Over the course of Brian Fallon’s three-album solo career – all recorded and released while on hiatus from his main gig fronting the Gaslight Anthem – he never played any of his other band’s songs with his solo group, despite having sure-fire crowd pleasers like 45 and The ’59 Sound in his pocket.
“I just felt it was weird to have another band playing your old band’s songs,” Fallon says from his home in New Jersey, where he’s been tinkering with amps ahead of the October 27 release of History Books, the first Gaslight Anthem album since 2014’s Get Hurt.
“I guess it’s not weird if you’re Noel Gallagher and your band’s broken up and you’re not getting back together – or Johnny Marr,” he says. “But for us, it was less about it being over and more like, we just don’t know what the next move is. And it took about eight years to figure that out.”
Being off the road for a year and a half following the release of the introspective Local Honey in 2020 gave him space to think about what might come next for his solo career. The answer was easy: nothing. “I was like, ‘I’m good,’” he says. “I feel like I did what I wanted to do for myself, and I really did not have anything else to add.”
While at first he was hesitant to whisper the word “reunion” even to himself, he began writing songs that felt a lot like his old band. Positive Charge, the first song fans heard from History Books this summer, was also the first song he wrote in that initial spurt of creativity. “I was like, maybe I wanna write rock songs again,” he says, “and then that came out so quickly and easily, like it was waiting there for me to grab it.”
Fallon slow-walked the steps to the band’s eventual reset in 2022 from there, first calling on drummer Benny Horowitz, whom he credits as the “unofficial spiritual advisor” of the band.
They talked, and then they jammed some of Fallon’s new songs. Once they brought in guitarist Alex Rosamilia and bassist Alex Levine, they dove into the back catalog without a plan, calling out songs on the fly to see if they still felt like the Gaslight Anthem.
That reconnection inaugurated the second era of the band, consummated with sold-out shows on both sides of the Atlantic later that year. But none of it would have happened without the spark of Positive Charge, an archetypal slab of their barnburning style – “Gaslight Anthem 101,” as Fallon says – that connects right out of the gate with tortured licks from the J Mascis school of phrasing and overdrive.
As they prepared to record History Books, they reached far beyond their early punk influences, and even beyond the oft-cited inspiration they gleaned from Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen (who turns up on the title track). In the process, they focused more than ever on guitar solos, the time-honored rock cliché that even Nirvana and Sonic Youth embraced.
“Everybody knows we came up on Bruce Springsteen, the Clash, all that stuff,” Fallon says, “and that’s true. But the music that was ours, when we were 11, was Jane’s Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers, all that stuff. It was very guitar focused. So I said to Alex, ‘I want the music to be more focused on guitar solos, and we should both try to do ’em.’”
True to his word, the 10 songs on History Books pack more adventurous guitar work than much of the band’s previous five albums. Despite their straightforward, punk-influenced heartland rock sound, Fallon and Rosamilia aren’t necessarily boxed into off-the-shelf pentatonic runs.
On Autumn, Rosamilia veers into Come As You Are territory by manipulating an Electro-Harmonix Small Clone, the same pedal Kurt Cobain used on the Nirvana hit, with producer Peter Katis ratcheting the intensity with more effects on his side of the callback mic.
“Peter comes in with this really hard tremolo, and he’s stuttering the guitar part while Alex is making a bend, and the two of ’em are insane together, and I’m loving this,” he says. The taste of freedom led to more experimentation in sounds, an about-face from the more conventional guitar sounds of their previous work.
“We kept the sound pretty traditional, always – clean guitar, tape echo, whatever Bruce Springsteen and Joe Strummer had, that’s what I want,” he says. “And when we did [Autumn], we were like, but that’s not ours. What’s ours? And what was ours was all this noise-rock insanity, ’cause we came from this angular punk.”
Those out-there sounds are an even bigger departure for Fallon, whose singer-songwriter solo albums became more mid-tempo and employed more acoustic instruments from 2016’s Painkillers through Local Honey. But with History Books, he not only slams the cover down, he practically tosses it onto the pyre.
“Springsteen for sure taught me how to write songs, but Hot Water Music and Pearl Jam and Dinosaur Jr. and Fugazi and Sonic Youth, and even the Beastie Boys, that’s who taught me how to play those songs that I’d learned to write,” he says.
“We didn’t know how to play as well as Jimi Hendrix or even Mike McCready or any of those guys, but we definitely could go [imitates guitar noise] with a fuzz pedal, and it was great. That’s the first time you felt like you had Thor’s hammer and there was electricity running through your guitar and shooting out into this lame town that you lived in. And that’s why you get into music – to kick stuff over, you know?”
- History Books is out now via Rich Mahogany Recordings.