Brian Fallon talks about this new solo record “Sleepwalkers,” his upcoming reunion with The Gaslight Anthem, his appreciation for New Jersey and other topics.
What a busy year 2018 is turning out to be for Brian Fallon, who is touring the world through June in support of his sophomore solo album, Sleepwalkers, and then will reunite with his New Brunswick-originated band, The Gaslight Anthem. Their influential cross between the edgy anthems of The Clash and rootsy lyricism of Bruce Springsteen also makes a return on Fallon’s second solo LP, Sleepwalkers, a vibrant follow-up to the folk-poppy introspection of his 2016 solo debut, Painkillers.
It makes sense that Sleepwalkers sounds more like The Gaslight Anthem because it was produced by Ted Hutt, whose credits read like a Who’s Who of modern-day punk. They include Gaslight’s 2008 breakthrough, The ’59 Sound; their 2010 follow-up, American Slang; Hutt’s former band, Flogging Molly; the similar Celtic-sounding Dropkick Murphys; Asbury Park’s The Bouncing Souls, and Lucero, a popular punk band from Memphis who also sound like a cross between The Clash and Springsteen. Throughout the LP, a great studio band consists of Ian Perkins, guitarist of the Fallon side project, The Horrible Crowes; Berklee-schooled session bassist Nick Salisbury, and Social Distortion drummer David Hidalgo Jr., son of Los Lobos’ co-founding vocalist-guitarist.
Perkins and Salisbury also are in his touring band, The Howling Weather. They’ll perform at Union Transfer in Philadelphia, April 27, at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, April 29, at Brooklyn Steel, May 2 and elsewhere before heading back to Europe in June.
But first Fallon will reunite with The Gaslight Anthem on June 2 at the Governor’s Ball Music Festival on New York’s Randalls Island. After that show, The Gaslight Anthem will announce Jersey additions to their world tour that will feature The ’59 Sound performed in its entirety in celebration of its 10th anniversary.
Whew! Fallon took time out of his busy schedule for the following email chat. Enjoy!
Q: You changed styles with Sleepwalkers from Painkillers into a sound more like The Gaslight Anthem. Did that happen naturally or were you aiming for that? Either way, why do you think that is?
A: To me, the stylistic difference between Painkillers and Sleepwalkers, and also the answer to Sleepwalkers’ songs sounding more like the Gaslight Anthem, is mainly because I let myself be entirely me, and that’s what I sound like. Ha ha. For Painkillers, I purposely wanted to explore something a little more “square one” stylistically because that was exactly where I was at emotionally, personally and then, by result, sonically. There are three other parts in The Gaslight Anthem that add to the sound and make it what it is — but the other thing, that’s me, will always be inherently my style of writing songs no matter what project I’m working on.
Q: I think Sleepwalkers is the best album you’ve made since The ’59 Sound, and it just so happens that they both were produced by Ted Hutt. What do you like most about working with him, and what did he bring to Sleepwalkers that wouldn’t be there without him?
A: First, thank you. As far as Ted Hutt goes, where do I even start? He’s an absolute inspiration and a joy to work with. Ted seems to care most about music that comes from the heart and nowhere else. Whenever I’ve worked with Ted, he’s always said, “Brian, do what you love and run with that as much as you can.” That’s what I did on both of those records. He inspires me to be my best me, and that is what I feel he brings out in me whenever I work with him. I see our partnership lasting for many years to come.
Q: My favorite track on Sleepwalkers is ‘Watson.’ What inspired that song?
A: Well, all of Sleepwalkers was inspired directly by my immediate life: My love, my fear, my questions. “Watson” was inspired by my wife and where she came from. She’s from London and that’s a fantastic mystery to me. I’m from New Jersey, and London is a world away from the majestic Garden State. The places I mention in that song are her “Jersey.” It’s where she’s from. And the song is just about that fear we all have … “What would I do if I lost you now that I’ve found you” …
Q: One of the most powerful moments on the record is when you describe what it was like for the protagonist in “Come Wander With Me” to grow up without a dad. Is that autobiographical or is it based on someone you know? Either way, what led you to write about that character’s background that way?
A: That song was directly autobiographical and was written in honor of my mother, my wife, my aunt, my grandmother and all the women who raised me and who I was encouraged by my entire life. That’s why it says, “Mama was a woman and a hard-working man.” She did both. She was my mother and taught me to be a strong man. She raised me and worked and supported me. And the chorus is the encouragement I received when I doubted myself: “You always believed — there was some kind of diamond in me.” It’s a praise song, really.
Q: What and who inspired the spiritual closing track “See You on the Other Side”?
A: “See You on the Other Side’ was about everyone I love and my increasing realization that life is not forever. Life and time are a gift and beautiful things, but they’re so fragile and precious. I wrote that one very quickly. It just poured out, and I feel so fortunate to have that song. It means the world to me, and I think it’s a great little song to communicate a common and complex feeling we all have. I hope people like that one.
Q: Is the title track influenced by Gary U.S. Bonds? If not, who did influence it, why and how?
A: I do like Gary, but I have to give credit where credit’s due. It was all Sam Cooke that inspired “Sleepwalkers” when I was writing it. But then there was also this other horn element when we were recording of that very early E Street sound. I’m talking “Thundercrack,” “Zero and Blind Terry,” the very early jams. I got it from Sam Cooke, but like Sam says, I had to “bring it on home” with the horns.
Q: How did you like working with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on that track?
A: The Preservation Hall Jazz Band are one of my absolute musical idols, both in sound and in the way they love their home. They’re such beautiful people, and to have them grace one of my songs is unspeakable joy for me. Every time I hear it, I smile.
Q: What did you enjoy most about making Sleepwalkers in New Orleans, both in Parlor Recording Studio and during breaks while staying in NOLA?
A: Oh, New Orleans was a dream come true to record in. I took in all the sights and sounds. I took in the jazz, and the street singers, the gospel, the zydeco. I love it all. I don’t think I used it in my sound, but I let the spirit of freedom they have come inside of the whole recording.
And Parlor Studios is one of the finest studios I’ve ever been fortunate enough to step in. 100 percent class acts there. I truly love the City of New Orleans.
Q: Did recording the album in New Orleans influence its sound at all?
A: I don’t think I could tackle the New Orleans Sound. It’s a unique sound, and I would have a tough time trying to insert that into my music. I have so many things I already want to explore deeper that I’d have to say I will leave the New Orleans Sound to the professionals.
Q: Within a couple of days of you saying in an interview that “Bruce is the Boss and you’re the assistant manager,” a reader slagged me for comparing you to Bruce what he thought was a bit too much in my review of Sleepwalkers. What is the best part about being compared to Bruce Springsteen, and what is the worse?
A: Ha ha, if you put anything out in the public, plan to get skewered. I think the Bruce comparison with me is true in some ways and untrue in others. It fits if you mean that I care about where I’m from and the people who struggle to get by, and try to write honest songs from a place of joy and sadness and redemption all at the same time. Then yes, I’m like Bruce. If you’re talking about being the “savior of rock ‘n’ roll” and one of the most legendary writers ever, then that’s where I get off the train. Ha ha.
I love Bruce, and the best part about the whole thing is he has given me his blessing. He checks in on me and cares about me, like a true friend. He’s been so gracious with his time and support with me that I could never repay him. It’s an honor to call him my friend. He’s beautiful, and he’s an inspiration.
I don’t really see a downside to being compared to one of the greatest artists to walk the face of the planet. The thing that made it hard in the past was that some people were saying that us, me, whoever, were to be next in line. That’s too much pressure. It’s not real. I’m not Bruce. I’m Brian. And I’m very comfortable being Brian now. I wasn’t always. But let Bruce be the king. I’m just happy I get invited to Castle every now and then for pizza.
Q: What is the best feedback and advice you’ve gotten from Springsteen?
A: The best feedback was when he was asked on BBC radio “you filled in for Bono one night when he was sick, who would you have fill in for you?” And he said, “Brian!” — Dream achieved.
Q: Given the growing success of your solo career, including a European tour, what made you want to reunite with The Gaslight Anthem to celebrate the 10th anniversary of The ’59 Sound?
A: Well, The ’59 Sound is special. It gave us all our careers. It’s special to a lot of people. I can’t ignore that. I feel it deserves its honor, hiatus or not. I’m doing my solo records, and I’m having a great time and it brings me amazing joy and inspiration, but at the same time, I haven’t forgotten where I come from, and even if we’re not making new music as The Gaslight Anthem, I think it’s good to go out there and celebrate a birthday like the 10th anniversary of The ’59 Sound. To me, it would be wrong not to.
Q: What are you looking forward to most about reuniting with The Gaslight Anthem and playing The ’59 Sound in its entirety?
A: The part about The ‘59 Sound I’m most looking forward to is the excitement from the people who want to hear it. I’m happy to go out there and put smiles on people’s faces. That brings me a lot of joy.
Q: When and where in New Jersey will The Gaslight Anthem be playing?
A: All will be revealed in time.
Q: What role did New Brunswick have in the formation of the band, and do you think you might ever return to play there some day either with the band or as a solo artist?
A: New Brunswick was where we played our first real shows as a band. We had formed and started writing songs and became an actual band there, thanks to the Court Tavern and Andy Diamond, among others in the community who supported us. The only reason we stopped playing there is that there wasn’t a suitable venue we could fit all the people into. But New Brunswick will always be the Hub City and also the Hub City for The Gaslight Anthem.
Q: I often describe a new Jersey Sound as a cross between the rootsy lyricism of Bruce Springsteen and the edgy anthems of The Clash, and in my review of Sleepwalkers I referred to you and The Gaslight Anthem, The Scandals and The Cryptkeeper Five as architects of that sound and The Vansaders and Bobby Mahoney and the Seventh Son as its legacy. I know you’re familiar with The Scandals, having produced their last record, played with them in New Brunswick, and toured with their front man, Jared Hart, but are you familiar with the other four bands? If so, what do you think of them?
A: I’m familiar with most of these bands. I think NJ has great bands, and there’s a lot of young musicians coming up now all over. I’m just one of many. I’m happy when anyone succeeds from our great state. It’s a win for the underdog!
Q: When you get some down time, do you think you will continue to produce other artists’ records?
A: I love producing. It’s one of my favorite things to do because I love to watch people achieve their goals. I love when I see the look on someone’s face when their song comes to life in the studio. It’s as rewarding as when it’s my own song. I just did that with a fantastic new artist named Georgia Owen over at Lakehouse Studios in Asbury Park. I could really see myself doing much more producing in the future.
Q: Is there anyone in particular whom you would be interested in producing and why?
A: I’d love to produce anyone who’s hungry and ready to work. One thing I can tell you about any kind of success is that you must go out there and work. It will not be handed to you. As far as people I’d like to produce, I would love to work with tons of people: Julien Baker, Dave Hause, Khalid, The Alkaline Trio, The Menzingers, Juliana Hatfield, Chris Farren. There’s so many, none of which I feel exactly qualified to “produce,” but I think my strength lies in that I’m such a fan, I think I can be that voice of reason from the fan’s perspective. That’s how I approach producing records.
Q: Is there anything I didn’t ask on which you would like to comment?
A: I think I’d just like to say thank you to all the people who have supported me over the years in NJ. It’s been a long road for me, and not always an easy one, but the people in this fine state continue to support me and make me feel like I always have a home to come back to. So thank you, sincerely. Thank you, New Jersey!
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at email@example.com. And like Makin Waves at facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.