June 4, 2014
The Gaslight Anthem frontman Brian Fallon, second from left, with his new project Molly and the Zombies. Left to right: Guitarist Brian McGee, Fallon, bassist Catherine Popper and drummer Randy Schrager. (Drew Gurian )
In his songwriting, Brian Fallon sometimes encounters a perfect phrase — a group of words that unequivocally paint his song’s complexion in a way that other terms cannot.
Even if the impeccable line doesn’t quite flow into his tune’s melodic structure, whether it’s too many syllables or too few, Fallon shoehorns it into the lyric, as he feels it’s just too good to discard onto the cutting room floor.
Such is the case in the chorus of "Red Lights," a wistful ballad written by the Gaslight Anthem frontman and performed with his new, Americana/folk project Molly and the Zombies.
"There’s this one line that goes ‘I’ll end up on one of my accusers knives,’ but I wrote the words before the music," Fallon says. "I was jamming it in there, and was thinking ‘this doesn’t fit’ and ‘it’s rushed,’ but then I thought ‘Bob Dylan wouldn’t care.’ "
With that — an imagined nod from a legend — Fallon wedges his words and delivers them with deliberate grit that’s Dylan-esque in its own right. He sings unworried by the slight chop in rhythm, and simply expresses what he thinks needs to be said.
Such an ease fuels Fallon’s latest endeavor, a versatile fivesome of tracks that confidently blends both the Jersey singer’s driving, rock background and the folkier sum of parts he’s assembled over the last year.
The group includes guitarist and Plow United frontman Brian McGee, drummer Randy Schrager and Ryan Adams & the Cardinals’ former bassist Catherine Popper, whose voice add some breadth to the new songs. The soft, female tone is a welcome complement to Fallon’s scratching vocals — particularly on "Red Lights" and "Sketchy" — and adds a vulnerable dynamic not so present on Gaslight Anthem albums.
But the Molly songs were never written to sound like Gaslight, anyway. For some time, Fallon had desired to take a short break from his rock roots and weave together some Americana music, a style he defines as "what came out of the really old country music, came out of Grand Ole Opry and that kind of thing. But it’s not really folk, it’s not country, it’s this progressive thing."
So he wrote a few songs, and last year began building his group. Fallon and McGee had palled around in Asbury Park before, where McGee works as a guitar tech at the Russo music store. Popper and Schrager were pulled in after a Joe Strummer tribute show in New York.
"We were talking about Americana music and we thought, maybe we should see what happens if we try to get together, and I had a couple of songs that weren’t going to be used for Gaslight, and said, ‘Hey, let’s try these.’ "
The new, fairly tranquil tunes can be heard two ways, Fallon says: online here, or in-person. There is no record deal, and there will be no record, on CD or vinyl.
Shows are booked as opportunities present themselves, Fallon says. For now, the only planned live performance for Molly and the Zombies is set for the Bell House in Brooklyn Thursday, as part of the Red Bull Sound Select concert series. The group played its first show in December, opening for the Bouncing Souls at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park.
Fallon’s approach to putting all the music online — for free — is pretty new school, considering the classic rock ’n’ roll technique used to record these tunes.
The Red Bull folks acted as benefactors and set Molly up in their New York studio, a space large enough for the band to record all at once, and not in cordoned-off sound rooms. The open-air recording was new to Fallon, and conducive to the live-show vibe he and his bandmates were trying to achieve as they laid down the tracks.
"Our goal was to do it like Bob Dylan did ‘Highway 61 Revisited,’ where you just kind of do it until you get the right takes," Fallon says. "These guys have something that I don’t have, where they can play on cue and each time it’s a little different."
And for Molly and the Zombies, a name born from a Roky Erickson song further born from a 1943 horror movie, "a little different" each time was just fine.
"This was about playing in a band and having fun," Fallon says.
On the Gaslight front, the New Brunswick-based band finished recording its fifth LP in April and a new album is due out in the coming months, but Fallon is tight-lipped for the moment on hard-and-fast details.
"You just have to hear it," he says. "You’ve got to check it out because it’s something else, but it’s awesome."