“Even though I’m 40 I’ve still got it,” Darkness frontman Justin Hawkins says jokingly. He may be 40, but as he shows throughout the band’s new Last Of Our Kind album, he definitely does still have the sense of humor and bravado that made the band an instant sensation with their debut effort, Permission To Land. He and his band mates also have the same force and passion as that first effort. Last Of Our Kind is an unabashed rock record, one of power and depth.
What he does not have however is the cliché rock and roll lifestyle that the band celebrated in the beginning of their career. The guy who once admitted to spending over $150,000 on cocaine over a three-year period now donates his money to an animal shelter. Instead of talking to Playboy from a bar as one would expect he is in a “little town” in Switzerland ordering vegan pizza.
So yes Justin Hawkins and his mates can still deliver the thunder, but as you can see from our conversation this is a more mature, wiser version of the frontman.
Where are you today?
I’m in a little town called Regensdorf, which is about an hour away from Zurich. I’ve got to confess, I totally forgot I was going to do an interview and came to a pizza place.
Is it good pizza at least?
I think it’s good pizza, they got some vegan cheese for me, should be alright.
Are you full vegan?
Yeah, pure vegan.
Are you familiar with LA’s vegan mafia?
Is there a vegan mafia? I wasn’t aware.
It is very musician-heavy, so next time you come to LA you’ll have to jam with them. I did a series of interviews in one period with Travis Barker, Moby and Davey Havok, from AFI, all vegans and it became a running joke.
I’m also part of the mustache mafia as well, and there’s definitely an unspoken acknowledgement that occurs when you see another man with a wax mustache, so I’m kind of dipping in and out of various mafia clans, which is dangerous business really.
Which of these mafias would make the best supergroup? Cause the vegan one with you, Davey, Travis on drums and Moby on keys would be awesome.
That actually sounds exciting to me, yeah.
Which musicians are in the mustache mafia with you?
I think most of the people in the mustache mafia unfortunately are singers, so it’d probably end up being a barbershop quartet or something. There might be an irony in there somewhere.
So we’ve determined the vegan mafia would be the superior supergroup. What song would you like them to cover for fun?
I’ve just been listening to a load of Queen stuff, so probably one of those more playful ones, like “Seaside Rendezvous” or something like that. I can’t think of a single rock song that’s openly saying no to meat.
Well, the Smiths.
Oh, of course, yeah.
That is the only anti-meat song I can think of, “Meat Is Murder.”
I think we’ve found a niche within the music sphere that needs exploiting.
So you gave up smoking?
I gave up smoking, I’ve started again. I gave up smoking for the duration of recording and for the tour we just did in Ireland. But I’ve got a few weeks off now and it’s one of the few pleasures that I still allow myself occasionally.
How did the new material go over live?
We did about five of the new songs and it’s hard because people don’t know the stuff. For example, “Growing On Me,” I hardly have to sing any of it because you can’t hear yourself sing anyway. Everyone in the room knows that song intimately. It’s quite challenging to put over a convincing vocal on something people don’t know very well. From our point of view we really enjoyed playing them and I think as long as we’re enjoying ourselves it’s infectious, isn’t it? People like seeing that. I’m excited about doing the whole album actually. I don’t think there’s a song on there I wouldn’t enjoy playing.
It’s so funny because you can expect a song like “Open Fire” to go over great, which I am sure it does. But then maybe “Conquerors,” which is a slower one Frankie sings, can also be a huge favorite.
I can imagine that’s gonna become the best way for us to end the set, because I can do the old “Justin has left the building” vibe, I can be in the car waiting for the others while they do that one. Or I could be just shuddering at the side of the stage with a towel and a glass of water just watching, learning.
So have you already practiced your exit?
I haven’t, but I’ve fantasized about it.
What have been some of your favorite exit strategies?
Well, the problem is that I have an uncredited bass performance on that track, so I don’t know whether Frankie is gonna be comfortable playing bass and singing at the same time. There are very few people who do that well, I can list them actually. It’s Bryan Adams, Sting and it was Phil Lynott and Mark King [Level 42], of course. But I think that’s a very unusual talent to be able to do those two things. So I’m gonna have to wave my goodbyes, have my Man Friday put my dressing gown on me and hide behind the amp to play the bass I think. We’ll fly in the sound of the helicopter leaving the roof of the venue, but really I’m gonna have to be onsite playing bass somewhere.
At what point did you know you were making the best rock record you’ll hear this year?
[Laughs.*] When we finished the first demo, which is “Barbarian,” I thought that was a brilliant starting point. I thought that was a brilliant first song and I felt like if we kept the momentum going it was impossible to go wrong. So from the first moments I think, cause when a great song like that comes at the beginning of the process there’s nothing to lose, you know what you’re aiming for. It gave us direction, we’re just lucky that one came first I think.
We started off talking about the fact you’re vegan and you mentioned you donate to a local animal shelter, which would probably surprise a lot of people. Do you feel like people have a lot of misconceptions about you based on the early days of the Darkness?
The thing is you stop worrying about it to be honest. Getting back to Morrissey in a weird way, I think he actually likes being misunderstood and deliberately makes curiously right-wing remarks to offset his liberal tendencies and deliberately tries to confuse everybody. Because I think he really likes that. But, I think with us, if I see that something that says cock rock or comedy or parody it’s a resigned sigh. And I think it’s a bit of a shame, but at the end of the day I wouldn’t know how to educate somebody like that because I think the Darkness is quite a weird thing and if somebody grabs hold of the wrong part of it and that’s just too bad, you get used to it, resigned to it. If you spend the time making a record as good as you can make them then if people like it that’s okay, they can like whatever part of it they like. They can like the fact my ass wobbles in a certain way when I sing or they can like the fact it’s a bit like cock rock or they can like the fact I’m a vegan or the mustache. It’s actually fine.