In pictures: The Gaslight Anthem’s glorious Wembley gig
On Thursday night, The Gaslight Anthem hit London for their biggest UK date ever. This is what it looked like…
“I knew that it was something I had really been trying to do, for a long time,” he tells Kerrang! today, two-and-a half years on from its release. “I really wanted to make that record, and I truly, truly love that record. So when I was done with it, it felt like I had gotten to the end of the book, and it was like, ‘Okay, I’ll put that on the shelf…’”
As the singer-songwriter then moved on and started thinking about his next musical steps, those feelings of accomplishment – and also closure – remained. So much so, it drove him back to a sound that he’d not dabbled in for quite a while.
“When it came time to be like, ‘Alright, so I’m going to start writing some new songs,’ I was just sitting around feeling like I wanted to write rock songs,” Brian enthuses. “I just wanted to play loud and fast.”
Happily, he already had somewhere to do just that: New Jersey punk rock heroes The Gaslight Anthem. The band had gone on ‘indefinite hiatus’ in 2015, and played a one-off 10th anniversary tour for their brilliant second album The ’59 Sound in 2018, but in April this year they announced that they were “returning to full-time status”. So far, that consists of a massive reunion run – the UK leg of which kicks off at London’s OVO Arena Wembley this Thursday.
“It’s full-on – we brought the Pearl Jam lights!” says Brian of the tour. “If we’re gonna do it, let’s just do it! No explosions, though.”
Not even for Wembley?!
“(Laughs) I’m not really into that – I still remember when James Hatfield caught fire, and ever since then I was like, ‘Never pyro!’ I’ll leave that to Slipknot – they’re good at it. They manage to do it really well and not get burned…”
Okay, so no fire. But there is plenty more to come, with Brian also looking ahead to their long-awaited sixth album. Here, the frontman takes us inside all things Gaslight Anthem in 2022…
Your first proper show back on this reunion tour was in Berlin last Tuesday. How did you feel both before and after?!
“It was great! We were just excited. Normally I get really nervous before the shows, but I think we’re all just excited to play, especially after that long time of not playing, and being locked inside, and not being able to go anywhere for two years – that’ll really put a dampener on your day! And it’s one thing to go out and play an acoustic show or whatever, but it’s a whole different thing to play the big rock show with all the lights. We really took it to 11 with the show, because not only did we bring the band, but we’ve got a guy playing keyboard with organs and background vocals, and we’ve got these huge light things, and it’s awesome! It’s everything that you would want a rock show to be. The Gaslight Anthem has always been a rock band, and now we’re just going further into that, proving the point like, ‘Yeah, we’re a rock’n’roll band! Here we are!’”
How different did it feel compared to the surprise Crossroads gig in June?
“Oh, it was night and day. Crossroads was awesome because no-one knew, and everyone was surprised – and people lost their minds when we went onstage. I’ve never felt so excited – just to be able to give people that present of, ‘Hey, you paid for a show, but now you’re gonna get a real cool show!’ and to have their faces hit the floor. And it was such a small show, too – it was 200 people in my friend’s venue, which is a small blues club. It was just really cool. But, at the same time, to play the giant, huge venue is awesome – it feels like, ‘This is what I signed up for.’ It’s one of the whole reasons we decided to [properly get back together] – we were like, ‘Wait a second… we have this awesome rock band – do you know how many people would kill to be in our position?! Why are we not doing this?!’ I think time, and getting locked down, and not being able to go out… and then you see different things happen, like Foo Fighters [losing Taylor Hawkins], you consider, ‘All of this is temporary, and you’ve got to enjoy it while you can.’ That particularly hit me hard.”
So if those things hadn’t happened, might you not have thought about getting Gaslight back together at this time?
“You know… I don’t know. I will say that the thought had been in my head for about two years, and I didn’t even mention it to my wife – I didn’t mention it to anyone. It was just in my head, and I’m like, ‘What am I thinking?!’ Because for a while it was a big identity crisis, of not wanting to be the band going out and playing the songs that everybody likes and nothing else. We didn’t want to be one of those ‘historical’, nostalgia bands – I wasn’t ready to do that. If there’s something new, then I’m excited, you know? Because the bands that I admire – like Bruce Springsteen, he came out with an album when he was 50 and that was one of his biggest albums. Or Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Afghan Whigs… the biggest Afghan Whigs song on iTunes was on a record they released when they’d been a band already for, like, 25 years! And I’m not trying to say that I want any of that – it doesn’t have to happen, but for me it just has to stay engaging and exciting, and especially for the fans. You want to give them your whole heart, and not rely on past work – even though I do think the past work is great, and I love all of it.”
After Gaslight went on hiatus in 2015, you spoke about how much pressure you had started to feel when it came to stuff like selling lots of tickets. How are you handling the pressure this time around?
“Well, the short version of that is that a lot of that pressure comes from three places: outside sources in the music business, which can sometimes be a very negative thing; internal pressure from yourself; and then there’s the element of, for me, personal stuff and going to therapy, and dealing with mental health issues that I had. You don’t wanna tell people: ‘Yeah, I was really struggling and I need medication to get through the day.’ You don’t wanna tell anyone that, but I can’t say that it didn’t help, or it didn’t fix a lot of the things to where I can now feel free to focus on the things that are a blessing in my life – rather than this thing that’s like, ‘Oh no, what if I don’t sell this amount of tickets or records? I’m gonna die and my career’s gonna be over.’ I can kind of now be like, ‘Yeah, cool, but I’ve got this thing that’s real fun!’”
When you announced, ‘We’re gonna be a full-time band again,’ were you expecting the reaction you got?
“You never know – it’s almost 2023, people could have just been like, ‘Yeah, I don’t know, whatever.’ But I’m just happy, and I didn’t have any expectations. We’re not trying to reach the whole world; we’ve got enough people, and if we never gain another fan, ever, we’re good! I feel like the band got so much further than we ever thought we would get. We’re the kind of band who can get in touch with Dave Grohl and Bruce Springsteen, and ask them advice – that’s crazy! We never thought that would happen. But we can, and that’s awesome – that’s good enough for me, and I speak for everybody when I say that we’ve achieved so much more than we ever thought we would, and if it just stays like this forever, it’s so good. To be able to just pick up where you left off, that’s pretty cool – you can’t really complain about that, so I’ve got to say thank you to everybody who’s following us through this, and who stuck with us for eight years.”
When we spoke for your 2020 solo album Local Honey, you were saying how you didn’t really want to be this big onstage rock star guy. You’ve looked very happy onstage so far – so have you just found some sort of acceptance when you perform?
“Yeah. I realised, I think along the way, that you don’t have to be that. Someone like Billie Joe [Armstrong] is very charismatic, and he’s almost like a rock’n’roll preacher, you know? You can watch somebody like Billie Joe or Florence Welch where they truly are commanding that room – that’s their world that you have now entered into. There’s those kind of shows, but then if you watch like Dave Grohl, or Eddie Vedder, there’s different shades of that. And then there’s the extreme of Bob Dylan, who doesn’t say anything onstage.
“I’ve found that there is a more reserved way where you let the music be the energy for you, and that is where I’ve truly found my peace with that. The music is why we’re all here; the music is the common ground. These songs that this band does makes a thing, and it makes you feel it, and it makes me feel it, and that’s what we have together. That really gave me the confidence to just be like, ‘I’ve got this!’”
Is there anything this time around where you’ve said to yourself, ‘I’m gonna do things different in this way so we can really get it right and not all just burn out again’?
“Yeah, definitely. That was a big talk that we had coming into it. There was a lot of me, actually, saying, ‘This is what we did when it worked, and this is what we didn’t do when it didn’t work.’ I almost made a list, and we all talked about – they chipped in things, I chipped in things. But the first call I had with everybody, I was like, ‘Listen, this is where it worked, and this is where it was going off the rails.’ It’s partly some of the things to do with the music industry, and the pressure. I would say to any new band today that there are two things that matter when you’re in a band in the music industry: the first thing that matters is that you take care of your fans; the second thing that matters is that you take care of yourself. Both of those things are equal, and you shouldn’t be sacrificing your own sanity to make your fans happy, and you shouldn’t sacrificing your fans to make yourself happy. You’ve got to take care of both – it’s like a relationship, and you’ve got to show love to both sides. Because, also, the more love you show to them, the more love they’re gonna give to you. I’m telling you, that’s the only thing that matters! So when your manager tells you: ‘If you don’t do this thing, your career is over!’ they’re lying. Every manger in the music industry is now mad at me (laughs).”
At your first show back in Berlin, you opened with Have Mercy – which is the same song you opened with at Gaslight’s ‘final’, pre-hiatus show at Reading Festival in 2015. Was there anything symbolic in that?
“A little bit, yeah! I don’t know, it really sets the tone. Especially because [last week] we played Have Mercy and then go straight into Great Expectations and kick the roof off. But I love the idea of setting the tone and being like, ‘This is a rock show and it’s definitely a place to throw your hat up in the air and toss your beer, but it’s also ceremonial, and it’s beautiful, and it’s solemn.’ I don’t want to sound crazy, but it’s like, ‘We are opening up to each other in this cosmic, musical way!’ There’s something going on between the audience and the band, and it’s like, ‘We’re about to share this thing, and it’s going to be wild, and we’re both gonna feel emotional.’”
So is that gonna be your tour opener the whole time?
“Well now I just talked all that about it I guess it has to be (laughs). I don’t know, maybe! We change the set every night. It’s impossible to change the whole set, but we’re trying to change between five and 10 songs every night, just to make it a different show for everybody that comes more than once. I go to shows more than once, and I want to see a different set.”
Given how much you do change the setlist, did you have to go back and basically practice everything before the tour?
“Yeah, but I was so shocked at how much stuff came just like, ‘(Snaps fingers) Boom!’ I have not played those songs since 2018 – none of us had – so for it to come back like that just kind of reinforced, like, ‘Okay, this is great!’ It just comes back to you and you’re like, ‘Oh, hey, it sounds like The Gaslight Anthem!’ It’s pretty cool, and I’m just nothing but excited right now.”
You’ve been writing some new stuff – is there any temptation to sneak a new song into the setlist?!
“Sometimes, but it’s too early to do it, really! You have to consider that it goes all over the internet, so whatever you’ve got, that’s it. It’s tough to do. But I would say definitely before the record is out, there’ll be plenty of songs out there!”
Are there any songs that you’ve been particularly excited to play, given the pandemic and everything had made you miss playing all the big rock stuff?
“Oh yeah, I love playing Great Expectations. I love playing Have Mercy, even though it’s not a rocker! But we’ve also all just gotten better as players over the last couple of years, so a song like Get Hurt, back in the day I was like, ‘It sounds fine; it’s okay.’ But now I think it sounds really good. We’ve got my friend Bryan [Haring], who was playing keys for the solo band, and we brought him in to play piano and background vocals. And songs like The Diamond Church Street Choir just sound great with a little piano on it – it’s cool. It doesn’t change it, but it just takes what it is and makes it more of that. But I’m just excited to play everything! A lot of people have said, ‘You didn’t play enough Get Hurt stuff on the 2018 tour,’ and so I’m like, ‘Alright, well now we’ll play a bunch of that.’”
Is there also the feeling with Get Hurt that it’s one of those albums that people have started appreciating more in the years after its release?
“It is a little bit of that, but also when I did the livestream of Get Hurt at home [last year], I really realised, ‘There are good songs here – there’s some really cool stuff!’ That was actually a pinnacle moment of this whole thing. It really kind of opened up my head to the possibility of, ‘Oooh, this is pretty good… what else is in here?!’ You start looking around a bit! It was something that we maybe skimmed over for a while, but now I think it’s cool, and I hear a lot of people, all the time, like, ‘Yo, that’s a pretty good record – I don’t know about whatever you thought in the beginning!’ It’s nice.”
Are you planning on writing new music while you’re on the road, or are you going to keep those things separate?
“I think I’ve got to do both: I’ve got to keep writing, and use that excitement to put that into the songs, you know? I think right now that that’s a vibe that I would say for the new songs: that they sound excited. And that excitement is helping me write, and helping give me a good outlook on the future. You’ve got to be careful, because excitement isn’t always there, but right now it is and so I’m doing both. That’s what I’ve always done, though – I’ve always written on the road, or not on the road… I write everywhere – that’s what I do.”
Finally, back in April you revealed you had about five or six new songs for the next Gaslight album. Has that number increased at all?!
“I’ve got, like, 400 notes in this phone with all of the songs that you could get (laughs). Now I’ve just got to go through them all and be like, ‘What is that again?! Why is that note called that?’ So I don’t know… yes, there are more songs!”
The Gaslight Anthem’s reunion tour begins at London’s OVO Arena Wembley on August 18 – remaining tickets are available at thegaslightanthem.com
Catch them at the following:
18 London OVO Arena Wembley
19 Manchester O2 Apollo
20 Edinburgh O2 Academy
21 Birmingham O2 Academy
23 Dublin National Stadium
24 Belfast The Telegraph Building
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