"I’m always amazed people can write a record about one thing, I can’t write one line about one thing" - hmv.com talks to Brian Fallon
For the last decade he’s been the frontman of New Jersey rockers The Gaslight Anthem, but now Brian Fallon is flying solo. With Gaslight now on hiatus, he releases his debut LP Painkillers today (which you can preview and purchase on the right-hand side of the page) and caught up with him for a chat about his reasons for going solo and why music is the ultimate painkiller…
When did you first think you’d think to do a solo album?
“I started to toy with the idea about two years ago, but I just figured I didn’t have the time and I didn’t want to do it unless I had the time to commit to it. But once I knew that I was going to have time off from Gaslight I figured I’d better do it now in case I don’t get the opportunity again.”
Did you have many songs already written when you decide to make a solo LP?
“I had some songs kicking on, but most of the time was spent writing new ones. I wanted a clean slate and I wrote the vast majority of these songs in a couple of months, I had lots to pick from, we recorded 17 songs and I got to pick the best, that’s more songs than I’ve had in a while.”
Was you careful to make sure things didn’t sound too similar to what you’d done with The Gaslight Anthem?
“I didn’t have to struggle. I knew the songs would sound like me, there’s no point running from that, if it was a good song that was enough, it didn’t matter if it could be a Gaslight Anthem song.”
Why did you decide to work with Butch Walker? Was he recommended to you?
“He was recommended by a bunch of friends. I knew who he was, but I knew he was real selective. I spoke to Frank Turner about him and asked what he was like and he said to me ‘He’s the best’. I’ve known Frank for years and I figured if he could hang with Frank he could hang with me. So I met him and we became fast friends.”
Did you ever consider producing it yourself?
“No, a lot of people told me I should do it myself and I’ve thought about it, but I didn’t want the first album under my own name to be the one. If I do it by myself and produce it then I’m really on the line. Also I don’t really know anything about recording, it’s much better for me to work with someone who knows what they’re doing.”
Has it been fun starting again as a solo artist?
“It has and it really has been starting again. I knew I’d have a good jumping off point, but it’s a restart. It’s not so much chaos and such a big production as it was with Gaslight.”
Was that part of the reason you’re having a break from Gaslight? Was it getting too much?
“Yeah, I think it weighed on everybody, it was tour, record, tour, record, for eight and a half years and by the end we were playing big places. I got really big and really far away from just playing shows and writing songs. We all figured we needed to give things a minute and not ruin what it was.”
That must be hard to walk away from though, you’d never been bigger…
“It is hard to walk away from, no one knows what’s going to happen. When you’re playing big festivals and big places it takes a lot of courage to say ‘I can’t do that right now’. But the four of us were all sure we needed a break.”
Were you surprised that the whole band agreed you need a break?
“Definitely. I thought it would be real upheaval, but everybody was feeling the same thing, just nobody wanted to say it. We talked about it one day, really briefly and calmly. I said ‘Do you guys know what to do next?’ and everybody just said no. We got a lot further than we thought we’d ever get, but you shouldn’t do things just to do them. I’ve read about a lot of bands who regret not taking breaks and we decided to listen to those bands. Just cool off for a bit.”
Did you consider having an actual break? Not heading out on tour again?
“I don’t think I could do it, especially not financially, nobody is driving around in Porsches, I need to work. Plus I can’t sit still, I need to write songs, I need to get better, I won’t get better by being idle. If I was Taylor Swift and I’d achieved everything she has, then maybe I could do that, but I haven’t satisfied that itch. I need to keep going until I’ve done enough.”
Does this album have a lyrical theme? Does anything unite the songs?
“Not so much. This is me trying to get back into pure songwriting. At the start I would just write by myself with acoustic guitar and I wanted to get back into writing songs like that. Songs that I could just play with an acoustic and harmonica. So lyrically that lends itself to stories, that’s what everybody I learned from does, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, they all wrote stories, so that’s what I wanted to get back to. I’m not good with topical themes, I’m always amazed people can write a record about one thing, I can’t write one line about one thing.”
Where did the title come from?
“That came from what I think music is, it’s a companion piece to your life. When people are depressed or in trouble they listen to music to feel better. To me that summed it up, it was why I got into music, it was a comforting thing, like a painkillers. Plus I wanted a one-word title that symbolises everything and it just popped into my head one day.”
Finally, what’s the plan to take the album out live? Are you going to be touring for a while?
“We’ve been playing the album with a full band and playing some Horrible Crowes songs too. Right now it’s all that’s in front of me, I will definitely to go as many places as I can, in my head we’re going to the end of the year for sure.”
Brian Fallon’s new album Painkillers is out now and available to purchase here in our online store.