More about: Brian Fallon
Brian Fallon recently released Local Honey, his third studio album as a solo artist. We described it as a "self-fulfilled classic" that marks a new chapter for an artist that is in their element.
In these times which are anything but normal, we were delighted to catch up with Brian to discuss life under lockdown, the new album and how silver linings can still be found in times of such adversity. Whilst he should currently be touring in support of the record, he’s instead enjoying the respite of being in one place and catching up on family time. Surprisingly, even as an accomplished musician, he’s also making time to take piano and guitar lessons. Through the safety of a phone call, and with the North Atlantic as a reasonable social distance, we caught up with Brian from his home in New Jersey.
Gigwise: Hi Brian! How are you coping during these crazy times?
Brian Fallon: I’m trying to keep busy! Last Friday I did a live stream where I was taking requests and talking about the album, but I’m not used to filming myself, so it takes me a while to get set up right.
GW: This is hitting your industry pretty hard in terms of tours getting cancelled, how has it affected you?
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BF: I had two or three tours that should’ve been happening, and I think I should actually be in upstate New York right now… I think! I’ve lost count – the big rub is that in this industry, we’ve always said that if anything bad happens to you… at least there is touring. When streaming first hit, at least there was touring. Whereas now…
GW: The last bastion has fallen?
BF: Yeah and I’ll tell you what, if I get one more email from a giant company saying, ‘we’re with you through this… oh and by the way we have this for sale and will still be charging your full premium next month’. Oh cool - thanks, man!
GW: Outside of music, what are you finding comforting at the moment?
BF: My kids. They’re young enough that they don’t really grasp it, my oldest does a little bit, but they’re able to shake it off and be kids. Thank god I’ve got a yard, so they’ve got somewhere to run around. That and we watch a lot of movies [laughs]. It’s pretty creative in my house. The kids do painting and my wife makes kids clothes, we’re just trying to use the time in some productive way. We don’t have any control over it. You can’t just sit around and waste away.
GW: We’ve all heard enough about coronavirus so let’s talk about the music. After making Painkillers and Sleepwalkers, what were the biggest lessons that you learned?
BF: The big thing when you end up in that position [being solo] is that you have to figure out what you do, and what that means now. It takes some digging around with experimentation to figure it out. The biggest thing I learned is to just experiment and see what you like. These songs took so many forms before I settled on what they sound like now. I think that’s the biggest thing – you get tripped up when you’re writing. Every line you think, ‘I can’t write that’ because somebody’s going to judge it, but at that moment no one is, it’s just you and the music.
GW: Is that freeing for you, once you embrace that creative process?
BF: Oh, for sure. I have a lot of programmes with different drumbeats and all this crazy stuff. Sometimes I’ll just let myself make a song that sounds totally insane, but I find that helps me get somewhere. The records I love – they’ve already been made. When I was younger, I wanted to imitate them as much as I could. As you get older you try to figure out what makes you unique. I’m not saying I’ve done that, but it’s something I’m trying to explore.
GW: What was the first step that put the wheels in motion for Local Honey?
BF: Initially, it was a continuation of ‘who am I and what do I sound like?’. Then somewhere in the middle of last year, I decided that I wasn’t really sure what I was doing and if I liked what I’ve got now. I started taking piano lessons and when you do that it requires you to really break down a song and make it slow. That way, I discovered new things. That’s where it led me.
GW: How did teaming up with Peter Katis come about?
BF: We’d spoken a couple of years ago about working together. Then I actually got a call right at that middle period and he invited me up to Connecticut to record a song where he is based. I just drove up there as it wasn’t far, and we sort of said ‘just see what happens’.
GW: Did you develop a chemistry pretty quickly?
BF: Yeah definitely. Peter’s got a different style than I’m used to, so it took some adjusting. In the end, we found that if I did my bit, he did his and we come together at the end, it really works well. He’s awesome; a really, really creative guy.
GW: You mentioned that you’ve also been having guitar lessons – as an accomplished musician what was the reasoning behind that?
BF: I know how to play, and I’ve been playing for a long time, but there are so many things in my mind that I want to do but don’t know how. Really, I just wanted to get better as a guitar player so I could express myself better. That said I don’t think I’m gonna be releasing a blues record any time soon [laughs]. I actually have a lesson tonight! I’m being taught by this awesome guy called Julian Lage.
GW: Do you think you’re a good student?
BF: Yeah, I think I’m a really good student because I know I don’t know anything! [Laughs]
GW: Local Honey has a real sense of personal comfortability to it – what do you attribute that to?
BF: I’ve just grown a bit older and hopefully a little wiser. I think especially once you have kids you realise your age and your limitations. I left the major label world before I did this record and I got my own label, which is a whole weird thing because you’re on your own. Then you have to start making choices about what matters to you. There’s a realisation that there’s a lot of things you wanted to be that you’re not. When you come to a place where you’re okay with that, knowing that you’re not going to make a record that’ll take over the world, but that it’s okay. It’s one thing to say you’re good with it, but it’s another to be it. With my music, you sort of have to trust me even before you listen and know that I’m being sincere. I’m singing about my kids in their pyjamas. I know some people will say that’s not cool, and I know it isn’t, but it’s my reality.
GW: You pour your own emotions and experiences into your songwriting – at that moment, does it hurt or is it more of a cathartic positive experience?
BF: I don’t know if it’s positive. I have to really put myself into that mindset to write it. With ‘Vincent’ from the new record, it took me a month and a half and at least thirty verses to write. I remember thinking this is some dark business that I’m dealing with. My mood definitely shifts with what I’m writing about. Sometimes I have to step away from it because it sucks me in. I don’t know if it’s depression, but I’ve definitely struggled with anxiety and depression. I’ve sought therapy at various points in my life. I have to step away sometimes and I feel like I never want to write a song again. Which usually lasts about a week.
GW: With Local Honey, were there any tracks that you were unsure of?
BF: The whole thing I wasn’t sure about really. This is a record that I wanted to make for about ten years. As soon as I finished the Horrible Crowes record, I wanted to make this record. I just didn’t have time, or maybe the courage either.
GW: It’s been reported that ‘21 days’ is about quitting cigarettes, is this true?
BF: It’s so funny, people don’t talk about the power of the press as much, but they still have a lot of power because one article said that and now everyone brings it up! [Laughs] It’s so funny it was on one short interview and I said it’s kind of about quitting smoking. I wrote the song right after I quit, so it was definitely on my mind - but the song is about a hundred different things. When I first read it, I was like ‘Nooooo! That’s not what it’s about!’.
GW: We’ll be sure to set the record straight for you! Which tracks are you most excited to play live?
BF: The whole band has expanded now, we’ve got a piano player. There are all sorts of things going on. The thing is we got to rehearse and play one night and that was it. We ramped up to get going and then this all happened, and it was no more. It’s tough because I’m seeing so many people postpone records and tours at the moment.
GW: Did you consider pushing back the release of Local Honey?
BF: No. I wanted to put it out. This whole pandemic was happening, and everyone was trapped inside, so I wanted to give them something to do. There are people with nothing to do and as artists, we can give people comfort and a sense of normalcy. I didn’t want to withhold that from my listeners.
GW: Do you feel like The Gaslight Anthem and Horrible Crowes are finished chapters, or that you’ve still got more to write?
BF: You never want to say for definite one thing or another, because you can never know for sure what’s going to happen. I will say though that being a really loud rock n’ roll person seems really uncomfortable to me right now. It doesn’t mean I look down on it, but you just gotta follow where you’re going and go with where you’re at.
GW: Which new bands are on your radar?
BF: So many! I love the new Lana Del Rey record. There are a million bands that are coming out that I think are really exciting. I like Slaves a lot, I watch them play and think ‘good for you man, you do it’. That’s not my job now, it’s their job to do that. I’ve had my time with that, they’re so young and exciting. You don’t need to see a 40-year-old doing that.
GW: You’re known to stick around and meet fans after your shows, does that ever get tiring for you?
BF: If people invest their time into you, you should invest your time into them. Even with my kids, not that I think of my fans as my kids [laughs], but if they ask me a question and I’m on my phone, I put down that phone and I look at them! People are valuable and so many people are dismissive and don’t acknowledge that. If you don’t have them, what do you have? Nothing. That’s something that I never want to lose.
GW: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us. Before you go, what have you got planned for the rest of the day?
BF: Just keeping the kids up to date on their schoolwork and I’m helping my wife try and work out a way to get the clothes she makes shipped. One thing about all of this that is nice is that I’m getting so much time with them. I try and stay home as much as possible when I’m not touring so that has been one of the main positives to come out of all of this!
More about: Brian Fallon