The Gaslight Anthem’s Fortunes Line Up

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

It's a hot July afternoon, but Alex Levine is already starting to feel the cold rush of what's on its way. When Ground Control spoke to him, the bassist was just hours away from taking the stage with Gaslight Anthem – the band he, singer Btian Fallon, bassist Alex Rosamilia and drummer Benny Horowitz formed six years ago – and doing one of the last shows the band had scheduled before their forth album, Handwritten, came out. The bassist is the first to say that he's excited for the release but, for the moment, he's just contenting himself wandering the streets of Toronto and trying not to explode. “This record is the first one out after a bunch of changes for us – between a new label and getting accustomed to working with them and seeing how it's all going to work – so we're kind of in a limbo state before it comes out and I really want to see what people think of it,” says Levine pensively on the street. “It's funny and it seems wrong to be able to say this, but a lot of things really fell together just right for Handwritten. First and foremost, we had to sort out our label situation which happened, I think, a little easier than any of us expected it would, and then when we had to choose a producer to work with and decided we would like to work with Brendan O'Brien, he happened to be available and wanted to work with us. Then we decided that we wanted to get out of the New York and New Jersey area – which is where we recorded the previous album – and that worked out too; we needed to get out on our own and be able to not have to worry about family life and just be able to focus on the music. That came together too so everything was working out just exactly how we wanted, and we were just stoked about getting into a studio with Brendan to see what he would be able to bring to the table. It was just such a smooth progression all the way through; like it was just time to do it and everything happened to already be lined up.“

There's no question that everything lines up in a very charmed way on Handwritten, that's for sure. From the moment “45” unloads to open the album, fans will know exactly what they're hearing as the band locks into a perfect wall of sound behind singer Brian Fallon: they're hearing the presence of timeless rock n' roll grandeur reassert itself in the mainstream pop paradigm for the first time in years. In this beginning, the band holds audiences entranced right away; the sounds of great, ragged rock are recognizable as the guitars and bass straddle the lines between heartfelt and raucous, and songs including the title track, “Here Comes My Man,” “Too Much Blood” “Biloxi Parish” and “Mulholland Drive” (which is my choice for the single best song Gaslight Anthem has written to date) play their way through and prove the heights Gaslight Anthem is capable of reaching. The performances are rock solid and producer Brendan O'Brien's treatment of them puts added focus and attention on the dichotomy of fantastic (and occasionally gut-rending) melody as well as instrumentation which is hard but doesn't seem treated or inflated by post-production – it just feels both natural and powerful. It's awesome, and even the most dogged of detractors will find themselves unable to find any fault with a single, solitary micro-tone in this run-time. It is Gaslight Anthem's best album and, because it showcases nothing but the logical extension of their best work, it is also their first truly classic album and an achievement which deserves recognition.

While it's possible to almost hear Levine blush through the phone at any praise of the album he hears, there's also no mistaking that he really feels the same way. “This album and everything about the making of it was more on our terms this time. We really didn't feel any pressure from labels, we took our time with writing and we made sure not to book any tours until the record was one hundred per cent done. That was really refreshing, you know? And working with Brendan was just pure joy; speaking just for myself, I got more than I could have asked for. I was going into the recording sessions with one foot in and one foot out just because he's a big-time producer and we've never worked with any name that big before. You hear horror stories all the time, and it's hard to just forget those or just assume they're overstated. I already had my back up because of that, but he turned out to be one of the coolest, most down-to-earth guys that I've ever met in this business. He just wants to make good music; he's in the business of making really interesting art and he loves rock n' roll – that's his vibe. It was really awesome to have that kind of experience and to get to know and work with a guy like that.”

As showtime nears and interview time begins to run thin, the pace of Levine's dialogue picks up. The excitement of performance still grips the bassist on a nightly basis, he says, and the opportunity to present Handwritten to listeners – even if only in part – is like a dream. “We really like to play live and we'd really like to get the whole album into our set so, if we can play for three hours, we'll play for three hours,” bubbles the bassist excitedly. “That said, we're going to start out this tour with sets that try to get the majority of this new record in, and then five songs from another record and four or five songs from another record, a couple from the EPs and maybe a couple of cover songs and end up with about twenty-seven, twenty-eight or twenty-nine songs ready to go when all is said and done. That sounds long but, not long ago, we played a show in St. Louis which was twenty-six songs long and only two of those were new. It's really fun for us to play live; it's not uncommon for us to do shows that are an hour and a half, two hours and two and a half hours long, depending on the night. We'd eventually like to get to a point where we can do three hours straight, but we're not quite there yet. It might happen soon though; after we finish up these few North American dates, we're headed to Europe and then we're coming back here to do a tour with Rise Against, then we're going back to Europe for a headlining tour.  Maybe we'll be playing three-hour sets on that headlining trip [laughing].”


Further Reading:

Ground Control –
Handwritten – [Album] – Review


Handwritten is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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