The Gaslight Anthem Talk The ’59 Sound Anniversary And Tour
It was early 2008, and four 20-something punks from New Jersey were on the road. They didn’t know it then, but that particular journey – all 2,500 miles of it – was about to change their lives forever. Arriving at their destination in a van that they were yet to pay off, these hopeful young men had made a cross-country trip to the address of their new record label’s offices, SideOneDummy, to pick up the keys to LA’s Oakwood apartments. It would be their home for the next couple of weeks.
The quartet went by the name The Gaslight Anthem and they were there to make an album titled The ’59 Sound.
“When we pulled up, I had zero dollars in my pocket, and $30,000 of credit card debt,” reflects bassist Alex Levine, looking back on a body of work that not only dragged him away from a time of struggle, but gave his bandmates – Brian Fallon (vocals), Alex Rosamilia (guitar) and Benny Horowitz (drums) – experiences that would exceed their wildest dreams. “It’s kind of a romantic story; what I was about to do next was the beginning of the next 10 years of my life.”
The Gaslight Anthem believed in the material they’d brought to producer Ted Hutt. But they never anticipated what these 12 soulful punk songs would do for them. The group would appear on the front of Kerrang! – having never even been written about in the magazine before – with the words: ‘The Best New Band You’ll Hear In 2008’ splashed across the cover. Their Garden State hero, Bruce Springsteen, would become a fan, and join them onstage at Glastonbury the following year. They would go on to make three more albums (signing to a major label for the latter two), outgrow basement shows in favour of academy and arena venues, and accumulate a diehard fanbase. Then, in 2015, they temporarily hit the brakes.
Today, the Red Bank natives are happily celebrating 10 years of their seminal second album. With an anniversary tour in full swing (the UK dates of which begin tonight!) and a companion album of rarities and demos out now, The Gaslight Anthem have emerged from some well-earned time away to honour the moment their career exploded into life…
What was it like getting back in a room together and rehearsing for these anniversary shows after a few years away?
Benny Horowitz: “It wasn’t like some dramatic ’80s movie thing where we were blowing dust off the instruments (laughs). I’m sure some of the guys would agree – it was pretty classic Gaslight in the way that nothing has ever been that big of a deal when we’re all together. It felt really familiar. It wasn’t like we’d been estranged all these years or anything – we all still talk and see each other. So it was pretty un-dramatic! It’s the same thing where, if you walked into our backstage area after a romping show with thousands of people, you would have no idea that we just did that! So it was kind of the same vibe with this. We just want to make sure we’re having fun with it and not taking on any unnecessary pressure.”
Alex Rosamilia: “I’d been practicing at home a lot, and a friend of mine, who’s in my other band, Dead Swords, was like, ‘Have you been practicing at home by yourself for the Gaslight shows?’ And I was like, ‘Why?’ And he was like, ‘Because you’re listening to nothing but Gaslight albums on Apple Music!’ It’s not that I just like to stay at home by myself blasting my own music (laughs). Before we started rehearsing, Brian was on the road until we basically started doing these practices, I took it upon myself to sit at home with our records and learn how to play everything again.”
Alex Levine: “It sound cliché, but the four of us have a special chemistry, regardless of anything. At the end of the day, if you strip it away, the four of us have a very comfortable way about playing music with each other. We don’t even have to speak to each other – we just play. It’s very natural: everything about us and our personalities and our relationships with each other. We’re lucky and blessed in terms of being in a band for 12 years and still caring about each other and still being able to have that chemistry. It’s pretty awesome.”
Brian Fallon: “It never dramatic with us. Not ever. It was the most normal conversation when it was like, ‘Hey, we’re almost done with the Get Hurt tour, what do you guys wanna do?’ And we were all kinda like, ‘Nah, we’re kinda burned out with all this touring.’ And we all just said, ‘Is everyone not into this, or is it just a couple of us?’ But then everyone else made it like ‘indefinite hiatus’ and ‘breaking up’ – they just made it into this big, stupid thing. Every time it says ‘former’ members, it’s like… just because you’re not making records doesn’t mean you’re not a functioning band. And hey, guess what, news to the world: you wouldn’t want a record we didn’t like! You would hate it, because it would be half-hearted! So there’s all this dramatic Internet 2018 generation blast of information. It’s like, ‘I need a thing to tweet about, so I’m going to blast about this thing!’ So, for us, it’s so not weird. Everyone is like, ‘Are you nervous? What comes after this?’ And it’s like, ‘Nothing comes after this!’ It’s going to be a bunch of shows, we’re going to play them really well, we’re going to make people happy and they’re going to go home with a giant smile on their face. That’s what’s going to happen.”
What was the biggest appeal of doing a ’59 Sound anniversary tour?
Brian: “I think the appeal to us was more just a regular thing that we decided it was fun to do, like, ‘Hey, the last shows that we did were at Reading & Leeds, maybe we should do these shows when The ’59 Sound turns 10.’ And this was all a couple of months ago that we talked about this – we didn’t have this plan. We said to each other: ‘Now seems like the right time, if there’s ever going to be a time.’ You don’t want to just do it out of nowhere. It’s not a big deal to anybody but us and the kids that are going to come and see it. All the other questions, you just let them go. But it doesn’t change anything for me, because I’m still on my solo record, and this just happened to be in the middle of it. We’re just doing this thing, and then we’re going to continue on our merry way. Everybody wants to know what is going to be the next step, and sometimes there just isn’t one. So it’s like, ‘Let’s enjoy this.’ When it’s Christmas time, nobody is like, ‘I wonder what I’m doing to get next Christmas.’ Just enjoy Christmas, or whatever holiday you want to celebrate. I think there’s so much pressure and attention on the wrong things. When we first stopped, the attention was, ‘Are you guys broken up forever?’ And we’re like, ‘Yo, we don’t know, chill out.’ And then now it’s like, ‘Well, what are you going to do next? Are you going to tour? Are you going to make a record?’ And it’s like, ‘No!’ We’ve said that 500 times, and no-one ever reads it! We’ve never made any other declaration, other than, ‘Let’s have fun doing this.’ That’s what got us into trouble last time: worrying about everything but what we were doing.”
Alex L: “It’s just a nice feeling to do what we want to do: to say yes to things and to say no to things without worrying if it’s going to impact whatever record or thing we may be doing at that time. That’s really the mantra: let’s just have fun, because we did a lot of touring, and we never really stopped, and towards the end of it we were really burnt out. That’s the reality of it, and I think the fans saw that. We needed to step away – and I think every band should step away for a second to really figure out and understand what happened. We went from playing in basements to playing the main stage of Reading & Leeds – the last show we did – with no break in between, so it’s very hard to digest what we did for the 10 years that we were more or less on the road. It was a nice reflection period from the last couple of years.”
Alex R: “We decided to take a little bit of a break – everyone besides me was busy having children! I’m a couple of steps behind everyone else (laughs). So everyone settled down, and Brian had stuff that he wanted to do for a solo record anyway, so we decided to do that and figure something else out down the line. And then I think it was on the Painkillers tour, which I was playing guitar with Brian on, and I kind of brought up the idea. I think even the Sink Or Swim idea came up first, but I thought The ’59 Sound would be better. I think it was easy to get back together to do this, as opposed to try and write new material straight off the bat – it probably would have taken longer to get going if we were getting back together to write music straight away. I think this will help us get in the groove of touring, while other things start popping. But nobody needed the proverbial arm twist or anything like that – everybody was pretty stoked to get back out again, y’know?”
Benny: “We knew that Sink Or Swim was turning 10 years old, and we kinda decided then, like, ‘If we do it for this record then we’ve got to do it for every record.’ And then we’d be doing a 10-year thing every 16 months for the next five years. So we made a conscious decision to just brazenly let that one go past 10 – I think I talked about it on Twitter (laughs). A couple of people started poking their noses at our schedule, and Brian hit me up on the phone a while ago – he’s smarter than us with that stuff – and was like: ‘If we were gonna do something for The ’59 Sound, we should probably start thinking about it now.’ And we started chatting about it and it felt okay. It didn’t feel like anything was being forced on us, and it was something we wanted to honour – well, that sounds like a fallen soldier or something, not a record (laughs). And also we were like, ‘It’ll be fun, this doesn’t sound like stress.’ So that’s when we made that decision to see what shows were out there. That was the initial conversation, and it went around with everybody, and it sort of landed in the same place: just, ‘Yeah, cool, this feels good.’ But also there was kind of the period at the end where it was like, ‘This doesn’t mean anything,’ and that’s one of the reasons we can keep things low-pressure. When you don’t have any long-term plans, it keeps things nice and fun.”
Has the album’s anniversary inspired you to do much reflecting back to that time in 2008?
Brian: “For me, not really, because I’ve been worrying about practicing the songs [for the tour], and making it sound good, and finding out how to play them. Everybody says how nostalgic I appear to be (laughs), but I don’t really sit there and think about what happened. I’m more worried about what’s happening now and that we’re doing good shows and people are getting their money’s worth and the set lists are good and the people are walking away happy. I don’t want anybody to be bummed. That’s where my focus is.”
Alex R: “Well, me 10 years ago was homeless and didn’t have a car, so I probably wouldn’t have believed that any of this was true! But I would be excited for the fact that I was still able to play music – although I wouldn’t have thought it would be for a living, because at that point I wasn’t living. I was living only on the good grace of my friends who let me stay on their couches! I think it’d just be a shock that something awesome happened. At that point, before we put out the record, I moved out of my last proper apartment in July 2007, and I didn’t have another apartment until January 2010. Part of that was also because we were gone for so long that I didn’t see the point in paying for rent, but the first part of that was that I literally had nowhere else to go. I was trying to do this band, and I wasn’t trying to do anything else. I didn’t have as much money as I would’ve wanted to have, so I had to sleep on friends’ couches and that sort of thing. Being in a band was always the cooler thing to me, so it was worth it. All of that shit was worth it. Even before I knew anything was going to happen, I still felt like, ‘I’d rather be doing this and not have a roof over my head, than do something that I don’t want to do.’”
Benny: “We had all converted our lives to be a full-time band. And because of that, half of us didn’t have places anymore – me and Alex Rosamilia were floating around in New Jersey on couches and motels, and my brother’s house, and random shit like that. No-one had a job or anything like that that was particularly satisfying. You know part of the cool thing for us, in hindsight, is by the time that Gaslight started going and really getting some attention, we were already getting a little older, in our mid-to-late-20s. We had been in a lot of bands, and had worked a lot of shitty jobs, and none of us came from money. So it got to a point where it was really ‘shit or get off the pot’ time. And maybe because that environment existed that explains the easy temperament of the band, because we always knew how special it was to just have any sort of opportunity. And we were also very aware of how quickly that can go away, and how quickly thing can get fucked-up. We knew that we were in some kind of pivotal time, because people were paying attention to us and we had gotten signed to a cool label. We were like: ‘This is a real thing!’ And none of us were exactly charmed at what we were going home to at that time; no-one owned a house, I don’t even think anyone had a car. We were just floating.”
Alex L: “I’m a bit younger than the rest of the guys so I didn’t have anything. It’s a hard thing to kind of understand and grasp, honestly. I remember my first goal was wanting to be able to make enough money to play music and get a hotel room every night, and just go and play in little bars or whatever, and have people listen to our music. There’s always a point in any musician’s life where they have to go left or right, and if you’re not sustaining a life while making a little bit of money, you kinda have to go home and get a real job, and play music on the side. So that was at least my first goal: to just play shows all the time. Looking back at it now, I never, ever, ever, ever thought that people would look at the record that we were making at that point with such high regard. I believed in the record, but when you’re young and you’ve never experienced anything, really, it’s hard to grasp what came next, in terms of… well, all of it: Springsteen coming onstage, and the next few years after we put that record out. It was crazy. It was things that you couldn’t even dream about.”
Did you have any expectations when you released The ’59 Sound?
Benny: “At that point, yes. When we put out Sink Or Swim and started touring, the shows weren’t big or anything, but there were people who were stoked on the record in a lot of different places. I think we knew that the next thing we did, a lot of people would be interested in. But the thing we didn’t know was what it actually took. If you asked any of us at that time, we would have all probably said, ‘All we want to do is make a living from playing music.’ Paying our rent, and stuff like that. I don’t think we knew that the bands that we loved, who were our heroes and were touring bands, all came home from tours and were still working, and doing jobs that they didn’t want to do. And we learned that as we went. You’re looking to sell five T-shirts at a show, you know what I mean? That was the first goal. It’s like, ‘Oh, I fucking printed and handed out 75 demos today!’ And shit like that. So when you come from that world, we weren’t pitching our demos to major labels, we were just trying to get shows or tours. It was done in the punk rock way. So I do think we knew we were onto something cool, and we knew that it could be special, but I don’t think we had any clue at that point what it actually took to be a full-time band. We learned as we went.”
Brian: “Of course we wanted to do well – you always want anything you put that much effort into to do well. But we weren’t thinking about the possibilities from it or anything like that. That came in later. And I think that gets in the way a lot of the time – it’s hard for anybody who does this as a career, because you worry about if you can pay your bills, and the basics. You have to worry about that stuff. It’s such a shame when the feeling goes that you can’t create for the sake of creating. Everybody is better when that’s the real purpose – you can create so much freely when you’re just creating for the sake of creating something that you enjoy. That’s a difficult thing to maintain after you’ve had any kind of success at all – whether it’s small or big.”
Did it make everything else that came afterwards harder, then?
Alex R: “For me, the thing in front of me is always the thing I pay the most attention to. So I didn’t even thing about that possibility for not topping it until after we finished recording American Slang, and people were asking me: ‘Well, how do you feel if this doesn’t live up to The ’59 Sound?’ And I was like, ‘Oh… I didn’t even think about that!’ You always try to do something better than the last thing you did, and that’s just life. I feel like that’s how everybody should live their lives: you do something, and if it doesn’t work, you retry to make sure it works; and if it does work and it’s deemed a success, then you do something that’s even bigger!’”
Brian: “I think everything after that point was a little bit more difficult in terms of decision making and, ‘What does this mean?’ There was always all of these questions that weren’t necessarily ours – ‘What’s this going to do?’ or, ‘Is this going to do as well?’ But that’s how it happens. I don’t think bands do that – they find that. You sort of have to live with it, but, in a way, you have to learn to ignore it. If you’re going to have any kind of length in your career, you have to ignore it. That’s what I would say from my experience. It’s easier said than done, of course.”
Is that something you’ve learned in these 10 years since the album?
Brian: “Oh, definitely! I know that better as a 38-year-old than I did as a 28-year-old. I think now I’ve learned that that’s the only real way forward: to forget about that stuff and make the record and the songs without letting any of that stuff breathe down your neck. But it depends on the kind of person you are. I’m a little bit anxious, normally, so it’s harder to not let those things dog you. For somebody else it might be easier to say, ‘I’m gonna do my thing and I don’t care what anybody else thinks.’ But I do care, because I want what I do to be quality. I’m not interested in putting anything out that I don’t think is quality. That’s really the only test for me right now, but I didn’t know that in the middle – I learned that through hindsight in the last 10 years. I can trace it back to The ’59 Sound and go, ‘Well, during this record, I wasn’t worried about what anybody said, because I didn’t know anybody was going to say anything.’”
Do you remember being put on the cover of Kerrang! for the first time?
Brian: “Yeah, I remember that really well, actually! It’s funny, because I can remember doing the interview, and I remember the pictures… I remember everything. I remember where we were in New Brunswick, and the restaurant we went to. It was a big deal for us. We knew that being on the cover of a magazine was a huge deal – that was probably the first cover of any magazine that we were on, and it was also a magazine that had not previously written about it, which was really big. We knew that it wasn’t normal and didn’t happen to people – we were like, ‘This is kinda cool!’”
Could you stop and appreciate the gravity of what was happening, or did it pass you by because it was such a whirlwind?
Brian: “Nah, none of that stuff – the big stuff, like getting on the cover of Kerrang! and having Bruce Springsteen playing with us – flew over our heads. We knew that that stuff was super cool. We all bought copies of that Kerrang! for our families – we ordered copies from the UK and got them all home and stacked them. I had a stack of those magazines in my draw, just in case nobody believed me! I just remember that so well. It was one of those moments where I actually said, ‘Oh, we’re onto something here.’”
Alex L: “In the beginning I was very much into living in the moment. It’s always like: you don’t know what’s coming around the corner, and this might be it – this might be your last show or the last tour. So I always look at things, so I would look over and be like, ‘Oh my God, Bruce Springsteen is on our stage!’ – I can remember every single moment of that day, and it’s burned into my head. I really appreciate everything. Actually, this past Easter, it was really cool because in America there’s a TV channel in America called Palladium, and they played Glastonbury 2009, when we played with Bruce. And we weren’t on it because we were on a smaller stage and it only showed the main stage people, but Bruce was there and he’s playing, and all of a sudden you could see all of us on the right of the stage! I will never forget that moment of: ‘Oh my God, we’re Bruce Springsteen’s guests on the side of the stage!’ I remember how excited we were – everything about it was this unbelievable thing.”
What else did The ’59 Sound do to your lives at the time?
Brian: “Well, the funny thing is, we didn’t really have any more money. Money is a funny thing when it comes to records – I read once that the Red Hot Chili Peppers were broke when Under The Bridge was a giant single. They had absolutely no money. The money takes a long time to come in, so you don’t really get paid until a year later. So when that happened, nothing much changed. I don’t think any of us had apartments – maybe one of us did, but I certainly did not have an apartment. I was living with my parents. It was like that for a while until after American Slang. It wasn’t night and day different – nobody was rich, so it was always a little bit of a struggle.”
How do you feel about the legacy of the album, 10 years on?
Brian: “I think it’s great. It’s the biggest compliment that you can get, that somebody thinks that what you did was good and valid. It’s funny, I’m at peace with all this stuff. There’s not a lot of turmoil going on – I think this is all cool. I look back on the record and I think, ‘Man, that was tough getting here, but I’m glad we did it.’”
Alex L: “It’s cool! I guess the trailblazers are the ones that get the accolades, and then there’s a lot of people that become way bigger and way more famous after! If we could look more down that road – if we’ve paved the way for certain bands – like I know The Front Bottoms talk about us in high regard, and you can see where certain bands have taken influence, and I think that’s awesome. That means that our music has staying power. If a kid puts it on in 20 years they may be into it, because it’s hopefully a timeless piece of work.”
Words: Emily Carter
Catch The Gaslight Anthem live at the following dates:
20-21 London Hammersmith Apollo
23 Dublin Vicar Street
24 Glasgow Barrowlands
25 Manchester Apollo
In honor of the Bouncing Souls’ 30th anniversary, members of NOFX, The Gaslight Anthem, The Bronx, and more tell how those New Jersey mooches changed everything.
In honor of his passing, we look at the career and legacy of Sid Haig, champion among character actors.