A deep, rich vein of song runs through America. From blues, jazz and country to the hip-hop of today. Muddy, Buddy, Marvin, Dylan, Waits, Springsteen, Rza and Gza. Deep and rich. Brian Fallon keeps that flame lit, he has done since The Gaslight Anthem formed in 2006. The band recently decided to go on hiatus; after briefly contemplating relaxing Fallon opted to keep doing what he’s always done.
“I entertained the idea of a break for about two weeks before I was driven mad by it. Even if I go work in a supermarket, I’m still going to be writing songs at home so what’s the point I might as well keep doing it.”
The result of Fallon’s dedication to his craft is his first solo record Painkillers, so State spoke to him about the album, what it’s like operating under his own name and his song writing in particular.
“Doing it yourself you have to come up with the whole picture, that’s the biggest difference. So, when you’re writing a song you have to think about the bass parts, the drum parts, all the things that are going to go on top of it, where you’re going to put everything. It’s your own opinion which is a good and a bad thing. When you’re in a band, the songs get steered one way or the other because it goes through a bunch of people’s eyes before it becomes what it is.”
“I just wanted to put down some songs. I didn’t have any orchestras or anything like that it was very organic and simple. Drums, bass and guitar. Sounds like a rock band…YOU’RE GOOD! The songs are really the most important thing, putting it down – that was the easy part.”
Painkillers itself leans toward country more than Fallon has previously, with members of the band he used having credits like Willie Nelson and Jack White. There’s even one of Ryan Adams’ Cardinals thrown in.
“It’s how the songs that I grew up on sound. When you strip them all back and they’re not punk songs any more or band songs they always just lean to that. They call it Americana, which is silly. ‘It’s not quite country, it’s not quite rock’n’roll. We don’t have a name for it so that’s what we’re going to call it’. The funniest thing is that it kind of came from you guys. That’s what it really is, it’s that balladry. Really it comes down to that 12th century guy playing a lute. The Rolling Stones have been doing that since ‘Wild Horses’ or ‘Sweet Virginia’ but back then they just called it rock’n’roll. Doing the thing, telling the story, flapping the tongue.”
He hasn’t gone quite as far back as the lute but after writing on the electric guitar with the band specifically in mind he has gone back to writing with just an acoustic guitar like the early Gaslight days. “The ’59 Sound’ I wrote more like I’m writing now. I would sit in the back of the van with an acoustic guitar because that’s really all I had. So, the ultimate creativity had to come from the chords and melody so I just went back to that”. He sees that troubadour tradition as universal. “I look at Noel Gallagher. He does the same thing I do; he just seems to be doing it a little better.”
Fans will know that Fallon has covered Gallagher Snr’s ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’, though to others that influence may come as a surprise. Other big influences that aren’t so apparent are Eric Clapton’s Derek and the Dominos record, “one of my favourite records of all time,” Fallon assures us, and Mark Knopfler; “Early Dire Straits records are huge, huge influences but I’ve never been able to capture that sound because I’m not a blues player. They’re heavy influences. I dig around a lot in those records.”
He appreciates the value of a good band and the dynamic impact they can have on songs by just plugging in and letting loose. “I think every song out there could be stripped back to its basic form and played on piano. Recently I heard Mary Lambert sing ‘Jessie’s Girl’ by Rick Springfield on piano. It was awesome and I haven’t thought about that song ever. It was a great version but had Rick Springfield done that in the beginning I don’t think it would have worked. You can strip it back after the fact but doing that in the beginning you have to be careful. I think the presentation is really important especially on the first listen. If ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was acoustic I don’t think we’d be talking about Nirvana today.”
Whether it’s with The Gaslight Anthem, one of his side projects or just his little ol’ self, Brian Fallon is determined to keep working on his craft. “That’s my thing, I feel like I haven’t achieved what I want to achieve yet. It’s not about a measure of success, it’s just about a quality of song writing. I haven’t written a song that I feel is timeless yet. Like ‘Sultans of Swing’, I don’t feel I’ve written something that good. So, I keep on striving and if I ever do I’ll probably strive to do it better. That’s just the nature of how I am, I’m always fighting for it. I work on songs, sometimes I’ll even finish a song and there’ll be one line I like then I’ll rewrite it completely. I just don’t give up.”
Taking from and adding to the pages of the great American songbook. That’s just how he do.
Brian Fallon and The Crowes play the Olympia on the 23rd of this month.