10.11.2017 / words: Rich Lee / image: Simon Emmett
Following the release of their acclaimed fifth album, Pinewood Smile, bombastic rockers The Darkness are bringing their juggernaut of face-melting riffs, swaggering showmanship and biting humour to G Live, Guildford on 5th December. We spoke to bassist and proud owner of the best rock-fro in the business, Frankie Poullaine…
Hey Frankie. So it’s been a crazy journey for the band since you burst on the scene with Permission to Land in 2003. With all the ensuing rock ‘n’ roll ups and downs, and subsequent Darkness reunions and comebacks behind you, how are things with the band nowadays?
We’ve worked through the problems we’d had before, corrected everything and I think we’ve got control and feel empowered now. We’ve got a great label behind us, Cooking Vinyl, and everything’s feeling harmonious. Our drummer Rufus Taylor [son of Queen’s Roger Taylor] has brought a lot of great new energy… ‘blonde energy’ for the most part.
Is there a concept? Probably not, but I guess it was always going to be anarchic, taking on things that people think are in bad taste and making it fun and enjoyable. So there’s a punk protest song [Southern Trains] that people wouldn’t normally associate with us and a country duet with Justin taking the female lead and Rufus taking the male lead on Stampede of Love, about two overweight people falling in love – it’s not making fun of their weight but it’s actually quite heart-warming and nice. Justin’s (Hawkins, singer and lead guitar) lyrics are very clever but Rufus also contributed some lyrics to it and it really works well.
'Last of Our Kind' in 2015 was a rallying cry for rock n roll and a pithy protest against bland EDM and auto-tuned plop. It was also infested with crazy Nordic imagery, because Vikings. Is there any kind of concept that runs through Pinewood Smile?
Rock bands have always hit out at institutions, but it’s surprisingly specific to have taken a shiv to Southern Rail on track 'Southern Trains', although us Surrey folk would certainly empathise. Which of you had that particular axe to grind?
All of us but especially Dan and Justin. They would travel to our rehearsals in Putney from Horsham, and they’d always arrive late and in a bad mood. Then one day Dan was in such a bad mood that he started playing the riff on Southern Trains, and then we all thought let’s be real, be direct and tell it like it is. The problem with people in the south of England is they don’t protest, they just whinge a bit and don’t do anything. I know there’s bigger problems in the world than just a train company, but we did it and it’s made the papers and really got people talking about it.
Solid Gold from Pinewood Smile (2017)
Well it’s going be more like a psychological study of us and our fans. It’s not glamourous – some of it is even uncomfortable to watch. It’s like social realism. It shows what’s going on in the background and what we’re like as people, and the relationships we have with each other and our fans. It’s also about a band struggling away playing a form of music that not many people care about anymore. So there’s definitely struggle and passion involved. And against all the odds we’re still doing it. With talking heads like Jack Black and Nick Cage, and a director who happens to be one of the top fashion photographers in the world, I think it’s going to be quite surreal.
You’re soon to release a documentary. Should we expect a circus of substance-fuelled mayhem and hard rock lunacy, or have the Darkness truly seen the light?
What was it like supporting Guns ‘n’ Roses earlier this year?
We played to 130,000 people in Italy, on a racetrack, in 35-degree heat; the Italians are amazing people, to wait in that heat. There’s an innocence to Italian people as well, and that’s maybe why they’re so easily corrupted?
We’ve met Slash and Duffy before, and they’d pop up and say hi from time to time. We’ve never met Axl, but then not a lot of people have. He’s got the top job, a lot of pressure on him, so he tends to keep to himself.
We’re quite ruthless in the way that we select songs. There’s no sentiment, we just go for the ones that have the most excitement, relevance and freshness. Basically, the ones that are the most rock and roll, that’s what it boils down to: we’re a rock and roll band. Mostly, we choose the sexiest songs, because what is rock and roll if not about sex?
With five albums in the bank and such a rich catalogue, how on earth do you choose your set lists?
Top image and thumbnail: Simon Emmett
The Darkness perform at G Live, Guildford on Tuesday 5th December. Head to glive.co.uk for tickets and follow the band at thedarknesslive.com
Pinewood Smile (Crooked Vinyl) is available to buy and stream.