Published Aug 12, 2012After defining their sound with 2008's The 59 Sound, and experimenting with the style on 2010's American Slang, the Gaslight Anthem changed their approach to writing music for their recent major label debut Handwritten. We caught up with vocalist Brian Fallon to find out more about the way the band wrote the record, and how they're feeling now that it's out.
How have you found the reception to the record, now that it's been out for a few weeks? Do you read much of the feedback from fans and critics online?
So far, it's been great with the record coming out. I only hear about the chart positions and things because our label and manager tells me, and when I see friends, or kids at shows. I never read anything that's written about us or the records or anything. I just never saw the good side to reading other people's opinions about you and your work. It's an invitation to disaster, even if it's good. Big heads don't inflate themselves.
When you first set out to make this record, was there pressure to live up to expectations set by The '59 Sound and American Slang?
There is always pressure from your last release, but I've learned and we've learned to ignore it. It takes time to be able to do that, but you have to decide at some point: are you in it for art or to "top" yourselves in sales, or whatever numbers game? We decided we were in it for art, and communication, so as long as we're still creating something inspiring to ourselves and openly telling the truth in our lyrics, then our job is done.
The lyrics of this record seem more personal, there's less importance placed on settings and characters in the songs. Did you set out to write that way?
I was faced with a dilemma when it came to this record because I had nothing left to say about New Jersey, or Maria, or any of those things. I told those stories already and those characters and places have been defined as they were when it was important to tell. So I was left with what do I write about? And after a while I just started expressing myself on paper, just thoughts and whatever I was feeling and that became the lyrics to Handwritten. I knew that there was nothing left but my feelings at that moment to talk about, photographs, pictures of a time. That's what records are ― snapshots of the band's life at a specific time.
I've read that this record was written more collaboratively than your other records. How did that come about?
The record was written by all of us because I got tired of being the one who everybody looked to all the time for the ideas… ha! I wanted to be in a band, not a band with a guy who writes songs and everyone kinda just plays over those songs. I knew those other four guys had something great in them and some really cool ideas. So I presented it to them, and everybody got really excited and they said they never brought ideas, because they thought I wouldn't want them to. So that just proves open communication is best.
What was it like working with Brendan O'Brien? How was it different to working with Ted Hutt on the last two records?
Well, I have a rule, I don't compare records, I don't compare songs, and I sure don't compare my friends. We wouldn't have gotten to Brendan without Ted. Ted taught us everything, and then Brendan continues to teach us. They're both great producers and they have completely different styles, but they both have special places in our career and we're better for knowing them both.
Did you find that taking time last year to play shows with the Horrible Crows and the Revival Tour changed your outlook on playing with the Gaslight Anthem?
Playing in side projects sometimes is just what you need to clear your head. That's exactly what I needed last year. I was done with all the "next Bruce Springsteen, saviours of rock and roll, blah blah." I was just into playing songs. I don't care about all that hype. So I had to clear my head of all the outside voices and just figure out what I was doing and what "we" were doing in this band. Who are we? What are our goals? And why do we do this? It was confusing to go from basements to Radio City Music Hall. That took some time to figure out.
How have you found the switch from SideOneDummy to Mercury? Was working with a major label ever a goal for you when the band started?
So far both Mercury and Side One have been similar to us as in they both are diehard believers in this band. They both kill themselves on our behalf and it's been awesome both places. We always said we might go to a major someday, you can find that in interviews all the way back to Sink or Swim. We always knew we might make the jump, and we did. And it rules over here.