The Gaslight Anthem
The Gaslight Anthem aren't carrying their past with them anymore. With two albums in successive years (their debut Sink or Swim in 2007 and the career-altering 2008 release The '59 Sound), the rock'n'roll punk-tinged quartet heard the comparisons countless times over. And they weren't pleading the Fifth. "What can I say, I love that guy," lead singer Brian Fallon says, speaking about Bruce Springsteen. "He had Elvis and Bob Dylan [to look up to] and we have him and Tom Waits."
Fallon admits the band hadn't quite "found their legs" on those first two releases and relied on their influences to dictate their sound. Consequently the Gaslight Anthem became synonymous with Springsteen for the past three years, an aural resemblance that only strengthened when the Boss himself joined the band on stage at the Glastonbury Festival in 2009. The association catapulted the Gaslight Anthem's success ― and was welcomed by the band who grew up on the music of their fellow New Jerseyite - but it held them like a vice grip, making it impossible to get past the obvious comparison.
Ironically, a moment of clarity came when watching interviews of Springsteen's early years. "There wasn't a single one that didn't mention Bob Dylan," Fallon says, with a hint of relief in his voice. "After a while he shook that off and became his own [person]. Everybody goes through it. I think we'll out live the comparisons [like he did]."
It may happen this month. With the release of American Slang they've moved beyond their introductory phase and are boldly displaying their growth spurt. They haven't ashamedly hidden their influences; rather, they've naturally begun the process of pushing themselves beyond the boundaries of looking to them as their only point of reference.
"Instead of trying to figure out how our influences would do a part, we wanted to figure out the part ourselves," guitarist Alex Rosamilia says. "We needed to find our voice. [This album] is a bigger than normal step for us."
There are still elements of Springsteen, the Clash and the Bouncing Souls, that stuff is hardcore on what we grew up on," chimes in Fallon, ensuring not to desecrate the foundation built by his musical forefathers. "But we wanted to discover other aspects of our writing."
Fallon's search began with a box of old blues records. He didn't want to find another style for the band to emulate, but he needed a starting point. He had run out of ideas after writing so many fast songs with the same beat. The blues reinvigorated his soul. "The white blues," he quickly clarifies. "We can't touch black blues. I'll never write anything as good as Muddy Waters. I didn't know that oppression and I can't write from that real perspective. So we moved on to things we could understand - the Stones, Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton and Derek and the Dominoes."
Fallon and Rosamilia had a minor epiphany listening to these records. Hearing the guitars pass riffs back and forth, almost singing to each other, immediately brought to mind "Old White Lincoln" from The '59 Sound. Fallon wondered if they could do that on all the songs - instead of just using big open country chords, as he called it, could they have "actual guitar parts to lead the melody?" It began a journey for both of them, rededicating themselves to their craft to improve their axe skills. "We just started getting better at playing and really learned our instruments - it was an exciting thing," Fallon remembers. "[Rosamilia] is like Ronnie Wood, who's a really good guitar player and I'm like Keith Richards... more of an interesting player."
These starting points aided the band in creating their strongest album to date. Built on contagious melodies, uplifting choruses and incredible swells at unexpected moments, American Slang goes into musical nooks and alleys that The '59 Sound merely hinted at. Even the magnitude of some of the songs surprised the band. Instead of reframing The '59 Sound, an album Fallon says he could have "written a hundred times over knowing it would be safe," they spent time to shape new layers and work in the elements they were hearing in their heads. Without hesitation both members point to the title track as the one that proved they were walking down the right path. "I didn't really like it when we were working on it," Rosamilia deadpans without a hint of sarcasm. "I was actually trying to change the melody in it because I didn't like my parts. But when I heard it, not having to play along, it sounded totally different and I was like, 'Alright, I don't hate that song anymore!'"
"We were really building it up and I was thinking, 'Woah, this is getting huge!'" Fallon says. "That was really exciting, seeing the songs grow like that. I've never heard our songs sound this big."
Along with a steady diet of blues, Fallon's desire for more background vocals was reignited as he spent more time listening to soul music. The majority of American Slang features secondary vocal lines that heighten and separate the Gaslight Anthem sound from previous records, and further display the band moving into new territory.
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