Back in the winter of 2003-04, I was basking in the glow of being offered an unpaid internship at Rolling Stone. That December, I’d packed my bags and fled my parents’ house for the Big Apple.
Soon thereafter, I realized what it meant to be an intern at the famed music magazine: fetching tea for the then-British managing editor; cutting out newspaper articles, photocopying them just so, and creating packets of the most interesting stories for the editorial team. Did I mention transcribing hours of taped interviews? It was drudgery, for sure, and I wasn’t making a red cent doing it, but I enjoyed the hell out of it. This was, in the words of Bad Company, all part of my “rock-and-roll fantasy.”
One day in their rock-lit library, I ran into a contributing editor, who was producing a page called “Rolling Stone Knows.” In it, you could ask bands or artists questions and then have this editor jump on the phone with them and get actual answers. It was a cool concept (wink wink). Given that I’m a classic over-thinker, I provided said editor with two outlandish questions, both of which, surprisingly, ended up answered in the column along with my name. It was my very first “byline.” One of those questions: “Does the band The Darkness have to pay royalties to Neil Diamond for using his line from ‘Sweet Caroline,’ “touching you/touching me” in their hit, ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’?”
“Women like bass players because they like weird guys. Women like to be bamboozled and confused and intrigued. Women are like cats, yeah? They come alive when they’re curious.”
If you’re struggling to remember The Darkness, picture this: long hair, skin-tight bodysuits, screaming guitar solos, and falsetto vocals. Back in ’03, the band consisted of frontman and guitarist Justin Hawkins, his brother/guitarist Dan Hawkins, bassist Frankie Poullain, and drummer Ed Graham. They were a force to be reckoned with on the British charts, their debut album, Permission to Land (2003), shooting all the way to No. 1. It scored them a Top 40 album in the U.S., too, helped greatly by the song at the center of this Q&A. Their sound was ’80s hair-metal revival to the hilt, bringing back the fist-pumping power-balladry that swept the nation before Nirvana territorially pissed all over it.
Two years later, though, things got complicated. Founding member Frankie Poullain exited the band, and then just about a year later, lead singer Hawkins walked because of an out-of-control cocaine addiction. Soon thereafter, The Darkness went dark. But since 2011, the original lineup, save for Graham, has been reunited and writing albums together. Just recently taking over as drummer is Rufus Tiger Taylor, the son of Queen drummer Roger Taylor. Even better, Hawkins has been sober for several years.
On the heels of the band’s rambunctious new thrill-ride of an album, Last of Our Kind—and a few months out from a North American tour this fall—Made Man caught up with Poullain (on the right wearing the green shirt in the photo above) to discuss the new music, the old hit and… bare breasts.
Last of Our Kind is both a killer album and title track. In fact, the latter is my favorite song on the record.
You and me have got so much in common! I’ve been trying to persuade the guys that that should be the next single.
It’s a fucking great song.
It’s a little bit melancholic, but it’s also got an optimistic side to it, you know? The thing is, if I told the guys that I’d just been chatting with an American journalist and he said that’s his favorite track, they would just shoot me down in flames. Like, ‘I can’t give a fuck what an American journalist thinks.’
Well, tell them I fucking hate it then.
Yeah, exactly, thank you, that’s more like it. To be fair, that’s probably the one thing we have in common: We’re all quite contrarian, especially Justin.
Give me some insight into the band’s songwriting process for the new album. Is Justin running the show, or is it a full band type thing?
I read this interview with U2 where Bono said that his lyrics are quite impressionistic, because he sings a melody and then goes into the next room and listens through the walls. And when he listens to music through the walls, phrases suggest themselves and the suggestion comes from your subconscious, so that’s a really nice way to create emotion or emotive music. So that’s what we do quite a lot. We call it ‘Bono-ing.’
We have a microphone in the middle of the room, and then we circle it like guys on a safari, hunting down a leopard. Then when one of us feels inspired, we just grab the mic and emote. But the rule is, we only do that when we’re feeling something, it’s real spontaneity, it’s not self-conscious or ironic or any of the things we get accused of. Because we wanted this album to emote. That’s basically the No. 1 thing we wanted from this album. The last album was the comeback album; this time we wanted to dig deep and create something warm sounding and expressive.
Well, hopefully, you’re not going to be ‘Bono-ing’ by releasing the record to everyone on iTunes.
[laughs] That backfired badly, didn’t it? That’s the thing. They used to be great—they were the emotive band, weren’t they? And there’s something great about that. It’s very easy to mock U2, but even Lou Reed, one of the most cynical rock stars out there, said that you can’t argue with all that passion. I’m talking about U2 in their heyday. Funny enough, somebody said that ‘Open Fire,’ our new single, reminded them of The Cult and also U2.
God bless 2003.
The bass player is usually the weirdest guy in the band. You know, like The Who’s John Entwistle. But they’re also the ones that get the most tail. Can you explain why that is?
’Cause women like weird guys. Women like to be bamboozled and confused and intrigued. Women are like cats, yeah? They come alive when they’re curious.
Let’s talk about ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love.’ Do you remember where you and the band were exactly when you wrote that song?
Of course. We were in my [apartment], which was on top of a kitchen shop in Primrose Hill, which is actually quite a nice area in London. And it was only really for one person, but Dan slept in the living room, and I slept upstairs on a mezzanine. It was like a Swiss chalet almost, up these wooden stairs, so we never really had privacy from each other; it was all open-plan. Then Justin and Ed would come over, and we’d feed on cheese toasties [cheese sandwiches], sometimes with baked beans on the side, and we’d write songs.
One night we were all watching the Champions League on TV, and then Justin just hit that riff. It was through a tiny little amp. And as soon as we heard the riff, it sounded like it was back to front; I couldn’t work out where it started, and we all got excited. And what got us excited, too, was cramming the words together, so they’re tripping over each other.
There’s a line in the song’s bridge, “touching you/touching me,” which is exactly the same as a Neil Diamond lyric in his song, ‘Sweet Caroline.’ Are you guys fans of Neil, and did you have to pay him reparations for using those lyrics?*
The context was so different, but for sure, the inspiration came from there. I think it was something that was OK to do, because we’d put it in a completely different context and [were] almost celebrating it, too. And we love Neil Diamond. Of course, there’s also an oblique reference to him in our song ‘Love on the Rocks with No Ice.’ That’s based on ‘Love on the Rocks’ by Neil Diamond, which is one of [his] all-time classics. I was just listening to him this morning.
When you’ve played ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’ live in the past, have you ever caught a pair of women’s underwear or bra on your bass?
Yes, I have. More than once. It still happens, people throwing underwear. You catch it with the headstock on your bass, because they travel through the air quite slowly. I guess when you’re hyped up and adrenalized as well, it appears that everything else is slightly slowed down.
Approximately how many bare breasts do you imagine you’ve seen while playing it?
Funny enough, the breasts are generally revealed during songs that are slightly edgier and harder. ‘Get Your Hands Off My Woman’ is probably the main one, which is funny because you would think that sentiment might not appeal to women, because it sounds quite covetous, doesn’t it? Get your hands off my woman. You would think that would be slightly offensive. But I guess … I’m not sure if I should analyze it, because I might make a fool of myself.
But generally, it’s that song that we’d actually get that, for sure. You can even see that online at the Download Festival in 2011. [During] ‘Get Your Hands Off My Woman,’ there’s a girl in the crowd, and the camera switches quickly, but you can see it quite clearly.
*This is basically the same question I had that editor ask Justin Hawkins in Rolling Stone.