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The Darkness Talk Gibson Les Pauls and Thunderbirds

Michael Leonard
|
11.22.2013
The Darkness by Scarlet Page

Brit rockers The Darkness are ending 2013 with a bang, touring their classic Permission to Land debut album in its entirety.

Permission to Land was an out-of-the-blue smash in 2003, selling millions and bowling overblown rock back to the top of charts. The flamboyant foursome split in 2006, after second album One Ticket to Hell… And Back but reformed for 2012’s Hot Cakes.

They toured European arenas with Lady Gaga last year, but their current shows are a special return to the sort of smaller venues where The Darkness first made their name.

Gibson.com asked Dan Hawkins (rhythm/lead guitar) and Frankie Poullain (bass) about a decade of Darkness and their love of all things Gibson…

You split-up in 2006 in a fog of overwork, management problems and excess – has the dynamic of The Darkness changed now you’re reunited?

Dan Hawkins: “Not really, we just get on better these days. We still argue tooth and nail over music, but the best bands do, don’t they? Everyone’s really passionate about how certain sections of a song should sound, or even whether we should play certain songs live… but that’s good. In a four-hour rehearsal, we’re still debating for an hour and a half. It’s always been the way. But we’re now more tolerant of either other’s weirdnesses.

“There’s a certain chemistry with bands. It’s not always about being the best musicians, more about what ideas you can come up with together. We did lose touch with each other, around One Way Ticket to Hell… But we’re back in the zone.”

Frankie Poullain: “We’ve lost any bad feelings for each other. It’s been put right over the last three years, the band itself controlling things. We all aspire to the same thing for The Darkness - joyful, ridiculous, and grotesque at times. That sounds pretentious, but only we know what The Darkness should be. We’ve got back to that.

“We’re still misunderstood, even in the U.K. But when we play for our fans, I think you get something no other band does. A mixture of the heartfelt, satirical and raw energy. We’re aware that we play a type of music that a lot of people somehow feel ashamed to like. We’ve always had lots of criticism for being contrived. We’re not!”

The Darkness by Scarlet Page

How is it playing Permission to Land again, start to finish?

Dan: “Great fun. I still think it’s a really good bunch of songs. It’s only Holding My Own that we hadn’t really played live before. That took a bit of work. But the track order of Permission to Land still really works live. It brings back memories about how we were back in the day… which was usually hungover. There’s not so much of that now.”

Frankie, you left before recording One Way Ticket… how did it feel coming back to The Darkness?

Frankie: “Even though time had elapsed, plugging-in together it was exactly the same. We’re older, but there’s still that energy. We react to what’s the norm. Justin [Hawkins, lead guitar/lead vox] is a real contrarian, and so am I. And Dan has the musical chops to keep it all together. Dan’s an incredible all-round musician, a great arranger, an underrated songwriter. Everyone talks about Justin all the time, but Dan is just great.”

Dan, are you still relying on your “Dunes” [Note: “Dune” is Dan’s nickname for his favored Les Paul Standards in Honeyburst finish]?

Dan: “Oh yeah. I pick up “Dunes” whenever I can find a special one. My rig is tuned entirely around Les Pauls. Les Pauls are heavy for some, but to me anything else feels like it may not even last one song. Although that’s possibly down to my rough technique.

“I like the weight. I’ve got one chambered Les Paul now, though. It’s got an out-of-phase setting and I like that. But I’ve always loved full-on Les Pauls. It seems to translate to the sound as well. What’s wrong with people? Guitarists need to “man-up” and play heavy Les Pauls! Then again, I do tend to walk with a hunch these days [laughs].

“I’ve had to get a couple of “Dunes” refretted and, to me, any guitar feels and sounds a bit different after refretting. But I have three in constant rotation. And I have the Fishman piezo pickup system on a couple so I can play “acoustic” parts when I need.”

And Frankie, you’re a Gibson Thunderbird devotee…

Frankie: “Yes. I started off on bass, then went to guitar… and soon realized I should go back to bass. I like Gibson Thunderbirds for the shape, the sound, everything. Some people say the sound is bloated but I think they have a very subtle sound. Thunderbirds are loud, but with nuances. The slender neck is superb, so they’re equally fragile and a bit cumbersome, maybe a bit awkward for some people? But I like that.

“There’s something very precious about the Thunderbird’s design. It’s like Salvador Dali-designed jewellery, there’s an intrinsic beauty in a Gibson Thunderbird. I think they’re very “human” basses. It’s hard to put into words. That’s why music exists in the first place isn’t it? It’s not something you can describe with words. Trying to describe sound in words is a waste of time!

“But my brown Thunderbird is on every track of Permission to Land, it’s got a really nice warm sound. My white Thunderbird is louder live. So I use both.

“And I like it that Kings Of Leon’s Jared Followill has brought Thunderbirds back into fashion. He’s a great bass player – indie, country, rock, all in one. And he uses a lot of effects. I like it rougher. Just stick it though a Hiwatt with a bit of Rat pedal at times. Raspy!”

Dan: “And Justin plays Les Paul Customs, all the way. Mainly white ones, but he has a black one too. With Frankie on the Thunderbirds, we’re a completely Gibson band. We always were, from day one.”

On this tour you’re playing a new song, “The Horn.” Is there a new album on the way?

Dan: “We’ve recorded four tracks for the next album. We’ve written about 15. Once this tour finishes, we’re back in the studio recording and writing more. Realistically, you need about 30 songs these days to release a really great album. We’re halfway there.”

More?

Dan Hawkins and Jimmy Page’s Les Paul

Gibson Thunderbird IV Bass

Photo credits: Scarlet Page

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