The Darkness have been saddled both as rock saviours and a joke band.

The bald, green alien at the Big Day Out will probably be the Darkness frontman Justin Hawkins. "It's the next stage of evolution," he offers, calmly. "If you have a heart-shaped head, you're a rock enthusiast."

He's kidding of course. He probably won't be dressed as a giant shrimp "to ingratiate myself into the local culture" in Australia, either.


But his band might as well be the aliens in their music video for I Believe in a Thing Called Love. One listen to their bombastic hair-metal riffs, showy guitar solos and chest-beating vocals and it's not surprising the Darkness have been saddled both as rock saviours and a joke band.

Hawkins shrugs off the latter by recalling their phenomenal record sales - first album Permission to Land debuted at No 2 on the British album chart and would probably reach No 1 if it wasn't for the Pop Idol Christmas release.

Tonight they're playing in Osaka, where Hawkins will do his unique gonzo incarnation of Poison's Brett Michaels, Rik Mayall and Meatloaf.

"Give me a D," he'll holler. "Give me an Arkness!"

Cue the Darkness hand gesture, a resolutely rebellious thumbs-up.

"We've always wanted to divide people, and being cheesy and positive means that you're making the choice between having a good time and being a miserable [expeletive]."

He knows what that's like, having grown up in Lowestoft, Britain's most easterly - and possibly most gloomy - town. He and his younger brother Dan would amuse themselves with swing-ball and taught themselves guitar.

After playing with various bands for years it wasn't until Hawkins' karaoke performance of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody that his penchant for mock falsetto warbling and camp stage aerobics was awoken. And while it was his brother who suggested he be the frontman of their new band, the pair of them didn't exactly get on famously.

"It's been a real struggle to get the relationship to the point where we can actually work together," he says.

"I'm more into big guitar sounds and screaming vocals and he's much more subtle. He's very driven, I'm a hedonist. I won't do anything unless it's fun, whereas he's got more of a worthy set of values. We were perhaps not the best communicators in the whole world."

With moustached guitarist Frankie Poullain and mulleted drummer Ed Graham the Darkness became a glamorous and satirical alternative to the screeds of rap-metal bands which Hawkins insists lack a sense of humour.

According to him, American band Staind are one of them.

"I absolutely hate them," he begins his unpublishable tirade. "When we were in America they were trying to get us moved from the playlist we were on. I'm thinking, 'Well **** you, that's my career you're trying to mess around with.' If someone did that to you in the building trade they'd go round and rip your head off."

It annoys him equally that people sometimes don't take their music seriously, not that it will stop him playing the fool on stage, although he's brought the theatrics down a notch lately so he doesn't become "contrived like Robbie Williams".

Before the public twigged to the incongruity of their name, goths would flock to their shows and he'd watch their faces drop as the first jubilant guitar riffs boomed from the speakers.

"But by the end they'd be punching the air going, 'Yes! This is great! I'm going to stop using two bits of coal in my eyes and painting my face white.'

"People think it's OK to like us but they sort of look over their shoulders to see, 'Oh god, is this for real or not? What is it?'

"There's nothing wrong with having fun with rock music. Rock music has always been fun." Why else would you record an album buck-naked? But that's another story ...

* The Darkness play the Big Day Out on Friday January 16. Their debut album is out now.