Album Reviews interview Music

An Interview with The Darkness

Eccentric wild-haired rockers The Darkness are back with their brand-new album ‘Pinewood Smile’,
as well as a huge nation-wide winter tour. After band departures, and a relative lack of activity over
the past two years, these new projects are a statement of intent from the four-piece that, even in
their seventeenth year, they are still committed to, as per their single ‘Solid Gold’, “blow[ing] people’s fucking heads off” with their innovative, humorous, and electrifying music. ‘Pinewood
Smile’ is certainly not a complete departure from The Darkness’s rock ‘n’ roll roots, and is saturated
throughout by heavy beats and riffs, but it does demonstrate an expansion of the band’s musical
range, as well as their undeniable talent and passion. I spoke to the band’s bass player Frankie
Poullain about the album, the tour, and possible new ventures.
When asked to describe the general sound of the new album, Frankie compares it to that heard
across the Beastie Boys’ albums ‘Paul’s Boutique’, ‘Check Your Head’ and ‘Ill Communication’, saying
“it’s very much in that vein, it’s very playful”. When listening through the album, it is extremely hard
to disagree; the varied nature of its contents gives the whole work a youthful vibe, and preserves the
band’s endearing imagination, as they continue to fight against mundanity. “The sound is definitely
adventurous” says Frankie. “But we try new things on every album, otherwise what’s the point, you
know? The most dangerous place to be is in your comfort zone”. As a result, ‘Pinewood Smile’ is
defined by the band “playfully delving into things [they] haven’t done before”. For example, as
Frankie explains, “Why Don’t The Beautiful Cry?’ is [their] first venture into soul music, and ‘Southern
Trains’ is probably more of a political protest or punk song”. The youthful feel to the album can
somewhat be credited to the inclusion of the band’s new drummer, Rufus Taylor, who “brings a lot
of energy through both his drumming and his duets with Justin”. Although this is the first The
Darkness album on which Rufus has performed, his inclusion feels very natural. “He’s fitted in very
well” Poullain explains. “Just the synergy, the way he connects with all of us in different ways… it’s
like a dream really, I can’t imagine it any other way. I think we got lucky there. He’s not like I would
have imagined at all. He’s very wise in some ways, I think he’s an old soul”. Furthermore, the band’s
collaboration with producer Adrian Bushby [Muse, Foo Fighters] has also shaped the album’s sound.
“For someone who has worked on so many albums, he has an amazing boyish energy and
enthusiasm, which is also definitely reflected in the songs [on Pinewood Smile], although enthusiasm
has always run through everything we’ve done”.

The UK leg of the band’s upcoming year of touring begins in late November. I was keen to ask
Frankie if there were any venues that he was particularly excited about playing at. “Well, I like to be
surprised, so I don’t want to look too far ahead” he said. “However, I am looking forward to playing
at the Hammersmith Apollo [on 10 th December], that’s always the highlight. It’s such a great venue,
and there’s always a great sense of occasion and a sense of history when you play there”. The band
are in Cardiff (at St David’s Hall) three days later, and Frankie was full of praise for the energy of the
Welsh crowds. The tour also provides an obvious opportunity for the band to play some of their new
songs from Pinewood Smile. I asked Frankie if he felt optimistic that the new material would go
down as well with crowds as the band’s early hits ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’, ‘Love is Only a
Feeling’ and ‘One Way Ticket’. “It really depends. You never know if the new ones are going to be
good, it’s a testing ground. When you play live, you have no idea, and sometimes you can be
pleasantly surprised, or sometimes it could be the opposite, when you think a new song is going to
be good and just it falls flat live. I guess in a way the truth comes out, you know? And that can be
quite scary, but you have to confront that.”

Moving away from the tour and the album, the eccentricity and humour of The Darkness as a band
has, for years now, rendered them unique within rock music and in music as a whole. Whilst their
edginess may have originally left many listeners confused, their ability to not take themselves too
seriously, in a business that has become obsessed with image and success, is partly what makes
them so endearing. I asked Frankie if he thought that humour and showmanship were being lost in
contemporary music, or if it was simply being reimagined. “Yes, I think it’s definitely being
reimagined. People always used to accuse us of being ironic. Some people would say it was ironic,
some people would say it was comedy. Now, irony is everywhere, even amongst indie bands. Father
John Misty, for example, has irony running through a lot of his songs, and it’s very dry and self-
regarding. So, yeah, I think humour has just evolved. We’re trying not to be clever-clever or
sophisticated, I guess we’re anti-sophistication. So we’re happy to embrace elements of humour that
are maybe a little more vaudevillian or music hall. We’re not trying to be subtle or hide behind
obscurisms”
So, what does the future hold for The Darkness? Their tour will run through to the end of 2018, with
some other appearances being made during festival season, before returning to song-writing again.
As ever, Frankie and the rest of the band are plan to expand their musical range even further on
future projects. “We’d like to maybe try on the next album, rather than collaborating all the time,
band members to do some more solo compositions, so it gets a bit more competitive. We haven’t
tried that before, it might bring a new side out of us”.

The Darkness’s new album ‘Pinewood Smile’ drops on 6 th October. The UK leg of their tour begins on
23rd November and ends on 14 th December.

By John Jones

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