The Darkness is well into its third album, although plans for its eventual release are "pretty vague" according to guitarist Dan Hawkins.
Still, the British rockers have "nine of the required songs done, all finished, all sounding shining and good," frontman Justin Hawkins told Billboard.com during a conference call with reporters. "We've got about two weeks of recording in January, and bits of it are already going off to be mixed even as we speak, so it's kind of nearly finished now." His brother says he's hoping for a "springtime" release, while Justin added that, "I'd like it to be on my birthday, which is the 17th of March. That would be the ultimate gift to myself."
The as-yet untitled album -- "I don't even want to tell you what we know it's not gonna be. I'll supposed when it's done we'll choose the least bad one," Justin said -- will be the Darkness' first since 2005's "One Way Ticket to Hell...and Back," the follow-up to the four-times U.K. platinum and U.S. gold debut "Permission to Land" in 2003. The group suffered an acrimonious split, during which Justin Hawkins recorded as British Whale and Hot Leg and also collaborated with Meat Loaf, Def Leppard, Adam Lambert and Steel Panther, while Dan Hawkins formed Stone Gods. The Darkness -- including bassist Frankie Poullain and drummer Ed Graham -- reunited for Britain's Download Festival last June and subsequently played the U.K. and Japan, while a 13-date North American tour, the Darkness' first in eight years, kicks off Feb. 1 in Toronto.
Justin Hawkins, in fact, said that after Download the group's main priority has been working on the album, but it was delayed by the demand for additional shows. The group is working with longtime engineer Nick Taylor, and Dan Hawkins described the sound as closer to the Darkness' debut than its successor.
"We're kind of trying to get back to the more organic kind of rock sounds of the Darkness," the younger Hawkins brother explained. "Rather than a big-name producer we decided to do it ourselves, as per the first record. We just wanted to develop the songs and make sure they were really spot-on and basically take a minimal approach across the board -- apart from when we needed to go really over the top. But I guess it's kind of following on from the first record rather than the second, which was kind of more about the production than the songs."
That said, Justin Hawkins added that the epic bombast of hits such as "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" and "Love is Only a Feeling" is evident in the new material. "There's a few songs that are like that," he confirmed. "I just think you keep adding to stuff, and then when it feels like it's going to topple over you subtract a bit. We've done it more this album 'cause we've had time. Time plus perversion equals layered music."
The Darkness has been road-testing the new material this year, and the Hawkins brothers expect North American crowds will hear "I Can't Believe It's Not Love," which was the first song they wrote after reuniting, as well as "Best of Me" and "Out of This World."
"Our fondest memories of audiences is from the States," Justin recalled. "I remember kind of being overwhelmed the first time around and thinking it was exactly why we wanted to it in the first place. I always hoped America would be a great place for us, and on that first tour it felt like it was going to be....It's going to be hard work, and I'm aware of that. That's what I'm excited to get my teeth into now. I sort of approach it more like a sportsman than an artist."
The Darkness' plan now is to have more cracks at the feeling. Noting that "there's a lot of stuff that we were getting bogged down in that was just not worth it" during its first run, Justin said he's confident that health and better communication, particularly with Dan, will keep the Darkness from imploding again.
"We've been through a lot, just in the last year, and all it's done is made us closer," he explained. "We understand each other now, where I think we were still finding things out about each other along the way...When we do have a sit-down now and clarify things, we already know what each other's thinking. It's just like classic brothers, really; I suppose we're old enough to understand each other now."