Their new album, entitled Handwritten, is inspired by heartbreak and moving on
In 2012, The Gaslight Anthem released Handwritten to the acclaim of critics and fans alike. After two years and countless miles under their belt, these Jersey boys are back to amaze once more. In the mid-August Billboard Charts, dominated by pop artists and summer beats, The Gaslight Anthem’s fifth studio album, Get Hurt, a grungy rock EP, debuted at number four. Currently touring North America, The band will be rolling into town on Sept. 18. The Concordian recently spoke with Alex Levine, the group’s bassist and backup singer, to talk about the band’s past, present and future.
“It started in our parents’ basement. At first it was just me and Brian [the group’s frontman] and then the other two guys were in a band together,” Levine recalled. “We all got together and the rest is history as they say.” Taking the name of the old New York venue, The Gaslight, for their own, the group set out to craft their sound. Even though the venue closed in 1977– long before their time — many of the performers who played that stage influenced The Gaslight Anthem’s work.
“We were influenced by [artists] like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Any artist worth a dime will start off one place and end up somewhere else. We were really just a punk band but with a singer-songwriter twist,” Levine said.
This past year has been a time of both work and change, Levine recounted. “In the last year or so we’ve become more professional. We would never practice all together before a tour. I guess we kind of enjoyed the thrill of figuring it out [live] but now we realize that we don’t have time for that. We don’t have time for a shitty show,” Levine said. Before going on tour, the band rented out a small venue to practice on a stage and set up a “full production with lights and everything,” Levine explained.
The past year was also marked by a nearly 9-month period off the road. “That stretch at home gave us time to figure out what direction we wanted to go in for this record,”
Levine said. The band’s songwriting process is far from an exact science. “We don’t have a formula, everything is up for grabs. Nothing is done a set way. Brian writes the lyrics — that’s always been his thing — but somebody might have a whole song or a riff and we go from there,” he said.
In the end, Levine likes the final product. “It’s pretty bold and pretty simple. It’s stripped down in terms of imagery, but it’s a lot of growing up, heartbreak and moving on. A changing of the guard as they say.”
Levine sees the new album as a landmark of sorts. “I think that years from now, looking back, this record could be a turning point in our careers. We’ve grown as musicians. I think we’re at a point where we really feel like we know what we want to get out of our work.”
Since the release of Get Hurt, the group has done a handful of publicity, most notably their appearance late last month on The Late Show with David Letterman. The band caught fans off guard by including a small string section when they played their new album’s title track, “Get Hurt”, on the show.
“The string thing came about out of nowhere; our manager was friends with one of the composers. We did a lot of versions of “Get Hurt” in the studio; we thought it would be cool. We thought that this was a way of showing that the newer songs are more versatile.”
While interesting, Levine would not want to have the violins on the record.
“One of my greatest pet peeves is when people go back and record songs to make them sound better. You can never record the same song twice or three times. There’s a certain authenticity, an energy, when you first record a song, and redoing it loses that feeling. I’m glad that we have the studio version and I’m glad we have the Letterman version.”
While Fallon and Levine are the founding members of the rock band and share a certain connection (the two even have matching lyric tattoos from “Young Lions” by The Constantines) the group as a whole has been solid for nearly a decade.
“Our ten year anniversary is coming up next year. We haven’t decided what we’re going to do for it yet but … we want to do something a little bit original,” Levine relayed. The bassist even stated that “we’re already writing new songs at this point — there might be another album out before you even know it.”
What we can expect, however, is to hear “Underneath the Ground”, Levine’s favourite song off the new album, on Sept. 18 when the band plays Metropolis. As for what Levine thinks of our fine city, “Montreal has a special place in my heart. When I was 18, I lost a lot of money at the Montreal casino, but your town gave me a chance to sow my wild oats as they say.” So when the group inevitably says that they love playing in Montreal, as all bands claim, you might just be able to believe them.
The Gaslight Anthem plays Metropolis Sept. 18 along with Against Me!