Published Apr 06, 2010After trekking around the States for years in a number of unremarkable punk rock and hardcore outfits, it only took a single full-length, the prophetic Sink Or Swim, for the members of New Brunswick, New Jersey's the Gaslight Anthem to realize they had found a winning formula. Building on a solid foundation of East coast melodic punk with a hefty dose of Bruce Springsteen worship and reverence for classic American folk songs, the band released an EP, Señor and the Queen, before unleashing their breakthrough full-length, The '59 Sound, on an eager punk world. Currently holed up in New York City putting the finishing touches on their highly anticipated follow-up, American Slang, vocalist and guitarist Brian Fallon took some time to catch us up to speed on the band's process and progress in the studio.
I know this is a pretty blanket question, but how is the record going so far?
Vocalist and guitarist Brian Fallon: It's going great. We're almost done. We're just working on little embellishments now, like harmonies and little extra guitar parts. The songs sound like songs now. It's very exiting.
How many songs are you recording?
You guys are in New York right now, what studio are you working in?
The Magic Shop in SoHo.
You recorded the last record in Los Angeles, so you're dealing with two polar opposites in terms of major metropolitan areas in the United States. Do you think recording in New York has affected the record at all?
It definitely has. It's wintertime in Manhattan, and we're trying to get a rougher kind of sound. It's near where we live, so we're more grounded and in our own environment. We have apartments, which we haven't had for five years. So there's a home thing about it, too.
Do you think knowing that you have a real home that is your own affects the way you're writing and recording?
Yes. I write heavily based on where I am. I write about things I see every day. The names of people and places have a great affect on what I'm writing. If I'm in one place for a long period of time, it creeps in to what I'm writing. The last record had a lot of references to California because there's where we were at the time, and this record being done in New York has allowed it to take on this homespun feel. The record takes place here.
To some extent, you guys have been defined by the early mantra of Sink Or Swim. I know some of you have that tattoo, too. At this point it's pretty clear you're swimming, so I'm wondering if removing that element of struggle changes the way you write or how you have to approach the band at all.
It does and it doesn't. The perception of how many burdens have been lifted is relative to whoever is looking. We haven't hit it big or anything. But maybe yes, in a way. You will write one way when you do not have a place that is your own, when you're spending your time at home on coaches or in loaned rooms. When you have your own home, there's a sense of comfort. But no one has marble lions in front of their apartment. No one's lost touch. A lot of the things around us haven't changed. We work with the same people, the same label. That stuff helps you stay grounded. That helps a lot, so when your band gets bigger you're not like, "Oh, I'm going to get the big time lawyer now!" The same people help us now who helped us out when we were nobodies.
So there are no songs on the new record about eating beluga caviar?
Nope, none of that. Some things are immediate struggles, and we wrote a lot about those on Sink or Swim. You know, "I don't have a place to stay, I don't know where I'm going to eat." Those kinds of things are immediate needs and struggles. But after those needs are met, you find out that there are more needs and more struggles. I found out living this lifestyle have affected me, and my brain, and my day-to-day style of living. You discover you have a brand new set of problems. You're lying in your bed thinking, "This is a nice bed. Wait a minute…" I was worried in the beginning. I've got an apartment. I'm happy. What am I going to write about? I've got a wife. She's good to me. She is a not a low down woman who will not let me be. She's a good lady. My friends are good. That was a big thing I had to get over. But I had to say, "What else am I thinking about?"
So for you, what are the predominant themes you found yourself writing about with American Slang?
A big one was a man's desire to be a man. What does it mean to grow up and be a man? Does it mean you're tough and you don't cry when someone punches you? Or does it mean that you take care of your family and your friends and you don't complain about it, you step up to the plate when you're supposed to, and you step down from the plate when you're supposed to. Also, the universal theme of a son trying to please his father. That's a big block of ice to chip through. It might take a few albums to get through that one.
I'm sure you have a few albums about the father-son dynamic to work through.
Totally. There's also the idea of, where do you put all these things you've gone through in your life? When you get older, you don't think about your high school love anymore. And then what? What do you do with that? Where do you put those people? Sometime you feel like those people don't fit anywhere, so you have this sort of funeral for your life before in order to have a life to go on with.
You said the record takes place in New York. There are a lot of recurring images between your two full lengths and the EP; did you find you returned to those or did the new setting necessitate a new set of images?
We've got a whole new set this time. We didn't use any of the standards we sort of became known for. It would have been done to death if I had done that. I said what I had to say about that.
What about the sound of the record itself? You put a lot of time in to getting a classic '50s rock and roll sound with The '59 Sound, did you have a similar goal in creating the sounds for this record?
Yeah, last time was that classic sound. This time, we wanted to make one of those records that explodes out of your speakers that first time you heard it. Like the first time you hear "Baba O'Reilly" by the Who. People go crazy when they hear that. Or "London Calling". Last time, we were trying to make a dreamy, nostalgic record. This is a more immediate thing. It's very intense, right off the bat, from the first song.
How has your relationship with Ted [Hutt, producer] changed between The '59 Sound and American Slang?
With The '59 Sound, I was just like, "I don't know what a producer is. Just do what you're going to do, and I'll do my best to keep up." With this record, we've had more of a conversation. We know Ted better. We've stepped up with our playing and our influences and the sounds, but he's stepped up by pushing us harder. We wouldn't have got this record without him pushing us. It drove me crazy sometimes. I thought I was going to crack down the middle. But he got the best record he could out of us. That's what Ted does. On every record he's ever done, he gets the best out of the band.
Has the dynamic within the band changed as you've progressed? Is there a difference in the way you guys personally approach the writing of a record?
Not really. We're more of a unit now, because we all know what works and what doesn't. Everyone knows where they fit in and what their job is. Everything just moves smoothly now. There are no arguments. Now we just support each other. We've been at this for a while now. We've been through a lot together.
With the positive press and positive reception that you had for The '59 Sound, how daunting is it to follow that up? Is it something you struggle with at all?
Yeah. In the beginning, it was huge. It was a big deal for me. I had a really hard time writing anything. From about June to the end of November, I was stuck. I was really, really scared and I didn't know what I wanted to do. Then I said, "Look, you wrote the last record based on a lot of your influences, and the things you were influenced by. But what do you have to say? What's your thing? What makes you deserve this more than a hundred other bands?" The '59 Sound was great, but it wasn't now. And now we have to do something different, something as good, if not better.
How do you feel about it today? It's almost done, do you feel like you've managed to surpass the things you've done in the past?
Surpass is tough. I think we've surpassed it, but I don't want to downplay how good I think the last one was. It's not better, but it's different. This is the record I've been trying to make for a long time. I think I got it right on this one.