Into the Darkness: British rockers the Darkness formed in 2000 and released the Permission to Land debut album in 2003. They exploded globally thanks to singles like “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” and “Love is Only a Feeling,” touring the States and headlining the massive Reading Festival back in the U.K. The follow-up, the hilariously titled One Way Ticket to Hell… and Back, was great fun but didn’t fare as well, and one year later, the band split.
Five years later, in 2011, the Darkness reformed and they’ve been releasing an album about every two years ever since. In fact, they’ve been back together now for a good deal longer than they were together the first time around. The band is in a good spot.
“I think we’re prolific, but there’s been talk about how we’re going to approach the next record,” says frontman Justin Hawkins (he with the helium-operatic vocals). “On the last few albums, we’ve made creative leaps. Easter is Canceled was much more ambitious than what we normally do. We normally make good time rock & roll records, but there was something in there that might have even been quasi-political. And then we made another good time rock & roll record. I think we’re going to spend a bit more time on the next one and try to do something that’s utterly astounding. So it might be three years instead of two.”
The latest album is called Motorheart, the band’s seventh studio full-lengther. The last few albums, the post-reunion releases, all have been generally well-received but haven’t propelled the Darkness to the heights of the debut. Hawkins remains pragmatic about the whole thing.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been that ambitious,” he says. “I had two ambitions at the beginning. One was to win an Ivor Novello songwriting award (which he achieved in 2004), and the other was just to play at Reading, not necessarily to headline it. So beyond that, I didn’t really have any ambitions. I just wanted to do music and have a career. I really like touring at theater level. If you go to a place in the U.K., like Brixton Academy, you get on the stage and can feel the history. Having experienced the one above that, I’m not sure if it’s as easy to feel that because arenas are multi-purpose spaces. They all look exactly the same.”
Motorheart was recorded between Hawkins’ home in Switzerland and his brother [and Darkness guitarist] Dan’s studio at his home in England.
“We were forced to do it remotely because I was nervous about traveling,” Hawkins says. “First of all, for most of the session, I wasn’t even allowed to do it, and then when I was, I was a bit nervous about going because I didn’t want to get stuck there and not be able to see my kid. As luck would have it, we’ve all got fairly decent recording set-ups, and with the advent of the internet, you can swap files around. It was actually quite good because people are less inclined to shoot things like that down, because they could tell how much I cared. They didn’t want to see me cry over Zoom.”
While Motorheart isn’t a concept album, Hawkins says that there are themes of individual relationships that have “cocked up on account of the protagonist or the narrator’s inability to deal with his egomania or character flaws.” The title track is one such example – a song about a guy who states that he’s never had much luck with women.
“First of all, he’s obviously a misogynist and really daft anyway,” says Hawkins. “He decides to use a custom-built love robot to iron out the troubles that he’s had before. He still doesn’t realize that it’s his fault. The whole album is like that, but in smaller doses and with less robots.”
That song, and the title of the album, is a nod to both Motorhead and Heart, with both bands influencing the sound. There was a little bit of drama between the Darkness and Motorhead when Lemmy branded them a “novelty act” in the 2010 Lemmy documentary. Hawkins insists it was a storm in a teacup.
“It all got blown out of proportion,” he says. “It was disappointing when it appeared in that documentary and at no point did they talk about how it was resolved, so most people think it was a burning thing, but actually it was more like a friendship. It’s annoying – life goes on a lot longer than what the documentary lasts for, and I wasn’t even asked to contribute to the documentary, so it’s all a bit one-sided and a bit unfair.”
Meanwhile, the opening track on the new album is the phonetically titled “Welcome Tae Glasgae.”
“I know a lot of Scottish people, so I was testing it and it’s near enough,” Hawkins says of his accent. “Every time you go to Scotland, someone says that. We were looking for something along the lines of ‘Welcome to the Jungle,’ as an opening track. This is something that we actually say. I was excited about doing that song for (Glasgow venue) Barrowland. It went down amazingly and I nearly cried onstage. It was really moving. A superb moment in the band’s history. It’s just about how much we love playing in Glasgow.”
On March 13 and 15 respectively, the Darkness plays shows in the OC and L.A., and, as is the norm with this lot, we can expect great things.
“We had a really good set that was COVID-aware for the U.K. tour,” Hawkins says. “We had to finish that one for a few different reasons. Having not toured for ages, we wanted to make sure we had one good tour under our belt. So we were careful about things I normally do like jumping off balconies and swimming among the crowds. Doing my solos on people’s shoulders. I’ve now had COVID, so I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
As for the rest of 2022, plans are afoot.
“The usual stuff,” Hawkins says. “A few festival appearances. For the time being, a bit of touring, bit of live, then we’ll knuckle down and spend three years making an astounding record that will take people’s eyes out.”
We don’t doubt it.
Into the Darkness: The Motorheart album is out now. The Darkness performs at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 14 at the Observatory; then at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 15 at Novo. The Dead Deads open both shows.