Gaslight Anthem's Brian Fallon on going solo
It's an unwritten rule in journalism that you should never meet your heroes. Often the expectation of a real-life meeting falls flat. Yet today, I found myself breaking said rule as I walked down to meet Brian Fallon ahead of his concert at the ABC tonight.
The frontman of the in-hiatus Gaslight Anthem has been touring Europe as part of his Painkillers tour, a solo album released earlier this year to critical acclaim. Fallon, who played his final show with The Gaslight Anthem last year, has not stepped away from the spotlight and has continued to tour with his band, the Horrible Crowes. The songwriter spoke to The Scotsman about his solo tour and life post-Gaslight
Q: Hi Brian, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. How have you found being back in Glasgow having played here in the past?
BF: It’s nice, we went to the little Christmas market yesterday, it was great.
Q: There’s Sleazy’s just down the street, there are all these rock bars, and you’re going to a Christmas market?
BF: I don’t go to rock bars. Why would I go to rock bars? I can do that every night it’s boring.
Q: How are you finding it on your own outwith the Gaslight Anthem? Is it slightly different?
BF: I can kind of do and go through the day doing whatever I need to do. It’s just a different thing. The band thing is the band thing and this thing is not the band thing and then that’s it. It’s just like everybody else, if they have their friends around them and they have four people that have to agree on everything, but it instead it’s just one person, it’s a lot quicker. Quicker decisions.
Q: In the past you’ve said that with The 59 Sound it was because all of the band were into the same music at the time and you realised that was what brought forward that style for the album. Have you found that it’s been more difficult to get inspired?
BF: No, because usually that would all kick off with me getting into something, the ideas for the records I would always come and say ‘Hey, what do you think about this’ and everyone would get into it, if they were into it. It would always be me coming in. It always starts with a song, so whoever’s the guy or the girl that does the song, I guess they’re the pushing force.
Q: So the furthest I’ve travelled to go to a gig was to see The Gaslight Anthem in Luxembourg, but at that gig you declared a love for something I didn’t expect… Lush soap. Have you visited this time around?
BF: (Laughs) I have no idea man, I play shows every night, I don’t remember.
Q: I was just wondering if you’d visited Lush this time though?
BF: (laughs) What, to Lush? Yeah, yesterday, course I did, went down there, it was right next to the Christmas market, it was so convenient I couldn’t pass it up (laughs). I travelled all over the world just to get some soap from Glasgow, get some Scottish soap, from where’s Lush made? Germany or something like that?
Q: You’ve spoken in the past about crowds in Europe being so different to the State. Are you still finding that to be the case?
BF: Yeah, it doesn’t really change. People are more focused on music here. I dunno if it’s that not as much comes through or if they just like it more, but I dunno it’s different. Where I live, every band ever comes through and you can see anything you want pretty much. Over here people get really excited about bands and shows, people are more apt to do that here and I dunno why that is.
Q: Would you ever consider moving to Europe?
BF: Sure, why not? I mean, depends what you mean by Europe. Some places I’m not moving to (laughs) but I’ve thought about it, because it’d be fun, it’d be different. It’d be exciting to be there for a period of time. It’s different from America and to me, it’s a little easier. They seem easier, they seem to go from A to B a lot quicker. In America it’s step A then A and a half, and then there’s Donald Trump and that sorta thing.
Q: I was going to ask how you feel about Donald Trump? I mean is there a lot you can feel?
BF: You can feel. You know what I don’t like. I don’t like other people’s opinions who don’t live there (in America).‘Shut up, I have to live with it’ you know what I mean?’ ‘You don’t like it’ guess what, nobody likes it. I don’t like it when people spout about the popular opinion just to make it louder. I think some people don’t even know what they’re talking about and they just start talking with an opinion, not even asking questions. If you’re asking questions that’s one thing, but if you’re just rattling off an opinion, and you don’t even live there, it’s like ‘C’mon man’. I mean, we have to live with this guy for the next four years. I gotta figure out what I’ll do when I get home. There’s more to it than somebody’s opinion. It’s not a joke. I think a lot of people think it’s a joke, like, the people that didn’t care enough to do anything, or,, the people that voted for him not thinking it was as serious as it is. We’re gonna see what happens, it’s gonna be a weird four years. Hopefully he doesn’t do anything crazy. The relief in all of this is that there’s a Senate and a cabinet, he’s not just like King Kong and can do whatever he wants. He can’t just toppled buildings over with a brush of his hand. There are some boundaries.
Q: Obviously Bruce Springsteen’s a massive influence on your career. Do you want to explain the Assistant Manager name you have on your Twitter to those that don’t understand the Springsteen reference?
BF: Yeah, it’s because he said that he would let me fill in for him if he got sick for a show so I’m waiting, I’m waiting for him to get sick (laughs). He said on BBC he filled in for Bono, and when he was asked who would fill in for him if you got sick he said ‘that guy Brian Fallon’. I was just like, ‘that’s insane!’
Q: Was it one of those you had to hear it before believing it?
BF: Yeah. Somebody told me it was there, I didn’t believe it was there. I saw it on Twitter and I thought whatever, that’s just people talking, and then I listened to it and I was like ‘Alright, when’s he gonna get a cold!’ I’ll be there, I will be playing that show. I would do that in a minute, that would be amazing.
Q: You said in another interview people expected to hear Gaslight songs when they came to see you, and you felt pressured at first to play such songs. Is there any songs that were difficult to decide if you’d play or not?
BF: No, it was pretty easy not to do it. If we weren’t taking a break we’d just be doing it, so the point of doing it now would be silly. That doesn’t mean I don’t do it from time to time, I do. But usually it’s just an oddball song or something I feel like doing in the moment. I definitely think that if you do it, that’s what people wait for, and then there is no point in not doing it. You may as well just have the band do it.
Q: Have you found there’s been a change in your audience since you toured with Painkillers?
BF: A little bit, yeah, there’s more girls (laughs) There is not so much of the rowdy crowd, but sometimes that’s not the best crowd to have.
Q: Did anyone give you advice when you made the decision to go solo?
BF: Well, there wasn’t really a decision, so that was easy. I mean there was no gig, so it wasn’t like I was leaving to do something else, that’d be a different decision, and that would have been a much heavier decision.
Q: When you used to do Gaslight albums did you not have numerous songs that you’d whittle down effectively, but with Painkillers, you took a different approach with only four or five and built it up. Was that a conscious decision or did it just happen?
BF: No, not really, I just had those songs sitting around and then I also had a bunch of others that never came out. I always have like, twenty or something songs for a record. You write a bunch but some of them aren’t that good or don’t fit or whatever it is so then you whittle it down from there. It’s just a process but everytime I think i’ve had a bunch of songs.
Q: The last show you played with Gaslight was Reading. Did that put an extra pressure on you guys to perform? Was it more raw and emotional?
BF: No, not for me. I think there was less pressure than before. Sometimes when you’re doing it nightly you’re thinking, ‘How’s the set working’ but when you’re on stage and you know this is the last show for, I dunno how long, then you stop caring about that and go ‘I’m gonna do what I wanna go and I don’t care’. Not that you don’t care what people think, but you don’t care what the expectation is because you’re doing it for yourself, which is why you did it in the beginning. I was just reading about Noel Gallagher writing about that song ‘Digsy’s Dinner’ and he was like ‘There’s no way i’d write that song now’ but that’s because you’re not that free when you have an audience. NME or Mojo or whatever would have slashed him for that now, because I guess it’s just a pretty simple song about going over to someone’s house to have lasagna (laughs). You’re more carefree when you don’t have an audience. You’re doing what you like to do and that’s the thing that people like about you in the beginning.
Q: OK, Brian, last question. Oasis get back together and they want you to be Liam. but on the same night, Springsteen has got a cold. What gig do you do?
BF: Springsteen. Are you kidding?
Q: Yeah, I kind of was..
BF: The thing about filling in for Oasis, is, you’re taking someone’s spot who’s not being invited. You know what I’m saying? If Liam is not invited, and then Noel sends the email to me, the answer is two part. The answer is yeah, I wanna sing with you, no, I don’t wanna be the guy that everyone throws their shoes at because I’m not Liam. I’d have to say ‘Thank you very much, but no I’ll be seeing you later, I’ll be having the Bruce Springsteen gig. With the Springsteen gig it’s just like ‘Bruce is sick, the shows’ cancelled… just kidding’ BF swoops down on a helicopter like ‘whatup, we’re playing Born to Run the original version. We’re playing Born in the USA. We’re playing all the hits, all the time’ If i was doing a Bruce gig I’d play the biggest setlist ever. He’d never be able to do another follow up show because he’d be so bummed. I’d call up Courtney Cox I’d be like ‘Get yourself out here we’re dancing on the stage’ We’d recreate the video that’d be it. I’d be calling up that Bridget Jones Diary lady like ‘Yo, Tom Cruise was singing that song Secret Garden from the Jerry Maguire movie, you had me at hello, let’s do this show.
Q: You realise by doing this you’re putting Springsteen off calling you if he gets a cold and needs a backup?
BF No. He’s gonna call me. I believe. But then, he’s not gonna listen to this, what he doesn’t know is I’m gonna take all his fans as I will write the best greatest Bruce Springsteen setlist ever. But it’s gonna be me singing. But really. I’m doing it for the fans though as he has to follow that up when he comes back from having a cold but the bar has been set so high from when Brian sang that now he has do it. He has to feel that pressure and listen to it. And I think he will crack because he’s a man of the people. He’ll do the set that I, myself, gave to you, the people of Scotland.
Brian Fallon is playing the ABC tonight in Glasgow. His new solo album Painkillers is available on Itunes and to stream via Spotify.