With Springsteen’s blessing under their belts, The Gaslight Anthem revel in the freedom to do things their own way, says frontman Brian Fallon.
“New Jersey, punk, New Jersey, tattoos, New Jersey, Bruce Springsteen, New Jersey.” Brian Fallon is laughing about the trajectory of just about every article written about his band, The Gaslight Anthem, over lunch in, appropriately enough, a roadside grill in New Jersey. “Yeah, it’s always pretty much the same,” the 34-year-old frontman shrugs, eating a waffle fry.
Well, here goes. Yes, indeed, the band (which also includes guitarist Alex Rosamilia, bassist Alex Levine and drummer Benny Horowitz) call the Garden State home. Punk? They started out that way when they formed in 2006 but not so much anymore. The tattoos aren’t going anywhere. As for Bruce Springsteen? Fallon must be bored sick of talking about him. “People will be like, ‘Oh, just another journalist writing about the same old thing again,” he half jokes.
It’s difficult, however, to tell The Gaslight Anthem’s story without at least briefly mentioning Springsteen. The band first made headlines in the UK back in 2009 when the Boss joined them onstage at Glastonbury, and the sound of their breakthrough record, 2008’s The’59 Sound, is indebted to their fellow Jersey-ite.
Figuring there is little left to say on the subject, I merely marvel at how good the 64-year-old still looks. “And you know what? He smells amazing,” smiles Fallon.
With that out of the way, we can discuss the quartet’s new release, Get Hurt. Their fifth record has been hailed as a huge departure for the band, and from the forceful drums of “Stay Vicious” that open the album it’s obvious there has been a shift. You can still find the retro American rock romanticism of The’59 Sound on a few tracks but this record – heavier and more muscular than anything they have released so far – should come as a surprise to a lot of fans.
But their last album, 2012’s Handwritten, was their most successful to date, charting at number two in the UK and prompting the likes of The New York Times to call Fallon, the band’s main songwriter, the “true heir” to He Whose Name We Shall Not Mention. So why the need to change at all? “We did two shows at the Troxy [last year] and somebody reviewed it – I forget who – and they said it was great. Great show, great finale for Handwritten, great American rock band. But at the end of it, they wrote, ‘Right. Now what?’ And I went, ‘Oh, man. Hell, yeah. Now what?’ Because you can’t just continue with the same old bag of tricks. That inspired me, I think.”
The band had also found itself at a point that they never expected: a hugely successful act capable of selling out venues such as the Hammersmith Apollo (they’re booked to play Alexandra Palace, one of London’s largest venues, this November) and appearing on American commercial radio alongside the Foo Fighters. They started to question everything.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Fallon spent years in various bands before forming The Gaslight Anthem at the age of 26 with some guys he knew who were on a similar path to him. “In the beginning I wanted to go to the top,” he recalls. “But then as we started to get bigger, I was like, ‘Woah, maybe I don’t want to do that.’ We did want to get successful, don’t get me wrong. But, like, I want to be able to buy the car; I don’t necessarily want to buy the car, you know?”
He talks about Wilco, Bright Eyes and Ryan Adams, acts who have “the freedom to do whatever they want”, something he wants for his own band. He didn’t want to be pigeonholed. So Fallon started studying.
“I looked at bands that had changed successfully throughout their career,” explains Fallon. “The Stones, The Beatles, U2. I was like, ‘How did these bands survive?’ I was reading a lot of books and watching a lot of documentaries about them, because I admire those bands.”
Still, he is wary of suggesting that the band has done a complete 180. “When I hear it, it sounds a little different, we’ve made some changes, but it’s not like we’re an EDM band now, you know?” he laughs. “Let’s calm down a bit.”
They hired Mike Crossey, who has worked with Arctic Monkeys and Jake Bugg, to produce and holed up in Nashville for six and a half weeks, where the only rule was “nothing was off limits”. Much has been made of Fallon’s recent split from his wife of 10 years as being the reason behind the shift in gear. Get Hurt might be about heartbreak (an upside-down heart forms the cover art), but Fallon has always written about such stuff.
The previous night in New York, The Gaslight Anthem performed songs from Get Hurt live for the first time. The venue was a clothing store that formerly housed the legendary punk club CBGB. But with songs such as “1,000 Years” and “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” sounding designed to incite air-punching and riotous singalongs, surely it won’t be long until the arenas come calling.
‘Get Hurt’ is out now on Island Records. The Gaslight Anthem tour the UK from 17-23 November (www.thegaslightanthem.com)Reuse content