new side project, Gaslight Anthem frontman Brian Fallon has a few demons to
exorcise and a few skeletons to remove.
BY REBECCA CARTER
Brian Fallon has been quite prolific. After recording his
first homemade demo at seventeen he worked with several bands in his native New Jersey before
founding the Gaslight Anthem, a band whose groove-driven anthems have
reinvigorated the power blues genre and gained the attention of fans and fellow
artists alike. Since 2005 he has released three full length albums and an EP
with the band, plus a solo tour that paid homage to his musical influences. Not
one to let the dust ever settle, Fallon’s latest project between Gaslight Anthem
releases is The Horrible Crowes whose first offering, Elsie (SideOneDummy), is a toned-down and more reflective
revisiting of some familiar themes.
The project, a collaboration between Fallon and long-time
friend and Gaslight Anthem guitar tech Ian Perkins, found the two musicians
taking their songwriting in directions that they hadn’t planned on. “I think it
was the way we started the songs,” Fallon explains. “We used a
lot of sample drum programs to do the demos, so it was kind of weird to start
with drums and then build everything around the drums. [We would] get a vibe
first and then write the song, where Gaslight Anthem comes from a riff or a
topic or just ‘I want the song to be like this’; this was more of a vibe. Kind of dark and a little bit more somber, and
that lent itself to how we picked the sound.”
The vibe of Elsie, although indeed
more somber compared to Gaslight Anthem’s, is not burdened with depressing
themes but is mainly atmospheric, like noir on record. It’s obvious that careful attention was paid to the pacing and
dynamics of each song, and the tone between tracks flows seamlessly. But what
stands out the most on Elsie is the
storytelling. While the album hints at Joshua
Tree-era U2 – not to mention the nods to Bruce Springsteen that marks all
of Fallon’s work – it’s his appreciation of Tom Waits’ style of tale-spinning that
is most apparent this time around.
“Tom Waits is like my ‘other guy’, like Bruce is my guy and
Tom Waits is my guy,” Fallon explains. “I can’t really say what it is about
them that have had such an effect on me. Some people just gravitate towards
things that feel like themselves; it just fits on them well, like when you buy
a jacket and you find that one jacket that was meant for you, and it’s kind of
like that. Those two guys’ music was always the soundtrack to what I was going
through and feeling.” Like Waits,
Fallon has crafted tales both darkly tongue-in-cheek and starkly heartbreaking
on Elsie. The songs “I Witnessed a
Crime” and “Ladykiller” are almost cinematic and conjure Nighthawks at the Diner type images.
Musically the album is as gritty as its characters;
distorted and crashing, with moments of weathered folk. The addition of the
organ, which Fallon played for the first time on this album, combined with his
voice, which is as perfectly suited for subtle ballads as it has been for
driving rock, is especially powerful on “Sugar” and “Last Rites”.
Another noticeable departure from his previous work is the
religious allusions throughout Elsie.
With “I Believe Jesus Brought Us Together” and references incorporated
throughout the album, Fallon is continuing the tradition of religious themes
established in the roots of early rock ‘n’ roll. “When you get into real soul
music and blues music and that kind of somber thing, that’s all steeped in
religious music,” he says. “A lot of those guys that did that music in the ‘50s
and ‘60s, they came from the church, and I came from the church, so it’s just
kind of in there. I think it’s one of those things that just came out and
that’s separate from the Gaslight Anthem. You don’t want to have the guy
writing the lyrics saying something that the other guys in the band don’t agree
But Gaslight Anthem fans won’t be put off by The Horrible
Crowes. The similarities are there too, with “Behold the Hurricane” and “Go
Tell Everybody” most closely resembling the main band’s more upbeat feel. “To me, Gaslight Anthem could have recorded this record. Which is
weird, because they’re these big uplifting songs but this has this layer of
sadness which is kind of bizarre.” The bridge between them is most evident in
the naming. The name Horrible Crowes is a reference taken from an old Scottish
poem “Twa Corbies” (Two Crows), which like the album’s subject matter is a
slightly irreverent twist on the dark side of life, whereas the album title Elsie conjures the feel-good, hot rod rock ‘n’ roll attitude of Gaslight Anthem.
“We just kind of hung it on there,” notes Fallon. “‘Elsie’ isn’t a particular
person. We just named the album the way a guy gives his car a girl’s name.”
The Horrible Crowes and the Gaslight Anthem meet somewhere
after hours, when the party is over and you’re walking home sobering up and the
“Old White Lincoln”‘s tires are peeling off around a corner in the distance.
Perhaps this is a sign of the direction the Gaslight Anthem will eventually go,
or maybe it’s a one-time thing. Either way, Elsie is a clear illustration of Brian Fallon’s abilities as a songwriter; able to
draw from his influences and create a unique voice among a new generation of
With tour dates slated for the Horrible Crowes, which Fallon
promises will be a “big ol’ production” and another Gaslight Anthem album in
the works, he shows no signs of slowing down, or wanting to for that matter.
“Hopefully I won’t be taking a break anytime soon,” he laughs. “As long as it
comes out I’ll be doing it”.