- Photo by Danny Clinch
- "What would the Clash have done during the '80s? They probably would have sucked."
New Jersey-based singer-songwriter Brian Fallon released his first demo tape as a solo artist nearly twenty years ago. After nearly a decade spent playing with a variety of area acts, he founded the hard-rocking Gaslight Anthem, establishing himself as one of modern rock's true craftsman — one who writes and sings like a punk-rock Bruce Springsteen.
But Fallon didn't want to become a "dinosaur," so last year he and his Gaslight bandmates took a hiatus. Now, after another decade, he's back to recording and touring as a solo act.
"We were still doing well, but if you walk around the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame you'll find tons of people who said, 'That's enough,'" says Fallon via phone from his Jersey home. "They become legendary. I wonder, if some of those people had not died or broken up, would they have become legendary? What would the Clash have done during the '80s? They probably would have sucked. What would Pink Floyd do now? Probably not a lot of good stuff."
Earlier this year Fallon, who's currently touring with Gaslight Anthem guitarist Alex Rosamilia, Horrible Crowes cohort Ian Perkins and the Zombies' bassist Catherine Popper, released his first solo album, Painkillers. Produced by Butch Walker (Taylor Swift, Keith Urban), the album evokes the alt-country sounds of Tom Petty/Jason Isbell with tunes such as "A Wonderful Life," the title track and "Smoke," the latter showing off Fallon's distinctively raspy voice.
Fallon says he started stockpiling solo songs a few years ago when he began writing material that wasn't suited for the Gaslight Anthem. When the band went on hiatus, he reassessed the material he had put on the backburner.
"All of a sudden, I was without a job. I had to do something. I was going to see if Welsh Farms was hiring," he quips. "The demos were pseudo-country songs. That's where they didn't fit in. One of the real secrets of Gaslight is the drumming. It's rock drumming. It's just wild. [Gaslight drummer] Benny [Horowitz] isn't the kind of guy you want to put in a cage. He would be bored out of his mind. That's the only time I ever put songs aside — I didn't do that before. When I did the solo record, it did sound different to me."
Fallon says he isn't surprised the songs ended up having some twang to them, calling the country influence "the typical singer-songwriter thing to do." Even the faster, heavier Gaslight Anthem songs started out as country tunes in his mind. The transition was a natural one.
"When the songs strip down to the core, from when I was very young to now, they were always these nursery rhyme-y country songs," he explains. "When you're playing that Johnny Cash rhythm, it's natural to play by yourself. It has a drumbeat and a melody and it has everything there and you don't need a band. I think that's why it's the natural fallback.
"It just creeps in," Fallon adds. "It's like, 'Roger Daltrey is making a solo record.' 'Where did he move to? Memphis?' It's just what you do."
Though most of the songs feature backing vocals, Fallon didn't hire outside singers to help him out. Rather, he and Walker took the lead on providing the harmonies, eschewing modern recording techniques by not layering multiple takes but instead crowding together around a microphone, hearkening back to simpler time.
"We just sang harmonies. We were trying to be the Traveling Wilburys. Butch said they did it like that," Fallon says. "We were learning our parts. It was like Peter, Paul and Mary. I had never done that before. I had been in a punk rock band, and there were no harmonies. If you have a voice like mine and you're stuck with that Tom Waits thing, you have to dress up the music pretty, and it has to be a juxtaposition unless you're doing something really heavy."
It took Fallon twenty years to get back where he started — writing and recording music as a solo artist, trying to make a name for himself. Walking away from a band at the top of its game takes guts. Starting from scratch in a genre of music that isn't your home base can be daunting. What motivates him to keep pushing, even though he hasn't achieved the fame of other singer-songwriters?
"I think the feeling of not quite achieving anything close to what you wanted to do," he says. "Everyone who is writing songs is trying to go for something. I think Bruce [Springsteen] is trying to write something that stands up to Elvis. And Bob Dylan is doing whatever he's doing. I'm just trying to write something that fits with those guys. I don't think I have yet."
Brian Fallon & the Crowes
8 p.m. Wednesday, July 6. The Ready Room, 4195 Manchester Avenue. $22. 314-833-3929.