photo by Eric Van’t Zelfden
“Everybody wants to create something that’s their own and be revered for it, but the problem is, it’s all been done,” says Gaslight Anthem founding member and frontman Brian Fallon. “Unless you’re Radiohead, or Bon Iver.”
We chatted with the 31-year-old, who released Elsie with his side project, The Horrible Crowes, last September, about his most profound influences, from Springsteen to Kerouac.
“At the end of the day, you’re the sum of your influences,” he says. “I’d rather educate people on where I came from, in hopes that there’s a kid at a show. Maybe they’ve never heard of Albert King, and then they buy Born Under a Bad Sign and become the next Stevie Ray Vaughan.”
I was about nine or 10 when I first started listening to Springsteen, but I didn’t get it then – I didn’t understand the concepts. I was probably 17 when I really discovered it. My friend handed me Tom Waits’ Nighthawks At The Diner and Springsteen’s Greetings From Asbury Park on cassette. He was like, “Hey man, you kind of remind me of these two guys” and it sent me on a little tailspin with both of those records, but Greetings more so. That there was somebody from the same place I was from, who walked the same streets, whose mother drove him around the same towns, and went to the same parks and schools as I did – it was something I could relate to. It made me feel like if he came up the same way I did, and he got out, maybe I can get out too.
My mom didn’t listen to secular music when I was growing up – she listened to gospel and music from the ’60s that she felt was legitimate. My mom wasn’t big on “fluff” music, so she didn’t like anything modern. But she had Springsteen’s Born to Run and I got that. I was always hung on that song “Backstreets.”
The first time Springsteen and I performed together was at Glastonbury Festival about two years ago. After the next day’s show at Hyde Park, he decided to release a DVD and I thought, “Oh that’s cool, he’s gonna release a DVD.” I remember him doing an old song, and I thought, “Oh that’s cool, I’ve never seen a live version of that song.” So I was gonna buy the DVD, then his lawyer called my manager and said “Bruce wants to include your part.” I thought for sure he’d cut it, but he didn’t, and there it was on a DVD – I was kind of floored. It took me about a year to watch it.
I don’t generally ask him about his songs. I’m still too nervous. He hasn’t lost the effect on me—his “Bruceness.”
Pearl Jam was the first band that I was like, “Wow, I want to do something like that.” I was into punk music, like The Clash and Stiff Little Fingers. Then I kind of got into the singer-songwriters – Neil Young and Jackson Browne.
One of my main fascinations has always been Tori Amos. Little Earthquakes has the song “Silent All These Years” on it. The opening lines of that song struck me so hard – I couldn’t fathom how she could say something so cruel and poetic at the same time. She’s wild – she says whatever’s on her mind – but she says it poetically, and that always trips me up.
Ian [Perkins] – who works with Gaslight Anthem and The Horrible Crowes – and I relate to the female singers. We’ve got Laura Veirs, P.J. Harvey and Tori Amos – that’s where you find the really sensitive, poignant thoughts. It’s another level of emotion I haven’t been able to tap into myself yet.
I remember being about 12-years-old and mom had a second job delivering papers. I wanted a stereo real bad. I was too young to get a job so mom said, “If you wake up at five in the morning and help me with this paper route, I’ll get you a stereo.” On the last day of the paper route, we were driving home and all of a sudden “Just Like a Woman” came on the radio. At that moment, the stars aligned and it just blew my mind. I thought, “Wait a minute – this is just a guitar and a voice, you don’t even need drums. I’m going to go and I’m going to write songs.” That was really the catalyst.
I’m a huge Dylan fan, I love him. I think he’s changed the world. Bob Dylan is where it starts and ends. Every writer compares himself to Bob Dylan – we’re all trying to live up to Bob Dylan. Even Bruce is trying to live up to Bob Dylan.
I like weird movies. Mulholland Drive is one of my favorite movies of all time. I love songs or movies or books that, if somebody asked you what the movie was about, you’d be like, “I don’t know man, but it feels like this…” That’s what I care about – the emotion coming through and that kind of sentiment. When I watched Mulholland Drive, I was floored by it.
A River Runs Through It
I was struck by the movie A River Runs Through It. At the end of it, when the guy says, “All my life I’ve been haunted by water” – that’s one of the most poignant statements I’ve ever heard in a movie.
I think movies are an untapped resource for a lot of writers, especially in songwriting. When you listen to a song and you’re influenced by it, what that really means is you’re trying to steal the essence, or at least, that’s how it is for me and some of my friends. You try and take what you can and make it your own. When it’s movies, there isn’t something specific that you can steal. It’s a feeling you have to re-create in a different way that relates to your life. That’s the thing that I find so astounding about the effect of movies on a writer.
I recently got into Jack Kerouac, but I feel a little weird about it. There’s stuff in his work that I think is racially biased, and that kind of bothers me. I know it was from a specific time, but I don’t really agree with the way he describes and advocates certain things. I don’t really know if I like the boy’s club idea of “We’re a bunch of boys, high five! Let’s get drunk and take out chicks.”
Sometimes you’ve got to be careful what you say, but we all learn that. It’s a constant state of learning, like we’re writing and we’re putting our thoughts out into the world. Sometimes you grow up and two years later, you’re like, “Ah man, I shouldn’t have said that. I didn’t mean that.” You know, it’s all part of the process.