The Gaslight Anthem Leaves Home

Thursday, 03 June 2010

Remember when you were a kid and the last days of August were both the greatest and most terrifying of the year? It was a unique sensation; with the daily drudgery of a new school year looming, the lackadaisical tranquility of summer is shattered by all those things that “need doing” before they get placed indefinitely on the back burner because they “need to focus on school” – or so their parents tell them. In that time, some people run around frantically in an attempt to get everything accomplished but others simply stop and soak up the last sanity they can before all hope of that state vanishes for ten months. That's the place where the members of The Gaslight Anthem find themselves right now – or at least it feels like it. Just weeks before the band's new, hotly anticipated album, American Slang, is set to hit the street and the band is scheduled to begin a new tour, guitarist Alex Rosamilia is taking a minute to collect himself and enjoy the calm before he's inevitably bombarded by the storm. “Right now, I'm at home in Hoboken, New Jersey and it feels pretty good,” sighs Rosamilia with more than a small amount of satisfaction. “I'm home, enjoying the last days before we go out on tour. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't like going on tour, it's just that, well, I was telling somebody else the other day that this feeling I've got at the moment is like the same feeling you get when you realize your vacation's almost over. I guess you could equate it to August when you were in school; that kind of feeling when you know what's coming, you know it's right ahead of you and – whether you like it or not, whether it's going to be hard work or not – you just know it's coming. It's inevitable, so I'm taking a minute to enjoy it before we leave. That's where I'm at right now.”

Judging by the comfortable, relaxed tone in the guitarist's voice, it's not a bad place to be, but not a particularly common one for the band either. For the last five years, The Gaslight Anthem has regularly been spending “two hundred and fifty days a year” on the road and building an audience, but the break came eighteen months ago when the band's sophomore effort, The '59 Sound, caught a positive response that was nearly universal; suddenly everyone knew about “this little band from Jersey, The Gaslight Anthem” – or wanted to. The number of people at the band's shows swelled, and The Gaslight Anthem toured the world, garnering high praise wherever they went. Un-phased by the popular notice, the band kept its' collective head down and kept working until it was time to enter the studio again. It was at that point that the band looked up and noticed that a lot of things had changed – whether they'd intended them to or not. “To be honest, the way it all came together was pretty simple,” recalls the guitarist of the writing process the band used to hammer the songs flat before they entered the studio. “We just wanted to do another record so we got together and just wrote it. I can say that we were trying to stray as far away from The '59 Sound as possible and that has to do with just wanting to do something different but it wasn't difficult at all, it was actually really easy. We spent around two months in my friend's basement and we'd just come in and play every day. Brian [singer/guitarist Brian Fallon –ed] would come in with lyrics or a vocal-and-acoustic-guitar thing that he'd done in Garageband and play it for us at the beginning of practice, and then we'd just work on it throughout the course of the day. Without sounding cliched or cheesy – which means what I say is going to sound both cliched and cheesy – it's a very organic process when we write; it's a very natural process, nobody comes in with all the parts of a song and then just hands them out.

“Songwriting took about a month and a half or two months, and then we were in the studio for about five weeks,” Rosamilia continues. “We've been told that that's really fast, but it's actually the longest we've ever spent on a record. The first record was done in six days – we all worked at that point – and then I think The '59 Sound took thirteen days, if I'm not mistaken, so taking five weeks felt really luxurious. This time we had enough time to make sure we did everything right [chuckling]. It wasn't so much a matter of rushing and saying, 'We have to get this shit done,' we had enough time to be able to say, 'Let's get this shit right.'

“After we got started too, it all came really easy; songs just kept coming and I actually had to fight to keep one off; not because it's a bad song – in fact I think it's one of my favorite songs that we've ever written – but because we decided when we started recording that we were going to go one particular way and it didn't really fit into that. We're all really big on making sure that a record moves like a record; we all still believe that's how it should be listened to, you sit down and you listen from beginning to end. I don't think many people do that anymore, but we wrote it to move like that; that's why we put “The Queen Of Lower Chelsea” where we did; because it's the end of Side A. We figured out the structure of the record before we started writing the songs so that when we started writing the songs and things started filling up, we started putting the songs in place; like this song is the beginning of Side B, this other song should go in the middle. We went like that and, when we got to the point where we only had a couple of holes left, we knew what songs we had to write. It's probably a really geeky way of writing a record, but we are [laughing]. We've always just looked at it as the fact that we're presenting one thing; not ten separate things.

There's no doubt in listening to American Slang that The Gaslight Anthem did indeed get this shit right; it is a spectacular and solid album. As the title track opens the record, all of the elements that first drew listeners to the band – the vintage indie rock guitar stomping, the heart-on-its-sleeve lyrics, Brian Fallon's instantly engaging vocals and the song structures that recall the magic simplicity of Bruce Springsteen – all weigh in, but something is most certainly different about the presentation. Even as listeners fall under the band's spell when “Stay Lucky” rolls out some warm and heartfelt regrets and resignations (the song ends with these words: “If you're anywhere in Manhattan in the next eight days or so/Let me know – speak soon, stay lucky”), they know there's something different and, when “The Diamond Church Street Choir” lays in with some easy chords, the difference snaps to a perfect clarity: American Slang is undoubtedly the work of a band that has reached the summit of everything they ever wanted or dreamed possible, and it feels pretty damned good. Where The '59 Sound couldn't help but betray the sort of nervous sparks that come with being young and untested, a year and a half later and The Gaslight Anthem isn't so nervous because they've been accepted, they've gotten comfortable on stage and gotten comfortable with themselves – they're rolling on their own steam and they know what they're doing. It's at that point too when listeners notice that the sparks of The '59 Sound have given way to finer and more pointed hooks as songs like “Boxer,” “The Queen Of Lower Chelsea” and “We Did It When We Were Young” all lodge themselves inextricably from the minds of listeners and bring knowing smiles to their faces; this is the kind of record that will hold its' meaning for them, and will become the sort of benchmark by which everything The Gaslight Anthem does from here on out gets equated. All of such praise begs the obvious question of what exactly changed between albums? According to Rosamilia, the difference in approach and style on American Slang actually began while the band was on tour in support of The '59 Sound. “With The '59 Sound, we were really trying to incorporate a Soul atmosphere; we wanted it to feel like an old Soul record,” confesses the guitarist. “Obviously, since we're four white males in our mid-twenties in the twenty-first century, it wasn't going to sound like an old Stax or Motown recording, but that was just our take on it and the influences we were looking to for that were Sam Cooke or Wilson Pickett, anything by The Funk Brothers or Booker T. And The MGs and stuff like that too. For this record, our guitar tech had gotten Brian and I into – perhaps a little too into – Peter Green [guitarist from Fleetwood Mac –ed], Eric Clapton, John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers and stuff like that on the tours we did before we started recording. I know from my own standpoint and I think I can speak for Brian too when I say that that influence is all over this record; not so much in the sense that you can hear it like you heard the Springsteen on the last one, but my guitar playing and Brian's both changed for the better, I think, because of that. It's not like we're playing things that sound like Clapton or Peter Green, but listening to that did compel both of us to change the way we play guitar. I think it's a good change and I hope the fans like it but, even if they don't, I hope they notice it because we're pretty proud of it.”

Even as the guitarist says those words though, Rosamilia is quick to concede that, even now – only three records in, The Gaslight Anthem can't believe how much they've accomplished since forming in 2005. “When I started playing music, I honestly wanted it more than anything else but I would have been happy with working a job for a couple of months and then leaving and going on tour,” confides Rosamilia with refreshing, knee-buckling candor. “I mean, the only job you can really do that with is a teacher's job; like work through the school year and then go on tour through the summer. That was where I was headed, but now I'm in the position where I don't have to do the teaching bit – which is pretty cool. I've just been grateful for as far as we've come and I've just been appreciating everything that has happened to us as a band because this doesn't happen to everyone; I don't appreciate it every day, but I know I'm a lucky son of a bitch [chuckling]. I'll say this: if it all ended tomorrow, I'd be pretty happy with how it turned out. I mean, we're going to bust our asses to make sure it keeps going – we're still working hard at it and we're not resting on laurels – but I know we've already gone beyond the expectations that any of us had of what the band was going to be and we're really, really appreciative of what we've been given.”



The Gaslight Anthem – “American Slang” – American Slang

The Gaslight Anthem – “Boxer” – American Slang


American Slang comes out on June 14, 2010 through SideOneDummy Records. Pre-order it here on Amazon .

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