The Darkness’s Frankie Poullain Talks New Album ‘Last Of Our Kind’: Darkness bassist discusses band’s new album, new drummer and what to expect from the group for 2015 in our exclusive interview.
British rockers The Darkness are set to unleash their fourth album, Last of Our Kind on June 2nd.
The album shows the group adding new tricks to their sonic arsenal, maturing in sound, but still retaining that sense of fun that has infused their work ever since their 2003 début album Permission To Land.
The Darkness have also had several recent rotations behind the drum kit: longtime drummer Ed Graham departed in October, and recent recruit Emily Dolan (who played on the album) departed in April.
I recently had a chance to chat with bassist Frankie Poullain, who discussed the new album, new drummer Rufus Taylor, and what fans can expect when the band hit the road later this year. And, um…death…we chatted about that too.
Enjoy the Q&A that follows:
SLIS: Well first off I have to ask about the recent departure of your drummer Emily Dolan. The press announcement made it seem like she left unexpectedly. Was that the case or did you have any advance warning?
FP: It’s personal really. We want to be respectful of each other but it just didn’t work out. There were a couple of misunderstandings over time spent and the way we do things, etc. etc., and it just wasn’t quite right. It was great for the album but on the touring side it was going to be tough. But it’s worked out pretty well because I think she’s happier and we’re going to have Rufus Taylor (son of Queen drummer Roger Taylor) drumming for us.
SLIS: Queen were a big influence on you guys: did you initiate that, or did he contact you first?
FP: It was a 3rd party that put us in contact with each other. We didn’t realize back when we were looking for drummers that he was available so it’s worked out good. We did our press launch and played a few songs from the first album and then did a session on Radio 2, the biggest radio station in the UK and played Barbarian and Get Your Hands Off My Woman and he played so well. He played an electronic kit for the radio session, and we were on PODS and even though he was on an electronic kick he was really kicking ass. He really hits the drums hard y’know?
SLIS: So the new album Last of Our Kind features your first lead vocal on the song Conquerors. Was that a song you brought to the band? How did that come about?
FP: We were on Valentia Island off the Southwest of Ireland. It’s a really interesting little island on the most westerly harbor in Europe, and it’s where they laid the transatlantic cable from Europe to NYC when people used to send telegraphs. So we did most of the writing their and that was where Conquerors was written. Dan (Hawkins) started playing the guitar arpeggio that brings in the song and I just improvised the vocal: more as an idea for Justin to sing. And the guys said: that’s got something. They liked it. In fact the lyrics in the first verse were all completely improvised. It just came to my head and stuck out, so the lyrics have stayed in the first verse.
And Dan just kept pushing me; he was on guitar and developed a backing track…improvised off the top of his head…or rather not the top of his head, but it came from the subconscious. It just came from somewhere deep inside him, so the bottom of his head in fact!
And he just kept pushing me and he really wanted me to sing at the top of my range. It was a real struggle. And we figured it was quite funny too and quite inappropriate in a way, because normally when a band member (not the primary vocalist) does a vocal traditionally in rock bands…it’s a little more muted or tasteful, so we thought it would be quite funny for me to go really over the top y’know?
It’s something that’s really on the edge I think.
SLIS: So going forward, do you think we’ll be hearing more vocals from you on future albums?
FP: We don’t look it at like that. We don’t plan things or contrive things. It was just a moment, and we went with it. We wanted the album to be very emotive, and I think it deals with defiance and I think that’s the overriding theme of the album, to me anyway. So Conquerors was quite appropriate, because it had a similar mood to some of the other tracks. But it is different stylistically from a musical point of view, but there’s a thematic thread running through it.
SLIS: Speaking of recording on Valentia, did that location inspire the medieval themes on songs like Barbarian and Conquerors? Did it have an influence in that regard?
FP: Definitely, because the weather on Valentia island is rather tempestuous and ever-changing. Very schizophrenic weather patterns. Very extreme. And I think that matches the emotional landscape of the album as well. And there is that history too; the folktales. For instance there’s a track on the album called Roaring Waters, that deals with further up the coast of Ireland, the south of Baltimore…there was an episode with the Moors arrived in a boat and kidnapped 300 women (and some men) and took them back to Morocco or possibly Southern Spain.
So somebody told us that story and Justin investigated it a bit more. We took a similar approach to Barbarian, so we have two historical songs on the album. Normally we have one historical song on each album, but since the last album (Hot Cakes) didn’t have any, there’s two on this one.
SLIS: I wanted to ask about the album title as well: Last of Our Kind certainly feels like a statement. Who came up with the title, and what does it signify to you?
FP: Well Justin came up with the lyrics to the song Last of Our Kind and when we were coming up with titles we had Cliffhanger, because we thought that captured the emotional suspense of the album, but somehow it just didn’t feel right. And then I think I suggested Last of Our Kind, because we had a visual concept to go with it, which was the baby in the spaceship, kind of emerging from a pink cosmic explosion. It just really felt right and we didn’t want to rationalize it too much or over think it just felt powerful. And that pink explosion is done by an artist friend of mine (Nick Roche), and we used that for the cover of our new single Open Fire as well. In the artist’s mind it’s a cosmic orgasm.
SLIS: I like Open Fire a lot, and I know its been drawing some comparisons to She Sells Sanctuary by The Cult. And it made me think, that really next to The Cult you’re like the last big hard rock band out of England. Why do you think so few big rock bands come from England and is the album title kind of a nod to that?
FP: Yeah, I guess if you’re talking about classic rock and that sort of stripped down AC/DC thing, yeah there’s not much of that these days. Why? I guess that’s partly because of technology I think. Bands just can’t resist using new FX pedals, and I guess the influence of Grunge as well, to have more distorted guitars? Because in AC/DC the guitars aren’t really very distorted. It’s just the sound of a Marshall really. And I think with The Cult too: Billy Duffy’s got a big beefy guitar sound but it’s not over driven saturated distortion…what you hear is his playing y’know?
But I think guitarists are too lazy now really. It’s too easy to go through FX processors because they don’t have to struggle so much. Because the standard of Dan and Justin is to struggle.
I think also, rockers now are given too much to sensitivities. I guess it’s the influence of indie music where the man feels like he’s entitled to be a bit of a wuss and complain, and whinge. You know, the Linkin Park aesthetic:”it’s not fair!” It sounds like a kid whining to his mom you know?
Nirvana got away with that, because Kurt Cobain had that brilliant stream of consciousness with his lyrics. That cut-up technique that he took from William Burroughs and David Bowie. There was a real artistry there. But unfortunately most of the bands that came afterwards, except for Alice in Chains, were just kind of whingers. Whereas I don’t think I’ve ever heard an AC/DC song with whinges. Because they’re exploring a different part of masculinity. But of course the definition of masculinity has changed.
SLIS: The Darkness has a very loyal fan-base. You had a bunch of them provide guest vocals on the title track. How did that idea come about and how was that goal accomplished?
FP: Our webmaster Phillis Darkling came up with the idea of sending a loop of the chorus backing track so the fans could sing along with the breakdown chorus which is “Children, we are the last of our kind.” It kind of made sense when we got the word “children.” It helped that chorus make sense. And we got about 200 people’s voices on there. We had about 400 submissions send them in, also with video clips, so we’re going to compile a video using all the clips of the fans on a split screen. So that’s going to be cool. It might be the next single after Open Fire.
SLIS: One of my favorite songs off the new album is Mighty Wings: I think its such a cool mix of genres. It’s got electronic elements, but it’s also really heavy. I notice in the press release that Justin said it had a Giorgio Moroder, 1980’s soundtrack kind of flair to it. That reminded me that there’s a Cheap Trick song off the Top Gun soundtrack called Mighty Wings. Was that a nod to that at all?
FP: I wasn’t aware of that and I don’t think Justin was either because I remember the title came kind of spontaneously. We were looking for something really epic because the music came first and that chorus was really epic. We were really happy with that chord sequence that Dan came up with for the chorus, which sounded quite Bowie-esque. And that chord sequence had a few incarnations. At one stage it was like a glam rock song almost like All The Young Dudes…but then we thought it sounded a bit twee.
So then we thought well “why not stick this chorus on (Mighty Wings)”? And make it more epic with lots of space. And then with Justin’s long falsetto note we just thought, “Wow this is huge”. So we just kept pushing and kept gambling. That’s what we did on this album a lot. We gambled when we had something we thought was a chorus but if we didn’t think it was a great chorus then we’d make it into a verse. And then we’d gamble on the chorus. So that was definitely a gamble song. And I think it paid off, because it’s definitely one of the most progressive things we’ve done.
SLIS: I agree. I think it has a lot of interesting elements to it, and that its one of your most adventurous songs and an interesting mixing of genres.
FP: Thank you. It was quite experimental of us to do a track like that. I’m really looking forward to playing it live.
SLIS: Speaking of touring, I had a chance to see you guys in Austin, TX for your reunion tour and you blew me away. Will you be touring the states for Last of our Kind?
FP: For sure. I can say with almost certainty that we’ll be in Austin in October. I’d be surprised if we did a tour of the States and didn’t play Austin.
SLIS: The Darkness’s sense of humor has always been so great and helped set you apart from other bands. It seems like on this album it’s a little subtler? And I know Justin sold off his cat suits and has a shorter haircut now, so I wondered if there was a conscious effort to tone down your image as well?
FP: Well I think by the time we hit the States, we’re actually going to build up our wardrobe again. We’re just trying to freshen it up. (Laughing). We did a warm up tour in Ireland and we were dressed by our standards a little more soberly, but as the tour goes on we’re going to crank it up. Over the summer festivals we’re going to try out some new outfits, so we got some big outfits coming up.
We just didn’t want to do the same thing again. And as for the hair thing, I think Justin figured if you’ve got long hair and you’re over 40, it just doesn’t work so much you know? We’re definitely not going to tone anything down, we’re just choosing to tone up different elements and freshen things up. I think the idea is to redefine The Darkness. We’ve done that with the new album and by having a new drummer.
And visually we’re going to do that too. And as you can hear from Barbarian and Open Fire I don’t think they sound like anything we’ve done before. We’re enjoying that challenge. The last album was a comeback album. We’re glad to get that out-of-the-way and now we can concentrate on actually being creative.
SLIS: So when you hear the new album, how do you rank it against your earlier discography?
FP: Well people in bands always say the same things don’t they? They always say it’s the best album since…and they always go and name their classic album. So what I say is meaningless. All I can say is it’s the one that I’m most proud of…which is also a cliché!
But I genuinely am proud of the album. And I think it’s certainly the most emotive and top loaded, tempestuous thing we’ve ever done. To me, its red, black and yellow. The colors of the German flag funnily enough. Because the red symbolizes blood, the yellow is kind of madness and sunshine and the black is death and mortality. Because the track you mentioned Mighty Wings, well no ever thought they’d hear The Darkness sing about death, but that’s what that songs about.
SLIS: Well I think that covers all the questions I have. Before we wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to mention about the new album and upcoming tour?
FP: What, you don’t want to talk about death anymore?
(Both laughing, this writer esp. so)
SLIS: Sure we can talk about death some more!
FP: C’mon let’s talk about death (laughing)! Hmm, anything else I want to add? Well it’s a new look, a new sound with Rufus Taylor playing the skins, it’s time to freshen things up and that’s what we’re going to do. Look out!
SLIS: I loved your cover of Radiohead’s Street Spirit that you played on the last tour. Do you guys have any new covers fans can expect this time around?
FP: Well, Rufus’s favorite Queen song is Dragon Attack, so I guess that’s the favorite if there’s going to be a cover. The last time we attempted a new cover it was Earth Song by Michael Jackson. We did a really cool version of that and Justin nailed the falsetto and we got a big guitar sound that emphasized the heaviness of that tune. But Justin just couldn’t sing those ridiculous lyrics in the verse.
Because we don’t want to do something ironic, or so bad that its good. We just want to do something that’s good. Because Street Spirit is a legitimately great song so that’s why we covered it. So despite what people think, we’re not a “joke” band. Cause that’s a very easy thing to say. But we get that less in the States. We got that sometimes in the UK because we got SO big. And if you get really big in this country, people are desperate to take you down.
SLIS: Why is that do you think? I know The Cult used to get hammered by them, and there was stuff like the Blur/Oasis feud. What makes the UK press so nasty in comparison to the States (with the exception of Pitchfork)?
FP: Well everyone knows each other. A lot of the times it’s because the bands are sleeping with journalists girlfriends.
Cause it’s not like the States where it’s huge: everyone knows each other here, we go to the same parties. I learned that from NME. One of the reasons why they gave us such a hard time is because of something of that nature which I can’t really talk about but it has something to do with the partner of one of the journalists.
SLIS: I just saw the recent interview Justin did with NME, which is kind of surprising given your history with them.
FP: I was really happy with that and I was so proud of Justin. And it’s a great interview…because no one would think that Justin could be like that. He just completely opens himself up. I can’t believe he did, esp. to NME. But I’m so impressed because he was angry with them for such a long time. Because they made some very personal attacks on him in the early days…I thought it was great that he buried the hatchet in that way. And opened himself up and revealed a different side of himself.
Thanks again to Frankie Poullain for taking the time out for this interview. You can preview/pre-order Last of Our Kind via iTunes and Amazon below: