Frontman Fallon talks intimately about early struggles, Springsteen and nearly breaking up.
“No one knows this story. We were stuck. I had nothing left to say. We were like, ‘Why are we doing this?’ We almost shut it down,” says The Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon about their near break-up after a gig at The Troxy in London on March 30, 2013.
No one said the words out loud, but it was discussed in a roundabout way. There was no irate screaming, no beer cans thrown at the wall, no tossed microphones or storming off stage. Just a civil discourse to possibly end it.
Fallon comes clean at Artichoke Pizza in New York. The July heatwave just broke, but the late-night temperature is still 88, with a jungle-like humidity New Yorkers accept, like the icy northwest winds howling between the buildings in February.
“It’s been hot everywhere. Europe was hot. Not as hot as this, though. We just got back, two weeks ago today. It’s brutal… 100?” Fallon asks rhetorically.
The A/C unit keeps the room bearable, but not cool. Despite playing venues like Wembley Stadium, Fallon thrives in downhome joints. He mentions pizzerias in New Jersey he loves and explains he downloads movies through iTunes because they’re cheaper than his cable provider.
Fallon grew up near the beach. Locals don’t call it “Jersey Shore.” After he, guitarist Alex Rosamilia, drummer Benny Horowitz, and bassist Alex Levine had kicked around in local punk outfits, they formed The Gaslight Anthem in New Brunswick, a college town with a history of fostering underground bands in the shadows of Philly and New York. They put out Sink or Swim in 2007 and toured to audiences of around 150 people. Fallon was already in his mid-20s.
“You gotta remember, Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain were dead by 27. Everything they did… dead,” he states emphatically. “We weren’t 17. It was like, How long is it before this is just not a viable path? We had to play the show to get to the next show or we couldn’t even get home. Your parents are supportive, but they’re saying, ‘Maybe you want to think of a backup plan?’ We had to get our act in gear.”
In the summer of 2008, they released a brilliant mix of punk-tempo Americana in 'The ’59 Sound,' selling out two shows at Stone Pony in Asbury Park.
If this all rings a bit like a Bruce Springsteen song about making good in New Jersey, that’s understandable. Springsteen wrote the biography of The Gaslight Anthem before they were born – four Chuck Taylor-wearing kids from blue-collar families dreaming of making a living in rock ’n’ roll. Bruce is to New Jersey what JFK was to Boston.
The Boss, The Replacements, and The Clash had a massive influence – and every blurb about them made reference to Jersey and Springsteen. At the 2009 Glastonbury Festival, Bruce cemented the relationship by coming out to play The ’59 Sound with them.
The appearance bolstered their growth but Fallon’s been struggling with the Springsteen shadow since 2010’s 'American Slang.' He took Gaslight to Nashville in 2012 to record 'Handwritten' and although the album hit the charts, they wondered how much success was still Bruce juice.
“I don’t want to be Springsteen,” says Fallon. “That was for 'The ’59 Sound' and that was all… I’ve digested Springsteen and The Clash for 20 years. There is no blood to be sucked out of those veins anymore."