Brian Fallon talks “Painkillers” and the future of The Gaslight Anthem

Brian Fallon. (Photo: Danny Clinch)

Brian Fallon is back with his new solo album, Painkillers. Produced by superstar producer Butch Walker (Taylor Swift, Frank Turner, Keith Urban), Fallon recorded the album earlier this year at Nashville’s Taxidermy Studios with Fallon fronting a band that included Walker, bassist Catherine Popper (Jack White, Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, Willie Nelson) and drummer Mark Stepro (Hayes Carll, Ben Kweller, Jackson Browne), with the album reaffirming Fallon‘s elemental gifts as a songwriter and storyteller, booming with insistent imagery, narrative craft, and the extraordinary emotional acuity that has informed his music since the very start.

In our recent interview with Fallon, he told us about the writing/recording process for Painkillers, the future of The Gaslight Anthem, and more.

“Open All Night” nostalgically talks about times “back when local bars and broken hearts were home.” Is that at all alluding to going back to when it all began and starting anew with the solo releases?

No, I think that that’s just [that] you write about events in your life and things that you remember. You make references to things that you’ve been through, but I don’t think it has any reference on… rarely would I feel the need to write about my actual career. That would sound weird to me. I think if your career is coming into play in your own writing, that’s a bizarre thing.

How would you compare playing that first gig for what you said was about 30-40 people at your buddy Frank’s game shop (The Only Game In Town) in your hometown (Somerville, NJ) to playing big stages like Reading/Leeds Festival?

More space. More leg room, I would say.

That’s a broad question with a lot of years in between. Both places have their place, and you can get things out of both of them that are special and unique, that you can’t get anywhere else. I think that’s the whole point, to remember the experiences of playing the small places, playing the in between places and the big places and finding what’s special about all of them. It definitely takes some getting used to though. It’s not something you can just jump right into. It’s really odd, and thank god it takes time, because I can’t imagine if you had some overnight thing that was like “bam, you’re in front of a million people.”

You’ve released two solo singles (“A Wonderful Life”, “Nobody Wins”), but this is your first full album. How would you compare the writing and recording process of Painkillers to that of the last Gaslight record?

It was a lot different, because when you start out writing your songs, it’s just you and a guitar. There’s not really anything else in between. With The Gaslight Anthem, it kinda comes [to] where you get the basic song down and then you go in and it completely changes, when you play it with the band and other people add parts and take away parts. There’s more process going in and this is more direct – do the demo of the idea that you had and then flush it out when you’re there, rather than going through when you’re rehearsing it. Because sometimes you rehearse with the band a lot and then you go in and it’s more like you’re recording a moment, rather than building a record.

Was there a reason, other than having worked with him last year, to choosing Butch Walker as the producer for Painkillers?

He was just the best person that I met to do the job. He was the one that really resonated with me. There wasn’t really another option, I didn’t have a testing period. I sat down with Butch and it was like “that’s it, done.” I was like “I don’t know who this is gonna be, a guy or a girl,” but I sat down and it was him and I was like “all other options are over.”

The Gaslight Anthem's Brian Fallon will release his debut solo album, Painkillers, on March 11th via Island.

That must have come out in the sound too I’m sure, the way you two played off of each other.

Yeah, it was easy and fun. There was a lot of days where it was just me and him in the studio passing the guitar back and forth, which was really cool.

Your solo sound has a more folky feel, contrary to your punk roots with The Gaslight Anthem, even in the groups most recent album. Do you think the different emotions provoked by those two genres have been a sort of healing process for you in what you’ve been going through?

I think that’s more of a two fold question. Because when you play in the band, that takes a personality with the songs, the songs take that personality on. Then when you sit down with a guitar in your room and you’re just writing, that has a whole other element. It’s kind of like a setting. Scenery plays into creativity a lot and I think that if you put someone in a different scene, they naturally gravitate towards the things that are around. As far as if you’re referring to.. what do you mean by healing process?

Everything in the media with your recent divorce, influencing the music and you pulling away from the band a little bit for a bit.

The good part is that when you’re writing records, you sort of put everything down on the one record and then you leave it alone. So they’re not really a linear thing. Records don’t happen like life happens. You don’t go from your 20’s to your 30’s and your 40’s. The record is the record and it’s a snap shot of that period of time. But once that snap shot is taken, you leave it where it is. Then when you start a new record, you don’t go off the back end, or at least I don’t go off the back end of the previous record. I never do that. I just start fresh and [with] this one, I went back to all of the things that influenced me when I first started writing songs. So that’s how that played in, but I don’t think that the two records belong in the same universe.

With your first solo album comes your first solo tour, what’s different about coming to the stage with material that’s all yours and how has that felt? 

It’s completely different, because people don’t know a lot of these songs and you’re starting out fresh again, re-showing everybody what you’re about, in a new way. It’s different because you’re playing different kinds of music. So the sounds are different, the instruments are different, it all takes on a different life, and you have to be able to put different hats on.

Can fans anticipating the tour preceding the album expect anything different from the first leg of the tour, or is there anything specific that you’re looking forward to unveiling?

We’re just experimenting every night I think and playing off of each other and having fun. It’s been cool, I like doing the little bit of a pre-album tour, because people don’t know the songs. So you get to really stretch your legs a little bit and people get to see what you’re doing before they’re familiar with it. So it’s harder, because it’s seeing a movie that you haven’t seen before. But when you go and you’ve got a record out and people have had time to digest it, then they know what parts they like and they know they want to see and that kind of thing. So it’s been cool, it’s a fun thing, but it’s also sometimes a scary thing.

The Gaslight Anthem is on an indefinite hiatus for what you said was not recording again until you find something you’re excited about and not just putting out another album because that’s what you do. What would you tell to fans wondering if that means the end of Gaslight?

Well I think the only way it would mean it was the end is if we didn’t come up with an idea we felt was good, because that’s the whole point of it. You can’t just go and force stuff like this. It’s not just like you sit down and say “I’m going to make a record now and I’m just going to turn on the record juice and have a cup of that and then I’m going to write a record, and that’s that.” You have to be into it, it’s not like an article of something you make yourself and you can just create. “Well I’m going to sew this together and that’s it, I’m going to sell it.” That doesn’t feel right to me. Selling music doesn’t feel like a good idea, to start making music just because you have to pay the bills, that doesn’t seem right.

And that’ll change the sound too, if you’re not putting the soul into it, rather than just going on auto-pilot and putting it out.


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