The Gaslight Anthem: “We knew that if we were the underdogs, we’d be good underdogs”

THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM make their electrifying return with new album ‘History Books,’ where they prove their enduring relevance, infuse fresh energy into their iconic sound, and remind us that age is no obstacle to the sheer joy of making music. Check out our latest Upset cover story.

Words: Ali Shutler.
Photos: Kelsey Ayers, Casey MacAllister.

“We have to prove that we still belong here and that we’re still adding something new to the world,” Brian Fallon considers. The Gaslight Anthem are about to release their first album in nine years. And it’s an absolute corker. Different to what’s come before but instantly recognisable, ‘History Books’ sees the New Jersey rockers comfortable with who they’ve become.

The band have found comfort in the past before, though. The Gaslight Anthem went on hiatus in 2015 after getting burnt out, releasing five increasingly bigger albums in just seven years. Still, they reunited in 2018 for a tenth-anniversary run for breakout album ‘The ’59 Sound’. “The shows were great, but it just reaffirmed that we were still burnt out,” Brian explains. However, last year’s massive reunion tour came alongside the promise of new music. “We’re very much looking forward to the future,” he said in a statement at the time. “All the bands I admire are either still making music, or they stopped,” he tells Dork today. “For me, it can’t just be about nostalgia.”

Going forward, the live show’s energy is all about “blowing everybody away,” says Brian. “We want to keep it the most exciting thing you can see. We’ll still play all the songs you want to hear, plus some cool ones from the new record. And maybe that’ll change every night. We just want it to be fun. We’re trying to make people smile.”

Immediately following the split, Brian started work on a solo career that went on to span four records, but he started missing the camaraderie of being part of a team. “There’s a collective nature to being in a band. Everyone has something to gain, and everyone has something to lose,” he explains. “When you’re doing your own thing, you find yourself by yourself a lot of the time, and after the pandemic, being by myself was not a thing I was looking forward to.”

After seeking advice from his wife and Bruce Springsteen, Brian set himself the task of writing four songs worthy of getting The Gaslight Anthem back together. “Having new demos to show the rest of the band was really important,” he explains. “I wanted to show them I was serious but also give them something they could judge.” Guitarist Alex Rosamilia, bassist Alex Levine and drummer Benny Horowitz were soon on board.

Brian admits there was a degree of nervousness as The Gaslight Anthem started working on new music, with questions about their abilities and relevance hanging over them. “Every time there was a new song, and it didn’t suck, everybody was so relieved,” laughs Brian. For each song, he would record the lyrics and an accompanying guitar line on his phone, then send it to the rest of the band with a brief description of the vibe. Dinosaur Jr. meets The Smiths, for example. Each member would then write their own parts. “From there, we figured it out in the practice room, like we always did.”

“When you’ve been in a band for a bit, you get to know your audience,” he continues. “I don’t know about newcomers, but I think the people who like this band will like this album. It feels like the next logical step. It’s not a wild departure from anything.”

‘History Books’ is inspired by the likes of Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam and Nirvana alongside Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. It’s the same sonic pallet The Gaslight Anthem have always dabbled in, but this time the band were also inspired by themselves. “I felt confident this time around,” says Brian. “When you’re in your 40s and making your sixth record, you do feel like an underdog a bit, even if your band is big. But we knew that if we were the underdogs, we’d be good underdogs. We might not be young, shiny, pretty and new anymore, but I still felt like we could give these kids a run for their money.”

“Every time there was a new song, and it didn’t suck, everybody was so relieved”

Brian Fallon

That bristling excitement can be felt across The Gaslight Anthem’s new album. “We were writing music again, we were working with a new producer [Peter Katis], and we were playing shows. There was just this excitement on every level.”

Because of this, at no point does ‘History Books’ feel tired or uninspired, with a joyous sense of fun driving each moment forward. “I am not ready to put on my mature shoes,” says Brian. “I don’t think anybody in this band is ready to make the mature record.”

“That’s the thing about being in a rock’n’roll band. You should absolutely put thought into what your ticket prices are, what you’re saying in your lyrics and where your fans are, but sometimes, it should be kind of dumb. ‘That sounds cool, let’s do it’.”

In fact, the title ‘History Books’ came from the fact it sounded cool (“I wish I had an interesting, deep answer for you,” Brian says with a grin), while collabs with PUP’s Stefan Babcock (‘Little Fires’) and Bruce Springsteen (the title-track) were chosen for a similar reason.
“Maybe the lyrics are where we start to get a little mature,” adds Brian, with ‘History Books’ wrestling with a lust for life, change and growing older. “You can’t run away from that ticking clock that you can feel in your head. It sucks, but everybody over the age of 30 will know exactly what I’m talking about. It does propel you towards immediately feeling alive as well, though,” he explains, with a ‘do it while you can’ mentality.

“One of the special things about The Gaslight Anthem is that we’ve always been able to write about pretty morose stuff but still have it feel celebratory,” says Brian. “It would be stupid if I was writing a party record because I’m not sure that translates when you’re in your 40s. Even though there are songs about negative or hard subjects, the vibe of ‘History Books’ is very positive.”

“I think the people who like this band will like this album. It feels like the next logical step”

Brian Fallon

There’s also a hard-fought sense of freedom across ‘History Books’. The band are comfortable with who they are, confidently playing to their strengths and inspirations rather than trying to chase whatever scene is popping off on Spotify. “The older I get, the less I feel tied down,” explains Brian. “I feel much more freedom now.

“We actually started this whole process off by asking for our freedom back,” he continues. 2014’s ‘Get Hurt’ was released by Island Records, and they still had first refusal on whatever came next. So, before the band had written a single note of music for ‘History Books’, they called them and said they didn’t want to be on a major label anymore, which Island agreed to.

“We’ve made five records, and we don’t own any of them. We really wanted to do this one for ourselves,” says Brian. “We wanted that freedom. We’ve always been allowed to do our own thing, but the thing about being backed by a major label is that they want it to be big, so there’s a lot of everything behind it,” he continues, aware of marketing budgets, gruelling press runs and bucketloads of expectations. “There was always this pressure, and we didn’t want that for this new chapter. The rule was that if we were going to do this, we were going to do it properly. We were going to take our time, and we were going to make it the best it could possibly be.”

The band were also very aware of their fanbase when they were writing ‘History Books’. “I didn’t write it for them, but they were definitely on my mind when I was writing every song,” says Brian. “I was trying to make them proud of us. I hope they see themselves in it.”

There were plenty of conversations about what The Gaslight Anthem should be in 2023 and beyond, but it’s the same as it’s always been. “I want people to look at us and feel like it’s possible for them to do it as well,” says Brian. When he first started playing guitar, he watched Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘No More Tears’ tour because guitarist Zakk Wylde was something of a hometown hero. During that run, though, Ozzy would regularly tell the crowd that they could become rock stars, too. “I believed him.”

Because of the distance between records, The Gaslight Anthem aren’t trying to better what’s come before. Instead, Brian sees ‘History Books’ as the start of a new era. “It’s the dividing line. The first chapter of The Gaslight Anthem ended with ‘Get Hurt’, and this is the next chapter.”

“There’s some songs left in the tank, and this new era of the band is going to be fun,” he continues. “We’re not about celebrating our past because I think there’s some future left to us.” ■

The Gaslight Anthem’s album ‘History Books’ is out 27th October. Follow Upset’s Spotify playlist here.