The Darkness reveal how AI influenced the making of ‘Motorheart’
Frontman Justin Hawkins explains the album's origins, influences and more.October 15, 2021
“After this last year-and-a-half, who wants to hear a British cock-rock band whining?” frontman/guitarist Justin Hawkins stresses, laughing. “Nobody wants to hear that. Even we don’t want to hear it. With a bit of luck, people will appreciate that we’re trying to do something joyous and not trying to bring anybody down.”
An amalgamation of Motörhead and Heart, Motorheart—arriving Nov. 19 via Cooking Vinyl—underscores the complexity of relationships, with others and with ourselves, in the form of a sex robot of the same name. In the process, the band crank their amps to a 10, relying on the extravagance of classic rock to help them convey their message. On Motorheart, they channel the groove of AC/DC and the intensity of Guns N’ Roses, all while demonstrating that they aren’t some self-serious band that think they need to be cerebral to make listeners feel something.
I wanted to get a sense of what your headspace was like going into the record. What was your vision for Motorheart, and did you have any specific goals that you wanted to achieve with the album?
Well, the period of time that we recorded it and wrote it was really short, actually. We started working on it when everyone was sick of waiting for COVID to be finished. So we’re already bored. We didn’t want to make an album that was informed by the pandemic in any way at all. We didn’t want to make something that was sad, or we didn’t want to make a record that was anything other than just totally joyous and uplifting and daft and fun.
I think at the very beginning of the pandemic, I was really desperate to work. So, I’m just sitting in this house on my own, and I was like, “Oh, let’s do something.” I couldn’t get anybody else to join in and collaborate with me because they were just enjoying a break. That’s what I should have done, really. So I wrote an album, and then all that got scrapped. We made another one, which is good because there’s a couple of songs on the other thing that was a little bit sad. Nobody wants to hear the Darkness being sad. I think that’s the reality. You know, not everybody wants to hear us at all. But when we’re doing what we’re doing for our fans, it’s got to be fun stuff.
I wanted to zero in on the title track a little bit. In the past, you said you felt like that one went harder than any of your other songs. So when you were making that song, did you know that it was going to sound that way?
Yeah, I had to because that’s one of the ones where I was given the backing track. The reason why it’s called that name is because when Frankie [Poullain, bassist] listened to it, he described it as sounding like a cross between Motörhead and Heart. I was like, “Well, obviously, it’s got to be called ‘Motorheart.’” That’s how the concept started, really. Then all the lyrics obviously had to be about something that had a mechanical heart. The only thing I could think of was a sex robot, really. So it meant that the character that I was singing from had to be a complete dumbass, and I used that character for all of the album. It’s fun to write from that perspective because sometimes we are stupid in this. It’s good to lean into it and embrace it sometimes—it’s better than trying to be clever.
Yeah, it is. It’s wacky and out there but in a refreshing way.
It’s a little bit sci-fi, isn’t it? I was coerced into watching that movie Her, that one with Joaquin Phoenix, and that was an AI. It’s the same sort of thing because I think the idea of it is like all of the problems that you find in your relationships with humans, if they start to manifest themselves in a relationship with a robot and you still don’t shine the light on your own problems and recognize that you might be at fault somewhere, then you’re doomed to repeat the mistakes and experience the same emotional disappointment.
I was curious if there were any artists that you used as reference points or any specific albums that you were trying to channel. I was picking up a lot of ’80s.
Yeah, things like “Jussy’s Girl” is very ’80s. I felt like there was a little bit of Phil Collins and perhaps a bit of Foreigner in that too. Something like “The Power And The Glory Of Love,” which is probably my favorite of the mid-paced rockers, that backing track really sounds like vintage AC/DC. I actually think it is quite difficult to do that. There’s this particular kind of groove that’s quite difficult to achieve, and I feel like we’ve done that on that one. But AC/DC, you’d have to say that has been one of our influences on all of our records.
Mostly whenever you hear any banked-up harmonies, there’s Queen, but I think we probably referenced Guns N’ Roses more often than we normally would on this record. [When] I was doing solos, at the risk of sounding like a guitar nerd, I was using the rhythm pickup on the Les Paul more than I ever have. That’s inspired by the choices that Slash makes tonally when he’s playing.
For me, the ’80s is a great decade if you’re looking at fun in rock. I don’t think we ever fully see ourselves as a glam band, but there’s a certain attitude in the way some of it’s played. The production hasn’t perhaps aged very well, but there is an attitude in that kind of music that’s really exciting to tap into. We see it more as the song becomes the embodiment of that attitude. We imagine that the song’s strutting down the road with a pair of cheap sunglasses and a pair of 501s and doesn’t give a fuck. You know, just a T-shirt with a beer advertisement. We try and give the songs character, really.
This interview appeared in issue 398, available here.