Interview: Justin Hawkins
Chris Hill With The Darkness and his addiction problems behind him, Justin Hawkins' new band arrive are set to arrive in Norwich. CHRIS HILL spoke to him about tight jeans, headbands and Hot Leg.
With The Darkness and his addiction problems behind him, Justin Hawkins' new band arrive are set to arrive in Norwich. CHRIS HILL spoke to him about tight jeans, headbands and Hot Leg.
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“My name is Justin Hawkins. I am a catsuit-clad, Lycra-loving spandex enthusiast from Lowestoft and I also love making rock music.”
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This self-penned confession from the MySpace profile of The Darkness's former front-man certainly sums up the fabled sense of the ridiculous which has always coloured his performances.
So when he tells me his new band - Hot Leg - is named after part of a steam generator for a nuclear reactor, I stifle a snigger and assume he must be pulling my leg.
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But it turns out to be true - proof that you never know quite what to expect from the falsetto-voiced rocker who shot to fame with The Darkness in 2003.
The band sold 3.5 million copies of their first album and enjoyed a string of top 10 hits, including the radio-rock centrepiece I Believe in a Thing Called Love, won a Brit Award, before an equally speedy demise peppered with rows and rehab led to their eventual split in 2006.
But with Hawkins' own “sobriety counter” ticking onto 786 days today, he said his two-year abstinence from drink and drugs - and his new band - were helping him make the best music of his career.
Hot Leg's first single, Trojan Guitar, has just been released, with an album due to follow early next year.
Musically, it's not too distant from Hawkins' earlier incarnation - same thunderous guitar riffs, same piercingly melodic vocals, same puncturing parodies of heavy rock silliness. The singer said the similarities were inevitable.
“Funnily enough, it is because when I was in The Darkness I was singing and playing the guitar, so those timbres are always going to be there,” he jokes.
“I am really proud of what we did with The Darkness so I didn't see I should contrive to change it. It is just the way I am. You have to concentrate on what you do best.”
And, if the new single is any indication, what Hawkins does best is tweaking The Darkness's pop-rock sound into a new genre which he has dubbed “Man Rock”.
“You hear phrases like manpower and man-sized tissues, and it just sounds better, doesn't it?” he said.
“I think Man Rock describes what we do - it is just four men playing very fine Man Rock.
“That's not to say it's not inclusive, because anybody can enjoy Man Rock. I need to nurture that part of them which is quintessentially 'man'.”
So, a new brand of rock music - but no departure from the outlandish stage gear, with Hot Leg favouring a motif of long hair, headbands and tight jeans.
“It's really starting to catch on,” said Hawkins. “When we started we said to one another we should wear the tightest jeans possible. The headbands really help with the camaraderie and they look amazing. Plus, they keep your fringe out of your eyes while soloing.”
The demise of The Darkness followed a muted response to their second album, One Way Ticket to Hell and Back, although it still sold a million copies.
Hawkins said: “Towards the end of The Darkness it was fairly clear what the trajectory of the band was.
“I believe part of it was that there is always a good feeling around something which looks organic and seems to be built from grassroots, which is what we were. After a while the perception changed because we were on a major label and we were not the underdogs any more. I reckon any sort of good feeling we had really got lost.”
The split also saw Hawkins parting professional company with lead guitarist Dan, his brother, who has also moved on with his new band, Stone Gods.
“It was pretty much the hardest part of leaving the band,” he said. “I didn't enjoy it for the last year or so and I would have left much sooner if I didn't have a sibling there. But he has a new band and he's really enjoying that, so we're both a lot happier now.”
The music video for Trojan Guitar features a gory medieval battle scene, something which Hawkins regarded as a bit of fun which “went too far” - resulting in a ban by TV stations. It is a perfect example of his raucous, occasionally misunderstood, humour.
“Whether I am perceived as a novelty person is irrelevant,” he said. “I'm doing a job at the end of the day, but if there's humour in it, it's because my personality is coming across.”
Hot Leg's UK tour will bring them back to Hawkins' former stomping ground next week supporting US rockers Alter Bridge. “It is brilliant to be coming back,” he said. “I've always been very proud of my roots, having grown up in Lowestoft and supported Norwich City. It's also a good thing that it is a support slot so I'll get time to hang out with my family as well.”
Hawkins said he may even bring the band for an impromptu gig at his former Lowestoft local, but while he was starting his career from scratch he was not trying to repeat his earlier glories.
“I have had that success and it was what it was,” he said. “It will be difficult to shake off The Darkness - not that I would want to because I am really proud of what we achieved, but I'm aware the climate has changed and you never know what's going to happen.
“Hot Leg is my best work so far. I am not trying to win Brit awards - that's not what it's about any more. I am just trying to make it as good as it can be.”
t Hot Leg play the UEA, supporting Alter Bridge, on November 7. Trojan Guitar is out now and can be downloaded for free via www.myspace.com/teamhotleg.