With the New Jersey-based hard rock act Gaslight Anthem, singer-songwriter Brian Fallon established himself as one of modern rock’s true craftsman who writes and sings like a punk rock Springsteen. But he didn’t want to become a “dinosaur,” so last year he and his Gaslight bandmates took a hiatus.
“We were still doing well but it if you walk around the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and you’ll find tons of people who said, ‘That’s enough,’” says Fallon via phone from his Jersey home. “They become legendary. I wonder if some of those people had not died or broken up, would they have become legendary? What would the Clash have done during the ’80s. They probably would have sucked. What would Pink Floyd do now? Probably not a lot of good stuff.”
Earlier this year Fallon, who's currently touring with Gaslight Anthem guitarist Alex Rosamilia, Horrible Crowes cohort Ian Perkins and the Zombies’ bassist Catherine Popper, released his first solo album, Painkillers
. Produced by Butch Walker (Taylor Swift, Keith Urban), the album evokes the alt-country sounds of Tom Petty/Jason Isbell with tunes such as “A Wonderful Life,” the title track and “Smoke,” the latter of which shows off Fallon’s distinctively raspy voice. He says he started stockpiling songs a few years ago when he began writing material that wasn’t suited for the had rocking Gaslight Anthem. When Gaslight went on hiatus, he reassessed the material he had put on the backburner.
“All of a sudden, I was without a job," he says. "I had to do something. I was going to see if Welsh Farms was hiring.The demos were pseudo country songs. That’s where they didn’t fit in. One of the real secrets of Gaslight is the drumming. It’s rock drumming. It’s just wild. [Gaslight drummer] Benny [Horowitz] isn’t the kind of guy you want to put in a cage. He would be bored out of his mind. That’s the only time I ever put songs aside. I didn’t do that before. When I did the solo record, it did sound different to me.”
He says he isn’t surprised the songs turned out to have some twang to them.
“I think everyone does that when they make a solo record,” he says. “It just creeps in. It’s like, ‘Hey that guy’s making a solo album.’ Did he go to Nashville? It’s the typical singer-songwriter thing to do. We’re not that different. It’s like, ‘Roger Daltrey is making a solo record.’ ‘Where did he move to? Memphis?’ It’s just what you do. When the songs strip down to the core from when I was very young to now, they were always were these nursery rhyme-y country songs. Even the fast, heavy Gaslight songs started as a country ditty in my head. When you’re playing that Johnny Cash rhythm, it’s natural to play by yourself. It has a drumbeat and a melody and it has everything there and you don’t need a band. I think that’s why it’s the natural fallback.”
Though most of the songs feature backing vocals, Fallon didn’t hire outside singers to help him out. Rather, he and Walker took the lead on providing the harmonies.
“Most of that is me and Butch and the drummer right around the microphone,” Fallon says. “We didn’t layer them. We just sang harmonies. We were trying to be the Traveling Wilburys. Butch said they did it like that. We were learning our parts. It was like Peter, Paul and Mary. I had never done that before. I had been in a punk rock band, and there were no harmonies. If you have a voice like mine and you’re stuck with that Tom Waits thing, you have to dress up the music pretty and it has to be a juxtaposition unless you’re doing something really heavy.”
Fallon released his first demo tape as a solo artist nearly 20 years ago. He would play in a variety of bands before founding Gaslight Anthem. Now, he’s back to recording and touring as a solo act. What motivates him to continue to write and record even though he hasn’t achieved the fame of other singer-songwriters?
“I think the feeling of not quite achieving anything close to what you wanted to do,” he says. “Everyone who is writing songs is trying to go for something. I think Bruce [Springsteen] is trying to write something that stands up to Elvis [Presley]. And Bob Dylan is doing whatever he’s doing. I’m just trying to write something that fits with those guys. I don’t think I have yet. I’m still spinning the wheels. I just read this article in The New York Times
that argued they should classify music as songwriting and entertaining. It’s completely legitimate. That goes back to Bob Dylan versus Elvis. Elvis was just an entertainer and somehow time has given him credibility. It would help guys like me. You’re no less legitimate but you’re an entertainer, but it would help me win a Grammy, I’ll tell you that. That’s for sure. If someone dresses you in the morning, then you’re an entertainer. That’s fine. Everybody needs that, but it’s not in the same ball field.”
Brian Fallon & the Crowes, Chris Farron, DJ Teddy Eisenberg (of WRUW), 8 p.m. Sunday, June 26, Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $25, beachlandballroom.com.