The Gaslight Anthem: “We’re happy. Whatever happens, it’s just good to be doing this again”

From tracks about vampire murderers to “the most Gaslight Anthem song ever”, History Books is here – and it’s been worth the wait. Brian Fallon takes Kerrang! inside the New Jersey heroes’ superb sixth album…

The Gaslight Anthem: “We’re happy. Whatever happens, it’s just good to be doing this again”
Emily Carter
Casey McAllister

“I think everything is better,” begins Brian Fallon, when asked to compare the last time The Gaslight Anthem released an album to now. It’s a simple answer, but an emphatic one. “Everything!”

Coping with pressure. Learning how to navigate annoying music industry politics. Feeling more positive in his own headspace. It’s all important stuff that, since 2014’s Get Hurt, the frontman has been able to work on. And – spoiler alert – it also adds up to make The Gaslight Anthem’s long-awaited sixth album History Books, released today, a total triumph.

“This is a mental freedom record,” Brian explains. “I think it’s what happens after you’re mentally healthy. I’m not trying to say that all my problems are sorted out, but I was free; I felt like I was in a mental prison my entire life, and I feel like I’m not there anymore, and that feels good. This is the first record I wrote like that.”

As happy as this will make fans who’ve been longing for new music from the New Jersey quartet – completed by guitarist Alex Rosamilia, bassist Alex Levine and drummer Benny Horowitz – that’s not to say Brian always had it mapped out in such certain terms.

“If you had asked me five years ago, I would have been like, ‘Oh, I don’t know about that,’” he admits. “Because what are you supposed to say? What’s the next thing? I don’t know! It’s a lot of pressure. But now that it’s done, we all walked away being like, ‘You know what? That was fun.’ We’re happy about it. And now, I think just having the band back is enough of a goal for us. And I don’t say that flippantly; I mean it.

“Whatever happens,” he adds, “it’s just good to be doing it again.”

Brian’s already told us that ‘doing it again’ story: of how and why he put an end to their hiatus – via a productive pizza meeting with Bruce Springsteen – and the creativity that finally spawned a follow-up to Get Hurt. So we’re here today to really dig into History Books. After all, when you wait nine years for a new Gaslight album, you’re gonna have a few questions…

You’ve already released four singles, but what are some of the other songs that you feel best capture the spirit of History Books?
“Well, definitely the first song, Spider Bites. That almost captures the whole record. But I also think Michigan, 1975 also really captures a lot of the record. And The Weatherman does, for sure. I mean, there’s a lot. They all belong there, and this time I feel like we didn’t mess up and leave a Blue Dahlia [Handwritten B-side] off the record!”

On the subject of Spider Bites: the line ‘We struggle for each other’ is absolutely beautiful. Where did that come from?
“The way that I write songs is I just sit there and type whatever – I’ll sit down and be like, ‘It’s raining… the house across the street has got a brown roof…’ and start typing. I was sitting there with the guitar, and I was writing the lyrics, ‘My teeth are crumbling structures,’ and that was because my wife was at the dentist – she had a massive infection in her mouth. I wrote that because I felt bad for her. And then I was thinking about different things happening, and I said, ‘What’s the point? Why do we go through all this stuff in life?’ When we’re kids we think everything’s gonna be cool, and we grow up and find out everybody sucks, and it’s all about money and politics and that’s it, and no-one cares about anyone. I was like, ‘Why do we do this?’ And I thought, ‘Well, for each other. That’s why.’ So I literally just wrote, ‘So we struggle for each other.’ It just came out and I was like, ‘My god, that’s it!’ It really hit me, and I thought it was one of the best things I’d ever written.”

What about I’ll love you forever till the day that I don’t’? It’s sort of similar to ‘I’ll love you forever if I ever love at all’ from Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts – is that a little Easter egg?
“It’s not an Easter egg – although I do recognise that it’s similar to that line, but it means until you’re dead (laughs). The chorus is basically saying, ‘We circle round the sun until one day we won’t.’ It’s about how this life is so impermanent, and then it’s like, ‘I’ll love you forever till the day that I don’t,’ and that’s because you’re not there anymore. It’s actually really morose! I promise I’m not like this all the time…”

You’ve said that the songwriting process was a bit easier this time around – but was there anything that you really struggled to crack at first?
“Yeah, Autumn. It kicked my butt! Man… I had that opening riff and I had the first line for, like, a year. It was just sitting there, and even before I was gonna get the band back, I had one line and a riff, and I was like, ‘I know this is good, but I just can’t finish it.’ But the only reason I had the first line, god bless her, my little daughter was really frustrated one day, and she goes, ‘Mom! There’s too much traffic in my head!’ And I was like, ‘I’ll be having that!’ I heard it from my room here, and I wrote it down (laughs).”

Fans are really resonating with that song – and particularly the line, ‘I’d be young better now.’ Was that inspired by any one thing from the past, or just a more broad feeling?
“That was probably inspired by coming out of that really long 20-year, 30-year period of feeling mentally disconnected from the universe, and feeling like, ‘Why is every day so hard? This is terrible.’ And going to therapy and getting medication, I was then reflecting a little bit on that and going, ‘Man, if I had the things that I have now, and the way that I feel now, and the life that I have now, I’d be young so much better!’ Because I would have enjoyed it, is what the real meaning is. I don’t think that I really enjoyed growing up, because I was struggling the whole time.”

On a happier note, how perfect is it that there’s a Gaslight Anthem song called Autumn now?!
“Well, what’s even more perfect is that I wrote it during October. I wrote it exactly two years ago. And, really, I was just writing about my wife: ‘Can I hold you underneath October?’ It’s that feeling of, ‘I don’t know what’s gonna happen later, and I don’t know how long we have, but right now we’re angels in the muddy water…’ But yes, it is the most Gaslight Anthem song ever! ‘Tell me you’re in The Gaslight Anthem without telling me you’re in The Gaslight Anthem,’ and then you wrote the song Autumn (laughs).”

Are there any lyrics in particular across the whole record that you really feel like you nailed?
“The ones in Autumn are some of my most proud moments. And Spider Bites, too. Just the simplicity of, ‘And so we struggle for each other,’ I would have never said that before – I would have made it into much more of a complex statement, and I wouldn’t have had the confidence to just say the simplest thing. And I think a lot of the lyrics to Positive Charge are some of my favourites, too; they capture what I was saying so well. And Michigan, 1975 – that’s like my little baby. I wanted that song so bad, and I really just love it.”

Where did the whole lyrical idea for The Weatherman come from?
“That’s about the people that you love in your life, and you wish that you could control all of the situations that they go into, and not make any of them be bad. It’s like your kids in school, or the people in your life, you want to protect them so bad – and not in an over-protective, ‘I know what to do’ way, but in a way where you just want everything to work out for them, in a positive way, and them not have to deal with all the nonsense and the heartbreaks and the frustrations of life. You feel like you’re a weatherman, because the weatherman isn’t right most of the time! It’s the only job where they make guesses, and they don’t really have to be correct. And so I felt like, ‘I’m a weatherman watching the skies trying to please you.’ Because that’s the truth – that was it, it’s just that simple.”

I Live In The Room Above Her paints quite the picture. What’s it about?
“There’s an old jazz standard called I Have The Room Above Her, and it’s a love song, like, ‘I hear her come in, and I hear her get dressed, and I’m in love with her, blah blah blah…’ I thought that was kinda cool. And I’m a big comic book nerd – I love Batman, and I love the really spooky Batman comic books, like Damned and Arkham Asylum and The Long Halloween. The really dark ones. I was reading it, just sitting there at my desk one day, and thinking about I Have The Room Above Her. And I was like, ‘That’s also kinda weird and stupid, because he’s listening to this lady down below him, and it’s a weird kind of voyeur thing.’ But then I was like, ‘What if she’s a vampire and she’s killing people down there?!’ People think it’s about having an affair – with the lines, ‘But I’m afraid that if I see her / I will not see you again’ – but it’s not about that; it’s because she’s gonna kill you. You start reading enough comic books and really spin your imagination, and I was like, ‘What if this lady is a vampire or a murderer, and she lives beneath him?’ And there’s the line, ‘Sometimes I think I hear some movement / Like something can’t get away,’ and he’s hearing all these weird sounds, like, ‘What is going on down there?!’ but he’s too scared to look. And so, actually, it’s a horror song (laughs). And then the end is the guy sitting in the corner of his bedroom late at night, and he’s playing the radio really quiet, so she doesn’t hear him and know that he’s home. I’ve never told anyone what it’s exactly about before!”

After that you’ve got A Lifetime Of Preludes closing the record, which is another heartbreaker and has a similar feel to Open All Night and See You On The Other Side from your first two solo albums. Do you put a lot of pressure on yourself with those kinds of songs?
“The funny thing is those ones come out early. That was one of the first four songs that I wrote. And See You On The Other Side was the first song that I wrote for Sleepwalkers. I don’t know how they happen like that, but they do. I just kind of put them aside and say, ‘Okay, I know this is good and it carries some weight – I don’t know where it’ll land on the record but it’ll be somewhere.’ And then at the end when you have all the songs, it’s like, ‘Well, obviously this goes at the end.’ But that one and Michigan, 1975 were fighting so bad for which one was going to close – we couldn’t decide, and actually I think someone else suggested it to be like that, and I just conceded (laughs).”

Have you written any more new stuff lately?
“I always have ideas going, and there’s little stuff here and there. I’m sure we’ll start to make new stuff soon. We always do – we’re always moving around and making music. It’s just what we do!”

You’ve got some solo shows on the horizon… does that mean in the future we might be getting both from you?
“I don’t know if you’re gonna get both as far as a record. If there was anything I wanted to do solo, really I could just do it with the band – I don’t think they’d be against it. But as far as the shows, I still like doing the theatre thing. A lot of these places I’m playing in the States, they’re theatres where plays are, and that’s a whole different vibe. I just like it when people are seated and I can tell them stupid stories all the time (laughs). And I can play whatever I want. So that’s just for me, it’s just for fun which is good. So there may be more solo shows, but I couldn’t do double records – that would be crazy!”

Finally, when you released your third solo album Local Honey, you said that it was one “for the headphones”. What are the optimum surroundings for people to listen to History Books?
“Oh, it’s The Gaslight Anthem, so it’s gotta be driving! I think travelling, moving, driving, flying, boats, walking… any kind of travel. The Gaslight Anthem’s meant for movement!”

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