You don’t interview a member of the Darkness and not ask: “Do you believe in a thing called love?”
And for guitarist/back-up singer Dan Hawkins, the answer is simple, “Yes, of course. Doesn’t everybody?”
Hawkins tries to elaborate for a second, mumbling something about erections but drops that convoluted analogy and sticks with: “a person might not know what that feeling is … but yes, Love. That’s the thing.”
After all, “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” was the monster hit that catapulted the British band into the limelight in 2003. Those wild guitars and death-defying vocals — so powerful in a musical time period heavy on 50 Cent and Christina Aguilera — roared into the hearts of young folks seeking something they didn’t know they wanted, rock 'n’ roll.
On the phone from a stop in Seattle last week, the 42-year-old rocker and father of three explains why the music his band makes, no matter how kitschy, can transcend generational appeal.
“The thing about rock music, and so many people over the years have taken the piss out of it, is it’s not necessarily a cool thing to listen to,” Hawkins says. “But in a way it is the cool thing in that it’s not trying to be cool or follow the trends. It is just rock. Fashions come and go, but people are always are going to love rock.”
He says he’s still grateful he gets to do this for a living nearly 20 years after the band first formed. If that means playing night after night, including a stop at the Agora Theatre on Saturday, then that’s okay.
The band began at the turn of the century with Hawkins and his brother Justin, the man behind the magnificent vocals, bassist Frankie Poullain and drummer Ed Graham (later replaced by Rufus Tiger Taylor). Inspired by the glam rock acts of the 1970s, in music and clothing (hello, bell-bottoms), the group played as many gigs as possible. Its outrageous antics and tight, electric tunes landed them a record deal, leading to 2003’s epic Permission to Land.
At that point, it was as if the sun would never set. But then, Poullain left, their sophomore record, well, slumped, and soon Justin left for rehab never to return. These were the dark years when Hawkins formed his own band, Stone Gods. But the Darkness couldn’t stay away from one another — it helps when two of the members are siblings. Fans heard rumblings of a reunion tour with the original members in 2011, and the act hasn’t slowed since.
“It’s a long time we’ve worked together,” Hawkins says. “You look at the bands that influenced us, and they’re still playing arenas, or they are actually dead. I think now we could be one of the last ones standing. We might have another hit album, appeal to a new wave of rock music, who knows? As long as we’re happy, I don’t see why we can’t be the ZZ Tops and Kisses of this generation.”
These days, members still live in Europe; they never gave into the L.A. rock fantasy that so many other bands do — not to say Hawkins doesn’t enjoy coming to America. He says British audiences are often too stuffy, and that Americans let loose at shows. But tour is a long haul, and some venues are shitholes. (He does state for the record, however, that Cleveland is not a shithole.) Hawkins says that while the band does party, they’re smarter and calmer now. “We realize there’s more to the trip.” They’re writing a lot more, too.
This is what that process looks like: “It’s simple really," says Hawkins. "I come up with a shitload of riffs and bring them into the rehearsal room, and then Rufus and I are working together. Justin gets involved in the end with the lyrics, and then we drag through to the finish line. Music first, lyrics later.”
Other times, like in the instance of their song “Mudslide,” the title is selected first. “I thought, ‘that’s a good name. It’s a drink, It’s a weather thing. Alcohol plus death; it must be a good song title,’” Hawkins says.
Last year’s Pinewood Smile sees the act clutching to much of the same musical formulas from whence they came. But dammit if the tunes aren’t infectious and categorically made to make you believe in love all over again.
Hawkins isn’t sure the world deserves his band’s music — “Maybe the world is happy in its pop factory bullshit and all the music that follows those rules” — but as many minutes, hours and days that fans are willing to come out, the Darkness is going to play.
“Being on stage is like the only time that I’m doing something that I’m actually good at,” Hawkins says. “When I’ve got a guitar, it’s the only time I feel cool. It’s like a relief.”
The Darkness: Tour De Prance, 8 p.m., Saturday, April 14, Agora Theatre, 5000 Euclid Ave., 216-881-2221. Tickets: $30, agoracleveland.com
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