Touching You, Touching Me: Justin Hawkins In Conversation

The Darkness legend on life, lace-ups and a thing called love…

“The whole YouTube thing began in the pandemic,” recalls Justin Hawkins, looking glorious as ever. “I had a Patreon, and a very small audience, for whom I‘d play and sing acoustically for four, five hours on a Sunday. Nobody had anywhere better to be.”

Fast forward to today, and his YouTube channel Justin Hawkins Rides again has nigh-on half a million rapt subscribers. It’s a consistently joyful and illuminating window into all things musical, and a masterclass in the art of ageing gracefully as a rockstar. 

It’s also, wouldn’t you know, 20 years since The Darkness dropped seminal glam-rock masterpiece ‘Permission To Land’. So they’re on tour! And lucky old me, I had half-an-hour to chat to him about stuff over Zoom. 

Hey Justin Hawkins! How’s life? What are you up to today?

Driving to Zurich to look at footwear. I’m hunting for the ultimate boot.

What constitutes the ultimate boot?

It must be stylish, versatile and practical. It should be wearable all year, for any type of situation. Even walking the dog. 

I see – an omni-boot. Knee-high?

Thigh-length. 

Racy! Anyway, ‘Permission To Land’ is 20 years old! Yikes – how does that feel?

It’s been three lifetimes for me. Everything changes, every seven years, doesn’t it? Listening to those songs to prepare for this reissue and touring I realised there’s lots of stuff on there I’d never do now, if I was recording those songs for the first time.

Like what?

Well, if I knew I’d still be screeching them in 20 years time, I’d have operated in a slightly more comfortable register. 

Why not just re-record them?

I’d love to. But nobody would listen, so it’d be a complete waste of time.

How ‘tongue in cheek’ were The Darkness, as a band? It was surely at least somewhat a piss-take, when you started, right?

We knew what we were doing was incredibly unfashionable. A lot of bands back then were extremely… earnest. 

You mean like The Verve, or Radiohead?

Yes, bands who were writing serious songs about love. But who never actually said the word. They’d dance around it, using different kinds of prose. But it wasn’t cool to actually say ‘love’. So I said to the guys, we need to start putting ‘love’ in our song titles. That was my marketing strategy. If you’re talking about love, say love! And you’ll win. Because nobody else has the balls to do it. 

Very astute, obviously worked.

The other thing is whenever we were self-aggrandising, we did it in a way that pricked male vanity. We celebrated the flaws. Earnest artists didn’t. They’d stand in a certain way, shooting videos with a big mirror in front of them to check their hair. We thought, okay, these guys are all posers. So let’s become the ultimate posers! Preening, prancing rockstars. Show them how it’s done.

Masterfully snuck a Christmas song in at your peak, too. Bravo!

‘Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)’ was inspired by my brother [Darkness bandmate Dan Hawkins]. He’s so massively into Christmas. It was 2003, we’d had a really good year – top ten single, number one album, all the awards. So my brother said ‘let’s do a Christmas song!’ 

A festive dick joke for the ages.

It was so preposterous. At that stage in your career, the idea is to maintain coolness at all costs. But I thought, this is anti-cool. So we did it. I love that song. It’s my favourite. 

You’re touring your podcast, Justin Hawkins Rides Again, next year – how do you prepare for that? Isn’t it mostly off-the-cuff?

Recently I realised the Justin Hawkins Rides Again experience is very much like a Darkness gig. I already do lots of ad-libs and comedic circle backs at shows. Only now it’s without the inconvenience of having to listen to those songs. 

What can punters expect?

I’ll be analysing the songs du jour. I’ll take apart whatever’s in the charts. And because there’s a captive audience, and nobody’s filming, I might just destroy some stuff. I won’t have to be so nice all the time. It’ll be liberating. 

You are mostly very positive on your podcast – I love that about you.

I usually try and find something nice to say. That’s my upbringing, probably. If you’ve got nothing nice to say, don’t say anything. Also, I very often bump into the people I’m talking about. And I don’t want to get punched in the face. 

When you do get catty and bitchy, it’s hilarious.

Whenever I’m catty or bitchy, it’s usually because something doesn’t ring authentic. I can tell when an artist has stolen something. That comes from my jingle writing days. Whenever I see a blatant lift, it rubs me up the wrong way. It’s lazy! People say there’s only 12 notes. But there’s infinite combinations. There’s no excuse for stealing. It’s rude. It drives me fucking mad. 

You bitch about journalists quite a bit on your podcast, which I can’t help but take personally. 

Present company excepted, of course! My problem with journalists is whenever I say something with nuance, it gets misquoted. It’s the most frustrating thing. I can very clearly remember every single conversation I’ve ever had. 

Sure you can, Justin Hawkins. I suppose your podcast is a direct link to the fans. So you don’t even need to do interviews any more?

Exactly. What’s the point? Just write whatever you want. And I can concentrate on searching for the ultimate boot. 

Tickets for LIVE! Justin Hawkins Rides Again…for the first time! UK tour are available now.

Catch The Darkness live at the following shows:

December
7 Newcastle 02 City Hall
9 London The Roundhouse
11 Glasgow Barrowland Ballroom
12 Manchester New Century Hall
14 Bristol Beacon
15 Nottingham Rock City
16 Wolverhampton The Wulfrun at The Halls
18 Leeds O2 Academy
19 Nottingham Rock City
20 Brighton Dome
22 London Roundhouse

Words: Andy Hill
Photography: Simon Emmett

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