to be 100 percent super-confident about the material, like we were the first time.”
And besides, the band’s story has actually unfolded according to plan. “I always felt we would have a really strong first album, a not-so-strong second album, a nasty split, a few years off and then a reunion,” Hawkins says with a laugh. Anything more serene would only make for a boring biography. “Nobody wants to read that,” he continues. “They want to read about breakups and distress and mental illness, all the good stuff that we aspired to in the first place.”
The band’s newest chapter includes the addition of new drummer Emily Dolan Davies, who joined last summer and is about a decade younger than Hawkins, now 40. “She definitely has a different perspective,” he admits. “To be honest I was slightly concerned that we wouldn’t have the same cultural references and so on – but that’s actually a good thing.”
Even her presence has broken up the boys-club nature of the previous lineup. “It shouldn’t strictly be the masculine domain, should it? Unless you are categorizing it as cock-rock. Now it’s supposed to be genitalia rock.”
Still, the Darkness’ attitude remains the same, and their sound remains perfectly suited for the biggest stages in the world. “We wanted to be a stadium band,” Hawkins says. “If we had a manifesto – which we definitely didn’t – it was that were going to play as big a show as we possibly could regardless of the room, regardless of how many people were there and regardless of how interested they were in what we were doing. It served us quite well.”