Photos by Joe Calixto
Interview with drummer Benny Horowitz | By Angela Kinzie
“I think you just hit that point where you start looking at what you do,” Gaslight Anthem drummer Benny Horowitz says. “A lot of the bar for what we do is set with the record The ‘59 Sound; it was this record where we hit at the right time and something cool happened in the studio, and it was a special experience. It really resonated with people in a lot of ways. But I think one of the biggest mistakes a band can make is to consistently try to recapture something that they won’t ever capture again.”
He adds that it was a genuine move to use a different approach this time. “We all universally felt that it was the time in the band to take a step to the left and try to think and see some different directions to go.”
Seven years after The ‘59 Sound, the Jersey boys who stirred up the punk underground release their fifth studio album, and second on Mercury/Island Records. Get Hurt, out August 12, debuted at No. 2 on Billboard’s Top Rock Albums and No. 4 on the Billboard 200, but met with mixed reviews and some heretofore-unseen indecision from the band’s longtime fans.
“I’d like to sit here and say that I don’t pay any attention to it, but I do,” Horowitz responds about some of Get Hurt’s reviews. “I look at it. […] What we didn’t want to do was have somebody shrug it off.”
“I definitely didn’t think it was going to be some universally well liked thing,” he continues, “but it doesn’t make it any more fun to read an article that doesn’t like something that you really like. It’s not a good feeling, but at the same time, I don’t think it’s possible for us to even have something that’s universally liked anymore. Things have just gotten to a different point, and at this point, I would rather somebody listen to the record four times and tell me the reason they hate it, than to listen to it once and shrug it off. On the other side, you’ll have people who are into it more. You hope it’s extreme on both sides.”
The Gaslight Anthem recently announced a pre-show package for each tour date, offering fans admittance to and a recording of the soundcheck, and early entrance to the show. Though Horowitz admits that fans’ responses to Get Hurt had been “pretty positive,” many of the Facebook responses to this promotion were heavily negative, due to disapproval of the price and the purchasers’ gaining entrance before general admission ticketholders. Not long after, the package was cancelled and redesigned.
“None of us have ever started a band pre-show package before,” Horowitz explains. “We don’t know what the fuck we’re doing, and we’re trying to do something cool. There was some pretty heavy backlash to some of the stuff. […] Because some of the things people were saying were true. It’s an interesting thing these days. […] Without talking too much about business stuff, apparently in the ‘80s, if you were a band like us, you would have been super rich. Not to say we’re not doing well; my life has been better than I ever thought it could. But the ways bands are using to stay afloat these days. […] People are trying to figure out different ways to make money now, and that’s part of it. You can either have a giant company ad on the stage at your shows, or you try to do something cool with your fans. People are looking for different ways to keep their bands going, and we’re trying to be clever with it. We’ve never heard of a band who records soundchecks and allows you to download them. We thought that was kind of cool. So it was all with good intentions. Then there were a bunch of people who had a lot to say about it, and now there’re a lot of people who are like, ‘Why did you take it down?’ You know, you can’t please everyone.”
“I appreciate things like Twitter,” he says, “because you actually do have a chance to have a little direct conversation and maybe see where somebody’s coming from, and they can see where you’re coming from. It makes it a little more human than, ‘Oh, these rich assholes want more.’ […] Or something like that. I think that’s what some people think. Which sucks, but what can you do about that? If we could find some perfect balance to keep what we do afloat and keep growing, and then keep everybody who is around happy at the same time, I’d love to do it! But I’m starting to see that it could be an impossible task. There’s just too many people with too many opinions.”
After signing with Mercury Records, prior to the release of Handwritten in 2012, The Gaslight Anthem has become a familiar name, and one that comes with what some might call a rock star dream. But how much of a difference is there between that dream and reality?
“There’re a lot of differences,” he responds. “Brian and I had a pact when we were younger that if we ever sold 10,000 copies of our record, we were going to get throat tattoos. We come from such an underground world that we really thought if you sold 10,000 copies of a record, you could be in a band for the rest of your life. And at the same time we sold 10,000 records, two members of the band were homeless. Not on the street, but there were people living with parents and just scraping to get by. So there has been a massive misconception this whole time about that part of it. And now, we find ourselves in a position where I have a pretty comfortable life for myself, and you start to think of ways to sustain that life. A band goes off tour, you start writing a record and 10 months go by that you haven’t gotten paid, and you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, real life.’ These things happen. So the idea that we’re at a point where money is no issue is a misconception. It’s just a bunch of people who wanted to play music to get away from the business real world. […] I’ve always prided myself on the fact that I don’t know how to tie a tie, and there’s something about that that makes me proud. But at the same time, we’re dealing with fucking gigantic multinational corporations and labels.” After vocalizing some frustrations, Horowitz concludes, “It’s a far trickier thing than people probably think.”
“But it’s something,” he says, adding genuinely that “you could be outside of a show and somebody just worked a 12 hour day doing something that maybe they don’t love, and then spent the money they made going to see you. That does leave you with a real responsibility at the same time, because of people who are coming to see you and buying your shit! You know?”
Horowitz believes some people still prefer to see punk bands drive themselves to shows in vans, but then will ask questions like “‘Why does Gaslight sound like shit? Why does the stage look like shit? Why do they look like shit?’” He expands, “Once it gets to a certain level, you have to start adding all this shit just to maintain. Then, before you know it, it’s just bigger than you ever thought it needed to be. And it’s almost like the thing you build and the thing you love gets a little further out of your hands.”
“There’s a balance to trying to figure this stuff out,” Horowitz concludes. “Not to mention the fact that, these days, you have us, and then you have about 20 people chirping in everybody’s ears all the time about ideas and opportunities. It just gets tricky to navigate. Especially while trying to hold on to what you were.”