Interview: Frankie Poullain of The Darkness

2015 heralds the release of a brilliant new album from multi-award winning U.K megaband, The Darkness. Last of Our Kind features historical themes and the guys’ trademark hot licks and flamboyance, but has a heavier sound than their last couple of releases. With the installation of their superb new drummer, Rufus Taylor (son of Queen’s legendary Roger Taylor), the band is currently on a tour that will bring them to Oz next month. Thanks to our good friend John Howarth of Bullet Proof, we had the chance to have a chat with the band’s very insightful and personable bass player, Frankie Poullain, who shared his thoughts about band chemistry, album production, and his affection for Gibson Thunderbirds, among other things.

SR: Last of Our Kind is your fourth album, now, which Dan engineered in his Norfolk studio. What was the production experience like on this record?

the-darkness-last-of-our-kind-coverFP: The album has a backdrop of change and upheaval, because we were going through a period when we had to change management, both U.S and U.K management, and we had to change both record labels as well. And, of course, we had problems with Ed Graham, our drummer, so we had to change drummer – twice, in fact. As a backdrop to what we did, it possibly informed the nature of the album. The album is quite escapist. Two songs are obviously historical: Roaring Waters and Barbarian. It’s quite an impassioned album, as well, compared to Hot Cakes, which is more fizzy and pop rock, I think. Sonically, this album is heavier and warmer sounding. I think Dan did a great job on the production. It’s a different sound. I mean all four albums have very distinctive sounds, I have to say. They’re very different from each other and it’s easy for us to be critical, looking back. I think particularly the second album is dry sounding, laboured, and kind of bloated and decadent as well; but, looking back, there are some moments on it. But we’re very pleased with this one. We think it’s up there with Permission to Land.

SR: Roy Thomas Baker produced that second album. What positives did you learn from the way he did things, and do you miss the days of tape?

FP: Personally, I didn’t enjoy working with him. I was sacked halfway through the making of that album, but I was in the studio with them quite a lot. Personally, I wasn’t a fan of the approach to that album. I didn’t enjoy the sound of it when I listened back to it: there was no warmth. There were some good songs on it. My favourite was probably English Country Garden. That comes over okay on the album. Personally, I think it could’ve been better. It was really pompous and overly garnished, and then some of the rock songs are just way too dry-sounding, like Bald, which had the life sucked out of it. That’s my opinion. I didn’t think he was the right person at the time and I didn’t beforehand. That was partly why we had the fall out. We had the chance to work with Mutt Lange, and, looking back, I wish we had.

SR: Wow!

FP: Yeah, we’d met him and talked about it. Then there were issues, apparently, which again I didn’t agree with, and I think we should’ve worked with him. It’s easy to say in hindsight, but I thought it at the time as well.

“…I have a kind of an awkward physique, anyway, so I look for a bass that also has an awkward physique…”

SR: Who would be your dream producer for the next album?

FP: Probably a joint ticket of Dan Hawkins co-producing it with Mark Ronson. Mark Ronson has been quite generous with his comments about us in the past. He’s an all-round musician – he’s got a great feel for the history of music. He can bring in really great influences from the past in a very warm, humorous and fun kind of way. He’s just got a trademark of quality in everything he’s done, really.

SR: You’re famous for favouring the Gibson Thunderbird. I read that you were initially drawn to it because it was something you have to ‘grapple with,’ that you liked the struggle of using it, and that Fenders almost annoy you by being too straightforward. I’ve also read that you’re an admirer of Chris Entwistle’s. Was that who first ignited your interest in the Thunderbird?

FP: Oh, you’ve done your research. That’s great. Yeah, I guess I have a kind of an awkward physique, anyway, so I look for a bass that also has an awkward physique. And the Thunderbird’s definitely awkward; it’s ridiculous, you can’t even lean it against something without it falling over. But then, it’s like a person: it’s unbalanced, like most people are. Well, like we all are. That’s the flaw of human nature. You look for harmony, but you’re not born in a harmonious state, are you? So, the Thunderbird… I love the sound. You know, it’s kind of middly. It’s not like a warm, perfect tone. I think I’ve just grown to really enjoy it. And of course, hopefully I’m improving. Of course, I’m a weaker musician than Dan and Justin, but I think the blend hopefully is a nice one. I mean, that’s the thing. People talk of supergroups and having the best bass player and the best guitarist and best drummer—it doesn’t work like that, because, if you have all virtuosos, the blend of the characters isn’t right. You need people to just sit back and for there to be a juxtaposition between a complicated thing and a simple thing, or a sweet thing and an ugly thing. That’s what creates the magic.

SR: Aside from The Darkness, what’s a band you feel got that mix right?

FP: Oh, the Rolling Stones and The Beatles (laughs). The two biggest bands of all time! They both had that blend exactly right. The way that Ringo played the drums… Only idiots or insensitive people who don’t understand music would scoff at Ringo’s drumming. And, in fact, I remember Roy Thomas Baker scoffing at Ringo Starr’s drumming and ridiculing it, and that’s when I thought, ‘Okay, I don’t see it working with this person.’ And the Stones, too, just with the blend that they have, and the fact that everyone knows that Keith Richards isn’t the greatest virtuoso or lead player, but it doesn’t matter. The restrictions that you have force you to be inventive in other ways. So, in a sense, you compensate for your perceived inadequacies.

SR: Speaking of band members, what’s it been like having Rufus Taylor on board as your new drummer?

FP: He’s fantastic. He really is. He hits the snare so well. He really propels it forward, and there’s an excitement, vitality, and energy. You know, we’re middle-aged guys going through mid-life crisis, so we’ve gone for the young blonde.

SR: (Laughs) I like that. Your book, Dancing in the Darkness, was released back in 2009. For those who haven’t read it, can you tell us a bit about it and how the idea came about?

FP: I don’t like to talk about that. It feels like a long time ago and it infringes on other people’s privacy. It was a kind of therapy for me at the time, but it would be disrespectful to talk about it now that things are going so well with the band.

“…basically, what we’re adding to the show is we have a new lighting thing going on, which is the best we’ve had since 2003 and we’re very excited about that. And also, we have a completely new wardrobe, as well…”

SR: You were once a Venezuelan mountain guide, I understand. Do you get out into nature much now? Is it something you like to do to ground yourself once you’ve finished a tour?

FP: Nice question. Well, the reason I was in Venezuela is because my brother has an adventure tourism thing going on and I kind of helped him set it up, before the band existed in the late nineties. He’s still doing that kind of work. He does adventure tourism all over the world. He’s like a Crocodile Dundee type guy. He’s like a real man of adventure – a big macho man. An alpha male, you know. So I’m very lucky to have a brother like that where, when I need time off to try something different or have adventures, I just call him and he’ll say straight away, ‘Oh, I’m going to be in Russia next week’, or… Well, now he’s living in Ibiza, so that’s great.

SR: Nice, but a bit different from Venezuela, isn’t it?

FP: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. He had to escape from Venezuela. It got too dangerous, so he’s licking his wounds in Ibiza at the moment. His family were kidnapped by terrorists in Venezuela, but thank God they all escaped unharmed.

SR: No way.

FP: Yeah, it was full on, but they’re all okay now.

SR: Who was involved in the kidnapping?

FP: The Farc. It’s probably not wise to talk about. But anyway, he’s a tough guy and he’s in Ibiza now. He’s just a great person for me to go on adventures with. So, I guess that’s how I get the touring and the whole thing about being in a band out. Because of course you need to escape from it or you can become a bit of a jerk, you know?

SR: Your fantastic Barbarian video was created by Marvel artist, Nick Roche. Did you give him any direction and what did you think when you first saw it?

FP: When it comes to these proper Darkness fans, there’s a particular breed of them. You don’t have to give them any direction whatsoever. These guys know more about the band than we do. Thom Lessner’s the same – the guy who did the Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us video. There’s something about these animation artists. They just don’t miss anything. They notice everything. They’ve got incredible minds and imaginations and they’re lovely people as well. They’re such generous people. They work for what we can afford to pay them, and we try to pay them back in other ways. But anyway, the fact is that we’re lucky to know people like that and I take it as a compliment that people like that like our band.

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SR: You’re bringing your Blast of Our Kind tour down to Australia next month. What have you got in store for your Aussie fans with these shows?

FP: I’ll tell you exactly what we have. We’re just starting the American tour now. We played the first gig in Mexico City. It was incredible. It was our first headline gig there. That was my dream and it was just a delirious crowd. Last night we played the Festival Supreme with Die Antwoord and Tenacious D. It’s a festival curated by Jack Black, so we met Jack Black afterwards and that was incredible. But basically, what we’re adding to the show is we have a new lighting thing going on, which is the best we’ve had since 2003 and we’re very excited about that. And also, we have a completely new wardrobe, as well.

the-darkness-australia-tour-2015SR: Oh really?

FP: Yeah, we’ve got a new thing now… I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s glammy, so we’re getting back to the glam look. But, at the same time, it’s kind of formal glammy, you know? I’m really excited about it. Suits with huge lapels…really, really creative outfits. It’s an Australian guy called Ray Brown. He’s incredible. He basically created the hair metal look. He did Mötley Crüe and Bon Jovi in the eighties. Since then, he’s developed and worked with people like the Arctic Monkeys and Muse. He does those guys now and he does us as well. With Arctic Monkeys and Muse, he’s obviously doing more cool, tasteful stuff; but with us, he gets a chance to turn back the clock 30 years and do variations on what would’ve been done in the seventies and eighties. He’s a great guy.

SR: Fantastic. You guys are known for having a good time and being larger than life. What are some of the wildest things you’ve been up to on tour?

FP: Oh, geeze. Well, last night was quite wild, to be honest. Well, I felt like it was wild anyway. We shot a video yesterday and, oh Jesus… But I guess the obvious wild stuff was trashing hotel rooms back in the day… Ed vomiting on a couple of passengers on an American flight. It was business class and he vomited on a couple.

SR: Oh, no.

FP: There’s been all kinds of stuff, really. But the thing is that if you talk about stuff like this, you can get in trouble now, because everyone’s so PC. If information gets in the wrong hands, you can get barred by the airline or something stupid. Everyone’s so dull and well-behaved now.

SR: They’re sanitising rock stars – it’s so wrong (laughs).

FP: Yeah, well they’re sanitised anyway. In the UK, it’s because the new breed of rock stars are all public school boys. In the UK, public schools mean fee paying schools. The working class culture thing is a thing of the past now. All the great bands and artists of the sixties and seventies in the U.K were from this incredible generation of people who had that struggle and that fight in them to escape from their working class backgrounds. That’s what created the brilliant generation of British music. Now it’s a career choice. Now that people are much more educated and have had a much more comfortable upbringing, it’s more of a career choice. Of course, music’s for everyone – I’m not trying to exclude anyone; but, I think that’s why it lacks vitality. It’s not like a life or death thing for anyone anymore – it’s a choice. Whereas, the great stuff comes from people who almost put themselves in a situation where it’s pretty close to life and death, because it’s like survival situation to them, like, ‘I have to do this. This band has to make it,’ or, ‘I have to make it as a professional footballer,’ because there’s no other choice. That creates a special kind of character.

SR: What are your favourite bass guitar riffs of all time and why?

FP: Well, London Calling by the Clash – the bass playing on that is absolutely brilliant. Then it would be a Who song. John Entwistle did so much incredible bass playing. It could be any Who song, to be honest… I Can See for Miles and Miles. And then maybe some kind of indie stuff, you know, after Joy Division – all the bands with those simple kind of bass licks. Something like She’s Lost Control, by Joy Division, maybe – just really simple and industrial, but classic and timeless.

The Darkness November Tour Dates:

Friday 6th HQ Adelaide

Saturday 7th Metropolis Fremantle

Sunday 8th Tivoli Brisbane / 136 100

Wednesday 11th Forum Melbourne / 136 100

Friday 13th Enmore Sydney / 132 849