The Gaslight Anthem: Everybody Hurts
Our favourite New Jersey nice-guys The Gaslight Anthem will be make their much-awaited return to Australia in January/February to deliver a fresh batch of heartbreakers from their newest output, Get Hurt. We caught up with Benny Horowitz while he was relaxing in the sun down by a picturesque river in Phoenix (seriously, where else would you expect the drummer of Gaslight to take a phone call?).
You guys have spoken a lot about how on Get Hurt you tried out some stuff musically that was very new for you. From your point of view, which songs really exemplify that?
I think there are some songs that you could safely say you could find on another Gaslight record, songs that aren’t that much of a departure, and then I think that songs like “Get Hurt”, “Stay Vicious”, “Underneath The Ground” or “Have Mercy” are songs where we took some really different approaches that wouldn’t have fit on another record, so it’s probably half and half.
“Stay Vicious” definitely stands out in that regard, especially with the Southern vibe of that opening riff and first verse. How did those less conventional songs come together in the writing process?
I think that in the beginning, “Stay Vicious” was definitely pulling from a Zeppelin riff, but the thing that was tricky for us was that we had tried some of that stuff on Handwritten, and even on The ‘59 Sound there were songs like “Even Cowgirls Get The Blues” that were a little slower and more based on a blues-rock thing. But the thing with “Stay Vicious” was that we tried to do a combination of parts that you wouldn’t normally think would work together, where the verse of the song is the heavy southern thing and the chorus is the chilled part. In the past, it was the reverse of that.
Aside from Zeppelin, do you feel there are any other influences from bands that shine through more on this record than before?
It’s always a broad answer because there are a lot of influences present within one song – a riff might be influenced by one band and a drum part or a melody might be influenced by someone else. Anyone who plays rock music is pulling from their own pool of influences. Rock’n’roll is getting pretty old and a lot of people have tried a lot of shit, so unless you’re like The Mars Volta or something, looking to go out of the box with something totally crazy that no one has ever heard before… I guess the one thing we tried to do with this record, now that we’ve had eight years and five records together, was to look at bands that have had long and successful careers, and the thing we noticed as a recurrent pattern was that the bands who have a long career arc are the ones who mix it up and move in different directions. That’s something that influenced us. Bands like Pearl Jam, Pink Floyd, even U2. I mean it’s not like we wanted to make a record that sounded like Achtung Baby, but we’re curious about how a band like that went from point A to point B.
A few critics seem to feel that there was almost too much variation between the 16 songs on the record. Do you feel like there’s such a thing as too much variety?
You know, maybe… I mean I don’t really pay too much attention to the critical response, but I think if there’s one thing I’ve taken on board it’s that too much variance caused less of a complete album, and that’s not something I really agree or disagree with yet but it’s definitely something I’m willing to consider. But for the most part I love the record, all the guys love the record and so do the people who worked on it, so as long as we feel like that and walk out of the studio feeling like that, it’s out of our hands. Once it’s left to the court of public opinion, it is what it is. And we are getting to that point where we’ve been around for enough time and tried enough stuff that it would be easy to take shots at our band over some things. Like, I could see a 16-year-old version of myself taking shots at this band! I get it, I know where it’s coming from, and it’s alright. We try not to trip on it too much, and there seems to be enough people that really like it that it doesn’t matter too much, and who knows, maybe the other people will give the next record a chance and we can win them back.
After the hugely positive response to Handwritten, was there a desire to prove that you weren’t about to rest on your laurels or make a “safe” record?
Yeah, absolutely, and it’s funny because a lot of people had a fuckin’ problem with that record too! So I think in hindsight, a lot of people just have a vibe about something. I heard that for some people this record has been a grower, one that people don’t vibe at first and then they grow into. Maybe some of the reviewers wrote their reviews before they even gave it another listen! It’s funny though man, like, fuck, people seem to consider The ‘59 Sound to be by far our best record, but at the time that came out, there were all these mad kids on punk news websites that hated it! They were like, ‘What is this shit? They’re not punk anymore’, you know? So I think we’ve learned through the years that these ebbs and flows with your music, and the people who listen to it – like it and hate it – it’s all going to keep moving, and the important thing is to do something you’re proud of and stay connected to the other people in your band. There’s only so much you can control!
It’s funny when people start saying that your band isn’t punk anymore, because it seems that someone wants to say that each time you put out a new record! How can they say you stopped being punk on this album, when they already accused you of that two albums ago?
[Laughs] Exactly! It’s funny, man. For me, being punk rock is about doing whatever you want without feeling bad about it! I mean, we could have an hour-long conversation about whether punk rock is music, is it ethics, is it philosophy… but those kinds of comments I don’t even look into, when some 15-year-old kid says it, and I know I was literally booking shows when he was born. I definitely don’t take shit like that to heart. But like I said, I was a shitty little kid once, and I probably would have talked shit on most of the bands I’m friends with as well as my own band if I’d had open access to the internet like they do.
It sounds to me like you and your band are very self-aware now.
I don’t know, I guess I haven’t thought about that. It would make sense that that would happen, because the longer people talk about you, the more important it becomes to have confidence in yourself and what you’re doing, because if you let everyone else shape you, you’re gonna end up writing music for the wrong reasons. So I guess it’s part of the process, but part of the process is that when we did Sink Or Swim I was 24 years old, Alex Levine was 18 years old, and to think that we’ve gone through the last eight years without changing at all and without growing up… The difference between me being 24 then and now being 33, I’m just more self-aware because I’m more grown up. We’ve had an extra eight years since that record, and a lot of shit happens. You become a different person and you adjust and grow and one of the tricky things of being in a band is to do that together, and stay on the same page. So I guess maybe it has made us self-aware and conscious of each other. I can see that.
With Get Hurt displaying a lot of moodier moments, what’s your approach to writing drum parts for the more slow and sensitive songs on the record?
It’s all about pocket, to me. I want those songs to feel really good, so that’s the goal of the drumming there. I think in music there’s this misconception on most instruments that if you’re playing faster, you’re playing something more difficult, but I think you find a lot of people who play really fast have no idea how to play in space. They don’t know how to back off enough to give the song some space and feel. So that’s a big part of it, but my approach is usually the same, I try to write things in this band that move the song forward and keep the energy up but without stepping on anyone’s toes. I think drums in a band like this should be something that give it flavour but also complement what everyone else is doing. I don’t have that need to get all the attention by playing crazy shit. I just wanna do things that sound good, and make songs that last.
Brian’s lyrical material is especially personal on this album, with it having been written around the time of his divorce. For you guys as instrumentalists, what’s it like to write music around such sensitive and intimate material?
You know, I love it! Honestly, I do. I know they’re written about personal things, but I’ve always felt that Brian has a tendency to write in a way where somebody listening to it can connect to it even if it’s not their story. And it’s the same for me; there are lyrics on this record that I listen to and they really hit me, and I’m blown away by the intensity. And I think it hits me even more because Brian is one of my best friends and I’ve seen everything that he’s had to go through, and I’ve dealt with that first hand with him. So it’s never an issue for me. If Brian wrote things I didn’t agree with, if I didn’t think they were beautiful sentiments or great personal stories, maybe I’d have a problem with it, but for me, I fucking love playing drums behind somebody who writes songs like that. I feel lucky, and that goes for the rest of the guys in the band too. These guys all bring something so special to the table, and I’m lucky to be in a band with any of those dudes.
What do you think it is that has kept the same four guys together this whole time?
[Laughs] It’s like four people in a marriage counsellor’s office! You’d never think you’d have to do it because you’re a bunch of grown men, but it really takes work, just like any relationship. It’s gonna have ups and downs, but it’s all about honesty and communication and mutual respect and all that shit, you know? I think luckily with the guys in this band, nobody’s got an ego where somebody else says something and they can’t see the possibility that they’re wrong. It’s not like we haven’t had hard situations over the years, but they’re situations we’ve been able to get through. I’m not gonna say it’s easy, and I think a lot of the reasons that 75% of great bands don’t even make it is because of that. But at this point, we’ve been together since it was just us four and a passenger van, and we did a lot of years just roughing it out on our own. You build connections and learn the people you’re around.
So you’ve never had to chuck a Metallica and bring in a therapist to settle your differences?
[Laughs] You know, it’s fucking funny, when I watched Some Kind Of Monster 10 years ago, I was like, ‘These guys are fucking ridiculous, this is just crazy’. But now… I mean, I’m not saying we’d ever get to that point, it’s still a little far out, but I do get it more now. I get it more than I did then. If you have a bad relationship, there are walls to be broken down and sometimes people are so emotional that they don’t know how to do that themselves. I can see how it happens.
One last thing before we finish up: which songs from Get Hurt are you most looking forward to trying out for the Aussie crowds on your upcoming tour?
I’ve already got a favourite – I love playing “Underneath The Ground”. That song is really fun for me to play. It’s chill and really in the pocket, and I get to play around with a lot of nice little beats. It’s really smooth and I love to play that kind of stuff.
Catch The Gaslight Anthem when they head our way in January 2015! Tickets are on sale Friday October 17th @ 9am local time from the below links.
The Gaslight Anthem Tour Dates
Thu Jan 29th – The Tivoli, Brisbane (18+)
Sat Jan 31st – Enmore Theatre, Sydney (AA)
Tue Feb 3rd – The Forum, Melbourne (18+)
Thu Feb 5th – HQ, Adelaide (18+)