Not just content with being frontman for the hugely successful, as well as Bruce Springsteen’s favourite group, The Gaslight Anthem, Brian Fallon has now teamed up with close friend Ian Perkins to form The Horrible Crowes. Having met Perkins while he was part of the tech team on tour with The Gaslight Anthem, the two hit it off and are now riding the waves of their debut album ‘Elsie’. While the band are a side project of The Gaslight Anthem, they are more Tom Waits and Nick Cave than Springsteen. In the UK and fresh off the plane, Gigwise get in to it with the duo, discussing free Bentley rides, where their name comes from, why the NME are not in their good graces, and Brian tells us exclusively that The Gaslight Anthem have broken up...
First of all, talk to us about your guys relationship...
Brian: Well it’s strictly platonic, at least in public anyway. We wrote a record about ladies as we’re trying to hide the fact that we love each other.
Keeping your hidden love for one another under wraps, what we’d like to know in the meantime is how you guys met and how The Horrible Crowes came about...
Brian - Well we met because we had a mutual friend who was working for The Gaslight Anthem. She suggested that Ian help us out when we were doing Reading and Leeds a couple of years ago. When he showed up we just kinda hit it off straight away, talking about bands and stuff like that. We were talking about the National actually, because he had worked with them and I think they’re one of the best bands, so I was grilling him like, “What are those guys like? Are they cool?” So we just hit it off from there.
Ian: We were being very un-rock’n’roll weren’t we?
Brian: Well yeah. He doesn’t drink, I don’t drink, and so guys like that hang out. So while everyone else was drinking we were talking.
Did you decide to do music together right away or was it something you did later on after the friendship grew?
Brian: It was much later on. We were friends first and did music much later.
Ian: It was probably about three years before we even played any music together.
So what prompted the idea to start the Horrible Crowes?
Ian: Boredom. We literally just sat on buses and exhausted every avenue of entertainment. We watched all the films, all the TV shows, cracked all the jokes, and then we asked ourselves, “What’s next?” That was pretty much it. We listened to all different types of music, and then we went back and forth talking about it and telling each other that we should make some music like this or like that. We had some guitars just hanging around in the background and everyone was out, and so it began.
With Brian originating from The Gaslight Anthem, Ian, what’s your background as far as music goes?
Ian: I don’t have much of a musical background. I played in a bunch of local bands, did a few shows, and then I worked for a few other bands. I stopped playing the guitar completely at this point, because I had the opportunity to go overseas and see some new places while working for some bands.
When you say working for bands, what exactly do you mean?
Ian: I literally just worked for them - driving them around, sorting out their guitars. Stuff like that really.
Where does the name, The Horrible Crowes, come from?
Brian: There’s a poem that I read called ‘The Twa Corbies’, it’s an old Scottish poem. It’s pretty boring but at the same time very interesting. It’s about these two crows watching a knight that had died and them discussing how unimportant the things he strived for in his life were. They’d say stuff like, “Look at all his medallions and medals he got given from the King. They didn’t help him,” and, “Look he has a wedding ring on. Where’s his wife now?” Then at the end they decide that one of them will eat his eyes while the other eats his liver. We just thought that was pretty horrible. They were some pretty horrible crows.
For those that are planning on picking up the album, what have you got in store for them?
Brian: Firstly I’d like to ask them, “What took you so long? Why haven’t you got it yet? It’s better than anything you’ll own so just get it. Plus daddy needs a new Bentley, so hurry up.” In all seriousness, if they’re familiar with The Gaslight Anthem they can expect some songs to be similar, while some of it is a complete departure away from it. While there’s a different vibe to the record it’s got the same type of storytelling to it, and the music has a certain type of vocalness to it.
Ian: And if people are in to the acts they say we sound like we’re influenced by, like PJ Harvey for example, then we slot in around them. If somebody had given me the record then I would have thrown it in to the mix with them.
How’s the response been so far?
Brian: It’s been really good. We’ve gotten two negative reviews, that’s it. One called me a misogynist, and one said that we’re not good - Na na na, wah, wah, wah.
Care to tell us who they were?
Brian: Yeah, sure. One was the NME. They decided that one of their publications didn’t like us, while the other one loved us and premiered our video. So I’m not sure who we believe here. It was the print and the website. The website premiered our video and gave us a really good review, but then the lady at the magazine didn’t get the memo. She didn’t like it. She thought it sucked. That’s cool normally because I get a lot more out of a bad review than I do a good one. This is because you learn things about yourself... sometimes. However, sometimes it’s like, “We don’t like you.” So we ask why and they just say because they don’t. The other review (from a magazine Brian doesn’t wish to share) said that our lyrics were degrading to women. I just said to myself, “Are you sure you got the right album because the record is named after a woman you fucking idiot. The record was pretty much an ode to worshipping women you fucking idiot.”
Ian: How anybody could get that from it I don’t know. They said it was the second half of the album.
Brian: The second half is probably the most praising half. Most of the songs are about love working out right. It’s cool though. This is what happens to us sometimes. You sometimes read a good review and are like, “That’s cool. I’m glad someone likes it.” However, in all honesty, when you sometimes get a bad review, where they’re like, “They write about this too much or they do this too much,” I take it very seriously. Sometimes I look at it and I’m like, “Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong.” I think about it for a while and then maybe when I’m writing a new record I keep it in mind, that is if it’s something worth keeping in mind. Sometime’s it’s horse shit and I just throw it out.
If you were to sell the album to someone who might not usually pick up a project by The Gaslight Anthem, how would you sell it?
Brian: I’d give them a ride in a Bentley.
Buy this album and get a free ride in a Bentley?
Brian: That’s right. Buy this album and get a free ride in a Bentley with every record bought.
Aside from the Bentley rides, how else?
Brian: The whole point of this band wasn’t to get people to listen to it, it was just to kinda do it. I know people say that all the time and it’s kinda bullshit, but we really did just do it for us. There was no pressure to do it and it was something I could do outside of The Gaslight Anthem. For me there’s tons of pressure on with The Gaslight Anthem. Everybody’s watching. It’s like... Bruce Springsteen is going to buy the record. That didn’t happen in my brain when I was starting the band. With this record there was no pressure whatsoever because no one knew who the band were and what they sounded like, so for us it wasn’t about people buying it. It was more about us just being able to put it out. People liking it was a bonus. We truly didn’t care if people didn’t like it.
Being that, Brian, you lead another band, would you admit that it’s fair to say that this album’s sound has elements of The Gaslight Anthem sound within it?
Brian: Yeah, totally. I think it just came across that way because it’s the way I write songs. It’s hard to split your personality like that. I think ‘Behold The Hurricane’ sounds like a Gaslight song. It’s more in the delivery that makes it sound less like a Gaslight song.
Was the album recorded all in the same place, and were you together the entire time?
Brian: Yeah, we were together the whole time. We did all of it in New Jersey, but we did half of it at this place called Sure Fire and half of it in a place called Retro Media.
Ian: Which was actually right by Brian’s house.
Are there any particular memories that stand out from the recording process?
Ian: It was pretty full on. If one of us wasn’t there, the other one was. Pretty much every second of the day was taken up. Brian had to learn how to play an organ...
Brian: Yep. I had no idea how to play it whatsoever.
Ian: There were drums and all this other stuff going on, and we’d never write anything off. If someone had an idea like, “Let’s build a rocket and shoot it through the roof,” then that’s what we were gonna think about and try and do. Some things happened really quickly didn’t they?
Brian: Yeah they did. Some things came across really well. Like the strings came really quickly. I thought that was gonna take forever.
Ian: We just didn’t know what would and what wouldn’t take time.
Brian: Yeah, and then ‘Last Rites’, which has literally two chords on the piano, that took me maybe forty attempts. I don’t know why. It just did. It was insane. I was so frustrated. I almost called in a piano player to do it. It took forever. It was horrible. It was such a hard record to make.
Ian: We knew exactly how we wanted it to sound, we just weren’t sure of how to get there. We just had to try new things. We knew in our brains how we wanted the piano to sound. So we knew we had a piano, and then we threw this on and that on. We put a mic here, a live mic there. We had distortion pedals, guitar amps, you name it. The two chords took the whole day just to figure them out.
Being that you guys are essentially a spin-off from The Gaslight Anthem, were there any other side project bands that you took anything from to help aid you in putting the Horrible Crowes together?
Brian: No not really. I’m generally not a fan of side projects and that’s why this was kind of weird to do because I was really adamant I wasn’t going to do a solo record. I just don’t like that vibe for me. I have to work with other people. I’m not the shiny genius that people foolishly think I am. I need help. People always talk to the singer. They’re normally like, “You’re the lead singer. You must write all of the songs and are the talent behind the band,” and that’s totally false most of the time. I think you need the comfort of having someone else there to bounce ideas off of. You never know when someone else is going to say something that just blows your mind. And with Ian bringing in different parts - he brought in all kinds of stuff to the table, if he hadn’t have done so this record would no way, shape or form be what it is.
Picking two members each to form a foursome, who would you guys like to see in a fantasy band together, and what would the band be called?
Brian: That’s easy! Eddie Vedder and Neil Young. I’d call them Team Awesome!
Ian: I need to go rhythm section here. I have to be careful though because I know I’ll walk outside and then think of someone else and then wish I had said them.
Brian: Ian, do you think Team Awesome was the best name I could think of? No. But it’s what just came to mind. So just say it! You’ve just gotta let it all out. Like I’m not supposed to talk about a magazine calling me a misogynist. In fact I was told not to by my manager. And NME, I’m not supposed to talk about that in public. I just got off of a plane. I don’t care. They did say it didn’t they? So that means I can say it. That means it’s not slander. It’s probably not good for my career but I don’t care, and I think you lovely people at Gigwise should run with it. At the end of the day it’s funny.
Ian: I want Jimi Hendrix on drums, and I want Stevie Wonder. It’s too white else.
So you’re calling Brian a racist?
Brian: What so now I’m a misogynist and a racist? Well they certainly can’t call me a homophobe if they knew anything about me and Ian. (Laughing) Just don’t tell my wife.
Getting back to the original question...
Ian: Team awesome sounds good. That’s ok.
Brian: Nah, Team Super Awesome! Or better yet, Team Freak Out!
What’s going on with The Gaslight Anthem while you’re swanning off promoting The Horrible Crowes project?
Brian: We’re broken up.
Brian: No! (Hysterically laughing) I can imagine after saying that there are now like 20,000 little kids whose hearts just stopped. They’re like, “Nooooooooo!”
So are you on a break?
Brian: No we’re not on a break. Any time you stop touring people think you’re on a hiatus or something, which is not true. We actually started writing songs a few months ago, back in July. So as soon as we get off the tour that we were on we started writing songs, and we were writing songs while we were on tour. We’ve got about 11 new songs, but we’re gonna go with about 40 and then pick 12 to be on the record. So right now we’re finishing up our label situations and we’re trying to decide on a producer right now. So we’re just going through that. Gaslight is just in the warming up stage before we get ready to do a new record.
What about the future of The Horrible Crowes. Is it a one album thing, or does it depend on the response?
Brian: There are definitely ideas there to do another record. We did these two shows - New York and L.A, and that’s when we started talking about doing another record because that’s when we started coming up with other ideas. But before we do that we have to do the Gaslight record first. We absolutely have to. That’s still my main thing... because even though we’re broken up we’re still going to continue to release albums.
The question was actually: Even though you’ve known each other for a long time, what new things did you learn from each other whilst working on this project?
Brian: I think I learnt not to care about what people think about the meaning within the songs I write. It might not sound like a serious thing but it was something that would really affect me to the point where I would get writers block. I was afraid to write anything down. Like with The Gaslight Anthem, we didn’t know we were going to be so successful. We had no idea. When we recorded ‘The ‘59 Sound’ we were like, “We think this is the best record ever but nobody’s gonna like it.” We really thought that, and then when people started to like it I thought I had to live up to ‘The ‘59 Sound’. Ian taught me how to not live up to what you’ve done because you’ve done it. Just do something new. That was really helpful to me.
Ian: I’d say I learnt that less is more. I’d always be like, “Let’s put this on it,” or, “I think this needs to go in here.” Sometimes I’d be like, “How am I gonna get from here to all the way up there?” Brian would then say, “Well don’t play that note or that note. Keep it simple.” It would always be things I’d never thought of, even though they were simple things. They would never have crossed my mind. So I definitely learnt, playing-wise, to strip it down and be way more powerful. That’s his thing.