The Gaslight Anthem: Always mixing it up
The Gaslight Anthem quickly became critics’ darlings as it delivered albums such as 2008’s The ’59 Sound and 2010’s American Slang. On 2014’s Get Hurt, which was produced by Brit Mike Crossey (Foals, Arctic Monkeys, Jake Bugg), the band expands it sound and experiments with its punk-inspired roots rock. With husky vocals and heavy guitars, “Stay Vicious” mixes the band’s Springsteen impulses with its punk rock tendencies while “Helter Skeleton” sounds like a grittier Wilco. Drummer Benny Horowitz phoned us to talk about the band’s US tour.
You formed in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 2006. Was there a good music scene there at the time?
Yeah, for sure. I’m older and I don’t live there anymore. I won’t pretend to have my finger on the pulse of it like I used to. It’s had a long history of a vibrant musical culture. I’ve always assumed that it’s because Rutgers is there and it’s the state university. Kids from the outskirts conglomerate there. It’s a place where people meet and form bands. A lot of old New Brunswick basements are built without sectioning. Pipes are just exposed. They’re conducive to putting on underground concerts. If you’re putting on a show in your basement, it’s the most DIY way to put on a show. If you have a PA, you have no expense and you just charge at the door. It was a simple way of doing things. That’s the scene I grew up in and the scene that we came out of. I get word that there are still bands popping out of there. I’m a little disconnected. It’s hard to be an old man and keep your eyes on such things. I think the New Brunswick police department has started shutting them down. It’s a horrible thing. They’ll left frat parties with 300 drunk girls getting molested go on. And then 50 kids get together in a basement and drink a couple of 40s and scream along to some positive songs and they get a bug up their ass because they can’t make any money off that.
Did the band’s popularity take off first overseas?
We started in the U.S. and our first tours were in the US. Until we made certain connections, we didn’t even have an idea that we could have a label or anything. But we got hooked up with Gunner Records. He put out the records and would drive the band around Europe. He’s an awesome dude. We would get some cheap gear and cruise around. We did some long, rough tours in Europe cruising around in the Sprinter van playing culture houses. They’re cool places to play. You go there and might play to ten people but you have a hot dinner and a place to stay and a case of beer. The only place it happened quickly was in the UK. We did our first show at a record store and the second show was at the Reading & Leeds Festival. Somehow, we had a publicist who was really awesome. That’s the only place where we showed up and things were good. In the rest of the places, we did the legwork.
American Slang represents a shift in musical direction. Talk about the approach you wanted to take with that album.
It’s hard to remember now. One thing we’ve been focused on from record to record is to not write the same record twice. That’s just boring.
You recorded Get Hurt at Blackbird Studios in Nashville. What was the experience like?
We’ve done the last two at Blackbird. It’s a badass place. John McBride owns it. He’s a super sweet dude and is always around and helping. It’s second to none. It has this one sound chamber that is a six-by-six room with an adjustable ceiling that goes up 25 or 30 feet. You let something ring out in that room and based in how high you have the ceiling determines how much of a natural echo chamber there is. I played in that room, which was awesome. Nashville is a good place to go. It’s a chill town. We don’t know that many people there, which is kind of a good thing. We really focused on the record and working at the studio. We didn’t have too many outside influences.
What was it like working with producer Mike Crossey?
He’s a real creative guy. He’s real open and the process with him is very experimental. Nothing is off the table. That’s a cool environment to work in. No one has any apprehension about bringing up ideas or trying different things. It’s a feeling he cultivates. He has cool out-of-the-box ideas. He does things a little different. He likes making odd sounds out of analog equipment, which is what we wanted to do this time. We didn’t want to add too many electronics or electronics much at all. You can make certain things sound funky if you work with it.
Did you record extra songs while you were there?
One of the bonus tracks is a song we did in Nashville that wasn’t a song that we felt like fit on the record. We suck at that. With every record we’ve made, we had a B-side that we wished was on the record. If you’re a Gaslight fan, you should buy the B-sides because they might be better than the songs on the record. We did the one in Nashville and then did the three other ones at The Magic Shop in New York. We recorded them live in a day. We didn’t really track it. We just did it live and ripped them out. They sound different.
Have you started thinking about the next record?
Usually we’re thinking about the next record before we’re done with the last one. We don’t view the band and the record as the end all and be all. We try to keep that pressure off. That’s the record we made, and where are we going next? It’s a constant process like that. People have been thinking about it but as far as concrete ideas and songs, we don’t have anything yet.
What’s on the set list for your shows right now?
It’s all on mood. We try to mix it up. If we see a set where we didn’t play anything off one record, we try to add those songs. It’s a cool problem to have. We have a lot of records and a lot of songs. I feel bad when someone comes out after a show and says we didn’t play their favorite songs. But it would be boring if we just played for six hours. We’re not that entertaining. Unless we did that jam band thing where we didn’t give away drugs but promoted the use and instilled that vibe. Maybe then, we could rip through six hours of music and people would be digging it the whole time. I don’t see it happening without psychedelics.
Upcoming 2015 Shows
St. Louis, MO — The Ready Room
Indianapolis, IN — Egyptian Room — Old National Centre
Columbus, Oh — Newport Music Hall