Brian Fallon’s third solo album Local Honey (out now on Lesser Known Records) might best be defined by its focus. It’s a stripped-down effort that sees the former Gaslight Anthem frontman paring back the soulful, rock ‘n’ roll sound found on his prior records (2016’s Painkillers and 2018’s Sleepwalkers) in favor of sparse arrangements that underpin his most personal storytelling to date.
Now free from major label influence, it’s a pure expression of where the New Jersey-based songwriter is at in his life right now, written and released on his own terms.
New Noise caught up with Fallon over the phone (and under quarantine) to discuss the record.
I understand that you said you didn’t want to kind of write the “classic Americana record” with Local Honey. Is that something consciously tried to avoid? Was there ever a time where you would come up with a lyric or a riff and just be like, “Nah, I can’t throw that on the album?”
Not at all. I don’t even know where I said that. That was probably a really arbitrary quote that I said like, “Oh yeah, I just didn’t want to do the typical ‘this kind of record’ because I felt like that kind of record has been done. And I don’t even know what a typical Americana record is actually, now that I think about it [laughs]. To me, everything from Margo Price to Wilco is Americana; I don’t know what that sound is, specifically.
I think I meant like all-acoustic, John Wesley Harding, Bob Dylan-era. That’s what I was trying to say. I wasn’t going to do that. But no, I didn’t have to try, and I can tell you why. It’s because those musicians are not available to me, and my skill level is not there either to do that kind of playing. So, for someone like me, you have to get a little bit more creative when you’re stripping things back, or else it’ll get boring, which is immediately why I would choose Peter Katis to produce it. I was sure that was the kind of partnership that would work out in a good way.
You wanted this record to sound sad, and he was a good guy to bring that out. Was there anything specific about him or his approach that he brought to the table that just made him such a good creative partner to bring out that vibe?
Yeah, I think that the ability for him to work on everything. From the Swell Season record to Kurt Vile and The National, all that stuff, I was able to see in his work where he takes something that could be very simple and then makes it into a little bit more of a layered thing that’s interesting. And he definitely made choices that I wouldn’t have thought of myself and that I didn’t know how to get to myself.
It was definitely a little bit of going to him and then saying, “OK, here’s my song, now what else do you have? What’s your idea?” And then he would be like, “OK, I’ve got all these sounds,” and things like that.” We actually tried a song first, which is the first time I’ve ever done that. I drove up to Connecticut, which is about two hours from me, and he just said, “Why don’t you come up, and we’ll try a song and see how it goes? If it goes cool, then we’ll do the rest of the record. If not, no harm, no foul.”
What came next seems to have worked out pretty well.
Yeah, it went well. It was cool.
To touch on a point that you made just a moment ago about not feeling like becoming the next Bob Dylan is a realistic goal based on how you feel about your own songwriting chops, but something that you mentioned too in the press materials is that you took piano and guitar lessons and really tried to get back to basics and improve your songwriting abilities.
It’s interesting to think about someone in your position feeling that way, to be honest. Was there anything specific that you felt that you were able to achieve on this record as a result of that kind of structured learning that you might not have accomplished otherwise?
Sometimes it’s not necessarily the technical prowess that you learn from taking lessons. It’s not like all of a sudden I learned how to do something insane and then put it on the record. I think that the thing about taking the lessons, is it shows you that the more you’re able to do, you can then go one of two ways. You either start showing off with it, or you learn, “OK, this is what’s possible, but this is what restraint will give me.”
I’ve learned how to hold back and be able to drive the song with other things, rather than a loud drum beat, or tempo in general. I know this from being on a major label for so long, they’re always like, “Tempo equals excitement.” OK, but what if you don’t want to write fast songs, what do you do? Right?
So, learning all this stuff enabled me to say, “Okay, if I use these old Travis-picking, fingerstyle techniques, I can get a rhythm section happening on just my guitar, and then, that’ll propel the song, which then frees up the drums to not play a typical beat and allows them to be more of an instrument or do a waltz time or have two drum sets.” A lot of times, we had two drum sets doing different things, so that was really cool, and they would be playing completely different rhythms.
That kind of stuff, it’s subtle, and maybe it’s a musician trick where no one else would care except for musicians, but I don’t think so. I think it changed things enough to where it made a difference, and it really made me feel like I was kind of able to express myself in a new way where it didn’t feel like it was the same old thing. Not that I felt that the other stuff I did was the same old thing, but I think that continuing to do that would be the same old thing.
It also sounds as though with this record, like you felt like you had a breakthrough in terms of exactly how honest you were willing to get with the lyricism on this album and making it more personal. Would you say that’s accurate? And if so, what happened? What changed to help you feel like you could put more of yourself out there than you may have felt comfortable with before?
I do. I feel that that is that is true, and it’s accurate.
The thing that kind of made me feel that way, is that I am not unaware that this is the third, solo record from the guy from the band, you know? I get it. I think like I’ve come to the realization in my life that I’m not trying to be the next new thing, and I don’t think that that’s healthy for someone in my position to compete with. I think that, you know, let the new things that are coming out be there, but don’t try to follow that. Don’t try and compete with it either. Don’t try and be upset that someone else is getting more attention or whatever than you. You can’t expect that. You have to be like that about where you are.
So, for me, the question became, “Well then, what are you doing? Why are you even going to put out music? What should you do? Are you just putting it out because you want to? Or are you putting out because you have something to say?” Because those are two different things. I had to figure out, “Alright, well, what do I have to say?”
And really, what I have to say is that I’m in a position in my life where the things that matter to me are maybe looked at as simple by other people, and they’re not necessarily exciting. I don’t know about going out or the “this is the best night of my life” or whatever that a lot of songs are about. And that’s totally cool. When you’re 23? That’s awesome. When you’re 30? That’s cool.
But when you’re a 40-year-old father of two, if I was writing songs like that, I would feel like such a fraud. I’m not dissing any of that music by saying that, but even the fact that I would use the word “diss” is showing my age. But that’s what I’m talking about. I’m this person, and I had to say, “Well, what do you have to say about that?” And what I had to say was about my kids and the thoughts that I have on where I’m at right now.
I took the encouragement that I bet you a lot of my audience is probably in the same boat as me. So, maybe it’s just for them. Maybe it’s just for a small group of us, and that’s cool, but I had to go around that little thing in my head. I think that’s just my way of doing it, but I definitely had to confront that, and then it led me to writing those kinds of lyrics.
Did you feel any kind of pressure as you were working through this process to write something that might not just be meant for just the small group of people, or a relatively small group of people that’s grown with you? Was there a point where you had to make a conscious decision and be like, “OK, I’m either gonna try to write this widely relatable thing for everybody, or I’m gonna write this very honest thing that’s just for that’s just for this group of people that gets it”?
I don’t think I’m feeling pressure from the outside. I think there’s internal pressure. I mean, it’s anytime you sit down to do anything. Anytime you sit down, if you could write a piece, even this piece right now. You know your friends who are journalists are going to look at it, and they’re going to say like, “Oh, that was a good piece,” or something. Same thing with me. There’s an internal desire to do well for me. When I sit down and do anything, whether it’s a cover song or writing my own song, I want it to be of quality.
So, when I’m doing that, that’s kind of where I go into these thought processes about how I’m going to do this. And then there’s just the honest fact that I’m a musician for a living. This is how I feed my kids. I always say this, and it really kind of irritates me when people go and they make these broad sweeping statements of like, “Well, I don’t have my music in commercials because I have so much artistic integrity.” Well, you don’t have artistic integrity, it’s like this giant band in the ’70s covered your song and you’re sitting on a bank loan. So, that’s really easy to do and really easy to preach when you’re sitting on millions and millions of dollars.
But, when you’re me, you do have to say to yourself, “Sure, I could make this artistic integrity record,” or I could just make a weird record that sort of falsely mocks everybody that’s listening to it, which seems kind of nasty in a way. But I have to balance the two. Even going on my own and leaving the security of a major label—which there still is some security, I don’t know about other people, but for me, there was security—and to do it on my own, you have to balance being honest and doing what you want versus you also want it to do well so that you can continue to pay your bills and not have to go put roofs on houses again.
In the end, you have to decide which is more important to you. In my case, I felt just making a record I feel good about is what’s the most important thing.
I want to ask you about was that decision to kind of strike out on your own, and I believe the name the name of the label is slipping my memory right now but it’s …
Lesser Known Records.
Lesser Known. Yeah. And then Thirty Tigers is in there too?
Yeah Thirty Tigers is the distributor for all of the releases, you know, like they’re big, big distributing company. They’re kind of partnering.
Gotcha. I was curious how that whole relationship between these different entities fit together for this album. But it sounds like you kind of went with-—and these are some really ignorant questions. I’m just hoping you can clarify really quick that I probably could have answered with a Google search …
I don’t mind [laughs].
So, Lesser Known is your own label?
Yeah, that’s my label. I handle all the duties of a record label. I have to pay for all the vinyl and CDs and all that stuff and make sure that it goes out. I basically have to decide everything. I could sign bands if I want to. I’m not going to because I don’t have the money or support to do that.
Thirty Tigers basically helps me partner with the distribution company and the manufacturing company to make the CDs and to get them in the actual stores, like in Europe that I can’t go physically hand them to. Then, they also helped me get someone to do the press and do all the television or radio or anything like or internet really anything like that. They help you along to do it, but at the end of the day, it all kind of falls on my shoulders.
I imagine that in making that switch, going from a major label to doing more things on your own, that there are some clear pros and cons that come with that. Would you mind elaborating a little bit more on why you opted to go this route this time around?
The main reason is that I was thinking about my career and the music that I put out and realizing that I don’t own anything that I’ve done. Ever. I’ll never own it. There’s been situations where even early records have gotten sold to other companies without me having a say at all, or any of the other guys. I don’t ever want to get in that situation again because I didn’t financially benefit from that. Someone else did, and that’s terrible.
No one should be able to sell your work without you saying, “Hey, I don’t want that to happen; these are my songs.” Basically, what a record label does, is they have money when you don’t have money, when you’re when you’re that small. A bigger label has much more … they have distribution, they have this, that, and the other thing, but I don’t want to be in a position like that. If I want to create art, then why not own it, if I’m given the opportunity to?
Makes sense. I suppose too if you’re working with a large distributor then you don’t really lose out on your potential reach or ability to get that music in front of people anyway.
Yeah, and now with social media and stuff, sometimes your reach is—not mine necessarily, but some people—their reach is farther than their label’s. If it’s a big artist who has a million followers or two million followers, they could say, “My record is coming out.” They don’t even need a label to help them.
You can tell me if this is reading too much into things, but it sounds like there’s this interesting intersection going on here between this record lyrically being very personal and then also reining in more control over what happens with your output. Would you say that those two things went hand in hand with one another?
I don’t know if they happened consciously, but maybe subconsciously for sure because I feel more protective of this record than I have in a long time. I just feel like it’s mine, and it’s mine in every way, even down to the lettering on the back of the CD and where the bar code is on the vinyl. That was a decision that I made and at times argued with people over because it’s important to me. Not because I’m trying to do anything to just do it, but at this stage in my life, I want something to represent me if I’m going to put it out. I felt like I did that to the best of my ability.
Is there anything in particular that you hope listeners are going to be able to take away from this record?
Hopefully they enjoy it for their own lives, and then they can interject their own stories, and then it’ll serve as like … how other records have made me feel. I hope that they take it, and it becomes something that they enjoy listening to, and it gives fond memories back to them, like a time in their life.
Pick up a copy of Local Honey here.
Photo Credit: Pat Gilrane