Brian Fallon: “I wanted to make sure I could write songs that were worthy to be the next Gaslight Anthem record”

After a nine-year wait, The Gaslight Anthem are set to release their long-awaited sixth studio album History Books in October. To mark the announcement, frontman Brian Fallon talks creativity, positivity, and how going for pizza with The Boss helped get the band back together…

Brian Fallon: “I wanted to make sure I could write songs that were worthy to be the next Gaslight Anthem record”
Emily Carter
Kelsey Ayres

In many ways, the universe has been hinting at Brian Fallon to get The Gaslight Anthem back together for a good couple of years now.

First and foremost, it’s something he’s been truly wanting to do again. Despite a successful solo career following the band’s indefinite hiatus in 2015, Brian had been noticing how so many of his own favourite musicians are part of a group – from Pearl Jam and Red Hot Chili Peppers, to artists with recognised ‘backing’ bands (Bruce Springsteen & The Street Band, Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers). Rather than going it alone, they all have people around them to enjoy the ride with.

Also playing a key role in nudging the vocalist/guitarist back to Gaslight was the pandemic, which had emphasised how much he’d missed playing onstage in front of big crowds, “just rocking out and seeing people lose their minds”.

“I was thinking back to the Hammersmith shows, and the Manchester Apollo shows, and Glastonbury, Hyde Park, Reading & Leeds…” Brian tells Kerrang! today. “It’s so epic, and there’s all those people there who are just into it. And I was like, ‘Man… why am I not doing that?’”

For a while, though, he quietly shelved the idea. This is when the universe properly decided to step in.

In September 2021, Brian was driving to a diner in New Jersey, where he was to meet up with local legends Jon Bon Jovi and Goo Goo Dolls’ John Rzeznik, before playing a fundraiser for governor Phil Murphy. For the first time, in the car ride there, he voiced how he had been seriously thinking about resurrecting The Gaslight Anthem.

“I turned to my wife and I was like, ‘I think I wanna be in the band again…’” Brian remembers. “And she was like, ‘What?!’ I’d said nothing to anyone, and had kept this inside for like a year.”

Completely oblivious to this prior conversation, over dinner Jon and John started quizzing Brian, too.

“Rzeznik was like, ‘I wish I could write songs like that.’ And then Bon Jovi started doing it too, talking about my band,” Brian laughs, still seemingly pleasantly shocked about the whole thing. “I swear, this is on the same day that I’d said to my wife on the way. And I was thinking, ‘This is a divine sign!’”

So, in Brian’s own words, he decided to “use the bat phone” for the first time ever: wanting to make sure that he was absolutely making the right move, he decided to seek the advice of one of his long-time heroes, Bruce Springsteen.

“I texted him saying, ‘I need to talk to you, and it’s about the band,’” he says. “And he’s like, ‘I’m free on Thursday.’ And I didn’t realise that the Thursday that he met me was on his birthday. He went out of his way to meet me for pizza on his birthday (laughs). And I had a legit talk with him about, ‘Where do I begin? How do I do this? Here are the problems…’ and he just laid it out for me. He understood that he has knowledge and experience, and it’s invaluable. What’s good is that somebody like that would take the time to share with me some advice that I truly believe probably helped the band get back together.”

After his pizza with The Boss, Brian challenged himself to write four brand-new Gaslight songs. If they were up to scratch, he’d call drummer Benny Horowitz and tell him what Bruce had said. Two weeks later, pretty much everything was in motion…

Fast-forward to now, and The Gaslight Anthem are ready to unveil their long-awaited sixth album History Books, due out on October 27. They’ve also released the record’s title-track, featuring a fitting guest spot from Bruce (which was his idea: ‘You’ve got to write a duet for us!’ he told Brian).

“How long has that been coming?!” Brian asks rhetorically. “I feel like just all of these things came together at the right time. But also, dude, if it doesn’t make a dollar I don’t care. I have Bruce Springsteen on my song – it’s so sick!”

So now you know how History Books came to be. But there’s a lot more to find out than that. Here, Brian reflects on getting back in the studio with his bandmates, how things have changed since the hiatus, and why History Books is a “defining” point in The Gaslight Anthem’s career…

This is the first new TGA album in almost 10 years. You’ve released several solo albums in that time, but do you still personally feel what a big deal this is?
“Yeah! Of course. I think it’d be silly not to. I almost look at it like they’re different projects – even though I’m behind the scenes there, it feels different and unique in its own way. It’s like when John Frusciante came back to the Chili Peppers – the Chili Peppers never stopped making records, but that was a big event. That was like, ‘Whoa, John’s back!’ I think that’s cause for celebration.”

It’s been such a long time since the last album – 2014’s Get Hurt – but given that History Books follows it in the Gaslight discography, was there anything about that record that was hanging over you?
“Oh, no. I think it’s been so long, and there’s such a different perspective on the whole thing. I don’t want to say it’s like a ‘new beginning’… but maybe it is. I’m kinda contradicting myself there! But I don’t think about the philosophical conceptualisation of the band, because I’m in it, and I’m just like, ‘This is good; this is fun!’ And I can’t wait to show it to people. I don’t know if I get too existential about it (laughs).”

In terms of things being fun, you’ve spoken before about not actually really enjoying the process of songwriting very much. Was that still the case this time?
“I used to hate it because it was so hard – you have to go through this whole, ‘Am I fake? Can I do this? Am I a fraud?’ thing every time, and you forget how to write songs. Even Paul McCartney said that in an NPR interview a few years ago – he was like, ‘Every time I sit down I forget how to write songs.’

“There was a lot of anxiety, and then I went to see the doctor before I started writing. I was like, ‘Everything sort of has this buzz of terror behind it in my head, and I don’t feel like it should be that hard.’ And it was also happening for insignificant things, too, like, ‘Did I wash my hands enough when I just touched that raw chicken? Am I gonna get a flat tyre? Is this plane gonna crash?’ It was constant, about everything. I woke up one morning, maybe the week before the first solo tour after the pandemic, and I said to my wife, ‘I get that life is hard, but there’s something inside me that is telling me that life is not supposed to be this hard; it’s not supposed to be hard every day, all the time, with no break.’

“I started a medication programme and had been working on that, and then when it finally came time to sit down and write, I found it much easier to gather my thoughts because there wasn’t just this dread happening all the time. I remember going out and saying to my wife, ‘This is a lot different!’ You know, writing the next Gaslight album after nine years is not an easy task! It’s not like, ‘Yeah, no big deal, I’ll just throw out whatever!’ It’s a big deal to the fans that we’ve established, and the people that believe in us, so it was very important. Normally, that would send me into a tizzy, just the pressure alone. I would not be able to do it; I’d clam up and just be like, ‘I don’t think I can do it.’

“This isn’t a mental health record, but this is just me personally: it was hard for me to write, and now it’s easier. It’s a little embarrassing to talk about, because I don’t really wanna be like, ‘Hey, I’m on medication!’ Because I’m not outwardly personal about every little detail of my life. But I think that there are so many other people in creative positions that are probably dealing with this, and that was a huge help to me.”

Is life in general a bit easier now, too?
“Yeah! And the biggest thing too is that you can’t receive all the joy that’s happening around you when you’re in that place. There were epic things that happened to us that none of us could see, because we were just so wound up by stuff. It’s a thing that really, really blinds you, when you’re in a depression. You could win a million dollars and be like, ‘Well, I don’t care.’ It sucks so bad, and you can’t see it. But everybody has definitely sorted themselves out; everybody has grown, and gotten a little healthier, and that kind of thing.”

Is that what lead single Positive Charge is about – receiving joy?
“Yeah. That was the first song I wrote, and it was right after recent therapy and I had started to feel different. And the first line, ‘Where did you go? I would say that to myself often…’ is literally me talking to me. Most of the time with the stuff that I had, you’re fully aware that everybody else is not having the same experience as you; you’re aware that you should be feeling good, and you’re not. And then that makes it worse, because you’re seeing this life with everybody else around you, and it’s not your experience – your experience is dim. That song is definitely about that.

“It’s also about the positivity that I felt, and how I didn’t want to feel [how I had been feeling]. ‘I wanna live / I wanna love you a little longer.’ And then it’s thinking about how it was back in the day, during [the cycle for 2008 breakthrough album] The ’59 Sound or when I was a teenager and ‘I was invincible’. It’s like a direct letter to the band, to the fans… it 100 per cent is about how I was viewing coming back to the group before anybody knew. This was before the guys in the band knew, because I wanted to make sure that I could write songs I felt were worthy to be the next Gaslight Anthem record. And I had been thinking, ‘I’m in my 40s, am I too old? Can I not rock anymore?’ And then I thought, ‘Well, Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Bruce… they’re all doing it!’ And so I decided, ‘If I’m gonna write this thing, then it better be about what I’m thinking right now, and it has to be really true.’ And if it wasn’t true, then it wouldn’t go in there.”

Did it feel very different for you going back into the studio with the guys again? Having been doing your solo stuff, was there less pressure because not everything had to be completely decided by you?
“It felt a lot less pressure. When you’re in a solo band you sort of hire musicians that you think are good, and they can do things, and they’re very talented, but it’s your job to tell them yes or no. You have to steer everything, and it’s a lot. And some people love that: they thrive on the power of their vision coming to life. And I believe that there’s always got to be someone steering the ship, but you don’t hire people in a band to do what one person says; you’ve got to have people that you feel get your creative energy, and that you get theirs, and then somewhere in that mix of creative electricity, a third new thing comes that’s more beautiful than anything anyone would have done on their own. And I definitely have that with [Gaslight].

“I don’t even think I said anything about any of the bass parts, or the drums… it would just be like, ‘Should the song be fast or slow?’, or with Alex [Rosamilia, guitar] I’d be like, ‘Make this solo crazier!’ They experimented a lot. And by no means is this an art record, or an experimental record – it’s still The Gaslight Anthem, but it’s The Gaslight Anthem with some new stuff on it, and it’s cool.”

So how much was it a conscious effort to have the classic Gaslight elements but also make it feel different?
“I was really cautious not to make it too different. The one thing that we did sort of plan out was the producer, Peter Katis, who does things that are very ethereal, and have a dream quality. And I said, ‘Well, what if we don’t change, but he changes the sound?’ Basically, we’re not decorating the house – we’ll let him decorate the house, but we’re still gonna build the house the same way. So we just wrote rock’n’roll songs. I was sat here literally going, ‘What would be fun to play in front of 5,000 or 10,000 people?’ That was it – and that’s what we always do. Peter and Alex are big sound guys, and we always found somewhere to meet [in the middle] because I’d be like, ‘Well, this is melodic, and then this is really fuzzed out, and I don’t like this but I do like that…’ We kinda combined it and had a really nice pattern. And I just let them do their thing.

“I also made a rule that it was not a song if I couldn’t play it and sing it at the same time in my iPhone – that’s the demo, and if it doesn’t sound like a whole song, then we’re not using it. It was a cool little challenge, and it worked out really well because I feel like I’m good at songs, and those guys are really good at playing, and creating atmospheres and scenery.”

You’ve just released the album’s title-track, History Books. Lyrically it’s at a different end of the spectrum to Positive Charge…
“Yeah, I felt like I had to be pretty honest about how I felt about both sides, because it was from a sense of really feeling not cool. I feel like you can’t write a positive song like [Positive Charge] unless you’ve really been through it. And so on the other side of the coin, I didn’t just want it to be positive throughout the whole record, because that’s not how you feel. Even on medication, you still have bad days – but they’re just not as bad. So I would write from how I felt.

“[With History Books] there were all these people in my life where I had been such a sucker for not putting up boundaries. And the funny thing is that you start to be like, ‘Why do these people suck? Why is it that every time I’m around this person it’s uncomfortable for me in order for them to be happy?’ What I learned is that people who are crossing the lines are the only people who get mad about boundaries. I was swarming with people like that, because I was so afraid of people not liking me. I used to feel like even if I offended someone, even if they were treating me bad, that I’d end up with no friends – and I’d rather have bad friends than no friends, which is insecurity. I mean, you could put me on a stage in front of 20 million people and I’m still gonna feel like I shouldn’t be there, and I don’t count. It’s just how I am, you know? But I also think that it’s a good thing that’s kept my band humble.

“One thing I want to be really clear about is that it’s not a song aimed at people in my past. It’s people that pop up and are totally just using you, or not respecting your own space. When I started taking medicine, I felt like I woke up – I felt like my brain broke open and I could see again. And when I saw everything, I was kinda like, ‘You know what? Actually that wasn’t a good time.’ It’s [the lyrics], ‘When I think of you now, you just bring me down.’ Like, ‘That wasn’t fun at all, and you’re not cool!’ There’s people who pretend that they care about you who are really just trying to steer you, and they just want you to be what they want you to be. I don’t want any of my friends in high school, or any of the people that I grew up with, thinking it’s about them! Right before we mixed the record I asked the guys, ‘Does that song sound like it’s about anybody I knew?’ (Laughs) But they were like, ‘No, not at all! We get what it’s about, and it’s awesome, and you should do it.’ And I was like, ‘Is it too negative?!’ And they were like, ‘No, and it’s about time you wrote a song like that!’”

Finally, how would you sum up this whole next chapter of Gaslight?
“It’s definitely the next phase of the band. I think every band has eras, and this is the maybe our fifth. [2007 debut album] Sink Or Swim and [2008 EP] Señor And The Queen were an era, and then I think The ’59 Sound and American Slang [2010] were an era, Handwritten [2012] is kind of an era of its own, and Get Hurt is completely an island – that was such a specific era that I don’t think the band ever could or will be that again. So much has been said about that record, and as hard as that time was for the band, I also think it was a really great experiment – both to find out what we were capable of, and what we probably shouldn’t be capable of (laughs). It taught us what we are and what we aren’t, and I think that that’s incredibly valuable for a band to know.

“I think this is the ‘recognising what you have’ era. It’s definitely us remembering, and I’m not saying that it’s our definitive record, but it defines now. It’s everything we’ve done, and there’s maybe some stuff that’s different, and there’s maybe some stuff that’s not different, but it’s definitely a defining point in our career, of reminding us of who we are. We’re the band that plays the rock songs that encourage you. We’re this band!”

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