(Attention! This interview, again, contains a few four letter words… rock’n’roll!!)
When I was told I was going to meet The Darkness I got excited like a schoolgirl. And I assure you I haven’t been in school for a long, long time. The Darkness sure made an impression on me in 2003 when they released Permission to Land (an album that went straight to #2 in the UK and then stayed #1 for weeks). The third single from the album – I Believe in a Thing Called Love – is one of those songs that literally everybody hums when it’s played on the radio. After that there were three more records, singles, tours, breakups and come-backs, changes in the line up, striped stage outfits, sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. I’ve always been a fan.
It is the first time that I’ve approached musicians with such a high glam-ratio so I said to myself: This is my chance to learn about the rock star life. Is all that glitters glam?
I arrived 20 minutes early, mostly because I love the Arena – the most iconic underground location in Vienna. I always like to stroll around the venue, admire the spray paint art and breath in the carefully arranged chaos.
I called the tour manager just to let him know I was there. Instead of letting me wait at the bar next to the stage, as I was expecting, he invited me upstairs to the backstage area. It was almost 4pm and according to the schedule pinned on the wall, The Darkness had sound check at 5, dinner at 6 and the concert starting at 9pm.
First of all I met Bonnie, Justin’s dog, a honey colored almost-Yorkshire terrier wearing a purple angora sweater with golden jewel-buttons. My grandma would have dubbed as a bit out-of-date, but who am I to question Bonnie’s fashion choices? Also, Bonnie likes cheese biscuits.
While I waited, The Darkness’ band members were looking around the backstage for props to make some jokes on stage. One involved rock and roll and they chose a broken brick for the rock and a bread bun for the roll. Then they stopped for a second wondering about the roll – these people are no beginners. They looked around for a German mother-tongue person to ask. I happened to be the only one in the room that didn’t belong to the tour-crew. (Little did they know that I’m not German mother-tongue but Italian! I didn’t say anything.)
Dan: Do you think people in the audience will understand the bread for roll?
The bread he chose was a Semmel, the round bread roll that is very much a synonym for Austrian breakfasts. People in the audience would probably go Semmel-Semmel-Semmel in their head, like Pavlov’s dogs.
Now, I had to be careful: I really enjoyed being the center of attention and I wanted to talk for the longest time possible, but I also wanted to avoid being interrupted or losing their attention midsentence – that would be too humiliating!
Me: Hmm, I’m not sure about the roll… I think not many Austrians understand the word roll for bread. The rock is safe, though.
Dan: Should I get toilet paper from the loo, then?
Me: Oh yes, much better!
Dan: Thank you so much!
Me: Err… that was really an important contribution…
Dan: No, no, it was important!!
Me: My parents will be so proud!
Fun-fact: I told my parents, indeed, but they weren’t as proud as I expected. Actually, they weren’t proud at all. Bloody bourgeois!!
Dan Hawkins, with his well-brushed longish hair and sober spectacle frames, looks like a cross between the new sexy math teacher all girls will fall in love with and a rock star in disguise. It turns out the hair and the glasses are indeed a disguise.
Do you get recognized on the street?
Dan: I just cut my hair and I wear glasses, so I’m pretty much going under the radar, but when my hair is longer I tend to get recognized for Justin as well… People on the street shout
And when I don’t react
Is that Justin? Are you Justin? Or are you the other one?!
Rufus: Oh my god, nooo!! The other one!!
Dan: So many fucking times!!
Oh my! And what do you answer? ‘Cos you have to be nice to fans!!
Dan: Ha, this is a misperception! I don’t have to be nice to anyone!
(Both laugh, a loud and evil mwhahaha!!)
Dan: If someone is rude to you, you can be rude back, I think.
(In a low voice) That was not very Christian of me, but I’m not Christian! Hehe!
Rufus Taylor looks like he really should: a young guy who’s living his dream. Right now. He has a light in his eyes, an infective energy. Maybe it is also so evident because he is 24, younger than the other band members who are all fortyish.
What are the best moments of the rock star life? When you think YES! I love this job!?
Rufus: (folds his hands in his lap, crosses his legs like a professor at an exam, and talks with a straight face) Being single and on tour is a great thing.
Hehe! Would you like to elaborate on that?!
Rufus: Err… I shouldn’t!!
(While Rufus talks, Dan is looking at him, Cheshire-Cat smile, and giving an enigmatic hmm… every couple of seconds)
When you’re single on tour that’s one of the best parts that I’ve experienced, people are just so willing to give you a party or take you to a party! Everyone is willing to give… everyone is just up for a good time! It’s so much easier than… err… hehe…
…than organizing all those parties yourself?!
Hahaha! Anything that happens to be on your mind is very easily possible when you’re on tour.
And the worst part of the rock star life?
Rufus: The worst? The worst is… whohoho…
Dan: It’s difficult to answer that one, isn’t it? Because the worst can be really, really bad. The most common thing that people find difficult with touring at a high level is the sheer amount of time you’re away from home. It’s very hard to…
Rufus: And having a good crew as well!
Dan: Oh, yes, that’s…
Rufus: …vital! If you’re on tour with a bad crew of people you don’t like, it becomes very tedious very quickly.
Dan: Because everyone is living together and everyone is on the same level, we literally live the same life. On the bus I sleep here, Rufus is there, someone else is below there and everyone is together, and shares everything…
We’ve got a fantastic crew at the moment, really, it couldn’t be better. But it’s not always like that… sometimes it’s very much like Animal Farm…
Dan: I think a lot of people wouldn’t be able to handle the smell of a tour bus at three in the morning.
Rufus: Yap! True!
I’ve never be on a tour bus, how does it smell?
Dan: There’s this myth, they say that when they open the door of an airplane after a long flight, apparently the smell is enough to knock you out… methane…
(I’m not English mother tongue and this is definitely a word I’ve always seen in written form but never heard pronounced)
Sorry, I didn’t get that?
(I turn my head on the side a little)
Rufus: Do you understand flatulence?
(But before I can confirm that I, indeed, understand the word flatulence…)
(And I made a face exactly like this: °______°)
Well, it’s a small environment!
Rufus: Yes, maybe that’s the worst!
Dan: That and champagne hangovers! They’re quite bad, nothing beats a champagne hangover.
(I’ll have to trust them on this one too. I’ve never been on a tour bus and I’ve never had enough champagne at disposal to get drunk on it. I’m starting to wonder if I have the right job at all!)
Rufus: Maybe a hangover and then a long sound check! That’s really horrible.
Dan: Bwah! Back in the days The Darkness was, how can I say… really serious on booze… until a point where we didn’t sound check for a year and a half. Even at arena level.
Rufus: (his eyes widen with a hint of admiration) What?!
Dan: Yeah, we would basically sleep, stay sleeping in our hotels, and we’d come to the venue half an hour before the show…
And? Did it work well?
Dan: No. We were shit!!
(NB During this Rufus has been laughing his ass off)
Hehe, when I say Rock and Roll is also a lifestyle I’m not necessarily thinking sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, I’m not interested in this things…
Dan & Rufus: (interrupt me almost affronted) Why not?!
(We all laugh)
Oh, I’ve already read so much about it!
I think each person lives in his own parallel universe, or time zone if you will, made of the kind of life that one lives… and this very much influences your life, the things you do, the people you hang out with, the places you visit…
Dan: Everyone in the band is different. But my lifestyle, when I’m not touring, is very much up at half six, kids to school by nine, then some very mundane stuff to do, pick them up and going to bed by eleven. And then you go on tour and you wake up at eleven…
Which is normal, I guess? How can you get up at 8 if you go to bed at 4 in the morning? There is no other way to do it!
Dan: Yeah. The whole thing shifts, and it’s very personal. About the whole experience of being “rock stars”… a lot of those things are by necessity, you know? Some people in the real world – when I leave the real world and I go on tour – they can’t believe that the first contact I make with them is 2pm, when I’ve just woken up. And they go…
Oh bloody rock stars! Lazy bastards, you’re living the dream!
Dan: What they don’t realize is that I’ve been in affliction to sleeping in a tour bus. When the tour bus is moving I can’t sleep – right? – so when the bus finally finishes moving, around nine in the morning and we get to our destination, that’s when I get to bed. That’s not a very nice existence, you know? It’s very personal, and I think there are a lot of myths about what it’s like to be a touring musician.
The tour is probably when it becomes more apparent, this living in the tour-bubble is a world by itself, that you bring with you… do you really notice if you’re in Vienna or Prague? I mean, besides that all the writings are in German?
Rufus: Oh, you know where your next gig is going to be, so most of the time you know where you wake up! (giggles) But there are occasions when you look out of the window and you wonder where are we again?!
But I think, as far as it goes… when you get back from the tour and people get surprised when you still call them at two in the afternoon… It’s just a combination of every single day, you get more and more tired, you lose more and more sleep, so by the end of the tour you’re completely shattered! Most people will end up knocked down in two days!
Dan: And we all get ill!
Rufus: Yeah, everyone gets ill!
Dan: Every single time! After the last gig…
Rufus: …your immune system’s dead!
After the last gig. Before you were probably kept together by nerves?
Rufus: Yeah, it’s the time when you relax, your brain is telling you ok, this is it, now you can fall down! And your immune system just disappears.
And when you’re not on tour can you really have the life that you want? You, Dan, said you have this “classic” life, with kids and school…
Dan: Yeah, I do!
You’re much younger, Rufus, what about you? Do you?
Rufus: No!! Hehe, not yet!
Dan: He’s on tour-modus all the time!!
Dan: It depends, though, family and home time… that’s quite a small time, generally. Because, you’ve got to remember, we write music together, we co-op music, and we generally go away from our homes to do that.
Like a retreat?
Dan: Yeah, we tend to go all over… a lot of places, Spain, Ireland, Ibiza…
Rufus: Yeah, somewhere with no interruptions…
Dan: …by people! (Turns to Rufus) How many weeks of last year have you been at home?
Rufus: Oh, not at all…
Dan: Like, three weeks?
Dan, I imagine that you and your brother Justin became musicians “the normal way”, a passion that develops into a career. It is no secret that you, Rufus, are the son of Queen’s drummer Roger Taylor, so you were born into a completely different setting. Many people think, if you come from a family like yours, that…
Rufus: That is easy?
Easy? Well, that’s not what I had in mind, but in a way it must also be a bit easier…
Dan: I imagine it a lot harder, because the whole thing about being a musician is getting people to take you seriously. It’s always difficult and musicians are very prejudiced about musician’s offspring and very snooty…
Many think that if your parents are famous, you becoming famous is just circumstantial and has nothing to do with actual talent. But I know people in the same situation – following their parent’s steps in the applied arts – and in my opinion the biggest advantage they have is that their parents and their environment value that kind of talent. Nurture that talent.
Had I told my parents I want to sing for a living I’d still be grounded in my room 20 years later!
Dan: Yeah, like that is never gonna work!
Exactly, they don’t take it seriously! You have to fight on two fronts, the struggle to set foot in the industry, but also internally in your family. I imagine this to be the biggest privilege that comes with a famous musician parent. More than the connections and everything…
Am I wrong thinking this?
Rufus: No, no! It’s kind of difficult to explain…
My father is the reason why I enjoy playing drums, because drums were always in the house. From my earliest memories, I always remember seeing and hitting drums – and enjoying it. That was obviously the first thing that got me interested. And while most people develop different interests growing up, I just stayed on the drums, purely… I just loved it!
Dan: Mine and Justin’s parents were very much like that, they thought they were normal choices we were making. When we were younger my dad always said to us…
If someone else is doing something, if they can do that job, so could you. All you need to do is work hard and you can do it.
So because he had that attitude, we had that attitude, and when we had the talk at the end of high school
What are you going to do?
I’m not doing anything!
(Rufus and I jump on our chairs and laugh)
What?! Is this really what you told your father after graduating?! :-O
Dan: Hehe, more or less! I told him…
I’m not gonna waste my time doing A-levels (NB a school leaving qualification test that students in the UK must pass if they want to access university) and getting a degree.
I was pretty much a straight A student, as Justin was – but I just thought This is a fucking massive waste of time, why do I need to do this?!
My plan was more…
Somehow get to London, join the right band and I’ll be a professional musician!
And he was…
Yeah, go for it, son!
Rufus: Good parents!
Dan: Great parents!!
Rufus: I forgot that point earlier, but just like Dan and Justin’s parents, my parents never looked down at the decision I made. Do what you love and what you believe in.
Dan: I equally think, being a parent myself, I’d never push my kids into music. I’ve got quite a few musician friends who are basically force-feeding music to their kids, and you just know it’s gonna go the other way…
Dan: Whatever my kids wanna do, I’ll be right behind them, if they want to be a plumber… whatever! Anything other than… hmm… ok, next question!
I’ve noticed this not only with musicians… if you enjoy your job, you’ll probably be more flexible with your children in terms of allowing them exotic choices. While if you’re struggling with your job you’ll probably want them to study something valuable. Do you agree?
Rufus: Yeah, absolutely! There’s no proof to either one, what’s better…
Dan: No, it’s true, it’s pretty fucking random anyways, isn’t it? It’s terrifying.
Rufus: Yeah, my brothers and sisters also do different things. One of them is a doctor, one’s in advertising, stand-up comedy, one writes books… there’s no telling what your kids are going to do.
Well, Rufus, all of you do something very creative!
Dan: I hope my sister doesn’t get too creative at being a doctor, because that could end up really dangerous!
Haha! Right, with the one exception of the doctor-sister!
(We all laugh)
The lineup of The Darkness changed over time, people left and came back, it’s sort of a troubled story. Rufus joined in April 2015, less than a year ago. Speaking of line up changes, there are bands that focus almost exclusively on the friendship factor, while others put all the attention on the technical skills. How does it work for you?
Dan: When I joined – (NB to Dan) which was ten months ago? – it was almost instantaneous. We got on from the get-go, it was apparent very early that working and touring together was enjoyable and fun.
But it’s also about being able to play with each other, because, you know, you can like someone…
…and then it doesn’t work, musically?
Rufus: Yeah, sometimes it doesn’t really happen and then you have to make a decision… but thankfully it’s been great from the get-go.
Dan and I worked very closely learning the songs, we went through that very quickly. We instantly felt that we play together very well…
So it worked on both the personal and the musical level?
Rufus: Yeah, you can hear it when you don’t even have to look at the person and you know where they are going.
Dan: Sometimes you just can’t get that connection, it’s quite rare, it’s really rare. I certainly didn’t have it with Ed!! (NB Ed Graham, the original drummer of The Darkness who left end of 2014).
Dan: Not even for a fucking moment! Haha!
Rufus, when you join a band that has been active for a long time, is there a phase, at the beginning, where you feel like a guest?
Rufus: At the beginning I was nervous, because I wanted to get it absolutely right, as best and as fast as I could. Because I know the guys have been doing this longer than I… they’re a proper band and I don’t want to fuck it up.
So yes, at the beginning, the first few times we went in and out of Europe, the first few gigs I did…
Dan: It was tough, wasn’t it?
Rufus: It was tough but I was trying to keep my energy up, making it as energetic and strong as I could, to help drill it into my brain, basically – it’s the best way for me to learn. I think the guys picked up on the energy, definitely, and ultimately it got easier and I didn’t have to think about what song is next and what do I have to do in the next part…
And how is it for the rest of the band to have a new member?
Dan: We’re so lucky, like you were saying before – the friendship thing is so important and being on the same page, being part of the gang, is much more important than being able to play or not.
To find someone who can really play and fits in perfectly… I’d say the chances are very very small. And I do think…
Rufus: I want to say, it’s the other way around as well! It’s relative because of my age, but I have spent many years looking exactly for this kind of band and music to be playing for, so…
Dan: There aren’t many of us around anymore…
Rufus: No, there aren’t.
Dan: It’s certainly important to have him, we are just very lucky.
Rufus’ first gigs were basically just festival appearances, we had a shit-crew at the time as well, and loads of things were going wrong, it must have been so stressful! We were all so desperate for the summer to end so that we could actually go on a proper tour. Like rock stars!!
We’re still young enough to make a difference. I think, we kind of lost our way a bit on the second record (NB One Way Ticket to Hell… and Back, 2005) and we’ve finally found our mojo, so… we have high ambitions still.
So you’ve got your mojo back with this album Last of Our Kind, what are your plans for the future?
Dan: Ahm… well…
Are there plans?
Dan: Yeah! Basically we’ve written about twenty-odd songs for the next record already, with Rufus…
Rufus: In two days!
The new record is in the drawer?
Dan: No, no!
Rufus: There’s still polishing off to do.
Rufus: But there’s definitely some potential ideas.
Dan: It’s very exciting, we’re trying to work out how our year will look like, touring-wise. If we wanted to go for 2016, we could get an album out and tour the UK… but I think we’re going to be more realistic and focus on making it, then release next year.
So, a new album, hopefully early 2017; we’ll be touring America again, it’s building well for us, every time we get back it’s getting bigger and bigger; we’d like to do maybe a concept album and write musicals as well…
Dan: I really think we should write a musical. Not about us!! About some completely random topic…
Oh, whatever it is, do that, please!