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Looking Back, Moving Forward: Brian Fallon Talks Sophomore Solo LP 'Sleepwalkers'

Thursday, 08 February 2018 Written by Laura Johnson

When we last spoke to Brian Fallon it was November 2016, eight months on from the release of his debut solo album, 'Painkillers’. He was riding the wave of newfound creative freedom that comes with going it alone, already writing songs for its follow up and making promises for the future. Unlike many of us heading into a new year, he kept most of them.

First up, he kept writing. The result is ‘Sleepwalkers’, the Gaslight Anthem frontman’s second solo effort in under two years. The next promise kept is that he’s now moved even further away from his rock roots in order to embrace his love of ‘60s pop and R&B.

“It was something that I was never able to put to the forefront because I didn’t really know how to do it,” he explains. “On this one it was good because I had time to sit down and figure it out and then perfect it as best as I could, put my own spin on it and go for it.”

Finally, he said he’d take his time with album two, and he did. That might seem strange given the quick turnaround, but he bashed out ‘Painkillers’ in two weeks. Due to this album’s new direction, and the learning curve that came with it, Fallon clocked up twice as much time in the studio as he did with its predecessor. He spent a decent chunk of that in rehearsals, hashing out the finer details of songs that required that sort of care.

“A lot of the music I was doing on ‘Painkillers’ doesn’t need to be laboured over because it’s very immediate, and it can be a little ragged and that’s OK,” he says. “But this, there was a little bit more finesse involved. Especially with the rhythm tracks. I was learning a little bit of the R&B guitar playing too. So that’s not like I just strum everything and then throw it down and that’s it. We were trying to finesse the whole thing and make it sound and move all in the same direction, which took a lot. I didn’t really know how to do that.

“With ‘Painkillers’ I knew exactly what I was doing. I was like, ‘OK, come in here, buy an acoustic guitar, electric guitar, alright, good. Go!’ And then with this I had to learn how to approach the instruments and also I was playing all of the keys, organs and all that stuff, so it was much more difficult to figure out where did that go too.”

The organ is worth mentioning again. As well as taking inspiration from artists of the era, Fallon also looked to their instruments, more specifically the Vox Continental, which you’ve most likely heard on House of the Rising Sun by the Animals and the Doors' Light My Fire. “It’s a real sharp, brash sound and you hear it on a lot of the ‘60s R&B records and it’s a real distinct thing,” he says. “Elvis Costello used it a lot in his early stuff. So I had that and I was really learning how to play it mixed in. It was a cool thing to get a sound-based inspiration.”

For the journey through new territory he turned to an old friend to help guide him. Producer Ted Hutt, who handled the Gaslight Anthem’s seminal album ‘The ‘59 Sound’,  serendipitously called out of the blue and set Fallon’s cogs turning about the right collaborator with whom to realise his plans. With all the talk of progress, though, it’s worth asking why he chose to put one foot in the past instead of collaborating with someone new?

“I think that he does set the bar a little bit higher for me,” he admits. “Ted’s known me for a long time, so he knows where to push and where not to push. More than that he has a really good sense about music and sometimes he has a good sense about direction. He can really read the room and figure out where you’re trying to go.”

Fallon’s relationship with the past doesn’t end with the record’s influences and producer, though. He also revisits some fictional friends. Lily, who cropped up on ‘Painkillers’ track Among Other Foolish Things, and Elsie, the titular character from the Horrible Crowes’ debut LP, make an appearance on new track Her Majesty's Service.

The use of women's names, of course, is something that’s become synonymous with Fallon’s songwriting, not to mention a Springsteen-shaped club to beat him with. But it’s not calculated, he says. “It’s just part of the style that I’ve developed over the years. It’s not something that I’ll intentionally use. I won’t sit down and think about it. But if it feels right I do it. I don’t really shy away from it.

“You spend your whole artistic career looking for a style and then when you find something that’s yours you put it in the toolbox. When necessary, or when you feel it’s necessary, you can reference it or bring it out. Or not.”

Despite some nostalgic nods, and more than a few tracks on the album being preoccupied with what he’ll leave behind, Fallon isn’t walking around with his legacy weighing on his mind. But he’s a father now and, like many artists working their way through their mid 30s, the passage of time is a constant in his life.

“You’re not going to be here forever and I think I was confronting that subconsciously the whole time as I was writing,” he says. “It was something that was just on my mind. Rather than hide it, I figured it is something that most people on the earth think about, so it’s probably pretty relatable. Hopefully someone can at least hear it and go, ‘Well, at least I’m not the only one’. I don’t know if I have any answers, but at least you’re not the only one.”

From the outside, it’s hard to avoid the subject of legacy. Fallon is a wonderful contradiction who alludes to decades old music in order to make something fresh, and a writer who tells new stories with old names. Into this narrative we have to fit the fact that, right after the arrival of his second solo album, the Gaslight Anthem will reunite to celebrate 10 years since the release of ‘The ‘59 Sound’.

Of all his releases, that is the one that has left the biggest mark. But getting the band back together isn’t a sign that Fallon wants to also rewind the clock to 2008. He is fully aware of how the past sets the table for the future and is embracing it. He also says he’s happy with the steady climb of his solo career and is not looking to revisit the breakneck early days of Gaslight anytime soon.

“We just got so burned out,” he says. “It’s not fun doing things that are a constant pressure race. I think putting out records and moving like ‘Where did it place on the chart? What number is it? Did it beat Drake?’ Whatever. All that stuff, that is out of hand. I don’t even want to deal with that. When somebody brings that up and they’re like, ‘Hey, you guys are doing some shows, are you gonna get back into the record cycle?’, that’s when I’m like ‘Oh, I think the stove’s on. I got to go check the stove, see you later!’ I can’t do that.

“I think everybody feels that way. Everybody doesn’t want to get back into the craziness of it all. But at the same time we’re happy about what we’ve done. We wouldn’t be here in anything that we’re doing, none of our side projects, or solo projects, or anything...no one would care if there wasn’t a ‘’59 Sound’.”

Brian Fallon Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows

Mon February 19 2018 - KINGSTON UPON THAMES Hippodrome
Tue February 20 2018 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute
Wed February 21 2018 - MANCHESER O2 Ritz
Thu February 22 2018 - GLASGOW O2 ABC
Fri February 23 2018 - LONDON KOKO
Sat February 24 2018 - NOTTINGHAM Rock City
Sun February 25 2018 - BRISTOL SXW
Thu March 08 2018 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE Boiler Shop
Fri March 09 2018 - LEEDS Beckett Students Union
Sat March 10 2018 - DUBLIN Olympia Theatre
Sun March 11 2018 - BELFAST Limelight

Click here to compare & buy Brian Fallon Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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