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- Posted on Jul 16th 2012 10:35AM by Ian Gormely
Gaslight Anthem Facebook
When established independent bands sign with a major label, the last thing most want to do is start over. Yet after signing with Mercury Records, that's exactly what New Jersey crew the Gaslight Anthem did on their fourth album, Handwritten.
"We wanted to make a record that sounds like [it's our] first record," lead singer and guitarist Brian Fallon tells Spinner. The band wanted their sound to be unadorned of influences. "What do we sound like on our own?"
Throughout their career, but particularly since busting out with their second album, The '59 Sound and its massive, titular single, the Gaslight Anthem have been plagued by comparisons to other bands, particular fellow New Jerseyan Bruce Springsteen. And while they never really shied away from those comparisons -- Springsteen is a fan and has joined them onstage in the past -- it's clear that these days they're looking to be defined by their own body of work rather than someone else's.
Still, with Handwritten the band didn't completely turn their backs on the past, as the quartet enlisted Brendan O'Brien, who's worked with the Boss as well as Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine, to produce the record. The decision had little to do with any particular sound O'Brien had previously achieved, says Fallon. Instead, they wanted to lean on his songwriting knowledge.
"He knows what you're going for with your band," says Fallon. "He can see what you're doing and get you there. He sees it better than you."
The decision to hit the reset button hasn't seen the band veer off into left-field territory. Handwritten still sounds exactly like how most fans expect a Gaslight Anthem record to sound, yet it lacks many of the soul, blues and punk tropes the group have leaned on in the past. That's not to say the record isn't soulful, or rooted in punk, but these days the band write songs that include elements of those genres rather than emulating them.
Interviews early in the Handwritten recording process saw Fallon describing the record as "raw," leading many to believe the album would see the band embracing their punk rock roots, and embracing lo-fi production. But Fallon was instead referring to the simple, four-guys-in-a-room recording approach. The misunderstanding is symptomatic of the band's ever-rising profile.
"Fans are looking for any golden nugget for what to expect," he says. "What I find now is that you have to be more careful with what you say. Don't say anything until you're sure what you're saying."
The growth in the band's popularity has also ushered in new waves of fans to their shows, including young kids, "regular guys in Matchbox Twenty t-shirts" and jocks, all of which is fine Fallon.
"Those guys don't go looking for underground music," he says. But he understands that mentality just as much as he understands the need to find it. "I never let it restrain me. I like Neil Young as much as Black Flag."
New Brunswick, NJ, the band's hometown is a well-known ideologically-driven punk rock haven that birthed the Misfits, Lifetime and the Bouncing Souls, and the band can certainly have roots in that community. But Fallon also came of age at a time when bands like Nirvana operated at a major label level, all while espousing punk rock values and sporting Flipper tees.
"Thank god I grew up on bands like Pearl Jam," he says.
That attitude made taking the jump from SideOneDummy after their contract ran out to Mercury an easy one.
"Everyone thought that seemed like the normal next step for us," he says. The relationship has come with benefits, particularly in terms of support from radio, something Fallon says he's wanted for the band "on a purely romantic level."
"Radio is so mystical to me," says Fallon. "When we first put out 'The '59 Sound,' we'd play it and crowds would go bananas. Now when we play '45' [Handwritten's first single] they go bananas too."
But Fallon says he's been carrying a "heavy Fugazi-mentality" of late and isn't about to let the adoration go to his head.
"I keep saying we're guys that got lucky. You shouldn't idolize us. We're no better than you. We play a couple of song that you like."