Thinking Out Loud: Justin Hawkins

A photograph of Justin Hawkins onstage at the Roundhouse, December 2015
(Image credit: Getty Images)

In the latest instalment of Thinking Out Loud, discover why The Darkness frontman thinks modern music is shit, what it’s like to be chased by the paparazzi and why he looks to the late Terry Nutkins from The Really Wild Show for style inspiration.

This is the world according to Justin Hawkins…

I think about family a lot. When you get married you’re essentially starting your own offshoot or side project from the one you’ve had thus far, and that’s a huge thing. There’s also more immediately at stake, and you’re less inclined to throw the baby out with the bathwater so to speak, which would be a terrible idea under any circumstances. So family is important; it’s difficult to break and one should celebrate it because it’s resilient and reassuring. It’s like clan building. It’s tribal.”

It can be counterproductive knowing everything about a person because you know what the trigger points are so there are certain points you don’t go to, and then it becomes a bigger issue because you haven’t dealt with it That’s a question of familiarity though, which has it’s origins in the word ‘family’, but familiarity breeds contempt, whereas family is a loving environment, unless you spend too much time with each other and then it’s a fucking nightmare.”

You can’t be successful and completely seal the cat flap of fame. It would be nice if you could. But when you’re charging at the cat flap of fame it wobbles a bit and some other stuff comes through as well. It’s a flap that peels back and people can see inside the tower. I literally went to collect a cat and a paparazzi man chased me for about four hours in the car. It was really dangerous. I was doing some fairly evasive manoeuvres in my Ferrari but he managed to keep up and I thought one of us was going to die. I just pulled over and let him take a picture in the end, and he went home after that. I think it’s a bit sad that that’s an environment that you have to put up with if your work is popular. I’ve always taken it with a pinch of salt because I’m not really paparazzi fodder, and I’ve always tried to be nice to people because of my upbringing, but the paparazzi have really stretched that at times. I appreciate the fact that it’s generally not like that now though. It’s really nice to be able to walk around London and not have to deal with it.”

The Darkness in their most recent line-up. L-R: Justin Hawkins, Frankie Poullain, Dan Hawkins and Rufus Taylor

The Darkness in their most recent line-up. L-R: Justin Hawkins, Frankie Poullain, Dan Hawkins and Rufus Taylor

“There is too much hardship that occurs between point A and point B for taking drugs to ever be justifiable. There’s too much bad stuff that happens between picking the plant and consuming the drug, in terms of the human abuses, and the whole thing is just an exercise in evil. I would say that for a minute there I was questioning that, but the conclusion I came to is the same one I’ve always upheld, which is that drugs are bad and people shouldn’t do them. All those rock stars that used to do them were the real deal. They were also from a time when drugs were drugs, and not just Daz or whatever it is that they sell you nowadays. I’m not part of that world, but I do believe that The Stones, The Beatles, and a lot of the stuff that’s the very foundation of all popular music was informed, inspired by, and in some circumstances would not exist without that kind of experimentation. Personally, I like to alter my state whenever I can; some people meditate, others exercise, and I suppose masturbation counts as well. That’s the holy trinity of mind expansion!”

I remember a time when you could spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on a music video. I think back then a lot of people knew the change was coming, but it was a bit like the Titanic in that everyone on board belligerently thought that the ship was unsinkable. There was a lot of arrogance, and the people who saw it coming were ignored. But they’re the people who’ve become the new blood of the trade, I suppose. Streaming is an interesting side effect of it all, and I often wonder which came first; did music become shit before people stopped buying it, or is it partly because music is shit that nobody buys it anymore. I genuinely think that most music is shit nowadays, and I wonder if that’s because I’m getting older. I grew up with Queen, Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. Beat that, you motherfuckers.”

Justin Hawkins with his Madame Tussauds wax figure in 2005

Justin Hawkins with his Madame Tussauds wax figure in 2005 (Image credit: Fred Duval/FilmMagic)

“Bands nowadays just want to get on the radio, and in order to get on the radio nowadays you need to write music that sounds like an Iceland advert. That’s why modern music sounds like Iceland adverts. And if it doesn’t sound like Iceland adverts then it sounds like farts because they’ve tried to do old school stuff. Everybody is always trying to sound a certain way, but they should just be pure and true to the art; just write a song that you mean and perform it in an impressive way. I think we need to put some hi-fidelity back into hi-fi, so people will continue to appreciate the subtleties and complexities that listening to quality music can provide. I heard a Bring Me The Horizon song on the radio the other day and it sounded like a more up-tempo, slightly more exciting Linkin Park, and it had a nice elaborate arrangement but the recording sounded like shit. It sounded so flat, like an MP3 or something, and it was just horrible. That’s what compressing music does, it removes all the dynamics, and I think it’s time to put them back into recorded music.”

“I don’t do a lot of co-writing because I find it can be a bit cynical. I’ve worked with producers in the past who have literally said, ‘It should sound a bit like this’, and it becomes like a scientific splicing exercise where you’re trying to take elements from different songs and rebuild them in your own image. To me, that’s not rewarding at all. But when I worked with Rivers [Cuomo, on the Weezer song I’ve Had It Up To Here] it was brilliant. Occasionally you find someone who finishes your musical sentences for you, and we went on a journey together that was all very natural. Eric [Nally, from Foxy Shazam] is particularly good for that. I actually met him on the Meat Loaf writing sessions [for the album Hang Cool Teddy Bear] and I knew right away we were going to be compatible. He’s got great ideas, and he’s so raw that he doesn’t have the musical vocabulary to realise them, so I was responsible for channelling his thoughts and turning them into music [Hawkins produced Foxy Shazam’s fourth album The Church of Rock and Roll], which was really exciting. So I only do things with other artists when I feel like it’s real. In an ideal world, I’d just work with Eric, The Darkness, and occasionally Weezer.”

“I haven’t got a Facebook account, and I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Not having Facebook is amazing - it’s so good. For a while I was a bit jealous when I saw people looking at Facebook on their phone, but now I just feel sorry for them. I think everybody would be a lot happier if they didn’t have Facebook.”

“Rock ‘n’ roll has given me everything, from the spectrum of good all the way through to bad and everything in between. It’s taken as well. It’s subtracted.”

“Instead of clinging to my hair like it matters, I’ve decided I’m just going to go bald.There’s no one else in rock at the moment with the Phil Collins or Terry Nutkins [British naturalist, author and TV presenter] look, with the long hair on the sides and the bald spot on top. It’s like the ultimate mullet. Show me another guy that’s doing that! That’s rock ‘n’ roll; it’s not conforming, and expressing yourself in a way that’s true. Terry Nutkins probably isn’t the most rock ‘n’ roll example I could give. He’s a guy that told a generation of children on television about wildlife. But I still think he’s more rock ‘n’ roll than most of the bands that you read about today.”

Heavy Load:

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Matt Stocks

DJ, presenter, writer, photographer and podcaster Matt Stocks was a presenter on Kerrang! Radio before a year’s stint on the breakfast show at Team Rock Radio, where he also hosted a punk show and a talk show called Soundtrack Apocalypse. He then moved over to television, presenting on the Sony-owned UK channel Scuzz TV for three years, whilst writing regular features and reviews for Metal Hammer and Classic Rock magazine. He also wrote, produced and directed a feature-length documentary on Australian hard rock band Airbourne called It’s All For Rock ‘N’ Roll, and in 2017 launched his own podcast: Life in the Stocks. His first book, also called Life In The Stocks, was published in 2020. A second volume was published in April 2022.