The Gaslight Anthem

author PP date 09/06/13

Here comes another delayed interview, that I originally thought was lost forever with my phone as it broke down and had to be replaced. It was only recently we discovered a backup online in our Dropbox folder, which is great news for you guys, because Brian Fallon of The Gaslight Anthem had a lot to say about his band, especially their creative side and his desire to constantly evolve and change as a musician. Check out our lengthy interview with him and Alex Levine below! First of all, thank you for doing the interview with us. You're back in Denmark, I think you were here last year at NorthSide Festival?
Brian: Yeah, we were here with Sharks and Chuck Ragan too a while ago. And with the Foo Fighters a couple of years ago. I remember the day after we did Glastonbury or something like that. I had my hand wrapped up, because I had cut my hand open on a guitar at the show here. What's your best memory so far, you've also been here with Polar Bear Club.

Brian: Oh shit, I don't remember that at all. That tour was a blur, it was a long time ago. Do you get any time off to actually see anything when you're around here?

Brian: Yeah sometimes. Now especially more so than before. I remember that we played a show at the other venue, the smaller Vega, and I had gotten a tooth pulled out maybe three or four days before. It was the first show where it didn't hurt, it stopped hurting that day. I went and sang, and I was able to sing without it hurting. I remember the relief I felt at that show, like 'oh my god, finally'. Because that sucks dude, tooth pains are the worst. So yeah, that's my favorite memory of Denmark. So how's the current tour going? You've been on the road for a little while now.

Brian: Good, it's getting to that point where we all just wanna write new songs. We're sick of the old songs, so we're just like 'alright...', but we have a little bit to go until September. Then we're all gonna break and figure out what we're gonna do next. And I guess, sort of write a record. We're gonna take our time though, I'm not gonna rush this anymore. I'm not in that stage where I feel like I have to do anything. But you get tired of playing the same old thing. I think that's why people do covers and stuff like that. But it is exciting...the kids are what kind of keep it exciting for a little bit. You get a reaction everyday, because they don't see it everyday, so they're excited. So that to me is why I do it. I saw Elvis Costello on TV the other day, and he was playing a big song, and the crowd is just standing there looking at him, and I was like, "if that happened to me, I would be like fuck this and go home". Because it's not worth it. If there isn't an interaction, it's just not worth it. I would just make records, put them out, and just stay home. Your new album "Handwritten" was released last year. Now that you have had some time to reflect on it, how do you feel about it today?
Brian: I think it's good. I like that record a lot. It was the easiest record we had to make, as far as actually making it. It was definitely easier than the other records. But I have a fondness for all the records a little bit. I look back on "Sink Or Swim" really fondly. Now I think it's really good, especially for as young as we were. That's pretty cool, and it was forward-thinking in my mind. It was like a punk record, but it wasn't just a punk record. There are acoustic songs on there and things like that. It was so smart for us to do that at that time, which we didn't know. We didn't know we were being smart. But it gave us so much room to be able to grow without people being like "fuck you, you sold out", you know, because we already had the acoustic songs on the first record, so we could kind of do whatever we wanted now, which was good. But I had no idea at the time. It's funny you mention that, because I personally feel that the first record is a punk rock record distinctly, and then I feel that "American Slang" and also "Handwritten" are more 'rock' records, or that's how I would classify them anyway. So which term do you associate more to yourself these days? Are you more of a punk rock band, or are you a rock band?

Brian: No, because I grew up going to punk shows and things like that. And I have a little bit too much respect for the punk scene in order to be like...a punk rock band is not, they do you could be a band and have things on your own terms, which is what we do, even with a major label. We wouldn't sign with them unless they let us do what we wanted, you know, and let us have control. But that doesn't mean you're a punk rock band. It just means you're lucky. A punk rock band, I think specifically, is a band who is against something. Punk rock was a rebellion thing ever since I can remember. So it had to do with politics and status quo and things like that. We're not really so much a rebellious band. We're more just like...we wanna play some songs and kinda have a good time, not in like a Poison sense but a less serious time. Or less serious mentality. There is some shit though that we talk about. Neil Young is not a punk rocker, but he talks about heavy stuff. So I don't know, I think we're just a rock band. That's what I would say. I think also stylistically, all the records have a very distinct sound. The first one is a bit more of a punk rock record, the second one is a bit more Bruce Springsteen-ish - and I know you've heard that many times...
Brian: Yeah, but that's a good thing to touch on, because right now...well, not so much anymore, but in the last couple of years, it's always been about fucking Bruce Springsteen, which is like Bruce is fine. I like Bruce, but we used him and that influence in our life. I like him, but I definitely don't listen to him anymore because of all this, it's all like "fuck it, enough of this". We used it for that one record, the "The '59 Sound", and then it was gone. It was over. It's just that everyone else hasn't caught up to us yet, and that sounds like a dick thing to say, but it's true. You guys are hanging onto something that we're not doing anymore. So you can hang onto that, but you're on your own there. We're gonna keep moving on. Bruce is cool, and he was really good to us, and he helped us get a career. But that was for a short time, and I don't use that anymore. Now I'm interested in different things. It must be hard for bands to do that because it was arguably your breakthrough record...

Brian: Definitely. It's hard because you don't wanna be like...if somebody said to me that you can have a million dollars, but everyone is gonna tell you that you're a copycat of Bruce Springsteen, or you could be broke as fuck and play squat houses, I would take the squat houses in a minute [snaps fingers]. Because nobody wants to be compared to somebody else, and it has absolutely nothing to do with me and Bruce Springsteen. It has to do with I don't wanna be compared to any-fucking-body, no-one. I wanna be our own band. And that I understand takes time, and people will say "oh you get to play all the time and you whine and bitch", but I'm like, you know what? Put my shoes on, and you hear it every day, and see if it doesn't make you want to throw it outside the window. But the thing is like, even nevermind Bruce, I'd still say and I think a lot of people feel that the special thing about you guys is that you have that punk rock sort of heritage from your young days, and still even so, you mix it up with influences that are more old school maybe than a lot of modern rock bands would do. Is that something that you consciously do, choose maybe older influences to incorporate into your sound?

Brian: No, I just think older shit is better, everyone sucks now [laughs]. I don't really like a lot of bands now. There's a few, maybe 20 bands that I think are good right now. And a lot of them no-one's ever heard of. That's a sort of weird thing to be like, you know, yeah there's this fucking band from Sweden called twopointeight, and they're the best thing you've never heard. They're the best band I've ever seen live, as far as for a young band. And no-one knows about them. They're great, but all the stuff that I'm supposed to like? I think it's bullshit, I don't wanna hear any of that. To continue on the styles for the records, now we've heard four records that all have their own distinct style I would say. How do you imagine that the next record will sound like?
Brian: We're starting to get ideas now. We're definitely gonna do some different things. As far as the way that it goes, we're gonna try to...[Alex enters the interview] this is Alex, he's gonna do some of the interview too. [to Alex:] We're just talking about the next record, like what we're gonna do on the next record.

See, I'm careful what I say. Because every time I mention something, people kind of run with it, you know what I mean? We were influenced by a lot of the stuff that the grunge bands were influenced by. But early on. When I say I'm into Pearl Jam, I'm not talking about "Alive" and "Even Flow". Yeah, I like those songs, but I'm talking about the weird shit. And same with Soundgarden. I'm talking about the heavy songs. We're all a little bit more interested in blues music and heavier music, too. Even Led Zeppelin but turned up a notch. I think that Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is cool, but also the punk rock. Also The Clash, it's always there, it's always gonna be there. And I think that if you mix it together, you're gonna start to come up with something new. Would you feel then that after having these couple of records that have really exposed you to a wider audience, that you are maybe ready to challenge your audience a little bit?

Brian: Definitely. It's a funny thing with our audience where we love them, but we are trying to be like, hold on, let's see if you can hang? You know like, oh you want us to play that? Well we're gonna play this. It's not because we're messing with people. Like I said before, I refuse to be pigeonholed into one thing. I will rebel to the fucking end of my earth to do it. Like: oh really, you think I'm this? We'll now I'm that, how about that.

Alex: Yeah, I think your audience will appreciate that down the line instead of just regurgitating the same music over and over again. They'll appreciate that down the line when they'll look back at your full body of work.

Brian: It takes a while though for them to kind of get around to it. Brand New is a good example of that. They started as one thing, and they are friends of us and they're good guys, and they started out as a pop punk band, and then they totally changed into this stoner kind of heavy, real progressive band. And everybody was like "what? What's going on?" And then later, they were kind of "Wow, you know, this is really good."

Alex: Yeah, they've got a die-hard fan base. So is the next Gaslight album a metal record?

Brian: Maybe. Black metal. Blackest of the black. Black. Dark. Black, evil. But the record's not gonna be...we're gonna do a new thing with black metal. We think that satan is tired, so we're gonna support vegetarianism and go with sa-tan. We're gonna call the record "hail sa-tan". Black metal, black as fuck! What I really wanted to ask actually was if you had ever thought about going back to the grittier sound of the first record, or are you past that?

Brian: No, that's what I was saying, even with the 90s influence, what I'm talking about when I say 90s influence is like if you listen to "Bleach" from Nirvana, that's a pretty fucking shreddy record. And same with Mudhoney and all that stuff, and there's a certain sense of gnarlyness in it, and I think that if we start to play blues music, it'll be nasty like the first record. I'm really dying to hear a record that sounds like...I listened to "Sink Or Swim" four or five days ago because we were playing some songs off of it, and it sounded nasty, like a Bronx record. That one song, "Red In The Morning", we tried to do what we would do if The Bronx wrote one of our songs. That's what I mean. I long for that dirty thing, and I think that the next time we're going to the studio, I'm definitely going to say to Brendan, make this record sound DIRTY. Like DIRTY. It's gotta sound gross. Not bad, but just gross. Like there's some air in the speakers.

Alex: Yeah, we did the boomy polished record now. We're trying to make a real gigantic sounding dirty rock record. What do you think the major label is going to say about that?

Brian: I don't care.

Alex: I think that they'll be cool about it honestly because the entire time that we've been on a major label, we haven't really seen the same things that other artists have. I don't know if it's that we've been lucky or that we've given them what they wanted, or whatever. But they've been respectful on the creative side, and they've allowed us, and they've been into anything we've given them.

Brian: They've never given us a problem.

Alex: I think that as long as you just show them that you're willing to work, and you're willing to just continue create music, they're on board with a handful of bands maybe. I think that the label that we're on, they're not looking for the big single to sell us and then we'll go away.

Brian: Not with us, but with other bands that they have, you know?

Alex: I think that major labels are obviously looking to sell records and to sell singles, but I think with us, they will take the weird record. They'll go with it and they'll see what they can get out of it.

Brian: Weird for us, just to clarify, is that...I like choruses. I like singing along. I like that stuff. I like the Bouncing Souls, I like Sam Cook, and I like all that stuff. There's not one dissonant sounding Bouncing Souls song. You're not gonna hear a Fugazi song, like when I listen to Fugazi, I wanna here the fucking "Waiting Room". I wanna hear the catchy stuff. I listen to Replacements and that kind of thing. When I talk about Jawbreaker, I'm talking about "Kiss The Bottle" and "Boxcar", I'm not talking about the weird [makes off-tune guitar sounds], I don't like that stuff. I'm like give me the candy for my sweet tooth.

Alex: I think that's where we'll naturally go. Like he says, when we talk about the weird records, we're talking about weird riffs and interesting riffs. Things that we've never really brought into our music. At the same time, yeah, we're not going to make our audience sit for an hour and a half while we turn our guitars up really loud and just play riffs all day and not have a chorus, you know?

Brian: You're not gonna get a My Bloody Valentine out of us. My mom played me Billie Joel and Bruce Springsteen. I grew up on that. What I found was The Jam, The Clash, Dead Kennedies, and all that shit. And later I found Snapcase, Hot Water Music, and all those things, Avail, and that's what I grew up on. So there'll always be this little bit of my mind, my band should sound like The Explosion. Because I think they're the best band ever.

Alex: Yeah, it's about taking all of that and making it your own as well. We're not trying to rip anybody off or anything. We're trying to make whatever The Gaslight Anthem may sound like. There's definitely a sound that we have regardless may be a slower song, a faster song, a punk song, or a rock song or whatever. We have a distinct sound that we created ourselves. But we have taken, and we will always take from other artists to influence us, you know?

Brian: You have to. At this stage of the game, you can't invent anything on your own. I think Jack White is great, but Jack White listens to Big Bill Broonzy and all that old blues shit that barely was recorded. That's what he's influenced by, and the only difference is that he makes it his own. That's what everybody else wants to do. That's what every musician wants to do, unless you're just an idiot and you just want pop. Like "I just want a pop hit and then we'll go away". If you're happy with that, then get out of the fucking way. At what point did you know that you had written something that the wider audience wanted to hear? At what point did you realize that your band is going to be successful. Did it come as a surprise?
Brian: Probably when famous people started liking us.

Alex: Yeah, when Lance Armstrong tweeted about us.

Brian: Yeah, that was actually a big thing. Rob Thomas tweets about us sometimes from Matchbox 20. I was like, oh wow, alright.

Alex: I don't really think we really thought about that. Honestly, I think maybe we've ever talked about that a few times around the time of making "American Slang" maybe, because that was the first time when we had real pressure to make a record, because before that nobody really listened to us. And then now we're going back into the studio to make another record, and we weren't just making a record for ourselves, or for the record label, we were making a record to the people who listen to us so probably around that time. I wonder if Rob Thomas would get as large a crowd here as you guys can.

Alex: I think they're actually playing here, I saw it in a magazine.

Brian: That's a really funny point though. Mumford & Sons are playing here, the same venue we're playing.

Alex: Those guys won Grammies, you know?

Brian: And sold a shit ton of records. But live, I think we can do better than them.

Alex: We have a live audience that a lot of bands can't really touch. Especially these days. Especially like you said Rob Thomas, a lot of his older bands had so many hits back in the day, it never really translated into a live audience. Speaking of the live show, some bands go for really big scene shows, and some bands go for crazy energetic shows, and you guys--I've seen you lots of times--and every time I feel that your show has this cozy, warm feeling. Is that something you distinctly go for, or how would you describe your live performances?
Alex: I think that's just our vibe. And Brian is a good story-teller, and he usually can gauge the audience kind of what they're into that night. And also we like to keep it kind of dark, we don't have weird strobe lights or anything, so that probably has something to do with it as well. We like to keep it blood and moody, more of a moody experience. But it does depend on the day, too. Sometimes we're just annoying on stage [laughs], you know, we're just running all over the place, and could be a little bit more energetic. When you play live, I've noticed that you basically change the setlist every single night more or less. Does it go back to what you said earlier, that you don't want to play the same songs over and over again?
Brian: No, it's one for the kids. Because I know a lot of people come to multiple shows. And that's happened to us a couple of times where you see somebody, they say the same thing, they do the same jump in the same spot in the same songs. It's just like, then you know they're just bullshitting you. And you're like "Dude, fuck man. Come on."

Alex: It's fine if that's what they're trying to do. If they're trying to convey to the audience that you're here to see a show rather than here to see a rock band play rock songs. That's what we're trying to do. We don't pigeonhole ourselves into the fact that we don't have lights and cues with each song and this and that. So we keep ourselves open that way. So we'll say that we'll play this song, but let's play this song first and then this song. If we're not gonna play that song, then we'll play these songs instead. We keep it very interchangeable throughout on tour. We like to keep themes throughout tours as well. Like this tour we're playing a lot of stuff off "Sink Or Swim", and we're doing things in bunches, "Sink Or Swim", "The '59 Sound", "Handwritten" and "American Slang". For a lot of other bands, it's more of a production. No matter how big we may get, we'll never go down that road.

Brian: You have to change things up, you can't do the same thing all the time. You'll drive yourself totally crazy. Well that was my last question, thank you for the interview! Anything to add?
Brian: I like that Twopointeight band, they're from Sweden. If you want both sides, they're the punk side. If you want like a Tom Petty-ish kind of thing, check out this guy called Matt Mays. He's a Canadian guy, fucking cool. But a little punk. Literally Matt Mays is if Joe Strummer and Tom Petty had a kid, that's what you'd get. He's just fucking cool. He's got that ragga stuff, and just regular rock songs. But they're a little dirty, it's nice!

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