Guitarist, Singer, Songwriter for The Gaslight Anthem
Like so many of the most essential rock bands, The Gaslight Anthem have a rare gift for finding glory in the inescapable pain of being alive. On their new album History Books—their first new music in over nine years—the New Jersey-bred four-piece bring their soulful breed of punk to ten thrilling songs exploring everything from mortality to mental illness to the more precarious dimensions of human connection. In the tradition of their seminal sophomore album The ’59 Sound, The Gaslight Anthem’s sixth full-length ultimately achieves of the tremendous feat of hitting every raw nerve while endlessly inspiring wildly triumphant singing-along.
“A lot of this record is questioning all the bad stuff we see in the world and the difficult things we go through in life, and asking how to deal with it,” says vocalist/guitarist Brian Fallon, whose bandmates include drummer Benny Horowitz, bassist Alex Levine, and lead guitarist Alex Rosamilia. “I think the answer is that we’re all in this together and that somehow makes it okay, even when it’s anything but easy. The main message of the album is empathy.”
The first release from their own Rich Mahogany Recordings (a label distributed via Thirty Tigers), History Books finds The Gaslight Anthem working with acclaimed producer/engineer Peter Katis (The National, Interpol, Death Cab for Cutie) and recording at his Bridgeport, CT-based Tarquin Studios. “We didn’t have any interest in reinventing what The Gaslight Anthem sounds like,” Fallon reveals. “We wanted to stay true to ourselves but also let Peter do what he does best, which is to make things sound beautiful and sad and fun and exciting all at the same time.” Featuring a guest appearance from longtime Gaslight Anthem champion Bruce Springsteen, History Books matches its unfussy yet gracefully crafted sound with the force-of-nature energy that’s defined the band since getting their start playing basement shows back in the mid-aughts. “None of us wanted to make a very somber or serious record showing how much we’ve matured,” says Fallon. “We’ve all changed and grown and learned so much, but the overall mood was a feeling of excitement to be back together and making music that means something to us.”
The follow-up to 2014’s Get Hurt, History Books takes its title from a heavy-hearted track about the power in letting go of what no longer serves you. “I think forgiveness is so important on so many levels, but I’ve learned that in some cases you need to cut ties with the people who’ve done you harm,” says Fallon. Rooted in lyrics that perfectly encapsulate Fallon’s penchant for gorgeously lived-in poetry (e.g., “Nights of smoke and dirty jokes/Darkened rooms with lonely ghosts/They were beautiful some time ago/But time keeps rollin’ us on”), “History Books” also echoes the album’s themes of transience and transcendence. “In some ways each song is a history book—they each tell a story of the past, and all the things that we’ve left behind,” Fallon points out.
Building a formidable velocity right from its first seconds, History Books opens on the soaring melancholy of “Spider Bites”—an exhilarating collision of pounding rhythms, blistering riffs, lush piano melodies, and lyrics that cut right to the heart (“We circle ‘round the sun until someday we won’t….And I’ll love you forever ‘til the day that I don’t”). “That song came together at a time when so many bad things were happening at once, starting from that first line: ‘My teeth are crumbling structures,’” Fallon recalls. “It’s about trying to cope in those moments when it feels like everything’s going wrong.” Penned in a more serene state of mind, “Autumn” drifts into a contemplative mood as The Gaslight Anthem share a deeply felt meditation on impermanence, set against a lovely backdrop of luminous harmonies and oceanic guitar work. “I wrote that song on a really beautiful fall day, looking out the window and thinking, ‘How many days like this do we get to see?’” says Fallon. “So much of life is just trying to get by, but every now and then you have those moments where you can really feel grateful for the small things.”
The first song penned for History Books, “Positive Charge” unfolds in thrashing drumbeats and squalls of distorted guitar, a potent contrast to Fallon’s tender recounting of his struggles with mental health. “One of the changes that happened for me since the last album is going to see a psychiatrist, after years of feeling like an alien because everyday life felt so hard for me,” he says. “At the end of the song when I say, ‘How I’ve missed you, and it’s good to be alive,’ that’s me talking to myself—but it’s also talking to the band and our audience and everyone.” Another song capturing the emotional ruin of depression, “Michigan, 1975” takes on a dreamy desperation as The Gaslight Anthem deliver a darkly charged piece of storytelling inspired by Jeffrey Eugenides’ 1993 novel The Virgin Suicides. And on “Little Fires,” History Books offers up three and a half minutes of pure punk bombast graced with guest vocals from PUP frontman Stefan Babcock. “‘Little Fires’ is like the opposite end of the spectrum from the frustration you feel in ‘History Books,’” says Fallon. “It’s an empowerment song, about refusing to play along with the kind of people who always seem to be throwing a grenade into the room for no particular reason.”
With its tracklist also including the sweetly subdued “Empires” and the sublimely heavy “I Live In The Room Above Her,” History Books wholly embodies the life-affirming emotionality that’s made The Gaslight Anthem so beloved over the years. “Making this album clarified that we want to keep doing what we’ve always done—because no one else can do it in quite the same way, and that’s something I’ve started to become very proud of,” says Fallon. “At the end of the day it’s just rock-and-roll music, but I really do believe it can have a positive impact on people’s lives. I think there’s so much beauty and magic in that.”