50 AMAZING THINGS THAT WILL HAPPEN IN 2016
Brian Fallon is taking things back to basics
Words: Will Richards.
There was a moment, half way through The Gaslight Anthem’s tour for fifth album ‘Get Hurt’, when the band had to make a choice. “The guys came to me and said: ‘So, what are we going to do? Are we going to do another record, or take a breather for a minute?’ They asked me: ‘Do you have any songs?’ and I didn’t have anything. Normally I’d be the one to say ‘okay, this is what we’re gonna do – we’re gonna listen to nothing but The Jam and go from there’, but I had nothing, and it was the first time that had happened.”
This led to the band announcing the now-dreaded term – an indefinite hiatus – and the start of work on Brian Fallon’s first solo LP, ‘Painkillers’. “As the band got bigger, we found ourselves in a situation where we felt a massive pressure to deliver something every time,” he explains. “We had to make decisions quickly, and there were a lot of big people we worked with. You’ve got to deliver the goods.”
For ‘Painkillers’, Fallon set up in Nashville with producer Butch Walker, and relished the relative isolation. “[His studio, Traxidermy] is tucked away from everything, and I don’t really know anyone down there, so you don’t have your friends coming into the studio saying ‘hey, what’s that you’re working on? Let me hear! Maybe you should change this bit! I think this would be better!’”
Fallon speaks of wanting a complete reversal from the pressure and expectation that fell on the later Gaslight Anthem records when beginning work on ‘Painkillers’. “This time I quieted my mind a little bit, and started with me, and made sure I did the right thing, and did something I’m passionate about. After that, I could let the pieces fall where they may and not worry so much about bigger expectations of me. I stripped everything back to how I used to write, and immediately felt like I was back in my own skin.”
“The only goal I set myself when I sat down was ‘can you write a good, simple song that means something to you and to those who will be listening?’ I feel like, as a solo artist, you don’t really have ‘a sound’. I didn’t have to check that what I was writing was fitting in any boxes. I didn’t have to think ‘oh so how does this compare to ‘The ‘59 Sound’? Where will I play it in the set?’ I had nothing, and could start fresh. It really freed me up and I needed that. I was burning out. I was having a hard time.”
It was another opportunity for Fallon to reassess the reasons he writes songs, spending nights digging out Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan records, “everything I did at the start”. “To me it feels like I got a re-birth to a lot of music. I felt really connected to what I do across the whole process.” Fallon is keen to emphasise the differences between the songs on ‘Painkillers’ and a Gaslight Anthem record, believing that “some people will hear the record and think that Gaslight could have played these songs, but I know the band, and it would be so different.”
A number of Fallon’s solo songs were released as scratchy acoustic demos back in The Gaslight Anthem’s infancy, and were revived during the ‘Painkillers’ sessions. They don’t make it onto the album, but received full recordings and are being kept in the vault for another day. While a first solo LP in this style may have been expected, it wasn’t something Fallon wanted to recreate. “I had so much fun doing this, and I think that it comes through. I said that to myself: don’t make the boring record. You’re not old enough and you don’t know enough to sit in your chair with an acoustic and write these depressing songs. That’s not me, I want to have a good time.” [icon type=”fa-stop” size=”icon-1x” ]
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