Sound of Success: The Gaslight Anthem
Interview Posted by Clash Music Thu, 21/06/2012
The Gaslight Anthem have been around for quite some time, but they’ve never been a band that have graced the cover of high profile magazines, invaded your ears on mainstream radio or headlined a festival. However, they have been a band whose shows sell out, merchandise is bought, and who have found a fan in one of the world’s greatest artists - Bruce Springsteen. But with new single ‘45’ having been played by Zane Lowe an excessive three times in one show and with continued radio airplay, this band may get the commercial recognition they always should have had but never received.
But what has changed for the band? Why this sudden success now? Has their songwriting formula drastically changed since their first album ‘Sink Or Swim’ or is it simply a music lover fad?
Frontman Brian Fallon talks us through their new album ‘Handwritten’ along with their sudden burst of popularity and their affiliation with the Boss and Laura Jane Grace, the lead singer of Against Me! who was formerly Tom Gabel before announcing the news that she is to live her life as a woman.
C: ’45’ is getting a lot of commercial radio attention. How do you feel about that since you’ve been quite a low profile cult band since your beginnings?
It feels awesome, because if you listen to all our other records I think I say the word 'radio' about 15,000 times. When we were kids, that’s all we would do. Even when we were babies you’d be crying and your mom would just throw you in the back of the car and turn on the radio and drive you around late at night. That was always such a big part of our lives. So to hear our song on the radio...that’s the dream. I don’t even know if it even matters, I don’t care if it’ll do anything or not, just the fact that they like it and are playing it makes me so happy, because that’s the dream I always had.
C: What do you think has changed?
It’s crazy because I don’t know. A lot of people were saying ‘what do you think is different?’ I’m not really sure, we were going for a big sound, but sometimes you have limitations in the studio and you can’t afford it. I really think there’s minor things that Brendan O’Brien (music producer who’s worked on Red Hot Chili Peppers, Aerosmith and AC/DC projects) said to us that was just: ‘Hey man, play this properly, don’t just sit there and punch the guitar, play it nice. Sing and don’t think about anything else, just sing the song.’ He has a way of making the song sound larger than life which is crazy. I don’t know if that’s the thing, I wish I could know what the secret was because with this record is the first thing Brendan told us was : ‘Don’t try and write hit singles. Do not do it because you will fail. Just write songs that you want to hear and that’s it. If they get on the radio that’s great, but if they don’t....we tried.” I wish I could know because I would put it in a bottle and let everyone know.
C: A lot of your lyrics concern melancholy, leaving things behind and a painful nostalgia, which we see in the likes of ‘Old Haunts’ and new album track ‘Handwritten’. Where does this come from?
I’m shocked at how fast how your younger ages go away from you. I’m not really old at all, I’m pretty young, but your teens and your early twenties are just gone so fast. I don’t know if everyone thinks this, but I’m just like...where did all that time go? That time for me was so hard, I was really struggling. I got out of school when I was 18 and was constantly working and constantly trying to make this band work and never had any money, sleeping on floors and stuff. I feel like in a little bit of a way that I missed out on the times where your supposed to go out with your friends and be care free. I didn’t get that part of life. Never in my life was it just care free, I always had a job even when I was a little kid.
C: Would you change anything?
No, I wouldn’t change it because I think it’s made me who I am today. I think I’m enjoying my life more now than I was before, but it’s hard when you think about that kind of thing. You can’t really do that when you find yourself in a house and you’re married. I’ve got things to take care of, I can’t be screwing around. But I don’t think I would change it. I probably would have taken a little bit more time to relax.
C: So the new record - what intentions did you go in with? Was there a certain sound or message you were wanting to convey?
The whole thing of being handwritten. One time I got a letter from a friend of mine about a year or two ago and it really hit me that he took the time to sit down and write a letter. That was the first letter I got in years and when I was reading it I saved it and put it in my pocket. I was like this is the coolest thing in the world, it means so much to you because it came directly from that person. So we were like we had a lot of success with ‘The ’59 Sound’ and everyone was like: ‘You’re going to be the biggest band in the world with ‘American Slang’!’ Let’s be honest, we’re not the biggest band in the world, it just didn’t happen. That pressure that came from outside sources, we just went into this record and said every thing has got to be forgotten, every little thing that’s happened to us. Let’s just make a record like we’ve never had any success, let’s write a record that’s directly from a band to their listeners and that’s it. That’s kind of the only thing we were thinking about. I think this record is something we were aiming for the whole time. It’s the first record where I feel like we did it on our own. You’re always trying to define yourself with a band, with this record we didn’t care about anything like that and it doesn’t necessarily take place in New Jersey. There was no thought about what genre it is or what does it sound like. It should have been the hardest record that we did, but it was the easiest record.
C: You have an association with Bruce Springsteen now. Is there any chance of you working together?
We’ve actually not talked about that. I don’t think we’re actually going to do anything. He knows and we know we have to do our own thing now. We’re going to have to earn that; earn the right to be our own band. I feel like he introduced us to the world, but now he’s like: ‘We’ve played together twice, my fans know about you, people associate us together, now you’ve got to be your own band.’ Even Brendan said to me one day: ‘I’ve done about six Bruce albums and I have no idea why people constantly associate you with him, because you don’t sound anything alike.’ The only thing I could probably compare it to is when Dave Grohl started the Foo Fighters and everyone was just like Nirvana, Nirvana, Nirvana. He had to earn the right to be Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters and not Dave Grohl from Nirvana, so we have to earn that right to be The Gaslight Anthem on our own and not The Gaslight Anthem - Bruce Springsteen’s favorite band. But I doubt that we’ll ever do anything together, because we have to be on our own now.
C: You recently showed support for Against Me! singer Tom Gabel in his brave statement that she is to become Laura Jane Grace - why did you feel it necessary to voice your support?
I read some things where people were kind of being mean to him and I got mad about it. The guy is obviously dealing with something that not a lot of us can understand. Leave him alone, let him go through it, he doesn’t need people yelling at him what they think, because it’s his thing. It’s strange to me even to see him, because I’ve known that guy for a long time and every time I talk about him I have to remember his name’s not Tom any more.
It’s weird because when you’ve known somebody for so long you’re just like well, that’s this person, but when that person changes completely, you’re like whooooa! That’s a hard thing to go through, I can’t even wrap my head around it. I couldn’t even begin to understand what that must be like to feel like you’re in the wrong body. That’s got to be painful. Whether you agree with it or you don’t, whether you think it’s a bad idea or a good idea, just leave him alone and let him figure it out, because it’s a dangerous thing when you make people feel...when people are going through something that heavy and you make them feel bad about it, people end up killing themselves about stuff like that and it’s really scary.
Words by Jamie Carson