1In 2017, The Killers covered which The Gaslight Anthem song live in New York?
2Which two bands did The Gaslight Anthem perform between on The John Peel Stage at Glastonbury 2009?
“Was one of them Florence + the Machine? No? I don’t think this is a question I could possibly answer because I played with Bruce Springsteen, which overshadowed everything else and wiped away the whole day of what else happened. Who was it?”
WRONG. You were sandwiched between Passion Pit and Portland indie-poppers Hockey. Florence + the Machine played later on the same stage. What went through your mind when you discovered The Boss wanted to join you onstage for ‘The ’59 Sound’?
“We were playing in 10 minutes, so when he showed up, I couldn’t think. My musical professional brain took over because my regular brain freaked out, and I said to him: ‘Do you know the song? Then let’s go!’ It was a small tent and felt pretty epic afterwards. I freaked out. I had to go straight back to the bus and lie on the floor thinking: ‘What the hell just happened? Am I in a club now? Do I get a card or a badge now?’ I should at least get a Nando’s Black Card after playing with Bruce Springsteen at Glastonbury! [Laughs] ”
The Gaslight Anthem were dogged by comparisons to Springsteen for years – to the point where you stopped a show in 2013 after an audience member was heckling ‘Bruce!’ throughout.
“You don’t want to be in anybody’s shadow, and that perception was coming mainly from the media. When we spoke to Bruce, he treated us as equals – not some covers band. Now we’ve been around for a long time, we have the freedom to say: ‘We don’t care. Bruce likes us. Our fans like us’, but when you’re young and coming up, you don’t have that self-assurance – especially as I was on a 250-day-a-year tour schedule while trying to battle severe depression and anxiety with no medication. And I wasn’t on drugs and didn’t drink. So that was raw. That was a tough time to be in, so if anybody wants to show a video of me freaking out, let’s see how they would do!”
Now you’ve teamed up with Springsteen (who was a catalyst for getting The Gaslight Anthem back together in 2021 after their hiatus since 2015) for a duet on ‘History Books’, the title track from your forthcoming sixth studio album….
“Bruce is a friend, and it’s not lost on me how crazy it is that I can say: ‘Oh, I can text my friend Bruce Springsteen and see if he wants to catch a little TV tonight!’ Him coming on the record now felt like a full-circle moment of owning our own story and accepting that we’re a band from New Jersey. ‘Cause there’s other bands from New Jersey, but there’s not other bands who hold that position with him. My Chemical Romance are a much bigger band than ours worldwide, but Uncle Bruce doesn’t hang out with them! [Laughs]”
Any surreal Bruce Springsteen stories?
“Any time I’m sitting in a car with him, I’ll look over double-take: ‘That’s him right there! I can smell him! He’s here! And he smells great!’ But how do you process something like that? You just sit there and think: ‘I hope I don’t say something that makes him mad’ [Laughs]. But you also don’t want it to end either.”
3What number did you reach on NME’s 2008 Cool List?
“Wow! I’m surprised I was even on the list. 59?”
“[Laughs] Sorry Matt Bellamy – you’ll have to muse on that for a little while, pal! That whole period was absurd. I wish I’d have spoke to doctors earlier and got treatment and realised it didn’t have to be as hard. I wish I could re-do it at peace because there were exciting times like watching the World Cup backstage at a festival with Florence + the Machine and The Cribs.”
4Name the six tracks from your proto-Gaslight Anthem band This Charming Man’s 2005 album ‘Every Little Secret’.
“Lemme see! ‘Bleeder’, ‘Sometimes You Eat The Bar (Sometimes The Bar Eats You)’, ‘There Is A Thunder (Out In The Distance)’, ‘Cut The Rope (Before It Hangs Us Both)’, ‘Sweet Delta Blues’ and…. ‘Kiss Me, I’m A Pirate’. These rival My Chemical Romance in terms of long titles! [Laughs]”
“No. I’m not so certain that Morrissey and I would get along. It’s hard because I would not be who I am today had I not heard The Smiths aged 11 years old and it changed my whole life, so it’s hard to reconcile the Morrissey now with the Morrissey then. But I would love to meet Johnny Marr – he’s a big-time hero. This Charming Man was 100 per cent influenced by The Smiths. If I had my way, The Gaslight Anthem would have been called ‘The Other Smiths’, sounded exactly like them, and I wouldn’t have a career. That’s how obsessed I was!”
5In 2013, which Hollywood actor did you invite to tour with you via Instagram?
CORRECT. Did you ever meet him?
“No, he was too busy preparing to be Ken! [Laughs] He was Drive-ing, and now he’s Ken and we’re all just in his shadow.”
6In June 2022, you performed a secret Gaslight Anthem reunion gig at Crossroads nightclub in New Jersey (the date was originally billed as a Brian Fallon solo show). If you add up all the songs with numbers in the titles on the setlist, what total do you get?
“Hold on! So I’m at 104 now, because I’ve added ’45’ to ‘The 59 Sound’.”
WRONG. The total is 2034 – the titles ‘1930’, ‘45’ and ‘The 59 Sound’ added together.
“Oh man! I didn’t count ‘1930’ as a number!”
Was there any other point during The Gaslight Anthem’s break when you considered getting the band back together?
“No, I’d put it pretty far to the back of my mind. We didn’t finish with a Smiths thing where we hated each other, it was more like we didn’t want to make an album that we were embarrassed by later, and it felt like we had entered a lull that every band goes through. People start off loving you, then they hate you, and then they love you again – and it felt like we were in that time where everybody hated us. We thought: ‘Maybe it’s time for us to shut up and make way for some other bands’ [Laughs]. We always knew we’d come back – we just didn’t think it would take nine years.”
7In 2012, ‘Handwritten’ reached Number Two on the UK album charts. Who pipped you to Number One?
“Was it a Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack?”
“Well, congratulations Plan B! ‘Handwritten’ was one of my favourite records we recorded. We’d become a fully functioning band and everybody had their own stations – not just drums, bass, guitar – but in terms of roles in the band, like being the heart of the band, the business guy, etc. Everyone was working to their strengths, and I knew at the time of recording how special it was. When we were getting very burned out, I remember feeling ‘Man, I wish we could just get back to the way we felt during ‘Handwritten’.”
Talking of getting burnt out, you once commented that by the time of your third album, 2010’s ‘American Slang’ that you ‘couldn’t say ‘I’m having a mental breakdown and need a break’ because the whole industry would have said: ‘OK, you don’t have a career’’. With a greater awareness of mental health issues, do you think that’s changed?
“Yes, and that’s thanks to a lot of the younger bands stepping up. If I had said I needed a break, I would have been dismissed with ‘Cool….next band!’, but it’s different now and that’s a good thing because the push is hard. You’re always thinking: am I missing the thing that’s going to take the band to a different league? There are no guarantees. When I was on a building site when I was younger, I knew if I put this piece on this piece and do it in this order when I leave it’s going to work. But when you’re making art, it’s up to the public to decide and that’s scary.”
8You once remarked that critics “would hate” The Gaslight Anthem’s 2014’s album ‘Get Hurt’. But what is its Metacritic score?
“I don’t know! [Laughs] 60-something?”
CORRECT-ISH. Close enough – it’s 62.
“During the pandemic, someone suggested I play ‘Get Hurt’ on the piano as an online solo show, and my instinct was to think [bristles]: no. But as I started to revisit what it sounded like, I thought: ‘This is all right! This isn’t so bad!”. I started to get really friendly with it once I started to dissect it and with a bit of time and distance, those songs really stack up still. There are only one or two songs where I think: ‘I wish I had just one more week on that’.”
9What is track six of The Gaslight Anthem’s new album ‘History Books’?
“Lemme count…. ’Little Fires’.”
CORRECT. Which is also your latest single – featuring PUP’s Stefan Babcock.
“Boom! Spent a lot of time on that track-listing! ‘Little Fires’ feels like the punk music we grew up on and has a bit of the angular DC thing to it. It completely shifts tempos quickly, which is rare in the Pro Tools age. ‘History Books’ didn’t feel burdensome to write or record. On every record before, I’ve had a ‘Grrrr!’ moment – but not on this one.
After meeting with Bruce Springsteen for advice in 2021, you challenged yourself to write four brand-new Gaslight songs. If they were up to scratch, you’d reform the band…
“I wanted to make that deal with myself because I felt like if I call the guys and say: ‘Do you want to do this?’ you have to have something to show them. I wanted four demos that I felt good about, which is practically half an album. When I finished the first song ‘Positive Change’, it felt like a Gaslight Anthem song that would belong up there next to ’45’ or ‘The Sound of ‘59’, and knew I was onto something special.”
10Can you name the two other guests when you appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien in 2008?
“Probably not! When you go to a festival, you hang out with bands like Mastodon that you wouldn’t usually see, but the only time we ever hung out with other bands on TV shows was with Sheryl Crow and Duffy on Later with Jools Holland. Maybe it’s just us. Maybe we’re not cool enough for other bands – even though I was the 45th Coolest Person in the World! [Laughs]”
“Wonderful! Dr House!”
The verdict: 5/10
The Gaslight Anthem’s latest single ‘Little Fires’ is out now. Their new album ‘History Books’ is released on October 27 via Rich Mahogany Recordings / Thirty Tigers and is available for pre-order