Brian Fallon: “I Want These Songs To Feel Like A Friend”
Words: Emily Carter
In this week’s issue of Kerrang!, we welcome back Brian Fallon, as life without The Gaslight Anthem marches on. And, as we find out, their end is a new beginning for Brian – and it’s one that might just have saved him…
Now, as his brilliant debut LP, Painkillers, hits shelves (pick it up on iTunes, or get CD, vinyl and album bundles over at this link), you can read more of our interview with Brian, as he talks about the lack of pressure in going solo after nine years with Gaslight, keeping things positive, and what comes next…
How did you feel immediately after Gaslight Anthem went on hiatus? Was it like, ‘Phew, glad that’s out of the way now…’?
“It was definitely a lot of relief. Because the pressure… My goodness… It was always like, ‘Gaslight Anthem is gonna be the next Bruce Springsteen, or the next Foo Fighters, or the next Pearl Jam – the next big rock’n’roll band’. And it kind of never happened. We got big, which was cool with us… But we didn’t need to be the next big rock’n’roll band. We didn’t expect to be millionaires (laughs). We just wanted to play, and it was awesome that we could pay our bills. But the pressure of, I don’t know, ‘saving’ rock’n’roll… That bothered me. ‘The Saviours Of Rock’N’Roll’ always killed me. Because we were just like, ‘Dude, we’re not saving anything!’ The pressure was gnarly… It got weird. I knew I was going to do this solo record, but you know what? That’s not as much pressure as if we did the next Gaslight record. Especially after Get Hurt, which was kind of a weird record. It was little bit of a departure, and some people liked it and some people didn’t like it.”
What was the biggest relief? Ditching all the pressure from labels, or forgetting what people thought?
“Both. I’m not going to lie and say that what people said didn’t matter, because it did matter – and it matters to me still. But I just have to put that into perspective. It doesn’t make or break it. I appreciate what people think – and especially if they have something constructive to say, then I really appreciate it – but if it’s just negative, then I tune out. I don’t need that in my life.”
Did challenging yourself musically on Get Hurt help you to strip things back when it came to writing Painkillers?
“Yeah, it definitely did. Going through that process and trying all these different things that I had never done before allowed me to get lost in the music, and then this [solo album] allowed me to come back to where I started from, with just a guitar and a vocal. It was, ‘I’m gonna write some words, I’m going to tell the truth, and I’m going to make a song’. It felt really good to get back to that. Had we just kept on doing records like ’59 Sound, I don’t know if it would have felt as good, or as necessary, but it seemed really necessary for me, at that time.”
Is the solo album like starting afresh, then?
“Yeah! In some ways that’s scary because I know not every Gaslight Anthem fan is gonna follow what I’m doing, so I know that I can’t turn around and play Alexandra Palace again. I can’t play Shepherd’s Bush again. I’ve gotta start a little smaller – but that’s okay, and I’m happy with that. It refocuses and puts a little bit of fight in it, because you’ve got to prove it again, and I like that. There’s something about being in that position where you’re not sure what’s going to happen, and having a really positive outlook about it. And not a falsely positive thing – I’m not one of those people who’s just like, ‘Everything’s cool!’ all the time.”
What were you writing about this time around?
“I always found music to be a comforting thing to people, so Painkillers came from that. The name came out of how I feel about music, because it’s something that you turn to for comfort. I thought Painkillers was pretty good as a name of a record, and I couldn’t think of any other record that was named that. Since then, I’ve found other records that people have told me about, but they’re not records that I listen to, or have ever come into contact with. I thought I was so original – I was patting myself on the back, like, ‘Painkillers, that’s pretty good!’ It turns out I’m an idiot, because there’s probably like twenty records named that already (laughs).
“This was all before I had any songs – I had none, but that was the name of the record. So everything fit into that mould. I was writing songs with that in mind, wanting these songs to feel like a friend, even if they’re sad. I want them to feel like something that comforts other people. And the other thing about it was being able to write about everything that I wanted to write about, since I can remember having memories, to now – like, my life, so far. So it’s not timeline-specific to Get Hurt. This isn’t the ‘next record’ from Get Hurt – this is almost ignoring that there were other records. And I know A Wonderful Life kinda sounds like it could have been a Gaslight song – I’m aware of that – but I did it anyway because I was pretending like nothing else had come before it; it was a new start.”
Have there been any new styles or influences that you’ve been able to explore that you couldn’t previously?
“Well, with The Horrible Crowes I was allowed to explore a lot, because it was just me and Ian [Perkins]. But, yeah, with Gaslight, there was always stuff that I wanted to do but I couldn’t because it just wouldn’t fit. I’ve still not done it, but I’ve always wanted to make like a Gospel-style Tom Waits record; not a Gospel or religious record, but one that just sounds like that, like those old hymns – but updated, maybe with some crazy thing on it to make it new. I’ve always wanted to do a record like that, and now I can, and maybe I will. I have so many new ideas, and it’s really refreshing. If you’re looking for the punk thing, it’s not here. And it’s not because I’m not into it or I don’t like it – I love punk. But it’s just not here – that’s Gaslight’s thing.”
So, why should fans care about this next chapter?
“It’s the other side that people always have waited for. All throughout my career, people have been like, ‘When are you going to do an acoustic record? When are you going to do a singer-songwriter record?’ People always knew that there was this other side where I would do quieter music that told more in-depth stories… So that’s why, because it’s the other facet. It goes hand-in-hand with anything that I’ve done with Gaslight Anthem or anybody, but this is the other part. If you’ve ever wanted to see that, then now is the time. And it’s also because you don’t have to go and see a giant rock show – you can still get up kinda close and sing-along and make yourself happy. The pressure isn’t here – we didn’t bring the pressure with us.”
You’ve got your first Brian Fallon & The Crowes UK tour in April – is any pressure there?
“I’m happy to be playing shows – they sold out KOKO, and I’m thrilled with that, I didn’t think that was going to sell out! It feels like the first time that Gaslight had those things happen and I was really blown away. But you know the part that sucked about that? Everybody started expecting Gaslight to sell out these places. What was a big deal was if we didn’t sell them out. I’m not talking about the fans, but everybody involved would be like, ‘The Gaslight Anthem just sell out everywhere they play!’ but, like, what if we don’t? What if we have a bad year?”
Aren’t you worried that that’s going to happen all over again, though?
“I think that will always happen. That’s why we have to wait until we have assurity of mind before we do the next thing again, and that’s why the option is open to never do anything again. If Gaslight never figure it out, and we never come up with an idea that we feel good about, then I feel great about the band that we started. I would never want to ruin that. But, right now, if we decided we were going to release another record in six months, the pressure would be right back on again – I can feel it as I’m talking about it! I can feel that chill, and I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness, no…’ It’s rough, man, it’s not a cool feeling! We don’t want to do anything out of a reaction of pressure – we want to do something for passion, and because we love it.”
Is there not a tiny part in your mind that’s like, ‘Well, I just sold out KOKO, maybe I’ll do Shepherd’s Bush next time…’?
“Absolutely not! My mind is going, ‘Thank God I sold out KOKO, I’m not moving’ (laughs)! I don’t wanna jump. Oh my goodness, the risks that The Gaslight Anthem took, and the worry of not filling up a venue… Even playing Ally Pally, and being like, ‘That place is huge, and if it’s a quarter of the way full, then the press are gonna write about it, and it’s not going to be cool’. Luckily it was good, but I don’t want to have to sell 7,000 or 10,000 tickets – leave me be with my tickets over here! I’m happy to play in front of 500 kids. One show we recently did in North Carolina we played in front of like 400 kids, and it was awesome. Gaslight hadn’t been there for six years, and I thought it was a great time. It wasn’t overwhelming, and I was happy that there were 400 kids there. I don’t care as long as it’s cool and everybody is having a good time. It’s so much more satisfying to be happy.”
But you’re still open to bigger offers, should they arise, right?
“Yeah! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not scared of if it does well. If A Wonderful Life exploded and it became some Adele magnitude thing, I’d be thrilled! I’d be like, hanging out with Adele and Noel Gallagher and whatever – that’d be awesome! I’m not afraid of it or shunning it, but, at the same time, it’s not the be-all and end-all. That doesn’t define who I am, whether it’s successful on that level or not.”
Be sure to pick up this week’s issue of Kerrang! for more from Brian Fallon…
Catch Brian Fallon & The Crowes at the following:
5 Manchester Ritz
6 Glasgow O2 ABC
7 Birmingham O2 Institute
8 London Camden KOKO
9 Nottingham Rock City
10 Bristol O2 Academy
11 London St Pancras Old Church
Get your tickets now from the Kerrang! Ticket Store!
Brian Fallon And The Howling Weather are hitting the UK and Europe next April and May for an extensive tour.
If You Wanna Breathe My Sulfur is a reminder why mash-ups exist, and proof that God is dead.