28 Mar 2009

Interview: Justin Hawkins Strides Past The Darkness With Hot Leg

+ posted by FlamingWhopper

He soared to fame on the back of a white tiger, beaming his definitively British dental work, high on cocaine and draped in the finest of spandex. Justin Hawkins of The Darkness was the unabashedly flamboyant frontman of the hottest global sensation of 2003. With glorious, over-the-top rock anthems like “Get Your Hands Off My Woman” and “I Believe In A Thing Called Love,” The Darkness marked the fresh return of AC/DC-inspired rock.

While the band aimed to make music fun again, they found themselves hitting all the classic roadblocks. Drug abuse? Check. Financial disagreements? Check. Brothers fighting over creative direction? Check. Misguided second album? Check. Major label mismanagement? Check.

The signs were all there. The Darkness was bound to implode. The foundation first began to crack when original bassist Frankie Poullain hired an outside accountant to investigate the band’s management of funds during the production of their second album, One Way Ticket To Hell… And Back. This dissention among the band ultimately led Poullain to be pushed out of the group. A year later, Hawkins’ addictions had taken their toll and he announced he was disbanding the group.

Now, several years later, he’s back to form with his new band, Hot Leg. Equally extravagant, Hot Leg are out to rock the world with blazing, straight from the waist guitar solos and a fat bottom section that’s bound to infect, if not impregnate, America’s collective ear holes.

A much healthier and ambitious Justin Hawkins, or as he refers to himself, Justin “Dave” Hawkins (“I like the inclusion of an abbreviated middle name”), took some time out before a recent gig in Dublin to explain the rise and fall of The Darkness as well as his new musical direction with Hot Leg.

What did the catsuit-sporting frontman enjoy most about international success? “I enjoyed the fact that it was easy to get drugs. I made it my mission, wherever we went, to try and get drugs as soon as we got off the plane,” said Hawkins. “Seriously, I enjoyed the big roar coming back from the crowd. It made playing a real thrill. Just seeing the varying degrees of mania around the world. Everywhere we went there was something weird happening. It was great.”

As the size of their concert venues grew from clubs to stadiums, Hawkins’ pension for rock god theatrics grew exponentially. He went from cutting through the crowd perched atop the shoulders of a roadie, to riding a suspended, stuffed white tiger, to flying over the crowd during a guitar solo, to gliding on stage while seated upon an enormous pair of breasts (ala, the white man’s Sir Mix-A-Lot).

“Most bands now are doing less pyro, less flying and less prop work, because their only source of income is from doing live stuff. They try and maximize that by charging a lot more for a ticket and giving you a lot less of show,” explained Hawkins. “I think if you’re charging more, you should provide more. I want people to go to our shows and say, ‘Yes, I want to see that again.’ That means props, pyro, and everything you can throw at it. You owe it to yourself and the fans.”

Although he aimed to please his audience, he felt the sting that so often accompanies fame—obsessive stalkers. He faced this issue in a manner characteristically his own, through humor and song. “‘Shit Ghost’ was a song about a stalker I had. It’s about being rubbishy threatening, just sort of saying the same clichés, sending me broken glass and stuff like that. It wasn’t nice, but it also wasn’t anything. It was just like a shit ghost.”

The Darkness learned firsthand and rather quickly that you can’t stay at the top forever. “I don’t feel that Frank leaving was a great thing for the creativity of the band. We should have tried to make that work a bit better, because I think he was a really great mediator between me and [my brother] Dan,” he remarked. “It was like everything that me and Dan did, the collaboration wasn’t as imaginative. We didn’t work as hard to try to keep things exciting.

“I also think The Darkness only had two albums in it to be honest. I don’t think that project had much more in it. Something that big and intense is going to become a parody of itself really quickly,” he admitted. “Whereas with Hot Leg I think there’s a lot more you can do with the players. It can really develop more because of the technical ability levels.”

Although Hot Leg began with material that was distinctively Justin—from the guitar solos, to the synthesizer licks, to the tongue-in-cheek lyrics, to the falsetto vocals—he promises Hot Leg will develop a fresh new sound beyond the genre he recently created and appropriately coined, “Man Rock.”

“I want Hot Leg to develop as a unit. What I had done for everything so far was record the songs myself and then bring the songs in for them to learn,” explained Hawkins. “But we want to change that and sort of have it evolve.”

What sort of multi-headed, man-rocking, woman-laying beast is Hot Leg going to become? “It’ll be a new sub-genre of rock, it’s going to be a lot more focused but possibly a bit more progressive. The arrangements might be a lot more ambitious. Like with ‘Chickens,’ you can still be progressive in three minutes. Speed prog. Pop prog? Prop? Pog? Kind of combine them,” Hawkins said as he wondered aloud.

Never one to be recognized for his modesty, Hawkins remarked flatly, yet sincerely, about his band’s musical creations. “I think everything that the Leg has put out so far has been really spot on. I don’t think that we’ve really done any bad songs yet. I think if we did, we wouldn’t put them out there.”

Over the course of the past few months, they’ve put out quite a bit of material. Last month they released their debut album Red Light Fever in Europe and are finalizing deals for distribution globally. They’ve also shared countless B-sides through their email list and MySpace page. Not so surprisingly, the Internet has provided a great forum for the band ranging from the group’s creation to their current expansion.

“The Internet has totally revolutionized the way I’ve approached it all really. MySpace has been brilliant, because even when I wasn’t active and not getting my stuff together there were a lot of people there that were really supportive of me. Keeping in touch with those guys really helped me to formulate my plan,” said Hawkins. “Now, subsequently, they’re all there for me. It’s really a good, moving sort of thing really.”

Touring can sometimes prove a bit challenging for niche musician as often times the band’s music doesn’t necessarily suit the headlining act’s audience. In such cases, Hawkins has the situation handled. “We had a difficult audience on tour recently, so I changed one of those sing-back songs to ‘Boo, we hate you!’ where it was just a ‘Woah, huh!’ kind of thing before. People would be booing us, but inadvertently taking part in the show. Little victories like that mean a lot to me. I like to play with them to be honest.”

What fans may have noticed is that a signature part of his onstage appearance has been absent since the darker days of The Darkness, namely the catsuit. But need not fret, its rebirth is upon the horizon. “The thing is I got too big for them, but I’m back in business now”, he said with a smile as he glanced down at his notably slimmer figure. “I’m having them made as we speak. By the time I come to America, they’ll be ready.”

In a surprising reflection of both deep dedication and unhesitating determination, he’s aiming to make it in the States even if it means leaving his native home of England. “America is a priority for Hot Leg. In fact, it might be the priority at the moment,” he said.

“We’re looking to get some American management and all that stuff and treating America with the time and respect it deserves. That means moving there and doing it properly. I think if you’re going to spend your time working as hard as we work, might as well do it somewhere else, exotic and fresh, new and exciting.”

As for his decision on where he’ll settle down, his response was a little less certain. “I think for weather, LA. I’ve heard loads of stuff about NY and L.A. I mean I love both places—maybe somewhere in the middle, equidistant between the two.”

At the close of the interview I posed an off-base question regarding the world’s current economic crisis. Surprisingly, it proved to garner his most poignant response. What does the world need today? “Faith. Just have a bit of faith, because it’s not easy for anybody. We’re all in the same boat. Faith and brothership or whatever it’s called. What’s that one,— brotherhood! But not just specifically male.” Whatever the other thing is, it’s clear he believes in a thing called faith.

As I sat across the table from Justin “Dave” Hawkins and heard his vision for the band and his passion for songwriting, it was clear that beneath his witty, comedic personality and ridiculously teased-out hair was a true, hard working, honest musician. Coupled with his faith in Hot Leg, it seems his plan to break beyond the shadow of The Darkness is very much real; all while maintaining the brilliant charisma that brought him success the first time around. In his own words, “Hot Leg’s totally irrelevant in every possible way—in a good way.”

Hot Leg’s debut album Red Light Fever is available online for download/import via teamhotleg.com. For forthcoming U.S. tour dates, visit myspace.com/hotleg.

Credit: Kevin Purcell | www.theaquarian.com

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