A raspy “hello” comes from the soulful voice of a man over a muffled phone. This former frontman of New Jersey based punk band The Gaslight Anthem, Brian Fallon, answers my call amongst a hurricane of press and a never ending cycle of band rehearsals, pending the release of his second solo LP “Sleepwalkers” on February 9, 2018.
Following a hiatus from The Gaslight Anthem, Fallon embarked as a solo artist, releasing the heavily folk LP “Painkillers” in March of 2016. Fallon’s writing for his second solo LP, “Sleepwalkers,” included the liberation of exploring previously uncharted sounds, which led Fallon to integrate old gospel hymns mixed with soul and blues, and layered with his traditional punk sound. For this effort, Fallon recorded in New Orleans and brought back producer Ted Hutt, who produced The Gaslight Anthem’s seminal LP, “The ‘59 Sound.”
The sounds and mysteries of New Orleans brought to life the lead single off “Sleepwalkers, Forget Me Not.” Released in late October of 2017, “Forget Me Not” is a boppy tune mixed with Motown melody, with tragically romantic lyrics and punk riffs. Paired with a vintage Beatles-esque music video, “Forget Me Not” gives critics and fans alike insight into what’s to come with the LP’s full release in early February of 2018.
The anticipation between the release of lead single “Forget Me Not” and the eventual album release, has left Fallon beholding the hurricane of life, where our phone conversation gave him an opportunity to reflect on the music of his youth, the continuous struggle of songwriting, the transition from his band The Crowes into The Howling Weather, and his relationship with his audience, as he describes as simply storytelling between fellow music fans.
What sparked the transition from your heavily folk debut LP “Painkillers” to “Sleepwalkers” which contains the New Orleans sound of soul and blues?
“A first record is always a little bit of you wanting to do what you know you can do. And I think that, especially with that record, I kinda came into it thinking, ‘Well you know this is the first thing, so what did I start out as?’ And it was a lot of starting over, but once you get that under your belt, you sort of feel like you can let the other things come into play, like the live show. That was a big thing, you’re like, ‘Okay, well if I’m allowed to kinda do whatever I want musically, then let some of the other influences I have, or that I have just been listening to lately, let them come in.’ So you open up a little bit, and much like a friendship, or a relationship, or a job where you start and you’re a little trepidatious about it, and then the more you go in you feel relaxed and comfortable that you can sort of just take chances on things and you know that it’s okay.”
You have reported to write lead single “Forget Me Not” in the span of a few minutes, what is your songwriting process?
“Most of the time I work, and I struggle with it. That’s the majority of the time. Every time I write a song it’s like I’ve never written a song before, and I go through this big self-doubt, ‘You’re not gonna write anything that’s as good as XYZ song that you’ve written in your past.’ And I go through the same turmoil that probably anyone goes through when they’re writing a paper for school, or writing anything. The thing that I think that confuses me the most is everytime I hear a kid say, ‘Well you’re Brian Fallon,’ and I’m like, ‘Well that might mean something to you, but it doesn’t mean anything to me.’ I haven’t caught onto the thing that I’m in a band, and people like this band, and some people might look up to me, but that’s a little bit lost on me, and I’m grateful that it is to tell you the truth. So when I write songs, I have a really hard time saying, ‘People are going to like this.’ I work really hard at making it the best that I can, so that people do enjoy it, and also so that it lives up to the quality that for the reasons they liked my music in the past. So it’s tough, writing’s tough, but it usually just comes together. You gotta just show up, and that’s how it’s with anything.
What is the significance of you integrating spirituality into your music, such as in your previewed single “If Your Prayers Don’t Get to Heaven”?
“Well, I mean to me, it was always something I was raised with, and I grew up and the first songs I ever heard were the really old hymns, like ‘Amazing Grace’ and stuff like that. So a lot of that music is ingrained in my personality, and it grew when I saw that soul music came out of that, and a lot of the blues came out of gospel songs, and I think that that’s just an element that’s been there for a long time. But it’s cool because the thing that I take a lot of pride in is that I’ve never seen myself, I don’t know, like somebody that needs you to think the same thing that I do for us to sort of touch base on a particular style of music. I could be playing to 10,000 atheist and it wouldn’t bother me at all; I would just be like, ‘You know, I’m not trying to sell you anything here, this is just where I came from, and I think if that’s not where you came from than you know, cool. Let’s just play some songs.’ So for me, it’s a little bit easier because I’ve never expected anyone to have the same thoughts as I did, because no one has the same experiences that you do. It’s one of those things where I’ve always been so busy kind of trying to work on myself that I never really thought about it. I don’t know if I’m qualified to judge anyone else. I’ve just always kind of held fast to that rule that you might not understand why somebody is doing something, or why they think differently than you, but they do, and I think you’re better if you try to understand the differences, because that might even help both of you understand yourselves better, no one really understand himself, so it can be hard to say. Like how can you say the thing about what someone else thinks if you really, truly don’t really understand yourself. You can’t, that’s priceless. Experiences are unique. You know it’s unique to each individual.
Do punk rock bands influence you when you are writing a predominantly folk or soul/blues album?
“I think your influences carry with you no matter what, whether you’re in any kind of art, or even in school. You just carry your influences because they sort of form your taste, especially your early influences. When I was young, my mom would play folk music, but at the same time she would play Billy Joel, and I don’t necessarily think that Billy Joel is an influence, but there’s a little bit of a good feeling everytime I hear ‘Piano Man’ I go, ‘Awe, that was cool,’ I remember being six. And then Social Distortion had a big influence on me because that was the first. When I was young it was a very rock kind of era, like Poison, and ‘I’m a man.’ Now it’s embarrassing to think about that. I would think the music was so macho, but then I saw Social Distortion come out. And most people will think ‘that’s a tough guy band,’ but not really because Mike always wore mascara and would smear it like he was crying. So there was this element, of ‘yeah I might be this tough guy and I work on cars or whatever, but I still got this stuff, and I got emotions, and I’m not afraid to show that.’ And at the tender age of eleven, that resonated with me more than whatever was the popular music of the time. The same with The Bouncing Souls, they were punks, but they wrote songs about things that they felt strongly about. They had a song called ‘Moon Over Asbury,’ about just watching the moon. There’s this element of sensitivity that ties it all together. What I’m trying to say is that there’s the Social Distortion that may seem punk, and may seem different than jazz or blues, but really I don’t see a lot of difference between the way John Coltrane was putting out records as the way Mike Ness writes songs. They are coming from the same spot.”
“I think there are so many influences when I was growing up. I was a huge Tori Amos fan, and still am, I love Tori Amos. Not many people would hear that in my records, but she impacted my life and touched things that I did. Like my mom used to love the Indigo Girls because they had a lot of great harmonies. So even though their music doesn’t have a lot to do with my music…those melodies, I remember those melodies right off the back of my hand. I can hear ‘Galileo’ playing in my head right now, it’s like there was an influence in there. What I’m trying to say is that you carry all your influences with you no matter what they were, and then you just sort of shape them as you walk your walk.”
How do you and producer, former The Gaslight Anthem producer, Ted Hutt, work together to create a distinguished punk/folk sound while integrating elements of soul/blues?
“Well Ted always got what I was doing. Anytime I was going somewhere with music, Ted would always understand. He really understands, I think better than most people…just understand me, and there’s plenty of other people out there, but I think Ted, he just sees where I’m going sometimes before I can. And he knows where to push and where not to push, and I think that that’s beneficial because I don’t know where to push. And that’s the good thing about having a producer, he kind of knows where to egg you on. I’ve been fortunate because a lot of the producers that I worked with, Brendan O’Brien and Butch Walker, they’ve always pushed in a great way, and they pushed me to do things that I didn’t know I could do. And Ted as well, he’s just one of the most fun people you could work with.”
What has been the evolution between your band The Crowes into The Howling Weather?
“It was just kind of different music, different people. And I think that each band has its own personality, so they would deserve their own name. Elvis Costello was with The Attractions and then had The Imposters. So that’s kind of the freedom of being a ‘solo artist,’ because you can change things up, and that’s okay.”
How do you develop such a rapport with fans during your live shows?
“Well sometimes that goes down bad, but I think I’ve never let myself have a wall between the band and the audience. I just don’t. I see these people that come just as people that are music fans, and I feel like ‘well these are my friends even if I don’t know them ‘cause we’re friends on the basis of we both like music.’ So I just start talking, like if you were sitting around with a friend and you were talking about records, I just start talking. So it’s a real conversational thing, which I don’t know if there’s a real way to plan that out. Some people, they have a little bit of a thought process before they go out, and they say ‘I’m going to touch on this or lead this song into this,’ but I’ve never been able to do that. It’s just off the cuff or nothing.”
Promoting the release of Sleepwalkers, Brian Fallon and The Howling Weather, with special guests Ruston Kelly and Caitlin Rose are touring Europe, the UK, and the US this Spring. Tickets are on sale now through all major ticketing webstores.