Dan Hawkins Sticking Around Like a Bad Smell

By: Justin Beckner
Photos by Simon Emmett

The Darkness is back with their fifth offering to the rock world. Pinewood Smile contains all of the excitement and classic rock feel that we have come to expect from The Darkness. The addition of Rufus Taylor, son of legendary Queen drummer, Roger Taylor certainly lends to the band’s classic rock feel. In the following interview CRR catches up with guitarist Dan Hawkins to discuss the new album, the classic rock roots, and what it’s like to be in a band with your brother.

Justin: Ok, let’s talk about Pinewood Smile – you recorded it live – how was that experience?

Dan: It was a relief really to be able to do it the way we’ve always wanted to. I think most bands would agree that when you go into a studio, everybody wants to get it down live or as live as possible. Reality is that people start bottling it when the red light goes on and they don’t stick with it. We didn’t give ourselves the option on this record. We basically made a pact that everything that was played in the room would be kept together and no one was allowed to bottle it. It really did help in the sense that we set up differently to how you would imagine you would set it up for a live recording in the studio. The drums were on a drum riser so we had really good visuals of Rufus [Taylor]. On either side of Rufus we had this big tower of a PA which was blasting the kick and snare. Then we set up far enough back so that we had the separation with the guitars and yet we could really feel everything he was playing. We had an amazing engineer set it up for us. So we were given every opportunity to be able to do it. It was just really refreshing – it’s one of those things where you come in and you’re forced to listen to the whole thing because there isn’t going to be any fixing of this or that. It is what it is. So rather than nitpicking about little bits and bobs that you may or may not have gotten right, you’re listening really acutely to the overall feel of it, which is a first for me really.  It’s really good fun we would all just sit in the back of the room and listen back to a take and it was very much a team process.

Justin: Seeing you guys play live is one of those moments where you really learn what the band is about – The Darkness, to me has always been, in my mind, a live band. So it’s great to see you trying to bring that to the studio and people can experience the live energy on a record.

Dan: Yeah I think to some extent they can. It’s amazing how difficult it is to get across the live vibe. This is definitely the nearest we’ve got to it. There were some moments on the first record where it was live. I was listening to Rory Gallagher today and my god that stuff sounds live. It’s like that Led Zeppelin and early Cream, it was all just there and it almost sounded like they made it up as they went along. There’s just an energy in catching something in the first or second take and just going with it that’s great. It’s amazing how mistakes and tempo fluctuations just sort of disappear when you’ve got the other overdubs on.

Justin: That was going to be my next question – were there any mistakes or parts on the album that were improvised?

Dan: Oh god yeah. On the song “All the Pretty Girls”, the solo on that is improvised. Basically I realized that I had messed the solo up within the first bar or two. So I just fucked it out for the rest of it in the hopes that if that take was used, the guys would gracious enough to let me have another go at it but no, they said we will live by the sword and die by the sword. So that entire solo is a mistake. It starts in the wrong place and you can hear me trying to work out what to do now, then I fall back on some generic stuff and get the hell out of there. So it was a mistake and it was improvised but the guys kind of liked that. There’s quite a lot of that on the record. There’s a track called “Lay Down with Me Barbara” where it comes in way too fast – real hot compared to the demo version. You can hear the band realizing it and hitting the brakes during the first verse. I found it hard to listen to it at first but the second time I listened to it, I really liked it. There’s loads of that stuff on the record. Justin improvised the solo on Southern Trains.

Justin: The solo for “Lay Down with Me Barbara” was probably my favorite on the record. It’s so real and raw and good. Its very rock and roll.

Dan: I think it’s such a long solo and it’s not the kind of solo that we normally do. It took a while for Justin to find what he wanted to do there. I was going to the solo but I couldn’t figure out how to approach it and then it was one of those things where Justin was feeling it and he just did it and it was down in a take or two. That particular solo is the band’s favorite solo too, I think. It reminds me of early Dire Straits – like “Sultans of Swing” sort of vibe. We’re huge Mark Knopfler fans, Justin and I. We used to think he was the ultimate guitarist when we were nine and ten. So you can really hear his influence on Justin on that solo.

Justin: Another thing that’s a bit different on this record is that it’s the first time in about a decade that you haven’t been a producer. Was it odd for you to step out of that role?

Dan: It was actually quite easy. We had the demos done and knew what we wanted to do with it. It was my choice really because I just had a baby and I just wanted to play guitar for a change. The demos we did for this were a very clear roadmap of what we wanted live. We just wanted it recorded really well with a great vibe and to keep it as live as possibly. It was quite easy really and Adrian Bushby is just a phenomenal engineer and producer. He certainly pulled us into line. It was good because when you’re doing something like this, it does take a lot of effort to see the vision through – it’s so easy to just peel off and do drum tracks and re-do bass tracks and do all that sort of stuff. He was adamant that we were going to finish what we started –I don’t think he had made a record like that before either.

Justin: How did you come to settle on Adrian? I would imagine there was a large list to choose from.

Dan: Yeah there were a lot actually. The primary things we were looking for, and these were my requests because I was basically replacing myself, were we wanted someone who was young. We didn’t want a legendary elder statesman of rock, we wanted someone who was up and coming. We wanted someone who wasn’t necessarily coming from a pure classic rock background, someone who would see things from a little bit different angle. We wanted someone who wasn’t completely reverential about certain pieces of equipment or sounds or stuck in a certain way of doing things. I met Adrian, who was on a very short list of producers we had and something just clicked straight away – I think it was his energy. He’s got this mad sort of thing about him where he works incredibly quickly which I love because that’s how I like to work when I’m in the studio. We don’t hang around. We’re not there to chat and drink tea and eat scones. Were there to get as much done as we can in the short amount of time as possible. It was really good laugh – there’s an insane energy to that guy. We were out running like 10k every morning before we would even start in the studio, then we would work straight through for about 12 hours and be done.

Justin: Is there a moment – a riff or solo on the album that you’re most proud of?

Dan: Oh yeah I like a track called “Buccaneers of Hispaniola” the riff in the chorus and the solo, I’m really proud of. Then my favorite solo I’ve ever done is on a song called “Happiness” which is not necessarily one of the band’s favorite tunes but it made it on to the album because of that solo. The other guys in the band, if I can speak on behalf of them, they’re all excited about a song called “Japanese Prisoner of Love” it’s something we’ve never really done before. It’s kind of a prog rock thing but it’s got a real sort of edge to it. We’re not a band that has a lot of edge but that’s about the closest thing to an edge that we have…its more of a hedge, really. A thorny hedge.

Justin: You played with G&R a while ago during their reunion dates in Europe. How was that?

Dan: I thought they were great. You can’t deny it really, they sounded fantastic. The thing I most liked about it aside from the fact that Axl [Rose] was singing really well, he’s got such a pronounced voice that if he’s singing like shit, then you really know about it, but it was just such a guitar fest. Slash is just great. He’s got that thing that a lot of the old school players have that I love where he doesn’t always play it perfect. His feel is always amazing and every once in a while he doesn’t make a note, the same way that Jimmy Page used to, probably because he’s thinking about where to go next. But it’s so real and gritty. I was absolutely blown away by Slash.

Justin: Will you be coming to the US for a tour anytime soon?

Dan: Yes, we’ll be in the US early next year, we’ve got the dates and they look really great – it’s certainly going to be a lot of different venues this time. The past few album cycles, we seem to play a lot of the same venues and we’ve changed promoters now and we’ll be doing a lot of different venues which I’m really happy about.

Justin: Given that this is for a classic rock publication, I feel that I really need to talk to you about the Jimmy Page guitar. Is it true that you put a pickup out of Angus Young’s SG into a guitar that was built for Jimmy Page?

Dan: Yeah that is true. It wasn’t exactly by design. Basically, I needed a louder pickup in the bridge – it came with a burst bucker, which is what was in it when they made that guitar for Jimmy Page in 2004. It only came to me because it was too heavy for him. So he had a chambered one made and I picked up this one. Not only that but I put a Fishman bridge in in and took the Bigsby off. I really bastardized that guitar. I came to my senses eventually and put it all back to its original form, so that Angus pickup is not in there anymore. But yeah I’m not sure that pickup even belongs to me, I think it was one of our old guitar techs that happened to have it because he had worked with him or whatever and had to carry spares of Angus’ pickups in case one of them went down. So he had one that was out of Angus’ guitar and it found its way into my guitar. It was that simple really but you’re right, when you think about it, it should be the best sounding guitar in the world!

Justin: It’s a thing of legend. Some classic rock monstrosity.

Dan: Not when I play it. I still have the Angus pickup and that will go into something – I haven’t decided yet. Maybe I’ll build a guitar around the pickup.

Justin: So, recording live I would imagine that your studio setup was probably exactly the same as your live setup.

Dan: Yeah the only difference is that I did use multiple amps when I was tracking the main guitar. It was my pedalboard straight into a Plexi and then I had a Friedman Small Box 50, which records really well – a lot of Justin’s solos were done on that in fact he’s sort of inherited it from me now. The bulk of it was a Plexi. I’ve got a VH4 that I used for overdubs when it needs to get really heavy. I’ve got a Supro Black Magick which is just a fantastic amp – It is impossible to not get a great sound out of that amp. I used that for some of the solos, the ones I didn’t do live. It just has that frequency that can go over a wall of guitars. That was it really.

Justin: Do you use the vintage version of the TS-808?

Dan: Yes, it’s the vintage. It’s got the original chip in it. That’s my go-to for solos and a lot of stuff really. It’s hard to beat it. It’s quite difficult to finds overdrive pedals that can go into the front of a Plexi and actually make a difference without making it sound mushy because Plexis tend to swallow stuff up. I’ve experimented with a couple delays on this album – I used a Maxon – stupid looking pedal but it sounds great.

Justin: What’s it like being in a band with your brother?

Dan: It’s had its moments. It’s great. We don’t really fight. We don’t argue much – we tend to see things in the same perspective. We know what our roles are as well these days. It’s harmonious. When we got the band back together after the hiatus, I think we all had a shared appreciation of what we had and what we had temporarily lost. It’s such a precious thing and it’s such an important thing. To be able to do the best job in the world with your brother is the most precious thing. We don’t let anyone interfere with that, including our own egos.

Justin: I don’t have a brother but I know that brothers fight and I can only imagine that being in a band with a brother would be either really great or really horrible so I’m glad you two get along.

Dan: It was only horrible for a very brief moment and then we stopped. But it’s good again.

Justin: I’ve heard rumblings of a documentary film coming our way in 2018 –is that still happening?

Dan: Yeah I talked to the director of that today. He’s been filming for ages for either us to become famous or one of us to die. So one way or another 2018 is going to be a big year for us.

Justin: Well I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to seeing you out on the road – be safe. Please don’t die. We’ve had too many rock legends die. So don’t go dying on us.

Dan: We made it past the 27th year so there’s every chance now that we’ll stick around like a bad smell.