Much has been made of The Gaslight Anthem’s roots in New Jersey. The old-school bar-band rock sound, the working-class ethos, the unapologetic torch-bearing of a certain Asbury Park legend — it’s all too much to ignore. But a few Garden State particulars aside, “New Jersey” really means “Americana.” And for a band like Gaslight Anthem, Americana signifies the yearning sensibilities of kids all across the land, wired with energy and looking for an outlet. It’s skateboards and parking lots and drive-thrus. It’s jocks versus nerds. It’s teenage dreams. It’s fistfights and lust. It’s wanting to get out. It’s wanting to go back.
At its best, Gaslight Anthem captures that great American tableau. On the verge of the band’s fourth album, Handwritten — produced inNashville by Brendan O’Brien (Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Rage Against The Machine) — eMusic’s Nick Marino talked with frontman Brian Fallon about the pillars of suburban American life: cars, burgers, high school and punk rock.
Which of Brendan’s records made you want to work with him?
For me it was Versus by Pearl Jam…I skipped school to go buy it, and then I bought it and brought it home. That record was really like a landmark for me. I wasn’t real keen on Nirvana at that time. I was only 12 when this record came out. And I didn’t have any older brothers or anything. So Nirvana came out and I didn’t get it yet. Somebody had to show me. One of my friends came over and gave me Nevermind, and was like, “No, you gotta listen to this. This is great.” So Pearl Jam was the only one that I had discovered on my own. And that record, Versus, it was one of those moments where I felt like I found gold. I just found something and I wasn’t sure if anybody else knew about it. And I was like this is the best record that I’ve heard in my life — my life of 12 years. And it still holds up though. I still listen to it.
What was the best thing you ate in Nashville?
We were frequenting the Five Guys Burgers and Fries. We call it the “Nashville 10″ that everybody put on: When we got back, everyone was 10 pounds heavier. And we just got back from a European tour, and I’m going to start marketing the European Tour Diet because everyone instantly dropped about 15 pounds. Our bus driver saw us — he’s our bus driver that we’ve always had — and he goes, “Whoa. You guys put on some weight.” It was totally the first thing he says to us. We were like, “Thanks, man. That’s great, we’re a bunch of old guys now. Cool.” And then two weeks later he’s like, “You guys look great! Look at you. You’re all skinny again. And we’re all like, “I don’t know, man, we stopped eating Five Guys Burgers and Fries every night.”
This December will be the 10-year anniversary of Joe Strummer’s death. Do you remember the first time you heard the Clash?
Absolutely. That’s a cool story. I was in a record store called Sound Effects in this place called Hackettstown, New Jersey, where I was going to high school. It’s real out, Pennsylvania-y, cows and fields and things. I was in the record store trying to buy Rancid or something. And the guy was like, “You like punk rock?” And I’m like, “Yeah.” And he’s like, “This is punk rock. This is the record you should buy. Matter of fact, we’re gonna buy it for you.” And him and this girl that were there, they both split five bucks and five bucks and they gave me this Clash record. And he goes, “If you don’t like it, bring it back. But this is gonna change your life.” And I brought it home and I was like, “What is this crazy old man telling me?” And I put it on and it totally changed me life. When I heard “Hammersmith Palais,” it was over.
What kind of kid were you at 13?
Weird and awkward. Nobody in school paid attention to me at all. I didn’t have too many friends, so I was just like: I like records. I don’t know about football. And I don’t wanna play basketball. And my parents buy me clothes off the sale rack, so I’m not getting any attention for being cool. And whatever anybody else had, I didn’t have ’til five years later when it was on the sale rack. High school is really like kill or be killed. It’s not that cool. So I was being killed. But those are the kids who do something with their life.
Your band is sometimes described as nostalgic. Do you take that as a compliment?
Sometimes. The only tie people misconstrue it is they think that we’re obsessed with the ’50s. And it’s like, we’re not really obsessed with the ’50s. It’s like, you need to come and hang out in Asbury Park and realize that Asbury Park is stuck in the ’50s, and that’s where we grew up. Nobody’s bangin’ jukeboxes going “Ayyyyyy.” It’s not the Fonzie. It’s not Happy Days. I don’t understand that. But diners and things, that’s what we grew up with, so that’s what we talk about. I’m not Mike Ness. I don’t know what this deal is. I have a 2012 car. My wife drives a Honda Fit, and I have a hybrid. I mow the lawn with a real lawn mower that’s self-propelled; it’s not some antique. I don’t sit around smoking cigarettes and fixing old jukeboxes
What did you imagine your life was going to be in your 30s?
I don’t know. I probably thought I would end up working somewhere, like doing something with my hands — like working on cars or motorcycles or something like that. I probably figured that that was gonna be what was gonna happen. Maybe a couple of my friends would’ve started going to those rebuild places for old motorcycles or old cars, and that we’d get something artistic but kinda mechanical too. So I kinda figured that that was probably where I was ending up. I even went to a trade school to learn how to wire cars and do the electrical systems in carsâ€¦just ’cause I figured that this wasn’t gonna pan out, you know?
What is the coolest car ever made?
I think a ’68 Shelby Mustang would be probably the coolest car. Either that or a ’68 Camaro, ’69 Camaro. Those are my favorite cars.
Steve McQueen, you know?
You were in a band called This Charming Man. Do you think the Smiths should ever reunite?
The Smiths are really pissing me off right now, as of late. I’m very angry at Johnny Marr and Morrissey. Because Johnny Marr said that The Smiths will get back together when the British government resigns its power and shuts down. And I’m like: “Dude. Really, man? Will you just suck it up and realize that you guys are an awesome band and just get in the room and play together? Make your bazillion dollars and let us all hear you play ‘How Soon Is Now’ again. Come on. It’s not that big of a deal.”