This week, New Jersey arena-punk band The Gaslight Anthem announced that they would be returning to full-time status as a concert and recording outfit. In addition to a reunion tour slated for the fall, there are plans to record their first album since 2014’s Get Hurt.
For followers of the band’s frontman Brian Fallon, all of this might have registered as a surprise. The 42-year-old singer-songwriter has put out solo albums at a steady clip since the hiatus, including his fourth full-length release, Night Divine, in 2021. And the music he’s made on his own has veered far from the rousing, Springsteen-inspired fist pumpers that populate well-loved Gaslight Anthem albums like 2008’s The 59 Sound, 2010’s American Slang, and 2012’s Handwritten, which debuted in Billboard‘s top 10. On his own, Fallon has moved in an Americana direction, favoring acoustic guitars and introspective lyrics grappling with adult disappointments, a far cry from the cinematic storytelling associated with The Gaslight Anthem.
When reached by phone this week, Fallon said that after his 2020 album Local Honey he felt like he had closed a chapter on his creative life. Now there’s a familiar urge that harks to his past. “You know what’s pretty cool? Rock music,” he says. “Playing guitars. I want to turn up something to 10 and play. Kick an amp over or something. That sounds great right now.”
In the following interview, Fallon explains how The Gaslight Anthem reunion came about, why it’s important to him that the band make new music, and the inspiration he took from the 2011 Pearl Jam Twenty documentary.
When you guys announced your hiatus back in 2015, the statement read, “We’d like to recharge and take a step back until we have something to feel excited about.” What are you excited about now with The Gaslight Anthem?
During quarantine, I had gotten so bored. You go back to all your biographies and rock ‘n’ roll documentaries you’ve already seen 50 times, and the one thing that I kept thinking to myself is, “Man, I really like bands.” It really is one in a million that you get to do something like this. So, not being able to do anything and having time to think maybe is what allowed it to happen.
You remembered, “Hey, I’m also in a really good band!”
I know that sounds so stupid to say, but it’s so true. I’m like, “My band’s pretty good, what’s the matter with me?”
You labeled your break as a hiatus, which is what bands always do these days instead of officially breaking up. But in your mind, did you ever think The Gaslight Anthem was over for good?
Everybody likes to blame me for the hiatus, but it wasn’t just me. It was a collective decision. We all were like, “This sucks, let’s stop doing this before we embarrass ourselves.”
I like things to be definite in my life. And I like to have solid answers. But this was one of those things that just wouldn’t allow that. I read about how Noel Gallagher just straight up quit Oasis. And I was like, “What if you change your mind? Then all of a sudden you’re like, ‘we quit, just kidding, the final tour, not really’?”
Did you guys stay in touch during the break?
Ben [Horowitz] and I have always been very close — sometimes close at each others throats in the early days. Now that we’re older, though, we would always talk. I would talk to Alex [Levine] and Alex [Rosamilia], too, just to get updates: What are you doing? How’s your family? What’s going on in your life? We all were pretty current with each other, but Ben and I really stayed in touch. Whether we were talking about music or not, we were just always talking. I think getting older changes your perspective on everything. You look and go, “Oh maybe that thing that I was so mad about is not so important.”
Did those anniversary shows the band played in 2018 for The 59 Sound pave the way for this reunion?
I don’t think it did, actually. That sort of made me think, “Well, maybe all that’s left is that.” I walked away feeling more final than when I walked away the first time. If we’re only talking about celebrating past records, that’s really not a path I want to go down. I’m not trying to say anything bad about anybody who wants to celebrate their work. It’s fine. But it’s just not for me. Unless you’re adding to it as well.
How did you make the leap from thinking, “I like being in a band” to the much more ambitious idea of actually writing new Gaslight Anthem songs and reviving the band as a creative enterprise?
Very slowly. [Laughs.] Cautiously. I mean, it had been something that I was thinking about for a while and I didn’t say anything to anyone. I didn’t even say anything to my wife. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted it to happen. And if I said it out loud, I was like, “Does it mean that it’s going to happen?”
I spoke to Ben first. I was like, “I have to come over to your house and we should talk.” I told him when I was thinking and he was positive, but he said, “If you want to do new stuff, then I’m interested. And if you don’t, then I’m not.” I made a deal with myself and I was like, “If I can write four songs that I feel are quality, I’ll call Ben.” And I did. I was like, “Okay, I got four songs. Here’s some iPhone demos. What do you think of this?” I sent them to everybody, actually.
I went over Ben’s house and I sat down with him and it was like, “Is this really happening? Could we do this?” And we just played together for a sec. Because if he and I couldn’t have gotten it together, I don’t think any of it would’ve been the same.
Was that an anxious moment?
There was a lot of trepidation. But once I actually saw him and we sat down, and I was like, “Okay.”
And then, when I talked to Alex and Alex, it had been long enough that we knew what needed to happen. We had a good roadmap. That’s the benefit of being a band for a long time — you know these are the years that it worked really well. And then it sucked here and this is why it sucked. When you have distance from something you can see the moments where it’s like, “Wow, we tried that thing out and it didn’t go right.” So, we went back to the place where it was really working well.
The music you’ve made in your solo career has been pretty different from The Gaslight Anthem. You’ve moved into an Americana/singer-songwriter lane. Do you think you’ll incorporate that style into the band? Or are you now back in the business of writing Gaslight Anthem songs?
Well, I think it’s two sides that have always been there. Even on like the early, early records, like Sink Or Swim, you have “The Navesink Banks” and “Red At Night” that are more Americana. But I know that when I finished doing Local Honey, there was very strong sense of completion. When that record was done, I felt I had achieved something, whatever it was that I was working at. And I was like, “Well, chapter closed. What am I going to do now? You know what’s pretty cool? Rock music. Playing guitars. I want to turn up something to 10 and play. Kick an amp over or something. That sounds great right now.”
Do you think you had burned out on rock music after Get Hurt? It seemed like you were deliberately running away from that for a long time.
It’s true that there was a while there where I was interested in music that was slower and more reflective, and trying to focus on lyrics or singing quieter. But there was also that feeling of, “I’m 40, can I still jump up and down on stage? Or am I an idiot now if I do that?” I wasn’t feeling a sense of mortality. It wasn’t that serious, It was more like, “Will I feel like a clown if I do this?” I am a firm supporter of young bands, and innovation coming from the youth. But I also think that innovation is required for any project to continue going or else it sort of doesn’t need to exist.
I was watching all those documentaries, and I looked at the Foo Fighters — Dave Grohl is at least 10 years older than me, and he’s awesome. They’re jumping up and down, having a great time. And that was encouraging to me.
You said earlier that you have perspective now on when things were going well for the band and when things weren’t. What lessons are you going to be able to apply moving forward?
In the Pearl Jam Twenty DVD, there’s this part where Stone Gossard says, “And then it became the year of no.” And I was like, Oh dude, right. Because when we were young, we were always told, “If you say no to this tour, your career’s going to be over.” And we realized that none of that is true. So, now we know to say, “Hey, if there’s excitement, then let’s move forward. If there’s not excitement, then let’s just pause for a second and figure out why there’s not excitement.” And then we can find that again.
You already have a tour lined up for the fall. When do you hope to make a record?
I’ve always been like a fan of writing more than you need. So, right now I’ve got maybe five or six songs, and I would want to have 30 to pick through and make sure that we’re actually good. The shows will come first, and then hopefully by the end of the year the record will be written to the point where we could pick 11 or 12 songs and then record. So, that would be early next year, early spring.