I recently had the chance to sit down with Brian Fallon of The Gaslight Anthem to discuss the band's upcoming album, Handwritten, (which comes out on July 24th, 2012) as well as a variety of other topics.
Hey, so how are you doing this morning?
Good man, just working.
What are you working on?
I'm working on the house, the deck actually. Going really D.I.Y this morning. Trying to put this deck back together. Yeah, you know, I haven't done this in a while - I used to know things like, how long the nails needed to be, and now I've realized I got to go buy more.
Hah, well, it sounds like a good time - I mean, as long as people aren't stalking and taking your picture, it sounds good.
Yeah, I mean, I'm in the backyard this time - so nobody can take my picture. Hahaha.
Ok, let's dive right into this: As you gear up for the release of Handwritten, what part are you most excited about?
You know, definitely I think to play the shows. Getting back to the shows. I mean, we haven't liked toured America in almost two years or something. I think that that's going to be very exciting. It's really what we look forward to, you know, we do all this other stuff - and in a lot of ways it's really done so that we can get to the show, and play live. That's kind of the exciting part.
So, what would you say is the biggest difference on "Handwritten" compared to the band's past work?
I think, well, this time with Brendan we had enough time to really make it sound like we wanted it to. Sometimes when a new record's out people will come out and say something like, "so and so's overproduced" - and first of all: I didn't know that everybody and their mother had an engineering degree all of a sudden. And you'll have magazines doing the, "well, I like so and so's last album and the new one is just too over produced." And I kinda feel like calling up the magazine and saying, "Yeah, well - the article was great, but you know I don't really like the paper you printed this on." I mean, since when did all these people work the tape ops? Well, whatever ... the thing that was really cool this time - if you listen to our records, they're all really attempting to be these big sounding records. Attempting to sound huge. And I think on this one - we actually had all of the opportunities to do it with the kind of equipment we were using and we had 'the guy' that, well, that's what he does: he makes things sound huge. Even if you have this quiet acoustic song, somehow he's still able to make it sound huge when he's done with it. So, you know, I think that was really the coolest … and I guess most different thing … about this record.
Were you worried ever about it sounding too "glossy" or whatever? Was that an issue or something you thought about after having such a raw sound on previous albums?
Yeah. Definitely. That was the first thing on my mind. I was listening like a hawk every day. You know, I didn't really know Brendan until maybe about half-way-through, and then I felt like I got to know him pretty well. And during the process I was always listening, and going, "Ok, is this cool? Is this going to sound like some fat-old-guy rock 'n roll record?" Because, hey, I know that nobody wants to hear that. That would suck. And not that Brendan's ever done anything like that, and I don't think that the records he's done have ever sounded overblown or pompous but since I had never worked with him before, and I had never really heard us sound like this before … the first time it came through the speakers I was like: "woah, man, that … that sounds pretty big." And it took me a minute to grasp it and say, "Ok, is this cool?" Because I didn't really know. It was sounding really good to me, but it took me a moment to kind of gaze what was going on and then … well, I think it wasn't until I listened to it in my car that I had the, "yep, yep, this is cool -- this sounds awesome" moment.
Do you think you were influenced by, or that the process of working on The Horrible Crowes' influenced the new album at all?
Yeah, cause it took a difference sense of writing in the songs. But it also made us be ok with certain things. Like, after "Elsie" I knew that it was ok to put strings on a song - and it didn't need to sound cheesy. You know? It didn't need to sound like some ballad from the '80's … and that I wasn't going to ruin it. I wasn't going to ruin something by putting a string section on it. I guess it became about how far do you go with it? Do you want to go "Tonight, Tonight" by the Smashing Pumpkins? Or are you gonna go with a little Murder By Death kinda vibe? And there's really all of these flavors in-between. And I think that they can all sound good, but it just all depends on what you want to be like. I mean I'm not ready to be like .. well, have a video where I'm in an air-ship and we're singing "Tonight, Tonight." I … yeah, I don't wanna do that. Nah.
- Pause -
I do like that song though.
- Laughter -
Would you say that you have a lyrical theme on this new album? Or is there anything, lyrically, that you've done differently this time?
Well, lyrically, this one was no holds bared. Whatever I'm thinking right now, whatever I'm feeling, I'm putting on that page. And, I wasn't going to "edit" it … I mean, I edited it like crazy; Hmmm, I wasn't going to censor it. I wasn't going to pull the, "would so and so do this" or "would this band say this" or "is this cool?" -- cause you always think about your peers, and you don't want to say something, and everyone's like "why did you say that, man?" - and then you've got to live with that forever. But with this one it was a little bit more … well, it was less thinking about that kind of thing. It was "well, you know, if I'm not cool then I'm not cool." I just gotta write what I'm feeling. Cause what if this record blows up? And I had written a bunch of songs that I didn't really mean, but I thought sounded cool, and then I'm stuck sining them for rest of my life? And I definitely don't want to do that. And if I'm lucky enough that this blows up, I want it to be because I did something that was me, and I didn't want to sell anybody anything that I wasn't going to like.
Absolutely. Now, I've heard a few songs from the new album, one of them being "Here Comes My Man" … and that one seems to be written from a different point of view. What inspired you to tackle that song, in this way?
Well, that song … in that song I had heard Lady Gaga play a Thanksgiving special, and she played that song, "Marry the Night" - and she played it on the piano - and it was amazing. She was talking about being lost, not making connections with other people, and that it was ok 'cause she was just going to go and marry the night. And that kind of thing hit me, pretty deep, 'cause what do you do when you don't find a connection to something? And, you know, I had my own kind of stories with that. Growing up, and things like that. So, I started writing a song … and all of a sudden … it started as not connecting with someone, about being disconnected, and then … all of a sudden … I realized, "this isn't really a guy talking here - this is a girl talking." And with that … I kind of stepped back, I was like, "oh, woah, hmm, I dunno - we're kind of the American men's band - are people going to accept this?" And then with that I thought, we'll if that happens then they don't accept me and I don't care. If you're not going to accept me for me, then you're not going accept me at all. So, with that I was like, "well, I'm writing from a girl's perspective." I had a moment where I was kind of worried about women thinking, "well, how do you know how we feel?" And guys calling me names like "wuss" or well, you know - much worse. And then again, I thought - I don't care. The firing squad may be pointed at my band anyway, and I guess let them fire, I don't care.
Definitely. You know, in this music scene we see bands that start to get popular and the band's original fans kind of pull the "I liked them better when they played only fast punk songs" or "I like their older work better" - have you seen that happening with your band at all?
Well, with our fans, thankfully, I've only seen it with like one percent of them. I knew that was going to happen, and you kind of realize that at the end of the day - if I was putting out the same record over and over again, I'd hate it. And the people that say, "I liked them better when they were older" - they would hate those records anyway. And we all would get tired of the same old thing. So, you aren't going to win with those people. And they're attaching those records to a time in their life, maybe without realizing it - at least in my opinion - and it's attached to that specific time. And the fact that the band is going away from that, well, you feel like the band has forgotten about that time. But yet, we still play those songs, and they still mean the same things to us. However, we're not going to just keep making the same album. It's not fair to try and sell people the same thing every day.
With the first song you released, "45", it's got a little faster tempo to it than others I've heard - how would you describe the album as a whole in terms of pacing?
It's really a mix. There's faster songs, some slower songs, one really slow song, but the intensity level never drops through the whole thing. Really, it's a punishing record, you can't just break away. The first time you listen to it, well, I hope if you're a fan, you're not going to just listen to it and think, "O, well that's nice background music." It forces you to pay attention. You're going to have an opinion about it. Because it's in your face. It doesn't let up on track six. Like - even if there's a mellow song … there's no song about nothing. It kind of just punishes you all the way through. And I thought about that, I was like, "wow, this is really not a 'put it on at a BBQ' record." But, that's what came out - you know? I can't really dictate that.
So, the bonus songs - are they covers or originals?
There are going to be two covers, two originals. We kinda have this tradition of doing a new Tom Petty cover all the time. So, every couple years we do a new Tom Petty cover. We just really like Tom Petty, that's really it. And it's kind of fun as we grow as players to kind of tackle the Tom Petty songs, because they're so genius in their simplicity that it's hard to play those songs and make them sound right. So, it's a challenge to make it sound good. That's kind of where that came from. And then we did "Sliver" from Nirvana just because it's one of my favorite songs of all time. And it's like the most simple, yet punk rock, one that they ever did. Or, well, one of the most punk rock ones they ever did. And it just kind of had that vibe, when we were with Brendan and all the music from the 90's we were listening to, and it was kind of a little tribute to where we were coming from with the record. A "hey guys, this is where we came from on this one - kinda like, guys - the 50's are over."
On a personal note, I really appreciated the blog the other day about Tom Gabel, now Laura Grace, and I noticed recently how it's seem as though you're much more open in interviews and online - and you haven't really held back in some of your statements or comments. Has that gotten harder to do as the band's seen more publicity and gotten "bigger"? Do you ever think afterwards, "ah, shit, I shouldn't have said that"?
Well, sometimes I think - yes - sometimes no. What I've realized as I've been talking more and more -- sometimes you just start thinking, "well, what happens if I do this?" And I mean, I did that RedBull interview, and I was kind of like, you know, all these people were trying to relate to me in this "oh, I know punk rock, and I came from punk rock" and I was thinking: you know nothing about punk rock. You don't know anything about touring in a van. You don't know about nearly starving to death. You don't know anything about anything. You don't know what it's like to get a tooth pulled out, with no Novocain, in Germany and then play a show that night. You don't know anything about this, so get out of my face. And what ended up happening that night, was I got so pissed off, and I was like "alright, you wanna relate to me? Now I don't like anything. How about that?" And that's when I just went off a bit. About how I don't like The Replacements, I don't like Jawbreaker, I don't like Black Flag, I don't like anybody. And, well, what I was saying was a reaction to all the things that people say - and, look what happened, I was right: People freaked out. They lost their minds. And I was looked at as some Judas to the punk rock scene. All of a sudden I say I don't like these certain bands (which, by the way, for the record is not true - I lied about that just to piss people off), and that kind of scenario - where there's a bunch of people ... look it's not Red Bull's fault, but it was just a little weird to be talking about punk rock at an energy drink thing. You know? And … it was a little weird. And I was kinda like, I'm not here to talk about punk rock … if we're here to talk about my band, cool, but let's meet on the level. You're different than me. You don't have to relate to me. I don't really want anyone to relate to me, because I grew up when I didn't really relate to anyone, and that's my life. I don't relate to you. And just because you like my band and you think my band's popular, don't all of a sudden think I'm the popular kid. I'm not. I'm still the same loser that you called me ten years ago. And that's my story … and when this all happened, it ended up kind of being my big middle finger to everybody's opinion of what people should do. And I kind of think that sometimes that's necessary. But, what you learn from that is that sometimes you end up pissing the wrong kids off - the kids that like you, and really want your opinion, because they do see themselves in you, you know? And when they get offended or their feelings hurt, well, that was the mistake in that. You know, I didn't mean to hurt feelings. I didn't want to say "I'm not part of your scene" and that I like Dire Straits more than these punk bands. That was just me sort of making a point, and you know I did that interview with the PunkHulk and that - I hope - cleared it up a little. I feel like that aspect (hurting someone's feelings) was a mistake. Now, with Tom … ok, I'm not a violent guy, I don't believe in violence, I don't believe in war, and my band doesn't believe in it … but, I'll tell you what man: if I see you call somebody a "******" I am going to punch you in the face. That's the end of it. You don't use those words. That's the same to me as the n-word, do not say that. And that's just the deal. And in this day and age - look, you don't have to agree with anyone, you don't have to think - hell, I don't really know what I think about it. If Tom had come up to me and said, "look, I think I want to be a woman" - personally, I would have been like, "woah, dude, that's a heavy decision - are you sure?" You know? I mean, look, I don't know Tom that well, or this situation, and all that. But all I can tell you is that is their decision, and you better shut your mouth about name calling. It's not your decision.
And I think that you can agree or disagree - or whatever - but at the end of the day, man, even if you disagree with with somebody, you've got to live with these people here on this planet. You know? Look, it's no secret that I'm a religious guy - but yet some people get so pissed off with me about it. I did this interview with this magazine called, "Visions," and it's about to come out -- and if you write about this, they're gonna get pissed off -- but I don't care. And look, this lady came to me - into my life for the day, for this interview, and she starts telling me how all these people are pissed off at me in Germany because I said I believe in Creation. And I was like, you can take that … and you - well, I said some choice words. I probably shouldn't have used those choice words. But, my point was that you tell somebody what you think, then they tell you what they think, and its not really your role to try and stop them from having that opinion. Or going out of your way to do so. Cause she was saying that people were like seriously angry at me, and they were saying, I don't know if this is true or not, because it's coming from this lady, but when you're coming that hard against someone's opinion. To the point where you're trying to stop their non-harmful opinion from coming out. I dunno man, I read a dictionary once or twice, and that's the definition of fascism. I dunno about that. When someone comes out with an opinion, and you try and actively stop that opinion from coming out, that's fascism. I want no part of that. And I will react angrily to that.
I just won't stand for it. And those are the kinds of things … look, I know I'm not in this political activist band, but somethings just get under my skin, you know?
So, I think that's kind of the point where I'm at. If somebody asks me what I think of the administration of Barack Obama, I've really got no comment. I dunno much about politics. Doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, I kinda feel like my vote gets thrown away. I still vote, I just don't really understand things like Prop four hundred and eight six, or prob nine, or whatever, you know? I just, I dunno man, I dunno. I'm more worried about the guy that's right in front of me and if I hear about someone that's not being treated right for something that they're doing, or treated unfairly because of something they believe in … I mean, look, it's 2012 man. Leave everybody alone.
Yeah, that's a very good point.
Look, you just can't be picking on people. What is this? High-school? Running around with that "oh, you're gay wahwahwahhh"? Like, whatever, so what, someone's gay? He's not trying to kiss you, dummy.
Yeah, it's ridiculous sometimes.
Yeah, exactly, I mean, don't like it? Don't kiss 'um. That should be the banner. You don't like it? Don't kiss 'um. That's the banner.
Yeah, exactly, I mean, sheesh. Look, I got pretty offended though … I saw some comments with people doing this "Tom Gaybel" thing? And that really pissed me off. That really pissed me off. First of all, how hard would it be to say this to the public? I mean, unbelievably hard, dude. I mean, what a set of nuts he's got. This is a tough thing to say. And that takes some real guts. Some real guts.
I can't even imagine.
And hey, this isn't like my best friend. We don't even talk -- but the scene is bigger than that. Look, the scene needs to be bigger than that. And in my mind, wherever I am: playing Giant stadium, on a major label, or driving around in a helicopter … I'm still watching. I've got my eye on the punk scene. Wanting to know what's going on, who's in there, and what's going on, you know? Because, technically speaking, we didn't stop playing basements because we didn't want to anymore, we stopped playing basements because we played basements and too many people showed up and the basements would literally get torn apart.
Yeah, definitely. I mean, from what I've seen - besides some of the horrible comments - there was a big outpouring of support from the punk scene in general. And for me, I thought that part was awesome. I tried to block out all the bullshit and the idiots … but beyond that, I did think there was a group that was very supportive. And that, to me, was extremely cool to see.
Yeah, that's super cool. And look, I think if Tom/Laura goes to a show and he's dressed up playing Against Me! songs, a lot of people are going to be totally cool. And there may be one or two guys that are all "blahablhablah" - or yelling something from the back - and for some reason I can't help but see the negative sometimes. I miss all of the people that are supportive.
Yeah, I know.
And the negative really seeps in. And it's nuts.
Yeah, I've seen how the vocal minority can at times over power everything else.
Well, let's bring this back around to the new album to head toward the homestretch. I'm really curious where the title "Handwritten" came from?
Well, it came from the idea of writing the whole record by hand. I wrote this thing in one notebook with a pen and that's it. And that's because I wanted to feel connected to what I was saying, in a deeper way. And I kind of felt that was the most connected you could be to it. And it was kind of to remind myself, and everyone else, that these songs weren't written in a vacuum. They that these were here for us, our audience, to the people that can be infected by it … and it becomes more about everyone else in addition to me, I mean, it's about me, about my life - but it's also there to help other people. And I think that this record in particular, it's a letter that is being delivered to those that want to hear it. And it's really super personal, and it's kind of like, "Do you want to know what we think? Here's what we think. There you go."
Awesome. Do you have a favorite song? Or is it too hard to pick a favorite child?
Hmm, well, right now, it changes - but right now - I would say it's the song called "Keepsake" that I really think took me a long time to be able to write a song like that. And I really like that song and it's more subdued than a lot of the other songs, but it's not this opus or anything - it just means a lot to me. It feels right. It's a cool song to have. It's one of those that feels like a gift. Like, if songs are gifts that you get, than this is one of the ones that you're like "ahh, yes, I'm so glad that this went to me."
Well, with that, I've got one more for you before you get back to the deck building.
Ah, no sweat. Hahaha.
Now, when I was talking with your manager about putting this together he talked about how you were adamant about reaching out to some of the "smaller" (air quotes there) publications kind of like us, to do some interviews - and I was curious what made you decide to do this? I mean, compared to just hitting up all the so called "huge" publications like Rolling Stone or The New York Times or whatever and doing just big press for this album? I've seen a lot of bands start to get bigger - and they forget about us once Rolling Stone calls. And you made an effort to reach out to us, I, obviously, thought that was really cool. So, I was looking to get some insight into your thought process here.
Well, this may be another hot seat for me. I might as well just set myself on fire right here, right? Cause … well, my answer is that when I talk to you, or PunkNews, or Low Times, or all these other guys - the conversation is my outlet. I feel like I can tell you guys things, I can speak for myself and it's not going to get twisted. You're not looking at an angle, and you're not trying to build us up or tear us down. It's more: "hey man, you can do that for yourself." And it's more about the music. And I feel like it's honest in a way that sometimes publications that have all kinds of editors and stuff and they have to meet a quota or whatever simply can't do. And sometimes even the writer's hands are tied because they have to make the story "interesting" in a way that's almost borderline scandalous, you know? And I'm not saying that about everybody. Because I've done interviews with Rolling Stone that I think is the biggest magazine out there for music, and they were awesome. And we did an interview with the New York Times that was probably one of my favorite interviews we've ever done. That writer was a genius. She was just incredible. I just think that sometimes they spin you. And it really pisses me off. And especially, well, one in particular that was recent and I'm sure you've seen and it's a really good article, right up to the end of it where it makes me sound like an egotistical maniac. A retard. Ahhh, ugh, ahh … Look, I shouldn't use that word. That's a really bad word. Look, that's a word I've really been trying to knock off my list of stuff not to say. It's horrible. Ugh, crap, look, I didn't mean to say that.
Hey, I get it - you and me both. I've been actually working on that exact same word to remove it from my vocabulary.
Yeah, I mean, when we were kids everyone used to use it. And then all of a sudden you get older and realize: oh wait, these are actual people, we can't say that. And this was brought to my attention and - when you say that "oh, man you're retarded" you're not talking talking about the handicapped kids, you're meaning it as your friend being silly. But that is insulting, and being insulting to a group of people. And that's why I am knocking it off my list. So, I totally apologize for that.
Yeah, no, I get it. I've made slip-ups myself. It's hard. I'm totally trying as well. But, yeah, we're not kids anymore.
Yeah, and look, they're looking at us. People are looking at you for the stories you write and what you say on the internet - and they look at me for my music and opinions. And look, we're speaking to the public and we need to be careful what we say. We have to set an example here too.
Well this is an awesomely in-depth and honest interview. Amazing to read because like he says at the end, it's obvious he lets himself go more when he's talking to a publication like AP.net than if he's talking to the New York Times. Love the bits about Tom Gabel and his thoughts on the punk scene. It sounds like they knew exactly what they wanted to make with Handwritten and it's just going to be a force of a record. My favorite quote:
Sometimes when a new record's out people will come out and say something like, "so and so's overproduced" - and first of all: I didn't know that everybody and their mother had an engineering degree all of a sudden. And you'll have magazines doing the, "well, I like so and so's last album and the new one is just too over produced." And I kinda feel like calling up the magazine and saying, "Yeah, well - the article was great, but you know I don't really like the paper you printed this on."
Great interview. I don't really go out and buy magazines in regards to the last question, so whenever one of my favourite bands can get interviewed on here it's always great. Cheers for setting this up Jason, and indeed Brian.