The Gaslight Anthem: Saving Rock ‘n’ Roll
Some might say it’s not easy saving rock’n’roll. Others say it never really needed saving at all, but it’s all in a day’s work for The Gaslight Anthem. This intrepid troupe of sincere songwriters have been enrapturing audiences the world over since their arrival on the scene six years ago. Fast forward to 2013 and their latest release Handwritten now stands out as a rock masterpiece of the new age. We caught up with guitarist and lead crooner Brian Fallon to get the lowdown on the band’s upcoming Australian tour and whether or not they’re still punk.
The last time The Gaslight Anthem came to Australia was for Soundwave 2011. What was it like playing a festival that’s very “metal” when your band has much more of a rock’n’roll vibe?
It’s weird sometimes, it’s all dependent on the audience though. You know, if they’re open to something different, which most people are nowadays… but sometimes they’re not, and it’s a little weird. If they’re open to it, then it’s not so bad, and it can be okay.
Can you tell us about some of the best and worst experiences of that tour?
A lot of the festival tours, the best parts are hanging out with the other bands that you’re friends with. We were with the Social Distortion and H20 guys a lot. But it’s also whoever you meet along the way. You’re all doing the same thing, you’re on the same path, you take the same flights, and you get to know each other which is really cool. The worst experiences though… there were some really early flights, and I really hate those. This is gonna sound ridiculous, but I get paranoid. You’re done with the show and then you go straight back to the hotel room or wherever you’re staying, and then you get up really early and you get straight on a plane to go to another show, and that’s a great way to really mess up your voice. So for me there’s this lingering panic of, “What’s gonna happen if I can’t sing tomorrow?” and that freaks me out a little. Guitar players and drummers worry about their hands, I worry about my voice. I’m not sure why, cos I’ve never really had a problem, but at the same time you know that everybody’s relying on you.
The size of the venues you’ll be playing on the upcoming Aussie tour is a strong indication of the growth of your fanbase here since your last visit. How does it feel to see your music continuing to reach so many more people on the other side of the globe?
It’s so cool, because it’s the kind of the thing you can never really get your head around. How did somebody figure out about our band, and then go in the store and buy it on the opposite side of the world? It’s really weird how you can write a song in your bedroom and then somebody on the other side of the world likes it enough that they buy it and they actually come to see you play. It’s so bizarre.
What are you planning to get up to in your down-time while you’re here?
I like surfing, so I might try and catch a bit of time for surfing, ‘cos I learned that in Australia in Byron Bay. I think the food is really good too, it’s pretty similar to our food so that’s why I really like it, because every time we travel, there’s this period of adjustment, of not feeling too good for a few days. Even in Europe where I go all the time, the food is so thick that you end up feeling like you weigh an extra hundred pounds.
Your live performances are a little different now that you’ve begun bringing Ian Perkins from your side project The Horrible Crowes on the road with you as a third guitarist. What does this add to your shows?
Well, it sounds better! [Laughs] Now it’s not so much just me and Alex [Rosamilia, guitar] going for broke. We have another guy to hold things down and play the other parts on the record that we haven’t been able to do live before. The cool thing with Ian is that, when he started playing with us about a year ago, he was able to write his own parts and even helped us out with that in the studio. Before that, It would always seem that I would play my parts and then have to double them or write another part over the top to thicken it up, and I would be asking myself, “Why am I doing this?” and Alex basically refuses to play chords, so Ian came in and really added something to it. Plus, it’s another guy that we can vibe with on stage.
Many have called your new record Handwritten your best release yet. What do you think separates this one from your previous records?
I definitely think having Brendan O’Brien there as a producer separated it for sure, because he took the elements that we were going for and focused them. I was worried about topping our previous releases for a while; you don’t want something that’s in your past to be your best effort, nobody wants to think that they’ve done their best work already, even if it’s true.
Are there any particular moments on the record that you listen back to now and see that they came about as a result of working with Brendan?
Definitely. I think there’s probably one in every song. I haven’t really listened to the record in about a year, but when I hear one of the songs pop up on the radio I always think about the parts and how we recorded them, I don’t just listen to the song as a whole. I’m always reminded of those moments that wouldn’t have been there if Brendan hadn’t said something. His influence is all over it. For example, in the song “Keepsake”, the whole bridge was an entirely different thing before, and Brendan pretty much said, “I don’t like that bridge, why don’t we write something that sounds like it belongs in the song?”. We had this artsy bridge that sounded like a different song entirely, so every time I hear that song I remember that conversation and I remember having to come up with something on the spot. I’m glad he said that though ‘cos the other version was kind of weird!
For Handwritten you actually left your old label SideOneDummy and signed to Mercury Records, which was a big career move for the band. What differences have you noticed since moving from an indie label to a major label?
Well, you don’t have to try so hard to get things done! We used to have to beg, borrow and steal to get certain things done a lot of the time. With the radio and TV there always seems to be a priority list of artists, and if you don’t have enough pull sometimes it’s really difficult to do that. It’s a struggle with indie labels, they really try but sometimes for all their efforts they don’t get anywhere. Not all the time though, I mean sometimes they get everywhere! But you sometimes see guys work really hard and it doesn’t go through and that sucks for everyone. This time it just coasted right through, which is really different for us, because it used to be really difficult.
In your early years you were known as a punk rock band but now your music seems to be associated more with terms like “rock’n’roll” – when a comparison between your early work and your new work sounds very much like the same band. What do you think changed the public’s perception of your musical style?
I think it was the media actually, the way we were presented by them. I think the way people wrote about us, and the influences they compared us to, that’s what changed how people perceived the band. No one in a major music magazine is gonna care about Fugazi or some punk band that the majority of people have never heard of yet was directly influential on our band. Instead they compare us to the Tom Pettys and the Bruce Springsteens of the world, because that’s easier to digest. But it was a weird shift; it just kind of changed one day. In the beginning there were a lot of comparisons to Against Me!, but that just kind of disappeared one day. Nobody mentions Hot Water Music anymore, but we wouldn’t be a band without them or The Bouncing Souls… Yet there probably would still be a Gaslight Anthem if we’d never heard The Rolling Stones, not meaning any disrespect to them obviously. But the music we grew up on was punk rock music.
Have there been any comparisons that you’ve felt were a real compliment?
I read something the other day when someone sent us a link to a Pearl Jam forum and someone had said that the sincerity of the band reminded them of Pearl Jam. Not the sound, just the fact that it seemed so heartfelt. I thought it was really nice that someone would say that because I consider them to be one of the most heartfelt bands. But comparisons do get annoying sometimes, you know, sometimes we’ll read someone saying, “Oh, it’s just like this, mixed with that”, and I’m just like “Oh, for fuck’s sake!” [Laughs]
Speaking of Pearl Jam, what was it like having Eddie Vedder perform on stage with you last year in Florida?
Oh man it was a trip! We weren’t sure what was going on all day. There were rumours that he might show up, but we didn’t know. There was no preparation, we were just wondering if we would show up. So I kept watching the side of the stage to see if he was there, and I would see guys that looked kind of like him and I’d get excited! But I’d never met him properly before so I didn’t know what to expect, but then there he was, this little short guy about my height with a beard standing sidestage. We knew it had to be him, so we just went for it. Afterwards we got to hang out with him which was great. It’s funny though, that kind of stuff really does just happen, people just show up. It’s one of the mysteries of those rock’n’roll deities, they just appear like that!
One last thing before we go, NME Magazine wrote an article last year entitled “Why The Gaslight Anthem Are The Saviours of American Rock’n’Roll”. Do you feel that there are certain pressures or expectations that come with a title like that?
No, that stuff’s horseshit man! [Laughs] No one really pays attention to that kind of stuff in the band, we’re all like “whatever”. I dunno, it just seems a little ridiculous!
The Gaslight Anthem’s Australian tour kicks off in May – get yourself to a show if you know what’s good for you!
The Gaslight Anthem Tour Dates
Fri May 10th – The Tivoli, Brisbane (18+) – SOLD OUT
Sun May 12th – Enmore Theatre, Sydney (AA)
Tue May 14th – The Palace, Melbourne (18+)
Wed May 15th – The Palace, Melbourne (18+) – SOLD OUT
Fri May 17th – HQ, Adelaide (18+)
Sun May 19th – Metro City, Perth (18+)