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The Gaslight Anthem’s No-Compromise Policy

Sep. 30, 2009
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On a strictly musical level, The Gaslight Anthem seems like a band that shouldn’t work.

As singer/guitarist Brian Fallon noted in a recent phone interview, the band members weren’t close friends when they formed the group several years ago. Based in the Jersey Shore area near Asbury Park, N.J., they were aware of each other from various bands that played in the region, but had never so much as been in the same room together before playing as The Gaslight Anthem.

What’s more, they didn’t share similar musical tastes. Fallon mentions classic soul artists like Otis Redding and rockers such as fellow Jersey native Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits and Van Morrison as influences, while guitarist Alex Rosamilia is a fan of the feedback-drenched indie-rock of My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth. Drummer Benny Horowitz, meanwhile, counts hardcore and post-modern rock bands like Minus the Bear among his favorites.

What seemingly also should have worked against The Gaslight Anthem, which includes bassist Alex Levine as well, was an outlook that could only have accentuated the musical differences within the band.

“We talk about that a lot, like, ‘Why do you think this worked and nothing else did with our other bands,’” Fallon says. “And everybody says it was because of compromise, because we all were doing things (in the previous bands) to benefit the other people in the bands and compromising the things we wanted to do. Whereas in this band, it’s like you’ve got four feet permanently in the ground. Like, ‘This is what I’m playing and my foot’s down.’”

Instead of creating conflict, staying true to their own musical instincts has helped the members of The Gaslight Anthem to mesh musically, Fallon says. He points to an early practice session that reinforced the idea of not compromising creatively. He’d tried to write hardcore songs that Horowitz might like, but the drummer instructed him to go back to the drawing board “and write as if you were writing by yourself.”

The band all agreed that the country-leaning songs that Fallon crafted on his own, which other band members then put their own spin on, worked much better.

Those songs made the band’s debut album, but the group took the idea of not compromising their individual ideas to a new level on the band’s second CD, The ’59 Sound.

Fallon says he felt it was time to make an album that defined the group’s sound, and he essentially schooled himself to try to achieve that goal.

“I was listening intentionally to records that I thought were classics,” he says. “I packed all of the records I could muster, like Moondance from Van Morrison and Rain Dogs from Tom Waits and [Bruce Springsteen’s] Born to Run … I was finding out, what did they add? They added their own spin, but how did they do it and what did it sound like and what was the process?

“[Those artists] really just went for broke,” Fallon continues. “We just tried to do that.”

The sweat and effort that went into The ’59 Sound paid off with glowing reviews. As word has spread about the album since its summer release last year, the group has seen its audience expand noticeably. Fallon says the size of the venues the band plays has quadrupled.

Now that The Gaslight Anthem is on tour, the band is not being too precious about its songs. Fallon notes that the group isn’t afraid to expand on the studio versions of its songs on stage, and says this helps to make The Gaslight Anthem experience in concert different than on the album.

“I saw Bob Dylan one time and his songs are completely different (live),” Fallon says. “That kind of inspired me to be like, ‘Hey wait, these don’t have to be the same all the time.’”

The Gaslight Anthem tops a Sunday, Oct. 4, bill with Murder by Death, The Loved Ones and Frank Turner at the Turner Hall Ballroom at 7 p.m.


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