Published Mar 22, 2016After nearly a decade fronting the beloved New Jersey heartland rockers the Gaslight Anthem, it's time for Brian Fallon to make a new name for himself. The 36-year-old from Monmouth County, NJ celebrated his solo debut in March with the release of Painkillers, a spirited record that pulls inspiration from many different corners of the glory days of rock'n'roll. It gives him an opportunity to establish himself as more than the leader of a rock band, he says, but as a singer-songwriter in the vein of his heroes like Bob Dylan, Neil Young and, of course, Bruce Springsteen.
It's also a chance to be free, for the first time in years, from the heightened attention and expectations that followed the Gaslight Anthem with every release. He's way more well-known now than in 2006, when the Gaslight Anthem first started gigging, but Fallon says the feeling remains much the same. "That's refreshing," he says. "It's a beautiful thing, to start over."
What are you up to?
Right now, I'm just getting ready to leave [for tour]. We still do things hands-on. I'm still packing up my own gear, loading it up in my car, driving it to the venue — it's still very unglamorous at this point. To tell you the truth, I'm sure that I could call someone to get it, but I don't know, I'm from New Jersey, I just do it myself.
What are your current fixations?
The last two weeks, I started to get into real finger-style guitar. It seems to be a little bit of a lost art. In my generation, there are a few exceptions, but you don't hear it a lot, and I'm always striving to become a better guitar player. I'm sort of obsessed with learning how to do this.
Why do you live where you do?
I moved away for a while — about six or seven years ago I lived in New York, and one time I lived in Los Angeles for about six weeks — and there's something about New Jersey that I find grounding. It keeps me connected to where I'm from and I really like my friends and family here. I do get tempted sometimes. I went to Vancouver last year and I was like "Wow, this is like Seattle and Portland and California mixed together." Sometimes I get the bug to live in London for a year, or something like that, and maybe I will. But New Jersey's home.
Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art:
I went to the Louvre in Paris and I saw all the paintings, and the Mona Lisa. You don't really see something like that every day. I was looking at it, and everything else in the room just shut out. Like, Leonardo Da Vinci painted this thing — this is unreal that he touched that. It had this crazy effect on me. Paris does that to me. Every time I look at the Eiffel Tower, it completely blows my mind.
What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
I've got to say it's still the first Springsteen show that I ever saw. I saw him at the Giants Stadium, and this had to be almost 15 years ago — boy, I'm getting up there in age — but I saw him play around the time of The Rising. And as soon as he came out, it brought me to tears within the first minute that he started singing, because it was so overwhelming. That was the first time I saw him, and I haven't had an experience quite like that. You know what it is about him? He reminds me that somebody growing up in the exact same place that I grew up can still do something worthwhile that means something to the world.
What have been your career highs and lows?
Any lows that I would have were when I feel like we made a decision in the band that our hearts weren't into it 100 percent. Anytime we haven't stuck with our gut, I feel that would be the low. And the highs, getting to play with our heroes. When we played with Bruce, when Eddie Vedder sang with us, getting to meet Chuck Ragan. Actually, one of the big highlights of my career was that I was always a big Constantines fan, and they played with us at the Double Door in Chicago, and I remember watching that band play and just thinking this was one of the best bands in the world. That was one of the highlights.
What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
One time I was really sick — I had really lost my voice and could barely talk. I showed up to the gig with a couple thousand people, and everybody was like, "You should cancel this gig." And I said no, we don't cancel gigs. So I went out and played. And someone at the end of the night was like, "You sounded awful tonight. You should really work on your voice." And I didn't even tell them why, I was just like, "Yeah, alright, see you later." I mean come on, man.
What should everyone shut up about?
Other people's business. Everybody's got to comment now about what everyone else does. Canada's a free country, and America's a free country, among others, but I think that just because you have the right to say something, it doesn't mean you should. There's a time and a place for everything, and when it comes to people's personal decisions in their lives, imagine the world if you had empathy and tried to understand, even if you didn't agree. Imagine that world, instead of the one where you just criticize people immediately.
What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
I most like that I'm pretty punctual. I'm on time, no matter where I'm going. I always wanted to be the rock'n'roll guy that was not a mess and could get it together. If I say I'm going to be there at nine a.m., I'm there at nine a.m. What I dislike is that I'm a little inconsistent. I tend to go with my moods. If I'm having a bad day, I might be really sour on something, and then the next day I'll be okay. It's a little up and down sometimes. I wish I could be more constant, even-keeled. I'm working on it, getting better.
What's your idea of a perfect Sunday?
Spending time with my family, hanging out. I like that easy, backyard thing. Cook up a couple burgers or something on the grill, just sit and spend time with my loved ones. That means a lot to me, and I don't get a lot of that time.
What advice should you have taken, but did not?
They had this expression a long time ago that I used to see on bumper stickers all the time that said, "Let go and let God." I was always like, "Yeah, okay, sure, real easy for you to say on a bumper sticker." Whether you're religious or not, it's the idea of just letting things go and allowing whatever situation you're in to be what it is, and to just make the best of it. I would like to get better at that.
What would make you kick someone out of your band, and have you?
Somebody would have to do something pretty bad to get kicked out of the band, like maybe not show up for a gig and just be like, "Ahh, I didn't feel like showing up, I got drunk." Disregard for people's effort is what makes me the most mad. Like if you show up at a venue and you act like a jerk, and you don't realize that all the staff have been working there all day just to make your show happen.
What do you think of when you think of Canada?
Honestly, the first things I think of are bands. There are a lot of bands that I got into earlier on in life that shaped a lot of what I was doing, especially when the Gaslight Anthem formed. That's always been a fond memory. We were really inspired by Matt Mays, Constantines, Neil Young, Tegan and Sara, City and Colour, the Arkells. They've always popped up, this influx of cool bands. I don't see a lot of bashing between Canadian artists. They seem to support each other. The second thing: I love maple syrup more than a lot of things, and not to be cliché, but Canada does have the single best maple syrup in the world.
What was the first LP/cassette/CD you bought with your own money?
It was either Nevermind or Ten, by Nirvana and Pearl Jam. I think I bought those two CDs on the same day.
What was your most memorable day job?
When I was doing roofing and construction, that was when I was writing The '59 Sound. I used to bring my guitar to work, and on my lunch break I would write the songs that were on that record. It was pretty cool.
How do you spoil yourself?
I buy a guitar. That's my treat-myself day. I just bought a real nice Gretsch guitar, and I was pretty proud of myself.
If I wasn't playing music I would be…
I'd probably work on painting and restoring old cars. I've got a big thing for '60s American muscle cars. I do some work on it. I'm not a skilled mechanic, but I know my way around a chassis.
What do you fear most?
Not being a decent person. My goal is to just be a decent guy. At the end of my life I'd like everybody to say, "You know what, maybe he wasn't my favourite, but he was a nice guy. He was at least fair to people." Not being fair to people would be the biggest fear that I have.
What makes you want to take it off and get it on?
A good conversation. That sounds really stupid, but it's true. A good conversation makes me very intrigued by people, when they have something thoughtful to say.
What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
I was playing a show in New York — it was a tribute to Neil Young, but it was a benefit for a company called Sweet Relief — and I was playing a Neil Young song, and right next to me was Dexter [Michael C. Hall], from the show Dexter, and I was like, "What? Dexter watched me play?" I got super excited about that. But it was totally random, because why would you think Dexter likes your music?
Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
I'd probably talk to Charles Dickens, and I'd probably serve him something comfortable, like a steak pie, or something like that.
What does your mom wish you were doing instead?
Nothing. My mom was always happy about this.
What song would you like to have played at your funeral?
"Don't Think Twice It's All Right" [by Bob Dylan]. It sums up how I feel about all the bad stuff that happens in life. Don't think twice, it's all right. It's the best letting-go song. Like I said, I struggle with letting things go, and that's my goal.