Interview: Justin Hawkins

Rob GarrattFormer frontman of local heroes The Darkness, Justin Hawkins is back with his new band Hot Leg. ROB GARRATT grabbed an air guitar.Further listening: Hot LegFurther listening: Hot LegRob Garratt

Former frontman of local heroes The Darkness, Justin Hawkins is back with his new band Hot Leg. ROB GARRATT grabbed an air guitar.

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The Darkness were an inspiration to musicians across the region when they burst out of Lowestoft to top the charts and jam every radio and TV station just over five years ago.

Their debut, Permission To Land, shifted over a million copies and lead the band to pick up Best Group, Best Rock Group and Best Album at the 2004 Brits.

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But like the rock legends they moulded themselves on it all slowly slipped away, with 2005's follow-up One Way Ticket To Hell…And Back meeting with a lukewarm reception, and persistent rumours circulating about sibling infighting and drug abuse.

In late 2006 frontman Justin Hawkins announced his departure, and has dabbled in various projects since while older brother Dan has gone on with former Darkness members to form Stone Gods.

But now Justin's trademark ballsy rock is back with Hot Leg. Released earlier this month, debut album Red Light Fever oozes with catchy riffs, falsetto screams and widdly solos. Ahead of their gig at the Waterfront next week, we caught up with Justin.

t You're closing the tour in Norwich - is there anything special planned?

'Only that my whole family will be there, it's special in that respect. After it finishes we've got a day off and then we're off to America, it's very exciting.'

t Your whole family still comes to your gigs? Does that include your brother?

'They do where they can. I'm not sure about Dan, he might be on tour himself then.'

t I guess you played a lot of the venues around here when you were younger?

'Largely in places in Lowestoft, like the Fighting Cox and the Brewery, all the country pubs around there. Norwich I only played once I think…the Butchers Arms - is that right?'

t How is what you're doing now different to The Darkness?

'Why does it have to be different? It's got the same singer and lead guitarist. It's just a different bunch of songs. It's man-rock. I think I am the first to come up with that moniker.'

t I hear you got the Christmas number one in the man-rock charts.

'We did. In fact all three of our singles have got to number one, and the album too. I don't know how the charts work. I don't think anybody does - you get people that are lower than people in the rock charts higher then them in the normal charts. The main rock chart is most mystifying. The man-rock charts are much simpler because there's only one band in it.'

t So are you still spinning round upside down topless and launching fireworks off glow-in-the-dark guitars?

'No it's different. It's all about the music. The venues aren't big enough to put pyrotechnics on the end of our guitars, we'd end up melting people's faces when we play guitar solos, and we'd rather just play guitar solos.'

t When you first hit everyone said you saved rock music, what do you think of all that looking back?

'At the time I think it was a coincidental. Nu-metal was dying it's death and we came along, I don't think we spearheaded anything. There was no rock to be saved, and I obviously took it all with a pinch of salt. There will always be great bands around in every generation.'

t It all got a bit crazily-big - do you want that for Hot Leg?

'I Hope Hot Leg doesn't get big. No, it would be nice but we have to face the fact what we do is for a niche. For a little while I did capture people's attention, but it's not going to be like that again. We just have to make it work. I haven't made any money for five years, but I made enough money the year before to live off since then.'

t Will you support our campaign to keep Norwich in the Championship?

'I love Norwich City. Norwich as a club has a great football heritage of neat passing football. It went downhill when they stopped being a selling club. As far as I'm concerned if they're doing well I'm doing well. I'd like everybody to get behind behind our boys. Whenever Norwich are doing well I'm doing well. When Norwich were promoted it coincided with my good fortune.'

t There were a lot of references to the area in your early work, are you still inspired by the region?

'I still consider Lowestoft my home. I was five seconds away from calling the album Lowestoft Rock. I lived in lots of places, various places in Lowestoft, and I lived in Euston Road in Great Yarmouth and Pier Walk in Gorleson.'

t The new record has some different influences going on.

'It's a more progressive record. Some of the playing is a step up, I've improved as a guitar player. I'm trying to be slightly more inventive with the arrangements, but it's from the same kernel. It's not rocket science, it's brain surgery! It's a typical third album. It makes sense. It's got more of the songwriting stuff of the first and the production values of the second. We can't go back to making trashy sounding records again.'

t Do you think it's better than The Darkness stuff?

'In lots of ways it's better. I enjoy doing it more. If people don't like that's just too bad, it's made.'

t How many more albums do you think Hot Leg will make?

'Ten or 11 records. Ten more records and one concept album. I haven't made the best one yet.'

t There's a lot of humour in your music - where do you get that from?

'I don't think it's funny. I don't see any jokes in it. All that stuff's real life. It's all self autobiographical. Or semi-autobiographical. Or fictional. I don't realty care, why does it matter? We just like the music we made. Gay in Eighties? Why's that funny. I didn't write that one anyway so I really couldn't comment.'

t What will the Waterfront audience get to see?

'Just a mean, fun, supervibe rock show with four exemplary musicians at the top of their game. It's s the pinnacle of the tour for us. If you enjoy having fun you must attend. If you enjoy good music you should go. I'm just looking forward to coming home and we haven't even been out a day yet. It's that coming home vibe - we don't normally get to come home. The other thing is it's my birthday the day after. I'll be 28.'

t Is it always going to be man-rock for you?

'It has to be man rock. If I did jazz it would be man-jazz, and nobody wants to hear that.'

t Hot Leg play the Waterfront on March 16.

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