The latest in a long, venerable line of New Jersey blue-collar
rockers crafts one of the great rock albums of the year. An interview with
frontman Brian Fallon.
BY JOHN B. MOORE
In three years,
The Gaslight Anthem has gone from being just another tattooed punk band from
Jersey to the closest thing this generation may have to The Clash thanks to
brilliantly memorable songs, lyrics that read like working class poetry and a tendency
to dig deeper than Blink 182 for musical influences. The four-piece from New Brunswick have just
released American Slang (SideOneDummy), their best record to date and one of the great rock albums of
2010 (punk or otherwise). The band: frontman/guitarist Brian Fallon, drummer Benny
Horowitz, bassist Alex Levine and guitarist Alex Rosamilia.
with BLURT recently about writer’s block with the new record, why a solo career
is likely not in the cards anytime soon, and jamming with Springsteen (okay, he
said very little about playing with Springsteen, but not for lack of trying on
BLURT: One thing that struck me about
listen to this new record, as did 2008’s The
‘59 Sound and the record before that, these albums all sound different from
the one before, this one in particular. So is your sound just evolving
naturally or is it a conscious decision to make the albums sound different?
FALLON: Yeah, I
think the biggest thing with us is we kind of started a band because we love
music and also almost in reaction to all the other bands we’d been hearing. I
think the worst thing a band can do to their audience is just regurgitate the
same record over and over again. For us,
we look at bands like The Clash and The Rolling Stones and the big thing is
that every record sounds drastically different and I think that’s part of just
growing and searching. You always want to find the next thing. You don’t want
to just rest on your laurels.
When I spoke with you a couple of years
ago before the last album, you cited as musical inspirations for that record (The ‘59 Sound) Roy Orbison, Tom Petty
and even Adam Duritz. Did you rely on different musical influences when you
were putting together this one?
drastically different. For this one, the old influences weren’t even brought up
at all. We had to start from scratch and we didn’t really look at anyone for
influences for this one honestly. We kind of just looked at ourselves and what
we wanted to do.
Was there a particular sound you were
going for? It sounds a little more rock than punk rock. Am I reading too much
into that or did you guys try to go for more of a rock sound? Were there
certain bands you were listening to that may have had some kind of influence?
We didn’t really
consciously strip anything away. We were listening to a lot of English Blues, a
lot of Derek and the Dominoes and a lot of Rolling Stones, Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street. We wanted to make a record that people could
dance to – not a dance record – but have something in the lyrics that they
could relate to. We didn’t want to go out there on energy alone.
How long did you guys work on this
I guess we
worked on it from November to early March, from writing to pre-production to
You’ve obviously got a few of these
records under your belt so far – did it go pretty smoothly or did you find it a
little harder because you’ve already covered a lot of topics on your other
I think this one
was harder because of what we were trying to accomplish. When you know what you
want it to sound like, you can write a song and hold it up to others to see how
it compares, but we were trying to figure out what we were about so we didn’t
have anything to hold these songs up to. We had to trust our guts on this one,
which is particularly hard to do.
Was there a particular song that you were
surprised made it on the record because it was so hard to work on?
necessarily difficult to work on, because we had like 20 songs and the ones
that didn’t make it made themselves known right away. Me and the drummer (Ben
Horowitz) have a really good sense of what is working and when a song is not
going to work and we’ve had that since the beginning, so we sniff those songs
out pretty quickly. But it was difficult to make in the sense that we had to
step it up. We all had to learn to play that much better and not just play
these big open chords as hard as we can.
That actually brings up an interesting
point. You’re first album (Sink or Swim, 2007)
came out on a small indie label that few people outside of Jersey have heard
about (XOXO Records), so it wasn’t like you had a lot of pressure from the
beginning. But at this point, not only do you have a rabidly strong following
you’ve got critics that are praising you as well because of the last record. Is
it harder pressure wise knowing all these people are watching you now?
Yeah. This was
incredibly hard. I intended to start writing in June when we went on a really
long European tour. I knew we were going to be on tour for two months in a row
and thought I’ll have it all written and we’ll have a ton of time to practice.
Lo and behold that didn’t happen. I sat down to write song number one and I
couldn’t write anything. I thought, “What is going on? Why can’t I write anything?”
I usually can get a song done in 20 or 30 minutes. I tune in and pull the songs
out of the air and put it on paper and that’s kind of the way it comes. But
this time I was just stuck. I felt so alone. I never had a record that I knew
people were going to listen to. When we did The
‘59 Sound, we knew a certain amount of people would listen to it, but not
many so it was ok if we flopped, but this record people are going to buy it and
it’s a lot of pressure. We got off the tour and I said to myself, “We can’t
write records for other people.” I have to write records for myself or I might
as well go back to doing car work or construction and somebody else can be my
boss and tell me what to do.
Despite what you were expecting, you did
have a ton of people check out The ‘59
Sound and I don’t think I saw a single negative review of that record.
Yeah, I don’t
claim to understand that. It’s bizarre.
So, living next to Jersey
and being a big Springsteen fan I have to ask you about him. You guys had a
couple of opportunities to play with him at some festivals in Europe
last year. What was that like? Having talked to you in the past, I know you’re
a big Bruce fan as well.
You know what’s
kind of bizarre? It’s just been very diluted for me. It’s almost like I’ve
spent so long talking about it that I don’t even know… It’s like I haven’t had
any time away from it to think of it. Everyone asks me about it. I’d love to
just be able to give you a real insightful view about it, but I haven’t even
had time to just sit back and think about it because I’ve been talking so much
about it. It’s almost like (the experience) wasn’t mine. Unfortunately I don’t
have anything new to share about it.
You guys had Dicky Barrett (Mighty Mighty
Bosstones) sing on The ‘59 Sound.
Anyone you guys would love to record with in the future?
Um, I don’t
know. It would kind of have to be a natural thing. I’d love to sing with Tom
You did a few solo shows last year. Do
you have any plans for more of those or to put out a solo record?
No, I think
usually those happen because someone ropes me into it. One of my friends will
be like “Hey, can Gaslight play a show at so and so.” And I’ll be like, “no…
argh, I’ll do it.” It also recently comes from a desire to allow kids in some
form to be very close to us, play the kind of venues where you can reach out
and shake hands and talk to them, which you can’t really do in these bigger
venues. I just don’t have anything outside of this band to say. I want to run
this band through its course. If this band is ever not around then I can look
into it, but I just don’t want to leave this band for anything else, especially
not a solo thing. It’s just so cliché.
Do you ever get nervous doing those shows
knowing that you’re not backed by your band?
mind numbing. I don’t like those shows for that aspect. I don’t have anybody to
talk to; I don’t have anybody to feed off of; it’s just me and that’s it. I try
not to do those that often.
Certainly you guys have been through a
lot as a band in the past few years. What do you think was the biggest thing
you’ve noticed changing since Sink or
Swim came out?
Our whole lives
have changed. We’ve become a traveling band and this is a real job right now. We
don’t have a place that we feel like home. You’re out there for so long and you
feel ungrounded. It’s like you’re just floating in the great wide open
sometimes. You learn to be comfortable where you are. The fact that we’re in a
band full time is a huge change. It’s an awesome change, but a huge one.