Photo by Nathan Katsiaficas
Interview with Brian Fallon | By Angela Kinzie
“I’ve not been playing Gaslight Anthem songs, mainly because I don’t want to be disrespectful to the guys,” says Brian Fallon. “I also feel like we took a break for a reason, So, we didn’t want to go and do the same thing that we just took a break from.”
In July of 2015, after touring in support of their fifth—and notably divisive—studio album Get Hurt, New Jersey’s The Gaslight Anthem announced they were taking a hiatus after nearly 10 years on the road. While the individual members pursued their own projects and interests, singer-songwriter Fallon found himself revisiting his musical beginnings. The result is his debut solo album: Painkillers. Scheduled for release on March 11 via Island Records, it gives listeners a 12 track collection of Fallon’s signature songwriting through both new material and a few re-recorded songs previously released online under the name Molly And The Zombies.
When asked how the tour—which began Jan. 7 in Portland, Maine—has been going, Fallon answers, “Really good, actually. Asking people to just accept that you’re playing new songs that they might not know is a lot to ask, but they’ve been doing it, and they’ve been really, really receptive and cool about it. So, I’ve been trying to give something extra back every night, where I do a cover song that I know people would dig, or something like that.”
“I’m trying to invest a little bit of myself into every single show,” he continues. “I’m invested in investing myself into the audience for this run, because this is special to me, getting to do a solo record.”
Explaining his desire to show appreciation for the fans, Fallon adds, “As the shows go on, I’m trying to find ways to do, like, free shows… even before the show. Say there’s a show in New Jersey, I’d do [something] like a record store show that’s free and be like, ‘I’m here for you; I’m trying to give you something extra because you’re supporting me.’ I’m trying to show that more these days. It seems like I’ve realized how important that is.”
Fallon’s acoustic output is, in many ways, a return to his roots. “When I started out doing music,” he recalls, “I wanted to be in a punk band so bad, but there were no kids who played other instruments. So I thought, ‘I have this acoustic guitar; I’m just gonna play those songs.’ This is kind of back where I came from, and I feel really connected to it in a strange way. There’s nothing behind this; it’s just love of music, you know.”
Fans familiar with The Gaslight Anthem will no doubt recognize other familiar faces on this tour: Ian Perkins and Alex Rosamilia. Both Gaslight guitarists are members of The Crowes, Fallon’s back-up band on the Painkillers tour. The dates also feature songs by The Horrible Crows, Fallon and Perkins’s 2008 side project. Those following Fallon’s music outside of The Gaslight Anthem may be familiar with many of the live songs, including a few released through YouTube and Myspace as far back as the ‘59 Sound tour, “The Blues, Mary” and “Tin Pan Alley” among them.
“That’s kind of the first time that I thought, ‘Eventually, at some point in my life, I want to do an acoustic record that’s slowed down and more easy to go along with, where you can say things that are a little bit different,’” he explains. “You can get a story across, I think, a little better. […] I’ve always wanted to do that, because that’s where I come from. My mom taught me that music first. It was church music, and then that. Those were the first two things I ever heard in my life.”
When asked if he means actual hymns, Fallon clarifies, “Yeah. Not church music like—I jokingly call Coldplay church music, because it sounds like that new Christian rock, which, to me, that’s the worst music ever. I just hate it! I don’t mean to offend anybody who plays Christian rock, but I just don’t like it. But the old hymns like ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’ and ‘Amazing Grace,’ songs like that; I cut my teeth on those songs. Those are the first songs I ever heard in my life, so they’re real special to me.”
Citing artists from Jason Isbell to Ryan Adams to Bob Dylan as inspiration, Painkillers stems directly from Fallon’s roots and love of American music. “It’s all about American music, because I decided I was going to write a record [like] where I’m from,” he says. “I wasn’t going to try to write an English record or a Southern record or a blues record, because I’m not from there. I’m from New Jersey; I grew up on folk music. Bob Dylan played in New York City for the first time, and Bruce Springsteen is from here, and Tom Petty, even, is from Florida, which is still considered the East Coast.”
“It’s an American record,” he says, definitively, “I don’t mean, like, ‘America hee-haw.’ I’m not talking about politics or any of that stuff. […] My main thing is that I love the tradition of music that’s come from America. I think it’s a great tradition of songwriters, and I wanted to follow in that vein.”
Painkillers may not just be a title. While home in New Jersey, the guitarist and vocalist has just endured nearly three hours of dental work, though he still comes across as kind and chatty. “It’s not that bad,” Fallon assures. “I had to get my front six teeth replaced. No good story; they were just broken. Then, I hit myself in the face with a microphone by accident in Vancouver, Canada, a couple of years ago, and it cracked a tooth in half. So, they had to take it out, and then I got a bunch of implants. And it’s other damage, just stupid stuff, but I’m almost done.”
Regarding his literal painkillers, he explains, “It was pretty numbed up, and the numbing hasn’t worn off, but I’m good with the Advil. I never got into doing drugs or anything, so Advil works really good on me. If I take it, it hits me perfect.”