After Years In The Spotlight, Brian Fallon Is Finally Comfortable With Who He Is
“You know when you see people walking through the stairway of a venue carrying a hot dog, and you’re onstage like, ‘This song is about my dead friend’?”
No, Brian Fallon is not setting up the punchline of a joke. He is reliving the nagging moment he realised that he didn’t want to be famous anymore. Mid-performance, during a “window between 2011 and 2014”, the musician was headlining a 10,000-capacity venue with his band, punk rock greats The Gaslight Anthem. The evening prior, Tom Petty had been standing in the very same spot. It was an honour, and the kind of towering achievement that Brian and his bandmates had spent the past decade-plus working towards. But as the frontman stared in bewilderment at the colossal crowd before him, it all felt… well, a bit off.
“I was like, ‘Oh, this is weird,’” the 40-year-old frowns today, as he escorts us around Jenkinson’s Boardwalk at Point Pleasant Beach in his native New Jersey. He recalls his unease at not being able to tell what the audience was thinking, and how he awkwardly struggled to adopt the behaviour of a typical, pumped-up rock’n’roll frontman.
“Something changed in me where I started to feel like, ‘I just don’t know if I want to be Dave Grohl,’ you know what I mean?” Brian chuckles. “If you go see the Foo Fighters, or you go see Green Day, they get the whole crowd on their feet. I’m not… I can’t…”
His voice quietens and he taps his heavily-tattooed fingers as the right phrase eventually arrives.
“I don’t feel comfortable doing that.”
For many years before this fateful moment, the musician was navigating the path to stardom. A die-hard fan of arena titans like Pearl Jam and the Garden State’s own Bruce Springsteen, it wasn’t unreasonable to expect that Brian would some day follow in his heroes’ footsteps with Gaslight, too. And the band did everything they could to get there: releasing life-affirming, radio-ready anthems, hitting the road relentlessly, and fulfilling the appropriate press commitments that were laid out to them. Quickly, though, it all became overwhelming.
“There was a lot of giving yourself, in a way that I just couldn’t do,” Brian explains. “Physically working was okay, and I didn’t mind the pace, but the emotional giving? I have a limit.”
The band indefinitely parted ways in 2015 (though they temporarily regrouped in 2018 for a 10th anniversary tour of their breakthrough second LP, The ’59 Sound), and Brian has since found his footing as a remarkable solo artist. Across three excellent albums – 2016’s Painkillers, 2018’s Sleepwalkers, and now this year’s Local Honey – he has embraced his naturally introverted side, performing to a more modest yet deeply loyal fanbase while realising (and acting on it, if necessary) when he needs to hit the brakes. Crucially, too, it all feels right.
“I sort of… wasn’t equipped for that speed,” he reflects of the early days in his career. “But I know why, and I go to therapy [now]. It feels like you can say, ‘I’m mentally exhausted, I’m emotionally exhausted, I have anxiety, I am depressed, I need to stop.’ Whereas when the band was coming up, everyone would be like, ‘Shut up, keep going.’ But now you can say that and everyone goes, ‘Oh, okay.’ They respect it.”
It’s a newfound pace of life that is not only reflected in the notably softer, more stripped-back musicality of Local Honey, but also in its poignant living-in-the-moment lyricism.
‘I’m watching you just colour / With your brand new pyjamas on,’ Brian croons sweetly to his young daughter on opener When You’re Ready, before later addressing his wife in the most openly romantic song of his entire catalogue, You Have Stolen My Heart. ‘And everything slows with my breath,’ he sings, ‘As I watch you float ’cross the floor.’
Family life has undoubtedly continued to steer his focus away from the celebrity aspects of being in a successful band. And while the rock star routine certainly didn’t appeal anyway (“I never had a party lifestyle. I was too busy working!”), it’s only now that Brian is finally able to lift the lid on who he truly is.
“I’m not like [the sentiment of] Poison’s Nothin’ But A Good Time, or Mötley Crüe’s music,” he jokes. “I go to the supermarket and worry about how much sugar is in the juice that my kids are drinking (laughs). I think there’s an age where you should put certain stuff away, you know what I mean? There’s nothing more sour than watching someone try to be something they’re not.”
For such a gifted songwriter, Brian Fallon hates the process of making music. And as he stepped into the ring last March to grapple with his own subconscious, it took months of frustrating battles to complete the eight songs that now make up Local Honey. Not only was self-doubt holding him back, it was also often a case of failing to come up with anything at all.
“Most days I was banging my head against the table trying to think of something – it was extraordinarily difficult,” he exhales. “I have a tough time.”
As his two children often whizzed past his work desk at home, he noticed a theme cropping up in each song that eventually came to fruition: they were all simple, touching tales about his life as it was in that moment. There were no rose-tinted stories of the past, or grand conceptual storylines. It was all about the now.
This mindset resulted in the likes of I Don’t Mind (If I’m With You) – ‘You’re a light in the hallway in the dark of my room…’ – and album highlight 21 Days, which details, though cleverly disguises within the metaphor of a relationship, Brian’s successful attempt to quit smoking.
‘And they say, ‘21 days ’til I don’t miss you’’, goes the chorus over minimalist guitars and percussion, allowing his words to breathe. And, as it turns out, it was totally intentional to do it this way.
Like many of the songs on the record, 21 Days started life more in line with Brian’s punk roots. But as he began to dial down the volume and speed, he realised how much more profound these observations became within the song. As such, Local Honey is the musician’s furthest step away from rock’n’roll yet, and sees him really flex his muscles as the ‘singer-songwriter guy’.
“You know, I think I always was that guy,” Brian considers. “It was always there, but now it’s coming out. You evolve as a person. I certainly don’t think that I missed my calling when I was doing Gaslight, though; that was exactly where I should have been at that time. I think that when some people get to where I’m at right now, they’re so critical of what they did previously, and it’s like they almost want everyone to forget it. In a way, I’ve probably done that before, too. But I’m at a place where I like them both – I’m not ashamed of anything that we did, but then I’m also excited about what I’m doing now. I think I was just always a mixture of both, and now one is becoming more dominant in my personality.”
It’s a natural shift that has seamlessly worked its way into Brian’s live set-up, too. His inner Dave Grohl is firmly tucked away as he instead makes his shows ‘an evening with’-style events, taking on the dual roles of performer and storyteller. It suits him perfectly.
“I think I was always a contemplative introvert, in a weird sense,” he says. “And everybody would be like, ‘Well, you picked the wrong job!’ And I’d be like, ‘Yeah, but [Radiohead vocalist] Thom Yorke picked the right job, and he seems like an introvert to me.’ I remember on the first tours that we ever did, where I felt uncomfortable, and I would feel weird in front of an audience of people staring at me. I would close my eyes and sort of pretend that no-one was there.”
Do you ever worry about that happening again during this stage of your career?
Brian bursts out laughing.
“No!” he exclaims. “When I go onstage now, I’m 100 per cent doing it for me. With the audience that I’ve had, we’ve been together – I feel like it’s a relationship – for so long. I’ve been married twice, but I’ve still had the same audience (laughs). But it means that there’s an understanding there. And so, I don’t know… there’s this unspoken vibe that I catch in the room, and it happens a lot. They might be feeling something different from me, but they’re feeling something. There is a flow of something happening, and that’s enough.”
No longer weighed down by the pressure of entertaining, Brian has found happiness in accepting who he is.
“Now I feel comfortable,” he concludes with a grin. “Strangely comfortable.”
Brian’s new album Local Honey is out now via Lesser Known Records/Thirty Tigers.
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