When word arrived that the Darkness would be rolling through L.A. again on their way to meet up with Lady Gaga in South America, we told J. Bennett to grease up his tits for a pre-show rematch with frontman Justin Hawkins. The following conversation took place on Tuesday, October 23, the night before the band’s face-ruling performance at Club Nokia, where Bennett and Henry & Glenn Forever creator (and semi-recent Decibel cover artist) Tom Neely braved the throng of frat douchelords, aging rawk slunts and Z-list celebrities to sing along with highly satisfying cock-rock super-hits like “Love On The Rocks With No Ice,” “English Country Garden” and “Get Your Hands Off My Woman.” What do you like to do when you’re in Los Angeles? Hawkins: I used to like eating sushi, but I’ve become vegan recently, so sushi has become difficult. So, I pretty much play chess and screw, that sort of thing… [Laughs] No, not really. I’m going to go have a couple of costumes made. I always go and visit my friend Agatha Blois—she’s like a hero or heroine of mine. I love hanging out with her, and we’ve come up with some great designs together. You’ve seen the shit I wear onstage. She’s responsible for all of it.
I know Agatha. She once left her purse in my car for about two weeks. [Laughs] That sounds about right. She’s quite fun to hang out with.
Which city is better to be a rock star in—London or Los Angeles? Los Angeles. It’s slightly less expensive, first of all. If you drive a sports car, which is a key element of being a rock star, there’s nowhere to park in London. Whereas in Los Angeles, they’ve cleverly put car parks under every building you need to go to. It’s just more rock star-friendly. Plus, I think the climate is more suitable for the kind of clothing that a rock star should wear. Rock stars shouldn’t be dressed like Victorian street urchins, you know—flat caps, long overcoats and bowlers or whatever. In Los Angeles, you can walk around with your T-shirt off and your tattoos showing. You do that in London and people think you’re mental. Do it in L.A. and people think you’re a rock star. Brilliant.
Will you be wearing the same red, white and blue catsuit that you wore when you played here at the House of Blues a few months back? No, I’ve got a different outfit. I’ll probably wear the red, white and blue thing for the encore just because, you know… kids love it. And it’s all about the kids, you know? The new suit is still red, white and blue, but there’s more white than red and blue. It’s more like an Evel Knievel thing.
You’re saying the magic words. But you’re only playing Los Angeles and New York on this run. Why are the rest of the States getting the shaft? The rest of the States got the shaft on the account of us having to do just a couple of shows to warm ourselves up for the Lady Gaga tour. So we have to go down to South America straight after L.A. and do Mexico, Puerto Rico, Costa Rico, Paraguay, Brazil… I could go on…
Please do. Colombia, Chile, Argentina…
Given the fact that you gave up cocaine, what are you gonna do for fun in some of these places? I thought I might just do heroin instead.
In many of the recent articles on the Darkness, the writers seem to go out of their way to shit all over your second album, One Way Ticket to Hell… and Back. That’s because they’re cunts.
I agree. It’s my favorite Darkness album. But most journalists seem to think it’s your sophomore slump. Do you have mixed feelings about it? No, I have mixed feelings about journalists. [Laughs]
Well played, sir. Just to give you a couple of stats that these particular journalists may have overlooked: In the first week of release, that album outsold any week of Permission to Land. It is a platinum-selling album in many countries, and given the type of music it is, it actually exceeded my expectations. So to call it a flop is just lazy journalism. It’s a million-selling flop, I guess. [Laughs] I would give my right arm for another million-selling flop. I really would.
Is that you snorting the line of coke at the beginning of the title track? Of course it is—and some friends of mine that I coerced into doing so.
I also really dig the Hot Leg album that you made while the Darkness were split up, but I gather you’re not very fond of it. Why do you gather that?
Because the last time we spoke you referred to it as “a huge waste of time and money.” [Laughs] Yeah, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like it. I’m terrible with money, you know, and I piled a lot of my resources into that project. But now, with the benefit of hindsight, I realize that it was a brilliant exercise in sober touring and literally doing what I wanted. I had to get that stuff out there, you know? I played everything on that album. Nobody else appeared on it, aside from Bev, who sang the counter-lines in a couple of the songs. But everything else is me, and it was a labor of love. I really enjoyed making that album, and I used all the tricks I’d stolen from Roy Thomas Baker when we worked with him on One Way Ticket. He was actually the first person I played it for after I got it mastered. And he loved it, so that was enough for me.
I read a recent interview you did in which you said that you were a puppeteer in Kosovo and Macedonia prior to starting the Darkness. Were you yanking the interviewer’s chain? No, that’s a true story. Before the Darkness, I worked for a company called Rise Phoenix, which was a charity. I watched it go from a grassroots charity that sent people like myself to places like Macedonia and Kosovo to do puppet shows for children who were living in refugee camps and really struggling. It was purely to entertain the children, because if you think of the emphasis of the welfare that generally goes to places like that, it’s usually to get people fed and clothed and re-homed and that sort of thing. But they never think about the children or what they’re going through. So, it was an innocent kind of project to get kids to enjoy themselves despite their situation. I’m a big fan of that—defiantly finding beauty and fun in an environment where there should be none. That’s what inspired that film, Life Is Beautiful, about the man who tries to entertain his son in the concentration camp. So I watched it go from that to a fund-raising exercise, trying to get cash off UNICEF. It really lost its focus. So I ducked out at that point and did the Darkness.
How long were you over there? Ages. They did several trips, a month at a time. People did it in shifts. There were volunteers, and some were better than others. When I wasn’t over there, I was in the offices, manning the phones, collecting donations, doing the Christmas cards, that kind of stuff. It was really just me and the proprietor. He was a real inspiration to me—he could see the good in anything.
You used to run a jingle company as well. I actually still run a jingle company. It’s called Chicken Sounds, and all of my writing and production work goes through that. Some of it’s jingle work, but from ’97 until about 2004, it was pretty much exclusively jingles. But it got to the point where I had to outsource things and I wasn’t really comfortable doing that, so I started just using it for my publishing. But I think that doing jingles develops a really important skill set, especially when it comes to writing stuff for other people. Because they often—actually, all the time—a record company will go, “Oh, this song by Gotye is a hit. Can you write something that sounds like that?” That’s what people want to listen to now because they’re… what’s the word? Stupid. [Laughs] They think there’s a formula to it. So, your job as a jingle writer is finding the formula to something they can’t really afford and get it as close as you can without getting sued. So, it’s kinda dangerous, but it really helps you to understand how things are produced. Mutt Lange got his start that way, actually. His background was doing the Top of the Pops records in South Africa, because they didn’t have the licenses to use the original recordings. So, he had to learn how to reproduce those sounds, and he used those skills to go on and produce everybody from Def Leppard and AC/DC to Maroon 5 and Shania Twain.
What was the last jingle you wrote? It was for Nokia, the telephone company.
And you’ll be playing at Club Nokia tomorrow night. Talk about full circle. Ironically, yeah. That’s not why I said that, though. I suppose I should have thought about that first…
You have an inadvertent cameo in the Lemmy documentary. Have you seen it? No, I’ve not seen it. But people have told me about it in passing.
What happened exactly? Well, I think Lemmy had made some disparaging remarks about the Darkness and then wanted to come to our show on the guest list. But I’m the kind of person, if you knock on my front door, make a disparaging remark and then ask to come in, I say no. As far as I’m concerned, my backstage and my dressing room are my house when I’m on the road. So, I don’t think I did anything out of order. Dave Grohl kindly helped to smooth things over, but I stand by everything I did.
As you mentioned earlier, you’re about to go on tour with Lady Gaga. Is there anything you’re looking forward to speaking with her about? Not really, no. I don’t really speak with anyone about anything of any significance. [Laughs] I really don’t. I’m an insular person. At home it’s just me, my dogs, my cats, and my sweet lady-woman who I’m gonna marry the shit out of. That’s it. I’m happy. I don’t need to speak with anyone else.
Final question, then: In the Permission to Land days, you often rode a stuffed white tiger onstage. Did it have a name? Colin.