Stone Gods. It may not be a name that means anything to you, and I'd be surprised if it did. Maybe you caught the band supporting Thin Lizzy recently, but apart from this Stone Gods have not exactly been thrust into the limelight, save perhaps for an article or two in the rock mags. A little more light can be shone when I explain that three of the bands members (Dan Hawkins, Richie Edwards, Ed Graham) used to be in a little band called The Darkness. Yes, that Darkness.
It's been over a year since Justin Hawkins officially left the band, the flamboyant singer having embraced the rock lifestyle a little too much. Determined not to give in, the other three band members recruited bassist Toby McaFarlaine, with rumors putting Richie Edwards in the frame as new lead singer. Despite promises that beans would be spilled forthwith, the band only came out as Stone Gods in November 2007, despite having written and recorded together for several months. Caution, it seemed, was the new band's watchword.
It's now January 2008, and Stone Gods appear to be getting ready to burst out of their bubble. They have a fan site all set up, a couple of songs on MySpace, and an EP ready to be unleashed. Success on a Darkness scale is unlikely, as this new beast is not as likely to tug the strings of the more poppier side of rock fandom. Dan Hawkins has stated that “If your favorite song of all time was ‘Friday Night’ then you’ll hear ‘Burn The Witch’ and you probably won’t like it." He has a point, with the first song to be released showing an energy and power that owes more to the likes of Black Sabbath than Queen.
I arrive at Bristol's Fleece & Firkin with a little apprehension. I really don't quite know what to expect, as I liked The Darkness but I also like the new tracks I have heard. I've sorted an interview with Dan Hawkins, but when I arrive at the appointed time he and the band are still soundchecking, and continue to do so for another half an hour. I don't mind, because it gives me a chance to assess the band more than reading the internet will ever do, and I like what I see. The big surprise is Richie Edwards, who has a very good metal voice, a million miles away from their previous band. After they finish up, I corner Dan for a chat, finding out that the soundchecks are late because there was a power cut at the venue earlier on.
I decide to give Dan the chance to give me the lowdown on the new band in his own words, simply asking him to tell me about the Stone Gods.
"We’re a new band… well, we’ve been together about a year and a half," he says. He seems a bit shy, and not averse to umming and aahing. "Basically a few of us were in The Darkness, a British rock band," and that's all I get! he seems like a nice lad, but I have a feeling I'm not going to be end of the sort of verbosity Dee Snider threw at me last November. It's certainly the first time I've felt that the person I'm interviewing is more nervous than I am.
One of my main aims is not to dwell on The Darkness any more than I absolutely have to. I comment that Stone Gods seem to be going in a different direction to his previous band. "It is a bit heavier," he admits. "Overall it’s a lot heavier, actually. We’re kind of all into much heavier stuff, really." Without an obvious frontman, it also comes across as more of a band, I venture. "I think so, yeah," he says, nodding in agreement. "I would say that. It’s much more of a band, everyone has an opinion. I very much enjoy the fact that everyone has equal say and just as much of the limelight, although I’m always guilty of hiding behind the singer – I’m not keen on the attention that much." I ask if this band mentality stretches to the songwriting as well. "It’s a very collaborative effort. In The Darkness it was me and Justin, but in this bands it’s more like a four pronged attack.
We chat a little about the soundcheck, and I comment that Richie seems right at home as frontman. "He’s really enjoying it," Dan replies enthusiastically. "It’s one of these things… singers are generally born to do it – he’s enjoying it a lot. It’s not something that’s new to him, being in the limelight. He was a lead singer in bands many moons ago, way before he was in The Darkness." So why, I ask, was he playing bass with you, when he's obviously happy as a singer and/or guitarist? "It was a bit of a diversion for Richie playing bass in the first place. He was always a guitarist – he was my guitar tech originally. We got on so well with him and knew he was a talented musician so we asked him to play bass. He picked up the bass really easily, but his first instrument is the guitar, as people will hear. It’s the balls of the album, his guitar, that crunchy rhythm sound." Added to the mix is the aforementioned Toby MacFarlaine, most recently seen giving Graham Coxon four string support. I guess he's not someone who had to audition for the gig. "I’ve known Toby for over a decade," Dan says in confirmation. "When I first moved to London he was one of the first people I met. We’re very lucky to have him on board."
Well, it seems to be working. According to the not always reliable internet the band have already recorded an album, and I inquire as to whether they have a deal to go with it. "No is the short answer," he admits, though without a trace of worry. "We’re releasing an EP through Play It Again Sam, and they’re very keen to work with us on the album. Basically we’re deciding who to go with at the moment." The EP in question is named after the first song 'Burn the Witch', and will be available in February. Their choice of producer certainly sends a message, as Mike Fraser has also twiddle knobs for the likes of AC/DC, Metallica and Aerosmith. I ask Dan what the song is about. "All I would say on that matter – not that it’s a ‘matter’ – is if anyone out there are fans of Queen you’ll find a reference track on the first track of ‘A Night At The Opera’ - I’ll say no more." The track he's talking about is 'Death On 2 Legs', but he won't say who the target of the lyrics is, although there is a rumor swanning around if you care to listen out for it.
Anyone who has seen him will be aware that Dan is a very competent guitarist, at home with a fretboard even when he's hiding behind the singer. I wonder what kept him going when he started out as a kid. "I don’t know… love of music, wanting to be as a good as my peers, who at that time were Queen really. Bear in mind I was seven or eight, and you don’t really have a broad musical scope, so it was pretty much Queen." So no doubts? "Not really, no. It took me ten years of living in London and working in shit jobs to make even a penny from music. I won’t say the thought hadn’t crossed my mind that it might never happen, but it’s just a way of life."
Some of the questions I brought with me have been nabbed from willing volunteers on the Stone Gods official site. The majority of the fans who have found their way there seem to be female, and they all love Dan to bits. I ask him if he's ever had a problem with over obsessive fans in the past. "Our fans are pretty cool, you know. I haven’t really been stalked much..." that's a pretty loaded 'much' I say, and he grins. "I’ve been stalked a bit!" he admits, laughing now. "You know, I’ll take it until things become really strange, like people sending shards of glass through the post saying they want to kill you. You’re always going to attract certain people with problems, you know, but on the whole we’ve been very lucky with that. These are the people that are responsible for your career, and even if they’ve got bad breath you just get on with it. It’s like talking to your boss – a lot of people don’t get on with their bosses, but we happen to get on with our fans."
We come to the end of the interview, and I decide to throw a few quickfire fan questions at him. Apparently he had a bad experience (?) whilst studying art, so an inquiring mind wants to know if he has a favorite piece of art. "Starry Night by Van Gogh," he replies without any hesitation. Next up is a query as to whether his documented perfectionism winds up the rest of the band. "Not as much as it winds me up," he says with a really serious look on his face. As he's a guitarist, it would be rude not to ask any guitar related questions, so I trot out the old favorite about which he would save from a house fire. Again, he answers without hesitation. "The one that used to belong to Jimmy Page – it’s a custom Black Beauty. It was actually built for Jimmy Page but it was too heavy for him." And how many guitars does he have? "I’m not sure…" he does mental calculations. "I used to have something like twenty seven Les Pauls but I managed to get the numbers down. Six or seven now, and maybe three or four acoustics."
With that, it's time to go. Dan happily poses for a photo or two, sticking up three fingers as a rock salute and joking that it's "One more!" He even asks me to stick around after the gig for a drink, and although I turn him down I am struck by the fact that he's just the sort of guy I'd be happy to have a drink with. Nice bloke, that Dan Hawkins, and I wish him and his non spandexy new band all the best.
Interview by Alan Holloway
(c) 2007 RockUnited.Com, 27 Jan 08