Interview with The Darkness — “We should have called the album ‘Top Of Our Heads.'”

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Back in 2003, British hard rock act THE DARKNESS took the world by storm with their monster hit, “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.” The song charted worldwide, becoming a top-10 hit in many countries around the globe. The rock quartet was one of the bands that put hard rock music back on the map and have done so ever since the release of their debut effort, “Permission To Land.” Now, the four-piece are ready to release their seventh full-length album, “Motorheart,” on November 19th, 2021, via Cooking Vinyl. We had the opportunity to tune in with bass player Frankie Poullain to chat about the upcoming record. Read the complete interview here…

Hi there. Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with me to talk about your new record, “Motorheart.” How have you been this last year and a half?

I think it’s a roller coaster, isn’t it? I think all of us have been having ups and downs. At first, it seemed like I quite enjoyed it because introverts quite enjoy the opportunity to spend large chunks of time on their own and be away from all the noise and the clamor. But then, of course, we only take so much of that. Then when we started doing the album, about halfway through the lockdown, that was great and then this… this girl here [points at dog sitting on his lap], she’s called Boogie she’s really helped as well.

Yeah, I noticed you got a new puppy on your Instagram account. Well, she’s not a puppy anymore, I guess. Must have been very interesting to be able to spend so much time with her as well!

Well, she ended up playing a starring role in our video, “Jussy’s Girl.” We shot two… well, three… we actually shot three videos in the village where I live, in Somerset. I moved out of London during the lockdown to live in a cottage in the countryside. It’s a very sweet part of the English countryside with lots of history, not far from places like Glastonbury. There’s lots of history of times here, medieval history, and ancient history, so that’s been interesting.

By the way, just to get back to the thing, we shot the videos in my village with an Italian friend of mine called Alberto, who has a company called Alegro Films. I co-produced and co-wrote videos with him. And that’s “Jussy’s Girl,” “Nobody Can See Me Cry,” and the new song, “It’s Love, Jim,” which just came out. Just to finish, we did the videos for shots on 16-millimeters using a Bolex camera. Alberto is very old-world and likes to use old vintage equipment.

That was going to be one of my questions, but what I also wondered was how much you were involved in the process of these videos, because I guess for THE DARKNESS, videos are kind of an important thing. You always include a lot of humor in your videos as well. So what is the process there from A to Z?

Well, this time the guys handed [them] over to me and I was really pleased that they did that and quite touched that they… well, I’m not sure if they trusted me, but they handed [them] over anyway. And I worked on the videos with Alberto. Usually, it’s not like that. On the last campaign, it was more Justin‘s concepts and ideas for the videos, like “Rock ‘n’ Roll Deserves to Die,” with the bald wigs, which was a congenial idea, you know, having us in bald wigs. Because you know, to critique the vanity of rock ‘n’ roll is the hardest thing, so that was a challenge last time. This time, it’s was a challenge because we were working with old-fashioned film equipment and did everything ourselves. We kept it very tight, but we didn’t have a big crew around us. It was just James Holcomb, director of photography, Alberto directing, my partner Diane Burch did the wardrobe, hair, and makeup. She’s an American singer-songwriter. And she also collaborated on the last track on the album, which is called “Speed of the Nite Time.”

You mentioned in the beginning that you quite enjoyed the pandemic at first because you’re quite an introvert. Actually, in the music video for “Nobody Can See Me Cry,” I guess you’re the one person in the video that’s acting a little bit different than the others. Is that sort of a good depiction of your dynamic as a band?

I guess maybe I’m the stoic [of the band]. Do you use that word?

Yes!

Also, because I was brought up in Scotland too. So the Scottish are notoriously kind of locked up. I guess also because the contrast is quite important. If all four of us have been gratuitously crying, then I think that would have been a bit tiresome. So it’s good that we’re all true to ourselves. For example, I think it’s not necessarily a good thing that Americans have created this culture where everybody is inside out, pouring out all of their insights and their emotions, I’m sure you understand where I’m coming from because you live in Finland and the Scottish probably have some similarities with Finnish people. They use alcohol and strange humor to release their demons.

You mentioned the biggest difference with American culture. One of the other things you guys have consistently been doing since day one is involving humor and comedy in your music and music videos. I think, especially nowadays, that’s maybe not so much done anymore. Everyone in rock music is so serious. Do you think that’s also a cultural thing, you guys coming from UK and all?

Yeah, I think so. I think British culture comes from the theater from the music hall and vaudeville. So it’s been this idea of men dressing up in women’s clothes and putting on makeup, and just having fun wearing your mother’s dresses when you’re a child. That’s all part of the childhood of artistic British males. Thank goodness for that, because otherwise, I think rock ‘n’ roll would have become corporate rock a lot quicker. That’s obviously the enemy and that’s the worst thing. One of the most awful byproducts of waste and consumerism is corporate culture, and then corporate rock makes me sick to the stomach. Well, in fact, [it’s] not something I would even say makes me sick, because it’s not even strong enough to create a reaction. It’s just nothing. It’s just stability, it’s completely sterile. It’s just sad, that’s all.

Going back to the new record, I watched an interview before with Justin. He mentioned that the songwriting was done remotely this time around and in a way, for him, it was freeing, because he mentioned that when you’re together, songwriting with the four of you, you always end up compromising. How was the experience for you, in that sense?

I think that’s very common, what he said; it’s nice to mix things up. It worked for “Easter Is Cancelled” for us all to work towards this common goal, by coming up with this concept idea and having a title first. This time, I think it was good to do it differently. And like Justin said, I think it was a good thing that we wrote remotely, because then there’s a lot more of our individual identities in there. So hence why it’s a quite eccentric album, very visceral, and distinctive, which is nice. I would say it’s the opposite of overthinking. We probably did the least thinking on this album and probably the most thinking on our previous album, “Easter Is Cancelled,” so really, that demonstrates that we always go off on a different tangent from the previous album. There are so many ways to keep ourselves stimulated and keep our fans stimulated. Our fans get frustrated occasionally, you know. I might just have a little look on social media and just poke my nose and see what they’re talking about once in a while. I can see it causes frustration and they don’t often get what we’re doing, and they don’t like everything we do. But that’s okay because we’ve given them some of what we know they like, and some of what they don’t know they might like.

I think both of you mentioned that this record came together pretty fast, in the span of 4 months. Was this the fastest record you ever wrote or the fastest process behind an album you went through as a band?

Definitely. You can almost say it came off the top of our heads a little bit, but that’s a pretty cool thing, the top of our hands. Maybe we should have called the album “Top of Our Heads.” I remember we did have one quite intense jamming session. You could call it a writing time where myself, Ru, and Dan got together in Cornwall and we jammed for… it was really just 2 days. We came home with really six, maybe seven of the backing tracks included in the twelve and the bonus track package. So over half an album, really, in terms of music, was created over this 2-day period. The band riffing and Ru being very explorative and imaginative with his drumming, really expressing himself, that created probably the biggest drum sound we’ve gotten on this album and some of the best heavy riffing as well, which are obviously the specialty of Dan and Ru.

You talked about guitars and drums, but what are some of your favorite bass parts on this record? I noticed the album starts with a bass riff, which is pretty cool, but are there any other moments that you think are particularly cool that you came up with or play?

I think “Speed of the Nite Time” started off with bass. I was just messing around at home with my partner and she put down some finger drums; that’s Diane Berch, I was telling you about before, she is an American singer-songwriter, so we don’t normally do stuff together because she’s more of a different genre if you like, different sensibility from myself, but she just put down… we’re talking about Goth music and talking about something I’ve been talking about [with] Justin a couple of years previously, where we listen to the SISTERS OF MERCY and we said this is wild, the fact that the guitars sound horrible, the bass sounds horrible, the drum machine sounds horrible, his voice sounds horrible, but put all together and it sounds great. So we were just marveling and realized that Diane was a bit of a Goth when she was a kid. Anyway, so she put on some finger drums and then I came up with that bass line, which is the verse of “Speed of the Nite Time,” and then the bridge bar as well, which is another bass riff. Then from there, I took it to the band, Dan fleshed that out and started to make those into more kind of “guitar parts,” but based on the bass riff, and then he added drop-down chorus. Then he took it to Justin, sort of three different collaborations. With Justin, he surprisingly enough adapts from what he normally does. He really tuned into it; he is very restrained and singing in his low register in the verses and bridge, and didn’t really let rip until the chorus, and I think it turns out okay. It sounds experimental. It’s not normally what we do, that kind of style, but it’s good to try everything once.

That was actually going to be one of my questions because that song indeed is perhaps not something you would immediately expect on a THE DARKNESS record, but it’s certainly a cool track. Is that something you might do more in the future? I’m not sure if you’re in the kind of band that experiments a lot with their sound, but in this track you did.

I think so. We do argue a lot. Not like throwing plates at each other or anything, but we do try to keep everyone happy with the song, I guess. One of the processes that a piece goes through, or a video, or anything, is that we all really have to be kind of happy or at least pretend to be happy with the finished product and that’s quite difficult. Because apart from everything else, we’re different generations. Ru is pretty much half my age, well, no, he’s less than half, he’s more than half my age, sorry, but not far away from that. And there’s an age gap to Dan and Justin as well with me. So we basically span two generations, you could say almost three generations. As well as that, we have different music tastes, but that’s good, I think, because it creates this opposite of an echo chamber. One of the biggest problems – as people have discovered in the last year and a half – is the danger of echo chambers and the way that social media encourages and feeds into that. They talked about how the CIA… one of the reasons why the CIA has such a disastrous record of achieving their goals, such as… you would think it wouldn’t be that hard for them to get rid of Fidel Castro and they couldn’t do it. And the reason is that there was such a cleanse over like 30 years and people made fun of them, is because they were all a very similar profile of person: they were all wasps, they were white, educated, and privileged Americans, who go to the same universities, come from the same backgrounds, who all came from respectable suburban childhoods, respectful parents, and because of that, they weren’t able to think outside the box. They were all just echoing each other’s thoughts. And they had the same blind spots. So it was just one huge collective blind spot. Anyway, I’m using that as a metaphor really to really say that good management or good group mentality is actually the difficult one where you’re actually arguing with each other. But you can think of arrogance as a negative thing or you can think it’s a positive thing because you’re actually pushing each other and being forced to rethink and reassess things. So it’s very creative, I think.

I guess there’s not really that much space for egos anyway when you’re creating music, or it shouldn’t be like that at least.

Oh, well said, I couldn’t agree with you more. A singer is allowed to have a bit of an ego thing, because that’s part of [being] the singer, especially in a cock-rock band. But Justin is not like that, totally. He’s actually surprisingly humble and modest. I think most people can see that. When you see his personality on stage and when he’s talking in between songs, he doesn’t take himself seriously. And I think that’s sort of, to me, that’s a crucial thing in when it comes to the ego is the ability to be able to laugh at yourself and he certainly is. Upfront, I think we have healthy relationships with our egos, hopefully.

Now, it’s been 10 years since THE DARKNESS reunited with its original lineup, and that you thus rejoined the band. How do you look back to these 10 years that you were back with them on stage and such?

Yeah, you’re right. 10 years, 2011. Good research! I would say we look back… I look back. Sorry, you’re asking me. It’s mixed, there’s frustration sometimes. I would say what I’ve learned is that management is crucial. We’ve had three sets of management since we reformed and we’re on to our third set of management. I can’t stress just how reassuring and stable, and the peace of mind that you have with good management that you trust, that you like, that make good calls every time. Before that, the two different management groups that looked after us before that between 2011 and 2015 or 2016, I think was, it was horrific, absolutely horrific. I would say they’ve mismanaged this comeback. We don’t like to talk about that and maybe I’m speaking out of line by bringing it up in public, but I’m just talking from my point of view. I find it horrific. It’s a horrible feeling to be misrepresented and to have decisions made over our heads. Now, we have fantastic communication, respect, aptitude, and intelligence… people with brains looking after us.

That’s really important, indeed. I guess a healthy workplace is a key to success. Anyway, I’m originally from Belgium. When you guys started out, you were huge there and when you released “Permission to Land,” you played a lot of shows there. In Finland, it seems like you guys haven’t been playing a club show in quite a while. Is that somehow in the works or what is the situation there?

I haven’t looked at the itinerary for next summer’s festivals. There probably will be one in Finland. Have you checked out a European tour in January/February? Are we playing in Finland?

No, I don’t think so. According to what I checked at least, but maybe I missed the date, always possible.

Well, all I can say is that getting together in these difficult times, putting together an itinerary that works, and then works financially is extremely difficult. So there might be other reasons for that. Normally, we would do Finland. Helsinki is normally something that we would do. Scandinavia is difficult because of the large distances between places. But if we’re not in Finland, I’m sure there’s a very good reason for it, which is probably logistical. Sad to say, but I would double-check because I seem to recall we were… I know we’re doing Scandinavia, so if we’re doing Scandinavia and not Finland, that’s quite unusual. But if we’re not in Finland in January/February, then there’s a good chance we’ll do a Finnish festival next summer.

[ed.: THE DARKNESS are not scheduled to play in Finland during their tour in January-February 2022]

What can people expect from the tour? Are you still playing songs from “Easter Is Cancelled” as your shows were postponed for that due to corona, or are you also playing “Motorheart” songs?

Oh, there’s definitely going to be more of the new record than the last one, for sure, because these songs are fresh with us and also they really are suited to live performance because they basically came from jamming. I think what they do is they really express our pent-up energy and frustrations of being in lockdown. So these songs represent guys who are just chomping at the bit and frustrated, and just ready to go wild, and they’re instinctive and everything. So I really think that people are going to appreciate the energy and I think they’re going to be great live. You know, we’ll rotate which ones to do for the new album during the tour, but we’ll probably do four or five new ones. We won’t do the whole album like last time. We’ll probably do a couple from “Easter is Cancelled” too. And then obviously our greatest hits.

You mentioned the frustration that went behind creating this record. In my opinion, the record sounds very positive in a way and it sounds very fun. So it’s great that you’re offering people a fun listening experience where they can forget about the world in a way.

Yeah, I think so. I think instinctively we tend to go against the grain and that was never more important than now because nobody wants to hear, during the lockdown, that THE DARKNESS‘ job is to do that. It is not to wallow in mediocrity and complain about how awful things are. Nobody wants to go there.

Well, thank you for that. I guess that’s it for my questions. Do you have any last thoughts you want to share with Finnish people?

I used to have a Finnish girlfriend and she told me she used to blush when she saw my big ears because she told me about in Finland, big ears are a sign of libido.

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