Can The Darkness predict the future? Their Easter Is Cancelled album certainly proved to be a prescient title given the pandemic that came after, so if they have a prophetic streak does that mean we’ll be getting sex robots not long after the Motorheart album and single arrived? We put that question to singer Justin Hawkins in our interview discussing the band’s forthcoming release.
Motorheart, due Nov. 19, spools out over a concise nine songs, giving listeners arguably more aggression in sound than the band has delivered prior, but also pulling back the curtain on more honest and vulnerable themes within the heartfelt lyrical content.
We spoke with Hawkins about his prediction skills, some of the key tracks on the new album, his premium choice of T-shirt selections and why the city of Glasgow gets a musical shoutout on the new record within our chat below.
One of your fans pointed out that since you guys are kind of prophets, releasing Easter Is Cancelled only to have the pandemic closely follow that perhaps you can predict the future. And if that is the case, does the song “Motorheart” predict that we’ll all soon be getting sex robots?
That’s interesting really. The thing with Easter Is Cancelled was spooky actually. There’s one line in there and I always think about it and it goes, “I’m spreading disease so they can sell the cure.” We didn’t know how accurate that song would end up being, and it was obviously pre-pandemic.
But what are we saying now? So, maybe if everyone gets issued a sex robot. I’m sure, of course, there are business people in the world who have already obtained some kind of AI companion, but I think that for it to become mainstream, well that’s probably like the silliness of that Incel thing. Do you remember when that furor was happening? But when Incel — which I think is short for involuntarily celibate, is that right? — which describes three quarters of my life (laughs), but maybe it’s a solution to that. So that way we don’t have to appoint sex workers and have them mandated. Maybe that’s it.
But to be honest, the Easter is Cancelled is a much bigger, broader concept. This one is about an unnamed protagonist, let’s call him Jason Holquind for now, who has a series of relationships that all end in the same way, just disappointment. So in desperation, he chooses a manmade companion and the same thing happens (laughs). And at some point you’ve got to turn the spotlight on yourself, don’t you? It’s like a “know thyself” thing. It’s much more of a personal journey than a global observation.
With that observation, how far did you go down the rabbit hole? Did you foresee a whole future where this is a thing where people are paired with sex robots?
I think it sort of happens to a degree anyway. I think when you sort of analyze the traits of your partner and you’re looking for someone who is ideally matched, you are using an app that somewhat quantifies traits in that way, well it is sort of a mathematical [method]. They’re using algorithms to put people together. I do think we’re one step away from sort of a creating a sentient bot that is real life tangible and will accompany you on your lonely days. And it’s not just totally about sex, let’s widen the thing a little bit (laughs). It’s companionship and it’s probably pertinent because of having been in lockdown for all that period of time. There are contraptions you can get to alleviate that thing, but there’s nothing quite like a person’s touch — a person or persons’ touch.
Speaking of companionship, and on a more serious note, in the past year we’ve all been in lockdown with our mates more than we ever expected to be. So is this The Darkness wish fulfillment with your own stamp on it?
I actually spent the time on my own. I’m separated, so at the beginning of this I came back to this house after a tour and it had no furniture in it, no heating, no hot water and it was pretty cold cause at the beginning of the pandemic was when it was, February or March, when it was still quite cold in Switzerland. So I was sleeping on the floor and it took me about nine weeks to get everything sort of habitable. But it was a bit of an adventure and as soon as I got through that bit, I really wanted to make a record.
I think I was really just wanting to reach out and do something with my band, have some collaborators that would help me remotely even. Thank god for technology, cause you can do stuff like this [Zoom] conversation. I was doing a lot of that with my parents and I came to this country where my little girl is. So I was seeing her every weekend, but the rest of the time I was doing my own thing and left to my own devices for way too long. But I can totally see how it would put strain on a relationship, but if you’re on your own, I can see how you could go a bit mental. On the days when you have nothing to do, that’s when you have the existential crisis of “What the fuck have I been doing my whole life? Who am I?” (Laughs) It sounds preposterous, but it also sounds pretty obvious. For some reason it took a world disaster to sort of make me look at myself. It’s strange, isn’t it?
The Darkness, “Motorheart”
Before we get away from “Motorheart” the song, there was a post on your social media proclaiming “You need a Phillips screwdriver to get her undressed” as the most beloved lyric on this record. Very cool lyric and you have written some very clever lyrics over the years, so I wanted to ask if you personally had a favorite lyric of your own you’ve written and also if there’s a favorite lyric of someone else’s that you wish you would’ve written.
So my favorite moment lyrically, there’s a song on the Hot Leg record, which is a song called “Which Every Way You Want to Give It” and I don’t think any of the songs on Hot Leg are especially world beating, but the lyric on there was super cause it was one of those secret romance ones. It was: “No matter how my guys are circling your skies waiting for permission to land,” and I’d written that before the Permission to Land album and I liked that title so it pre-dates The Darkness, that song does.
And also, “I have learned from your tutorial / That I just can’t be territorial.” And there’s a bit that goes, “We just don’t do coincidence / It’s uncanny how by chance we never meet / Cause the world just isn’t small enough for us to be anything other than discreet.” Cause when you’re trying to hide something, the chance encounters aren’t so easily explained in an innocent situation. You just can’t do those when you’re having an affair. And in that situation, I was the other person. I wasn’t the one who was cheating. It was a bit complicated, but I like the honesty of it. I think that’s probably my best work.
As for other people’s lyrics, I think Ron Sexsmith is one of my favorite lyricists. I really love “Cheap Hotel,” that’s really great. “Brought a song into this world / Just a melody with words / Trembled here before my eyes / How can a song survive?” Immediately, is he really talking about a song? It makes you ask that question straight away. And whatever he’s talking about is beautiful. I think he’s really talented and obviously been around for years and everyone knows he’s a genius but some of his work always gets me, you know.
Listening through this record, it feels like there’s a definite consistent theme of surrendering to love. It may not always be in the healthiest of ways and could be in different forms whether it be alien love or robot love, but giving in to love. Were in a particular headspace or did something inspire you to consistently go this route or was it a matter of just hitting on something and exploring it as far as you could take it?
Well every song is about a specific moment in time with this one and I think “Motorheart” itself is the loneliest song for obvious reasons. That one’s about when you’re on your own and nothing else has worked, you’d do anything you can to avoid asking the obvious questions about yourself. That’s the culmination of all the failed loves. But the rest is all this surrender stuff you’re talking about.
I’ve always got this thing where you’re not really living if you’re not completely absorbed by the task at hand and for that reason I think football is one of the most rewarding things you can do because all you’re thinking about is the ball and you’re not thinking about the bells and all that sort of stuff and I think to that extent a relationship can have that sort of same degree of engagement, but it’s also super unhealthy.
But in an interpersonal human being to human being, you allow yourself to be tricked by the narrative that you love to invent for that person, as I often do. Just being in love is a great laugh. It’s just really great times. But once you’ve surrendered to it wholly and you’re completely invested in it and you allow everything else to fall away as you should, then it’s really dangerous because it’s never what you think it is. There’s always something lurking behind the facade. It might be better or worse, but it’s never exactly what you think it is. But it’s kind of dangerous and that’s where all the disappointment comes from. But also, if you didn’t love wholly and lose, as every songwriter that’s written a song will really tell you, you’re not going to come up with anything good (laughs).
Speaking of things that may not be what they appear, I think it’s more vulnerable than I’ve ever heard you on a record, but when I think of vulnerable I often think of somber, ballad-y type stuff and The Darkness is most certainly not that. If anything, the vulnerability comes across in some of the most aggressive ways, playing against expectation perhaps, and totally embracing it …
I think left to our own devices, we’d probably always write skewed love songs that are skewed by the genre that we play in. We’re not that macho. We like the way that kind of music makes you feel, but we just don’t have that misogyny to what we’re doing. If we do, it’s more in sort of an accidental way. I think we’re a bit more sensitive than people expect us to be. Or I am, anyway. I have to be careful to what I say, or someone else might get upset (laughs).
But what I love about a skewed love song is that you write, “I love you but I’m this.” (Laughs). This is what it’s gonna be, and I love you but one of us is gonna fuck this up and it’s probably gonna be me. (Laughs). So when you talk about vulnerability, I feel that too, but I don’t know if it’s for the same reasons. I feel there’s vulnerability cause I’m expressing character flaws that you’re supposed to hide, especially in those early encounters. The first flush of excitement in a relationship, you’re not supposed to be singing songs that outline exactly how it’s gonna go wrong. But at the same time, it’s knowing yourself. It doesn’t mean you’re incapable of love, but love plus honesty is always a little tempered, isn’t it? So you have to show a bit of yourself, but I think I’ve shown a bit more than usual on this one. I think you might be right about that.
As a child of this ‘80s, I have to ask this. In the “Nobody Can See My Cry” video, I just have to ask about your choice of T-shirt. Not Revenge of the Nerds, but the less heralded sequel Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise. Where on earth did you get the T-shirt and are you a fan?
Me and my brother used to watch that. There’s some funny stuff where Booger meets his mentor, the master of the long belch, but when did that come out? Had to be the ‘80s. I’d been about 10 and that’s exactly what a 10-year-old wants to see. It’s always stayed with me. And I loved the logo, so what I did was I did a deep search on the internet for a Revenge of the Nerds II T-shirt and it HAD to be Revenge of the Nerds II. I’d been looking for a T-shirt to replace this one I’d been wearing all the time that was blue and it had “Angling times,” and here’s the joke, “I get it every Wednesday.” I love that T-shirt and I wore it all the time, and I’ve been looking for something to replace it and I finally found it.
The Darkness, “Nobody Can See Me Cry”
Do you have a prized T-shirt in the collection?
There’s another one I found recently and it’s a movie T-shirt, but it’s cut as a muscle shirt for a Tom Selleck movie called Lassiter. I’ve never seen the movie, but the T-shirt is unbelievable. It looks like a James Bond-y thing. And my next ambition is to find a T-shirt for Fletch Lives, the sequel.
I wanted to ask about “Welcome Tae Glasgow.” I’m guessing there’s a history there, thus inspiring the song.
Yeah, some of my family lived in Glasgow when we first started. It’s weird cause you can play around the U.K. but every level on the way up and down there’s iconic venues that are always in Glasgow. They’ve got King Tut’s, which is like a 200 capacity place and you’ve got Barrowlands, which is probably my favorite place to play in the U.K. and we’re doing that on the next tour. It’s an old ballroom in a marketplace and the dance floor is sprung for ballroom dancing and when they go off, it’s like, “Oh my god.” The whole house is shaking. I believe it holds about 2,000 or something like that. We played there with Def Leppard in 2003, so these iconic places in Glasgow are always the milestones as you’re becoming more successful. As a touring entity, you can kind of chart your progress by which venue you’re playing.
So as we were always touring, someone would say [with accent], “Welcome Tae Glasgow,” and we had this piece of music for the album and I was like, “What should it be about guys?” And I’ve always had one or two poems I’m trying to attach to things and nothing was really working, so someone said, “It ought to be something like ‘Welcome to the Jungle’” and I just thought, “Welcome Tae Glasgow.” It made perfect sense and I love it. It made perfect sense to pay tribute to a city that’s meant so much for us.
The very lowest point of my singing career was just before I had a procedure on my vocal cords and I had a polyp on there, a big one, which was scary. I found it at the beginning of the tour and I had to go through this whole six week tour knowing there was a lump on my voice box. The worst show was Glasgow Academy, but the crowd got me through it. I really didn’t think I should have been up there, but I got a performance out and it was all because of them.
And then after the procedure, everything’s comfortable now and I’m very careful now and I know how to prepare and warm down. So I went back and sang probably the best show I’ve ever sung as a singer. I was really proud of my performance and thought it was the best I’d ever sung and that was at Glasgow. It’s the same crowd. So regardless of whatever condition you’re in when you get to that city, the crowd lifts you and it’s always a pleasure to play there so I wanted to have a song that at least acknowledged that and say thanks to them somehow.
With a song called, “It’s Love, Jim,” I’m assuming a Star Trek nod? Perhaps? Are you a fan?
Definitely inspired by the characters from Star Trek, but I wanted “Jim” to be a more generic character of authority, a father figure of sorts. It’s not necessarily the captain of the Starship Enterprise. My favorite captain of the Starship was always Pike anyway and I am a bit of a Trekkie, but I didn’t want it to go too far into the Bones and Spock referencing and stuff. I wanted it to be about a person who has such an interesting gene pool that you can’t quite figure out how you’re the same species as her. It’s someone who is so beautiful that you can’t even trust your feelings because you’ve never seen a person who looks like that before. So it’s not set in the Star Trek universe, but it is some of the same language and colloquialisms inspired by that really.
The Darkness, “It’s Love, Jim”
With the last record not getting a full touring and now a new record, have you had the chat about putting together a set list and how much do you focus on the last two records?
It’s funny on this new record because we all disagree on which songs should be in the set. We all have different favorites and I think that’s a good sign actually. There’s more of a unanimous vibe on which ones worked on Easter Is Cancelled but that’s because we did have more touring where we were playing that whole album so we know how all those songs feel.
It’s really the litmus test is when you start playing the song in front of an audience, and it doesn’t matter how long you’ve spent recording it, but that’s the only moment when you know how good it is. And you can feel yourself like, “Oh fuck,” and trying to shrink behind your guitar or you’re like, “Yeah, have some of this, this is fucking ace!” You can really feel in your own body language rather something is great or not and it isn’t even about the audience’s reaction. It’s about how you feel when you play it. That’s when it becomes art, you see. If it was just about pandering to an audience or content, then it would be a dialogue and you’d need some sort of validation from the crowd to show you what’s good or what’s bad. But the reality is that as soon as you start playing a riff, you know. You know in your heart or your groin or wherever you get that feeling. It’s its own reward and validation. But there’s no simulation for it.
Bringing it back around, if Easter Is Cancelled predicted the pandemic and Motorheart brings us sex robots somehow, any other predictions you’d like to make?
Yes, the next album is called Justin Hawkins Wins the European Lottery.
Thanks to The Darkness’ Justin Hawkins for the interview. The ‘Motorheart’ album is due Nov. 19 via Cooking Vinyl and is currently available to pre-order here. The band is also hitting the road in support of the record, with U.K. dates finishing out 2021 and a European tour leg to kick off 2022. See all the stops and get ticketing info here.
The Darkness, Motorheart Album Cover
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