Brian Fallon has found his groove.
“Sleepwalkers,” Fallon’s newest record, shows that the Jersey Shore crooner is at the top of his game and comfortable as a solo artist.
The album drips with the influence of soul and R&B and features massive, infectious choruses — all in a different way than his band The Gaslight Anthem used to.
Fallon, in what seems like a past lifetime as this point, tore New Brunswick basements apart when Gaslight came on the Jersey punk scene with “Sink or Swim” in 2007. But it’s the critical darling follow-up one year later, “The ’59 Sound,” that has allowed Fallon to get to where he is today.
He knows it and so do the other members of the band.
That album’s 10th birthday is the reason why Gaslight is getting back together this summer to play shows for the first time since they amicably chose to go on hiatus in 2015.
But this doesn’t exactly mean The Gaslight Anthem has a future.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Daily News, Fallon goes into detail on the impact “The ’59 Sound” has had on his career, how he has gotten comfortable as a solo artist, and much more.
New York Daily News: When you guys went into the studio to follow up your debut “Sink or Swim” was the plan to try and make a record that sounded polished and different from your debut?
Brian Fallon: When we went in? No (laughs). We actually had never worked with a producer before. The way that it lined up was that we did “Sink Or Swim” on no budget and we did it essentially on our own with a friend of ours who was running the board and would give his opinion every now or then.
When we did “The ‘59 Sound” we were in a real studio in Los Angeles from Side One Dummy that (producer) Ted Hunt had put us in. And we hadn’t ever worked with a producer before, that’s probably the difference between them. I definitely wouldn’t call it polished. It was seven days of recording very quickly, as fast as we could. That was kind of the way it was back then. There was no time for any plans or any kind of… really anything. It was just sort of going at the speed we could go at and try and get everything done.
NYDN: “The ‘59 Sound” gained a lot of steam on the underground message boards of the web, like AbsolutePunk when it came out. If it was released today in the world of streaming services, do you think it would’ve had the same reception?
BF: It’s impossible to say because I don’t think that was the kind of record that was registering in any kind of mass form. A lot of it was word of mouth. A lot of it was on independent blogs and music sites. A lot of it was kids finding it going “this is cool, what’s this?” It sort of went from there and that’s when later on the mainstream media picked it up. It could happen today, meaning it’s possible, but I’m not so sure.
Everything has to line up for something to be successful, it’s not just simply whether it’s good or bad. You have to have a lot of favorable things happen in the process in order for it to actually reach a large number of people. Sometimes timing is one of those things that you can’t plan for. I’m glad we don’t have to do it again (laughs). If I had to put that out now would I be able to manage a career? I have no idea if that would work so I’m glad it did then.
NYDN: You just said timing could play a big part in an album’s success. Do you think you guys got lucky with the timing of “The ‘59 Sound”?
BF: Definitely. You can call it luck. But two, there’s that element that you can’t control — whether the public is ready for it. Whether they are ready to embrace something like that at the time. And that’s not just for us, it goes for any kind of music. So if the public consciousness is primed for, like, Nirvana to come out, then it’s going to come out. If it’s primed for Kendrick Lamar to come out, then that’s what’s going to happen. It’s almost like what resonates with the actual feeling of the people at the time. I think that sort of dictates a lot more of it than whether you had one band have a really catchy song. And that’s what people mostly talk about when they talk about records. “Oh this record’s got to be so catchy. This song’s a hit… blah, blah, blah.” That song isn’t a hit until the public decides that.
For instance, around the same time as “The ‘59 Sound” came out, Florence and The Machine’s EP (“A Lot of Love. A Lot of Blood”) came out with “Dog Days Are Over.” I got turned on to that song when we played together at Glastonbury when Bruce Springsteen came out to play (with The Gaslight Anthem). Two bands after our set was Florence. I checked it out and thought it was amazing. That EP ending up being out for 18 months or so before anything happened and then all of a sudden it was on every commercial on television. How do you explain that? “The ‘59 Sound” and “Dog Days Are Over” came out and they have nothing really in common with each other stylistically. Why did “Dog Days Are Over” take 18 months to get big? That song was just as good versus 18 months later. Because that’s when the public was ready for it.
NYDN: This “59 Sound” 10-year anniversary tour is your first time playing with The Gaslight Anthem since Reading Festival in 2015. How did the decision to get back together go down? Did certain people need persuading or was it a unanimous choice?
BF: We really had a pretty basic straight talk with each other. We’re all adults now and most of us have children and other responsibilities so it’s not quite as roundabout as it used to be. Everything used to be based around “Well how do you feel?” Now there’s less of that and more just “Is this smart?” “Does this do anything to make us feel better about it? Or are we just rehashing something?”
But when this came up we all sort of felt the same about it. We all feel it’s a really good record and none of us would be where we are today, individually or collectively, without the record. We also took into consideration when we were going to stop Gaslight for a while, it was abrupt. A lot of people didn’t get the chance to come out and see us before we were going to stop. And we did that a little bit intentionally because we didn’t want it to be a ticket grab, because that’s usually how those things come across. We’ve been doing it long enough to know that if you announce something like that, people are just going to flood the tickets and try and catch the last time that they might get to see a band. That doesn’t feel like what we’d want.
NYDN: And then you get all the fake reunion tours afterwards
BF: Yeah. I had to think about it because I had a record coming out (“Sleepwalkers) and I wasn’t sure if it was going to come out in the fall of 2017 or in the winter of 2018. I was kind of already on track with that record and then in the middle of last year it was brought up to me: “‘The ‘59 Sound’ is 10 years old next year. We should probably talk about this.”
And I said “wow” but I had to make the decision for myself that was the best. I think that came easier than it would seem.
NYDN: Like you said, you’ve all known each other for a long time. After “Get Hurt” when you guys came to the decision to go on hiatus, was breaking up altogether ever on the table?
BF: It could’ve been on the table, but I think we learned from a lot of mistakes other bands made. They break up altogether only to reinvent themselves on the “jukebox reunion tour” where they play the hits. That just always seems a little bit like fans going “well we all knew that was going to happen, but you guys didn’t?”
I like to have options. I didn’t grow up with too many options so I like to have as many options as I can. I think we all feel that way. It’s best not to say “never.” We knew we needed a break, we didn’t know what else we needed. So when we stopped, we just kind of called it as it was and said this is going to be a break but we’re not breaking up.
That’s the same thing we’re doing now. This record is 10 years old. We kind of abruptly stopped. We think it will be fun to go out and play these shows and we think a lot of people agree with that and want to see it. So we’re going to do that and then beyond that, we’re not going to do anything, because we don’t know what else to do. Until we do, this is what we’re comfortable with so this is what we’ll do.
NYDN: Are you going to announce more dates for “The ‘59 Sound” show. Is there a homecoming Jersey show in the works?
BF: You know I can’t get specific, but there are more that we are going to do later. We’re going to put a little more out there, soon, and then that’ll be it for a while. Actually not for a while. That’s really all that there is.
What I’d said to those wondering (about the tour dates) is to trust your better judgment, people. If you look at them and are going “hey there’s no… you know” just think for a second if that seems right.
NYDN: After “Get Hurt,” what made you release solo music under your name rather than some other moniker?
BF: Actually, I was recently talking to a friend of mine who had brought that up and I probably would’ve just kept doing various band names but she said to me that it might not be a good idea to do that. Because then you have to separate all the songs on which band is on tour when. If you just do it under your own name then you can kind of do whatever you want. Because you’re the thing that’s defining who it is. You’re not stuck with one stylistic thing and you don’t have to worry that this band doesn’t play that band’s songs.
NYDN: New Jersey is present in all of the records you’ve written, especially the early ones. What did the Red Bank (New Jersey) show in January at Count Basie Theater mean to you?
BF: That’s a theater in my hometown. They hosted really big shows there when I was a kid. So for me to be able to go in there and play is a huge thing. You never get away from that thing in your hometown that it has over you. You don’t outgrow where you come from. To be welcomed back is really the best you can ask for.
I guess sometimes people feel that you’re not the same anymore or that you are not theirs, and it’s a good feeling to know that you are still theirs, no matter what has been done or how much stuff we’ve done. I feel like I’ve still got somewhere I can call home, that I can go back to and play and be received, especially with something new.
I went up there and played piano in front of a big crowd for the first time and I was really happy that it was in my hometown and not somewhere in some weird city that I don’t have any connection to.
NYDN: You included the piano in that set during the performance of the title track on “The ‘59 Sound,” something you’ve never really done.
BF: I’ve been taking lessons for about six months before that. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. The piano is where everything starts and ends. Everything is based off of it. If you understand that, you wind up understanding a lot more in all other instruments. For me, it had always been something important to try and learn.
Also, all the people that I’ve looked up to, from Bruce Springsteen to Tom Waits, they all play the piano. And they all have these beautiful songs that, when I didn’t know how to play piano, you’re locked out of because you can’t do it. I’d have to play them on guitar and some things simply don’t work on the guitar.
It was little tough to start at age 37, because there’s this voice in your head that says “you’re too old to do this.” It was really funny to go to music lessons because there were a bunch of kids in my classes. I felt stupid when I started but then I didn’t. No one looked at me funny. I took on the role of student. I wasn’t like “I’m the guy in The Gaslight Anthem, I know Bruce Springsteen, get out of my way!”
I took it as a student. I sat down and I learned “Wonderwall” by Oasis first. Fortunately, I’ve had two teachers that don’t bother me. I asked to learn “Androgynous” by The Replacements and they’d figure it out and then let me be without showing me Chopin and Bach, because I don’t want to know that. I want to know what Tom Waits did. I want to learn to play “The Promise” on piano like the E Street Band does! I want to play “For You” from the Hammersmith bootleg, I don’t want to play Beethoven.
NYDN: Speaking of Springsteen, you covered “Spirit in the Night” at the Red Bank show
BF: The funny thing is, I wanted to learn “The Promise” first. But I hit that road block and couldn’t do it right on the guitar, the chords were too weird. I went to play it on piano, and that was much too difficult.
So then I thought maybe I can do “Spirit in the Night.” I saw a clip of him playing it when he was very young on the piano… but he was still clearly a few years ahead of me on the piano. When I realized I couldn’t do that, I moved it to the guitar.
I really like that song. It’s the early days of Bruce. That always sort of felt like a little bit of a lightning rod to me, musically, because it grounds him at home. And no matter how big he gets you can always go back to those songs on the first record. He talks about Route 88. I know Route 88. That was the whole thing. This is a Jersey song and I love so I did it.
NYDN: With “Painkillers” and now “Sleepwalkers,” have you ever have trouble trying to separate your solo sound from that of Gaslight?
BF: Earlier on I think I did. On the last record (“Painkillers”) I thought “I have to make this different” because it was so fresh. I didn’t have a master plan when this all happened. It wasn’t like I knew I was going to make a solo record and that Gaslight was going to go on hiatus and then I’ll really shine (laughs).
What actually happened was that I kind of panicked. I felt like I was out of a job. I didn’t know what to do. I don’t know how to do anything else. I’ve spent my life playing music. I tried to figure that out as I went on the first record and sort of got it together. I didn’t technically have a recording contract when we stopped Gaslight. I didn’t have a solo contract so I didn’t take for granted that Island Records was going to put out my solo record. I thought they might say no.
But they didn’t so I just went with it. So there was definitely a lot more of figuring it out on the first record and a little bit more comfort on this new one. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized the element that sounds like The Gaslight Anthem that’s mine is always going to be me. The other three-fourths of it is going to be the other guys. I can’t stop doing what I do naturally, whether I’m in The Gaslight Anthem or my own thing. It’s just what I do, so I don’t worry about separating it that much anymore.
NYDN: There’s a heavy R&B influence on “Sleepwalkers,” arguably the most on something you’ve done since (The Horrible Crowes’) “Elsie.” How did that happen?
BF: It was a timing thing. I felt I had enough of a grasp on it musically to be able to do it. Before I would try and little bits would come out, even on the early Gaslight records. That’s not the kind of music you can just sit down and play. I felt like I was ready now to start to grasp it. I felt like I’ve only just touched the surface on it with this record. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I wasn’t able to in the past.