"We're not into just kinda being like a little footnote," says The Gaslight Anthem's Brian Fallon. "We want to be The Ones, y'know?"
With AMERICAN SLANG, The Gaslight Anthem makes an extraordinary leap forward towards that very goal. The New Jersey-based band's third long player reveals a remarkably powerful rock ‘n' roll outfit honed by two years of nearly non-stop touring. Singer/guitarist Fallon's passionate lyrical approach has grown more personal and introspective, his raw throated vocals stronger and more resonant against the band's pulse-pounding dynamic force. Songs like "Bring It On," "Orphans" and the rousing title track bristle and burn with the spirit of soul, the energy of punk, and the artistic ambition of any hall of famer you'd care to name. AMERICAN SLANG is the battle cry of a great band finding its own voice and using it to shout to the rooftops and beyond.
"This record sounds more like us," guitarist Alex Rosamilia says. "It's a little darker, a little sadder. It's still definitely anthemic - the older stuff was more triumphant; this is more like, we won, but there were casualties."
The Gaslight Anthem exploded out of the New Brunswick punk underground with 2007's energetic debut, SINK OR SWIM (XOXO Records). The SEÑOR AND THE QUEEN (Sabot Productions) EP followed in early 2008, its ambition foreshadowing the band's stunning SideOneDummy Records debut, THE '59 SOUND. With its melding of classic rock, soul and punk power, the album proved an immediate critical and popular sensation, with The New York Times praising the "rich, lustrous songwriting" and "taut punk arrangements," noting that Fallon's "casually observed storytelling, overflowing with detail, seethes with a cool desperation reminiscent of Mr. Springsteen in the late '70s."
THE '59 SOUND proved equally successful on the other side of the Atlantic, with the band making history as the first ever to appear on the cover of England's estimable Kerrang! without having been previously featured in the magazine's pages. Ecstatic praise also rolled in from the notoriously hard to impress UK music press, culminating in the album's inclusion in an array of "Album of the Year" rankings, including Q, Rocksound, and NME, which called it "not only an essential document of punk rock soul but a record that will endure long into the future."
Having made their bones playing 200 nights a year in packed clubs across the US, Europe, and Australia, The Gaslight Anthem hit the road hard in 2008 and never looked back. The band headlined sold out shows around the planet and shared stages with an array of like-minded artists, including Social Distortion, Rise Against, Against Me!, and the aforementioned Mr. Springsteen, who joined the band onstage for stunning performances of "The '59 Sound" at 2009's Glastonbury Festival and Hard Rock Calling in London's Hyde Park. What's more, Fallon returned the favor, accompanying the E Street Band for rousing renditions of the Springsteen classic, "No Surrender."
"The whole time I'm up there," Fallon recalls, "I'm thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I'm on stage with my hero.' At the same time I'm going, ‘Oh my gosh, you've gotta do this on your own.' That's what the key is, to find your own spot. Once I realized that, I was like, ‘Yeah, let's do it. It's on now!'"
The Gaslight Anthem returned home in November 2009 and took a well-earned month off before getting back to work. The band had since left its native New Brunswick, with Rosamilia heading to Hoboken, drummer Ben Horowitz to Jersey City, and bassist Alex Levine to Budd Lake, NJ, with Fallon emigrating from the Garden State to not-so-far-away Brooklyn. Leaving home was essential for Fallon, who had to create space between his old existence and his new before putting pen to paper.
"I spent my whole life trying to be in a band and succeed at it and try and make that my career," he says. "Once that happened, all I was left with was me. I was like, uh-oh, there's a lot of stuff I haven't dealt with all these years. That's why this record is so personal. Because all I was left with was, not this dream of being in a band, I was left with me."
The band began getting together for writing sessions at their longtime friend Kyle Roggendorf's basement in Parlin, NJ. Rehearsal in earnest started up in January, followed the next month by full-on recording at NYC's Magic Shop with producer Ted Hutt and engineer Ryan Mall, both of whom previously manned the boards on THE '59 SOUND. The time spent woodshedding enabled the band to lay down the majority of AMERICAN SLANG in a short, sharp burst of creative vigor.
"Those two months were where we got the core of it," Fallon says. "Then when we went into the studio, we had become better players, we had become more of a real band. We hit the studio the way we hit the stage, we just went, ‘Alright! Here it is! Bam!'"
Sonic inspiration came in the unlikely guise of classic Brit blues-rock, with Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac, Van Morrison, the Rolling Stones, and Derek & The Dominos serving as key muses for their musical muscle and eclectic directness. Fallon accepted sage wisdom from Derek himself via the guitar god's autobiography.
"He's like, ‘You have to be legitimate,'" Fallon says. "'You have to play properly and you need to be good.' I was like, ‘Okay Eric Clapton, I will be good!' So I started to learn how to really play guitar."
"That I think grossly - I mean grossly as in volume - grossly changed the way we write and play the guitar," Rosamilia says. "I mean, we both went from playing Fenders to Gibsons. Whereas the last record was combo amps and Telecasters and Jazzmasters, this record was heads and cabinets and Les Pauls."
Becoming better overall players gave the band the confidence to experiment in ways they never would've previously attempted. AMERICAN SLANG is marked by such elaborate exploration, including the expansive and rhythmic "The Queen of Lower Chelsea," described by Rosamilia as "our raga ‘Straight To Hell.'"
"We tried to be a little different," the guitarist says, "but not stray too far away. We're branching out, but we're not trying to make a stoner rock record or a prog rock record, because that wouldn't be us. That'd be horrible, actually."
The band was determined to be true to their influences while not being defined by them. Where in the past The Gaslight Anthem may have seemed overly reverential to its inspirations, the goal here was to stake a claim for the band's own individuality.
"We had to figure out, what are we doing?" says Fallon. "What do we have to say? What makes us different than everybody else? So with this one, we worked really hard, to find out what we're made of."
AMERICAN SLANG turns up the dial on the band's love of soul and classic rock, while still flying the flag of its hardcore roots. Songs such as "Bring It On" and "Orphans" provide the exhilarating answer to Fallon's musical question, what if the Rolling Stones played with breakneck energy of Stiff Little Fingers?
"We're still punks," Rosamilia says. "We still hate the man. We haven't changed that much, it's just easier for us to make it sound better now. I feel like if we'd had the time and the money, ‘SINK OR SWIM' could've sounded closer to this."
The stirring title track, with its mordant acknowledgement of "when it was over/I woke up alone," served as a kind of songwriting mission statement for Fallon. Though his lyrics remain populated with finely etched characterizations -- see the High Fidelity-inspired "Stay Lucky" - the overall focus is more self-directed and concise.
"I was hiding a lot of things in imagery before," Fallon says, "I was using pictures and distractions to get my point across. This one was more about just telling it how it is. Being like, ‘Look, I'm gonna let you in on this. This is my world and what I deal with.'"
A number of the band's many friends make cameo appearances on AMERICAN SLANG, including Jesse Malin, Brian Kienlen and Pete Steinkopf from Bouncing Souls, Vision's Dave Franklin, and Tommy Gunn of Communication Redlight. Always a band with an innate sense of community, the album pays homage to their Jersey punk roots with the New Wave soul-shaker "The Diamond Church Street Choir" named in tribute to the band's old pal Andy Diamond, who booked their very first gigs at New Brunswick's famed Court Tavern.
"We all moved out of New Brunswick, none of us live there anymore," Fallon says. "But no matter where we go, we carry that with us. It's never gone, it's always in there."
With its astonishing range and undeniable urgency, AMERICAN SLANG is The Gaslight Anthem laying it all on the line, giving it all they had to give. Achieving their dreams only served to fuel The Gaslight Anthem's already limitless ambition, driving the band to test their mettle as artists and as men.
"It gave us the opportunity to get to see what we were made of," Fallon says. "Not a lot of people get that. It's like, do we belong here or is there somebody better? We'll see what happens. To us, we did our best and that's the thing that really matters."