The Darkness’ Frankie Poullain chats to Katie Leigh-Lancaster about Pinewood Smile, Nicolas Cage and touring with Guns N’ Roses
Be it the tongue-in-cheek lyricism or Justin Hawkins’ skin-tight jumpsuits, there is no band quite like The Darkness. With their 2004 debut album alone spawning them three BRIT awards and quadruple platinum sales status, the glam rock greats are well versed in the art of hit-making, and there’s no sign of them losing their magic. Five albums later, now in the honeymoon phase of their most recent release, Pinewood Smile, the band are heading back on tour, stopping by the O2 Academy in Birmingham on Saturday 9 December. Just under a month away from getting back on the road, bassist Frankie Poullain talks to Katie Leigh-Lancaster about the success of their new release, and reflects on an incredible career.
Katie: Congratulations on the new album! What separates it from everything that The
Darkness has done before?
Frankie: The biggest separation was the fact that it was our first album with Rufus Tiger Taylor [son of Queen legend, Roger Taylor] on drums, so he’s added a lot of energy, youth, enthusiasm. And also his singing talent, ’cause he duets with Justin on a couple of the songs, so that’s the biggest difference. It’s probably made everything even more childish, ’cause we’re all getting older, so it’s an injection of youth. The chemistry’s great at the moment. And, also, it’s the first time we’ve had a blonde member in the band, which is nice.
In many ways, the album’s lead single, ‘All The Pretty Girls’, anticipates your stage comeback perfectly; playful, gutsy, it oozes with classic Darkness-isms. Is there a track from the album that you’re most excited to play live?
I enjoy ‘Why Don’t The Beautiful Cry’ – that’s a duet between Justin and Rufus. It’s the first time we’ve done anything that has a soul kind of flavour in it. Justin sits at the keyboard as well for that one.
It’s a brilliant track. The album was produced by Adrian Bushby, who has worked with
Muse and Foo Fighters – how did you find working with him?
Inspiring, challenging, demanding. We did the backing tracks live, so myself, Dan and Rufus were recording the rhythm tracks live and that was really demanding – take after take after take, just trying to find the right one. It’s tough because people are so used to hearing perfectly synced rock music, which I think can sometimes be a bit soulless and machine-like. So I think that’s why a lot of music has lost a lot of its character and identity, it’s become almost like a machine now, a lot of bands.
You recently supported Guns N’ Roses on their European tour. How has it prepared you for getting back on the road for your own headline tour?
I don’t really think we’ve particularly learned anything from the gigs, but it was enjoyable. We definitely [reached] a lot of people. What helped, more specifically, is that we supported them in Italy and we played to 130,000 people, so that’s probably gonna help a few Italian gigs sell out.
You have some fiercely loyal fans who have been going to your gigs since the very beginning, but how would you describe your gigs to someone who’s never seen you live before?
I’d say that we celebrate the ridiculous. I’d say there’s something vaudevillian about what we do. Theatrical, very English. But also, we rock harder than probably people imagine or expect, so it’s pretty heavy as well. We’re heavy in a 70s kind of way, not in that kind of 90s rock sound which is… you know, we don’t celebrate the dark side of the light, if you like. I would say that what we’re trying to do is create a sense of euphoria.
Your career has been incredible – you’ve supported Metallica on tour, you’ve played alongside Brian May. What has been the highlight of your time in The Darkness so far?
Probably playing the MTV Europe awards in Edinburgh in 2004, because I’m from Edinburgh so that was very surreal. I had my family there watching, and Christina Aguilera introduced us on stage. And myself, Dan and Justin were projected to the stage on these podiums, so that was beautiful playing to hundreds of millions of people.
The band is renowned for its witty lyricism, and new tracks ‘Solid Gold’ and ‘Southern Trains’ fit in perfectly into that tradition. Do you have a favourite lyric that you’ve written, across all the albums?
Good question! I’ll have a think… I’ll have a second think about that. [Thinking] Ah, maybe on ‘Get Your Hands Off My Woman’, where he [Justin] sings ‘Octoped, you’ve got six hands too many / And you can’t keep them to yourself / You’re too fat and too old to marry / So they left you on the shelf’. It’s a song about jealousy, really, ‘get your hands off my woman, motherf****er’. But he was able to sing about the situation he was in at the time and disguise it too, with a cunning use of wordplay.
You have been described, and have described yourself, as a ‘cult’ band – how do you feel about that label?
Quite comfortable with it. Yeah, it’s great to have people who are passionate about you and to make a living from it. It’s a privilege. A cult band means that you’ve got longevity.
You’re in the midst of making a documentary with Simon Emmett as we speak. Is this new territory for the band?
Sometimes it can be a pain in the arse having cameras following you all the time. It’s a sacrifice you have to make – you have to lose your rigour and your self-consciousness and just let it happen, you know. We’ve already got 400 hours in the can, so we need a very good editor to put it all together. We’ve got the whole story, so we’re going to have to choose what story to tell. That’s up to the director, Simon Emmett. We’ve got some great talking heads, and then we’ve got Jack Black, Goldie, Lily Allen and recently, I know this is hard to believe, but recently, Nicolas Cage. He’s actually talking about us, which is very surreal.
How far back will the documentary go?
We’re using some archive footage but in terms of the up-close and personal stuff, it’s really about the last two and a half years.
The album art for Pinewood Smile is brilliant – how did the idea for that come about?
Well, ‘Pinewood smile’ was a line on the album – Rufus said it was his favourite line on the album, ‘flashing your pinewood smile like a red rag to a bull’. So then we thought, OK, well maybe we can make that the title of the album. We had some other contenders, but we couldn’t agree on it, that’s the problem. One or two of us always didn’t like something, you know. So that was the one that we all settled on. [Justin] spent two years with a brace on his teeth, so it was a nice bit for him to show off his new set of gnashers. We also had Dan pulling, like, a Roger Moore kind of expression, and then I look very artistic, looking like a travel guide, sitting on the lips, and Rufus is upside-down on the nose ring, Justin’s prancing round in his catsuit, so they’re really all reflecting what we’re like as individuals. That’s what makes the band, our idiosyncrasies.
And, finally, you’re stopping by Birmingham’s O2 Academy on your tour for a gig on the 9 December. What’s been your experience of playing in Birmingham?
Oh, I love Birmingham – I love the people, they always make the best of things. They don’t really complain, our fans, you know, Brummies. And, obviously, they have a history of just loving hard rock; in a nutshell, that’s kind of where it came from, you know – the Midlands. So, it’s like bringing it back home, you know.
The Darkness play O2 Academy Birmingham on Saturday 9 December, and tickets are available here. Their fifth album, Pinewood Smile, is out now.