Thursday, August 14, 2014

Gaslight Anthem singer Brian Fallon talks new album, authoring his band's next chapter

August 10, 2014

The Gaslight Anthem performs a free concert at the John Varvatos store—former site of the famed venue CBGB's—to celebrate their upcoming album, "Get Hurt." New York, NY 8/7/14 9:56:08 PM (Alex Remnick/The Star-Ledger)

As far as Brian Fallon is concerned, ignorance is sin.

Life will challenge us all, the singer says, and those painfully defining moments of heartache, depression and death cannot be bypassed or simply smoothed over — they must be felt completely.

“Give me the whole thing,” he says. “Don’t hold back anything — let me feel what I need to feel and learn the real lesson without avoiding it.”

In “Get Hurt,” the title track from his band The Gaslight Anthem’s new album, his decree rings out as he sings “I came here to get hurt/Might as well do your worst to me.”
His comment on the lyric: “I’m already here and if this is gonna be bad, it might as well be really bad.”

Fallon has always seemed to follow this fatalistic outlook. A lengthy list of songs on his New Brunswick-based rock four-piece’s previous records have delved heavily into the torturous side of romance and loss of all kinds.

But the frontman of one of New Jersey’s most popular rock acts will see his peaks and valleys through. Fallon’s moxie is felt in earnest throughout the band’s latest — and boldest — work, which stretches the group’s sound in ways previously unexplored. The dynamic spectrum was broadened this time to bolster the record’s tougher, more punk-driven tunes and polish the sweeter, more delicate ballads. And the group’s nostalgia gimmick — with all its reminiscent references to vinyl, radio and the ’50s “greaser” subculture — has been chopped for the first time.

The need for some tailoring was unavoidable.

“We had to do it,” Fallon says of the album, which will be released Tuesday. “I said, ‘This is an itch I really need to scratch and I don’t think I’m gonna get to the other side without doing this.’ Fans might get upset, or they might not like it, but it’s a necessary thing to do. ... It’s scary, though.”

Last year, when Fallon was ready to write his band’s fifth LP, he knew he couldn’t begin the process as he had before — sitting alone with his guitar and wondering, “I haven’t written a song in a while, what am I thinking about?”

“It’s very hard to do that,” Fallon says. “I end up with a lot of writer’s block doing that.”


Instead, the 34-year-old Red Bank native took a ride down to Asbury Park and stopped in at Russo Music on Lake Avenue, where he intended to begin his experimentation.

He met with the store’s head guitar tech Scott Engel in search of effects pedals to warp and distort the sound of his six-string like he hadn’t attempted before.

“I was handed an armful of pedals and I took them all home, and turned them all on, and was like, ‘What does this do?’” Fallon says. “I started experimenting with sounds, and out of the sound came a rhythm, and out of a rhythm came a chord progression, and then came a feeling, and (the song writing) was really dependant on that.”

The band recorded in Nashville, for a new label (Island Records) and with a new producer, Mike Crossey, best known for his work with popular British groups Arctic Monkeys and The 1975. Crossey forced Fallon out of his comfort zone, Fallon says, and took a different approach to the band’s music than Brendan O’Brien, who produced Gaslight’s more by-the-book “Handwritten” in 2012.

Crossey “has a totally different set of tricks ... but we were trying to do something different, so we had to go with a guy who was totally different,” Fallon says.

That push to tinker with and expand Gaslight’s sound kicks in immediately on “Get Hurt,” with the uncharacteristically brooding guitar of the album’s opening track, “Stay Vicious.” The riff is arguably the heaviest few seconds of the band’s recorded career, up there with a few punkish tracks from the its 2007 debut “Sink or Swim.”

But the influence of punk is easily outweighed by blues on this record, particularly the Rolling Stones’ legendary “Exile on Main St.” album, which Fallon says is essentially “just the Stones doing blues.” Fallon also named the album’s first single, “Rollin’ and Tumblin,’ ” after the blues classic of that name, in hopes that fans would Google the song and gain a quick lesson in the genre that birthed rock ’n’ roll.

“I tried to get people to go back,” Fallon says. “I thought it would be cool.”


Over the years, Gaslight has been criticized for going a little too far back, living too closely to the line where Bruce Springsteen ends and imitators begin. The similarities have been difficult to deny — two Shore-loving Jersey rock bands with similar vocals singing about their home state, pretty girls and hotrods. “Get Hurt” seems to pull the guys further from Springsteen’s reach and into their own spotlight. But even so, Fallon no longer cringes at the resemblance.

The Gaslight AnthemWhere: PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel
When: Sept. 13 at 7 p.m., with Jimmy Eat World and Against Me! opening.
How much: $20 to $74.50; call (800) 745-3000 or visit
“We were big fans, then everyone started comparing us to Bruce and we were like, ‘Why are they doing this? We’re not just that,’ ” he says. “But I’ve grown to deeply appreciate that comparison now. Now I’m really cool with it and I’m proud of those moments.”

Gaslight played to a packed house in New York on Thursday, auditioning most of their new songs for "secret show" fans at the old CBGB turned John Varvatos rock club.

"Stay Vicious" was potent in a live setting, and Fallon's voice conquered "Get Hurt" with flawless grit. But the guys are clearly still working out a few kinks. "Rollin' and Tumblin'" was botched in the beginning and required a stop and restart. They all had a good laugh.
Gaslight kicks off its three-month tour of the United States, Canada and Europe next month and will headline the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel for the first time Sept. 13. Well-traveled Arizona rockers Jimmy Eat World and Against Me!, a punk band from Florida, will open.

PNC, which holds about 18,000 people, will easily be the largest concert the band has ever played in New Jersey.

“I’ve always watched that billboard on the Parkway that flashes what upcoming shows
there are (at PNC), so to be playing there — it’s crazy,” Fallon says. “I saw our ad up there and it’s one of the coolest feelings, but then you think, ‘Am I really supposed to be there? Did I just get invited to the party through the backdoor?’ ”

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