The Gaslight Anthem
There’s no getting around the fact that The Gaslight Anthem write sad songs. The New Jersey rockers make the kind of tunes that you can put on as you crack open a beer and think about the old days. Even an energetic song likeThe ’59 Sound has an aching sadness at its core. As drummer Benny Horowitz tells it, the guys in the band aren’t the type to talk about their feelings, so it all comes out in the music.
“We all struggle with our demons in the band,” he says, “but there’s nobody in the world who doesn’t struggle with things. I mean, I can’t speak for the other guys in the band and how they’re feeling at any one time, but the four of us don’t go into the studio and have open, emotional discussions about what’s happening in our lives. I guess we just convey it all in the music.”
The band’s singer, Brian Fallon, is also its lyricist, and Horowitz is always moved when he hears the words for the first time. “I’m a decent writer, but I fucking suck at lyrics,” he says with a laugh. “I’m a huge fan of Brian’s writing. When we hear his lyrics for the first time, it’s no different from when fans of the band hear them – I’m a fan of Gaslight Anthem!” Fans often speak about how Gaslight’s songs help them through troubled times, and Horowitz couldn’t be more proud. “Sometimes Brian writes a line where he really captures something, where I feel like somebody else understands – somebody else has seen something I’m going through. Brian always touches his lyrics with a sense of hope, with a sense that you can always go forward, regardless of how shitty things are.”
The Gaslight Anthem came out of the punk scene, and their music contains boundless energy. Their live show requires a lot of stamina – for Horowitz, playing a Gaslight gig is the equivalent of a good, sweaty session at the gym.
“It fucking kills me man, especially these days!” he says. “It’s funny, when half of these songs were written, I couldn’t even conceive playing a two-hour set. In my life, I’d never played more than half an hour, and honestly, it’s hard. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, being home in-between tours, it’s that I have to stay in shape. I need to make sure I run and get a good sweat in a couple of times a week, and make sure I play drums pretty often, or else the first week of the tour, I just feel slammed.”
I spend some time commiserating with Horowitz on the subject of getting older, and the things you have to consider that you never did as a carefree teen. “I have to really think about what I’m feeding myself, how I’m taking care of myself,” he says. “It’s annoying. I wish I could go back to being a kid, when I could just drink a litre of Mountain Dew and it was no big thing, but I have other things to consider now.”
I tell him about how, when I was 16, I used to be able to eat an entire deep dish pizza in one sitting, but the thought of that now makes me physically ill. “Yeah,” he laughs, “I know what you mean. I’m on lockdown right now. My girlfriend is right into natural eating and all that, and I’m on board with it, but it’s a big lifestyle change, especially from what I’m used to.”
While it’s true that The Gaslight Anthem are playing longer shows to bigger crowds these days, the band are determined not to let success interfere with their core values. “We try to ignore all those things when we write songs,” he says. “To do otherwise would be the death of us as a band. The only thing that rock has that other kinds of music don’t is that passion and energy and fire – once you start thinking about writing hits, about writing music to please people other than you, you’re getting away from the things that first made you vital and interesting as musicians.
“There are so many voices coming at us from so many places these days, it’s hard to shut them out, but when we write, we have to try and look inwards. If we can do something we’re proud of and that we love, then all the other shit doesn’t matter.”
The Gaslight Anthem are a tight group of friends as well as a band, although when I ask Horowitz if he sees them still playing together as old men, he’s unsure. “The idea of me being 50-years-old and playing a song like Sink Or Swim just seems ridiculous, you know?” he says. “I can’t even picture the sad, balding, out-of-shape version of me trying to do that, or imagine the way it would sound. It’s something I’ve never considered until recently, but I’ve been thinking about it recently, and it’s odd. I hope this is my life for a long time, but it’s interesting to look into the future like that. Whenever I think like that, I try to draw myself back into what’s happening now – I try to look around and appreciate the moment, rather than try and think about what’s going to happen five years from now. There could be a nuclear holocaust between now and then, I don’t fucking know. Music could be outlawed by the gestapo by then. Who knows?”
BY ALASDAIR DUNCAN
THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM play at The Palace on Tuesday May 14 and Wednesday May 15. David Hause is supporting.