Friday, July 1, 2016

Mid-Year 2016: The Best Albums I've Heard So Far

Let's be honest: mid-year lists are kind of superfluous. I expect that my opinions on the records below will continue to shift. Add six months' worth of new releases, and my list come December will almost certainly look nothing like this one does. With that said, I've heard a lot of great albums this year, and I wanted an opportunity to reflect and think about which ones have resonated the most. All 10 of these records (plus the bonus EP) get the highest recommendation from me.

Happy July and happier listening!

1. Parker Millsap - The Very Last Day

With a force-of-nature voice, a sharp talent for storytelling, and more than a bit of wit and charisma, Parker Millsap weaves The Very Last Day into 2016's best album—so far, anyway. He's only 23 years old and this is only his second record, but when you hear him wail on "You Gotta Move" or spin a tale about the homosexual son of a preacher on "Heaven Sent," you might swear he's got twice that many under his belt.
2. Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor's Guide to Earth

Sturgill Simpson's breakthrough record, 2014's Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, was an explosion of classic country, tinged with psychedelia. The Kentucky singer/songwriter paints with an even broader brush on the follower up, A Sailor's Guide to Earth—to the point where many of his fans cried betrayal and bitched about it not being "country enough." Fuck that. On this record, "country music" is anything Simpson wants it to be. He pulls in influences from a dozen genres to create a love letter to his new son, from soul to progressive rock to grunge and beyond.

3. Brian Fallon - Painkillers

On his first solo record, the frontman from The Gaslight Anthem opts out of reinventing the wheel. Instead, he surges straight down the center of the highway, writing songs that feature his usual mix of classic rock, folk, Americana, and references to favorite songs and movie stars. If you wanted a more polarizing record in the vein of Gaslight's Get Hurt, you were probably disappointed by Painkillers. This album, though, showcases Brian Fallon as an artist who knows what he does well and is perfectly content to put out a record that emphasizes strength of songwriting craft over surprises. The decision to hold steady pays off, with cuts like "A Wonderful Life," "Rosemary," and "Open All Night" ranking among his best ever.

4. The 1975 - I like it when you sleep…

On their debut, 2013's self-titled album, The 1975 were a pop band willing to draw as much from emo as they were from boy bands. They were unique, but not flamboyantly so. On the follow up, though, these boys from Manchester transform into the most audacious band currently making music. Long ambient interludes transition into straight-up pop jams, while the album's most John Hughes soundtrack-worthy anthem ("This Must Be My Dream") is just two tracks away from a raw acoustic heartbreaker ("Nana"). The record—like its title—is a hair unwieldy, but start combing the tracklist for inessential songs and you'll make an interesting discovery: there aren't any.

5. The Hotelier - Goodness

When it comes to scene classics, it's usually not very hard to tell what's going to stand the test of time. From the first time I listened to Goodness, it sounded like something that kids were going to be discovering 10 years down the road, in the same way that they still discover stuff like Clarity. Less catchy and intense than its predecessor, 2014's Home, Like NoPlace Is There, Goodness is also much more life-affirming, trading the dark emotional doldrums of Home for flickers of love, wistful reflection, and uplift. The songs aren't always as striking as the ones from the last album, but some of them—like "Opening Mail for My Grandmother" and "End of Reel"—are as viscerally engaging as anything this band has ever written.

6. Josh Kelley - New Lane Road

To the outside eye, Josh Kelley peaked early in his career, landing a minor hit off his 2003 debut album with "Amazing." Fast-forward 13 years, though, and Kelley is the rare, almost unheard-of artist who is making his best music with his eighth full-length. A collision of pop, soul, country, folk, and even a little bit of gospel, New Lane Road is as instantly timeless as new albums come. Kelley's voice has always been his not-so-secret weapon, so smooth and delicate one minute and full of force the next. Here, he parlays it into more than a few remarkable moments of pathos, with the bookends ("It's Your Move" and "Only God Can Stop Her Now") standing out most clearly.

7. Maren Morris - Hero

The hooks on Maren Morris's major label debut are so huge that it's not hard to see why she is being heralded as the new country "It" girl. On songs like "Sugar," "Rich," and "80s Mercedes," she effortlessly combines wit, sense for melody, and girl power into an irresistible sound that isn't quite pop and isn't quite country. It's on the ballads where Morris really sets herself apart from the crowd, though, with the likes of "I Could Use a Love Song," "I Wish I Was," and the soaring "Once" sounding like iconic classics in the making.

8. Donovan Woods - Hard Settle, Ain't Troubled

Donovan Woods has always been a talented songwriter, but Hard Settle, Ain't Troubled, his fourth full-length, takes his chops to the next level. More experienced as a writer now than he was a few years ago (having landed songs on a few albums by major Nashville country artists), he conveys different kinds of desolation here with an eye for detail and a clear willingness to twist the knife. From the fracturing relationship of "On the Nights You Stay Home" to the universal regret of "The First Time," all the way to the roller coaster of emotions that defines "Leaving Nashville," Woods will break your heart at least half a dozen times on this record.

9. Sister Hazel - Lighter in the Dark

And here I thought I'd outgrown Sister Hazel. One of my favorite bands from childhood, this roots rock act from Gainesville hadn't made a record that resonated with me since 2006's Absolutely. Lighter in the Dark revitalizes their sound, taking the band in the most overtly "country" direction of their career. The result is a bona-fide summer soundtrack, crammed with road-trip-ready anthems ("Fall off the Map," "Run Highway Run"), classic rock throwbacks (the Eagles-flavored "Prettiest Girl at the Dance"), and dusky, lantern-lit ballads ("Ten Candle Days"). Suffice to say I've reached for this album a lot for runs or long drives on sunny days.
10. Brandy Clark - Big Day in a Small Town

Brandy Clark's sophomore record is a bit glossier than her debut (2013's 12 Stories), but don't mistake this album as a mainstream sellout maneuver. Clark is still one of the best songwriters in the country music genre, and this record includes at least five of the year's best compositions. Clark can spin a great chorus (the gorgeous and wistful "Homecoming Queen," or the anthem of heartbreak that is "Love Can Go to Hell"), but her secret weapon is the details: the son who can't talk about his late father until after he's had a couple drinks in "Since You've Gone to Heaven," or the single mother in "Three Kids, No Husband" whose only moments to herself come during smoke breaks at work. At her best, Clark's understanding of the beaten and downtrodden is almost Springsteen-level.

EP: Steve Moakler – Steve Moakler

If Steve Moakler's self-titled EP were a few songs longer, I would have been tempted to include it on this list. Moakler's brand of pop country is breezy summertime fare, but his unique voice and his eye for detail elevate his songs above anything and everything on country radio these days. "Summer without Her" is what Dashboard Confessional's Dusk and Summer might have sounded like if Chris Carrabba had taken a more Nashville-driven approach, while "Suitcase" has a hook that should make Moakler famous. Here's hoping that we'll see a full-length before year's end.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

"Will you disrupt this pattern from starting again?" How The Hotelier learn to take life's punches on 'Goodness'

There's a moment in the middle of "Opening Mail for My Grandmother," the standout track from the Hotelier's brand new album Goodness, where the band momentarily drops out, leaving Christian Holden alone for just a brief instant. "I'm coming for you," Holden sings. Already, the song is an eye of the storm amidst an emotive swirl of a record—the album's truest "ballad," and perhaps its only one. It's also the moment on the record that most breaks me in half, not necessarily because I can understand or perfectly interpret all of the words Holden is throwing at us. After all, Holden has always written in dense poetry, and Goodness finds them at their most artsy and impressionistic.

Rather, the song hits me because it captures the acceptance of knowing that someone you love is going to die. It may not be tomorrow, or next week, or even this year, but "Opening Mail for My Grandmother" is about coming to terms with the brevity of life. That might sound depressing, and the song itself is heartbreaking—at least to someone like me, who lost a grandparent recently. However, "Opening Mail" is ultimately a great song because it manages to fit uplift into the frame. The final lines of the song are the most beautiful, with Holden singing "They're keeping your space there, they're dying for you/We'll sing your good graces when they come for you/But until that day's here, I'm coming for you" in a striking lower register. The message is clear: cherish the moments with the people you love while you still can, because eventually, they run out.

That message is also more or less the theme of Goodness—or at least, it's the version of the theme that resonates with me most strongly. The basic idea I've taken from this album over the past week—and one that has been reinforced by album reviews or interviews with the band—is that goodness in life can be fleeting. Again, that statement might sound depressing, the perfect fodder for an album from the new torchbearers of the "emo" mantle. But think about it: how many things in life, good or bad, last forever? Friendships can fade; love stories can reach premature conclusions; the people we love can pass away into an afterlife we know nothing about. If you're lucky, you get to hold onto the goodness in your life for long, uninterrupted periods. If you're unlucky, you never get enough goodness.

On their last record, the Hotelier seemed like people lodged firmly in the latter category. 2014's Home, Like NoPlace Is There, was a masterful snapshot of a life where everything seems to be going wrong. Depression, abuse, suicide, death, and heartbreak hung over that record like taunting specters, standing perpetual guard. The record is only 36 minutes and nine songs long, but to press the play button or drop the needle is to accept that you are about to visit an intense emotional place. For me, that place is somewhere I can only visit every so often. As much as I love Home—and as proud as I was to write about it when AbsolutePunk ranked it as the best album of 2014—it's a record I have a hard time calling a favorite because of how harrowing it is.

I could never truly relate to Home, at least not in the way a lot of other listeners did. From the first time I heard it, I knew it was the kind of album that could come along and save you if you found it at the right time; the kind of album that could pull you through a rough patch in your life and make you feel like everything would somehow be okay again. Needless to say, that unnamable quality helped Home earn classic status in our scene, joining albums from the likes of Brand New and Jimmy Eat World. For me, though, it was more of a memory trip—a look back at the moments from my own life where I'd needed music to get me through. It wasn't something that was going to earn soundtrack status for me in 2014, the year where I married the love of my life and made a big reach to make the goodness in my own life as permanent as possible.

Goodness is at once both more and less accessible. On one hand, the album is at least partially a "love album." It serves up less of an emotional side hook than its predecessor, providing a journey that—while still melancholy—still feels ultimately uplifting. On the other hand, the songs on Goodness are less immediate than the ones from Home. There's still plenty to sing along to here, from the near-anthemic "Goodness, Pt. 2" to "You in This Light," which echoes with a vibe of early Jimmy Eat World. Even "Opening Mail," with its elegantly circuitous melody, makes you want to hum in harmony. There's nothing as "catchy" here as "The Scope of All This Rebuilding," though, or as immediately lyrically striking as "An Introduction to the Album."

The great thing about Goodness, though, is that it continues to unfold and envelope you as you continue to listen. With an impeccable sequencing that yields a near-hypnotic quality to the flow of the record, Goodness offers a journey that, while not nearly as intense as the one provided by Home, still feels remarkably complete. Once again, I can't claim to have parsed the meaning of Holden's lyrics completely. I don't think I will have after 100 listens, either, so I certainly haven't managed it after 10. Still, there are hugely resonant moments throughout this record, images of characters finding goodness and then letting it go, of reaching for love and then surrendering. "My eyes greet hers and hers do mine/And then this room becomes her shrine," Holden sings on "Piano Player. "Was kind of banking on a future that'd be involving you, but I couldn't ask this of you," Holden intones on "Two Deliverances." "I can't sit in your sun," Holden concludes on "Sun." The album is a constant push and pull, of finding the goodness in your life and then watching it fade away. The uplift comes from the fact that, usually, it seems to circle back.

Whatever love story Holden is telling here, it's pretty clear that it doesn't make it to the conclusion of "End of Reel." When Holden sings about the girl who is "singing her swan song again" and how "it got stuck in my head as the sound of you," there's a definite feeling that this girl is someone the narrator is never going to see again—not in this life, at least. The track, despite striking poetry about "dayglow blades scorched by hovering halos" and the "resonant calm" that echoes off the walls, is ultimately a breakup song. But the song's key line and rallying cry isn't "Washing away until I don't even cringe at the thought of you"; rather, it's "I don't know what I want, what I want's where I've been." Holden might have gotten his heart broken here, and the ultimate "swan song" he sings about probably wasn't even an amicable one. By the end of the album though, Holden knows one thing: he wants the goodness back.

Falling in love might end in a broken heart; friendships might start out strong, only to wither in later years; forging connections with other people might one day lead you to their gravesides, reflecting on mortality and pain. But the message of Goodness is that it's worth it to experience that pain and regret if you get to experience the goodness along the way. An album ago, Holden was "calling in sick" to a friend's funeral, unable to accept the loss. Here, he's getting up, brushing themselves off, and saying "hit me again." It's tough not to smile at the thought of such resilience.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

How Music Mended Broken Hearts: A Farewell to AbsolutePunk

Eight years ago this past February, I stumbled upon while scouring the internet for Butch Walker b-sides. By this point, I'd probably visited the website a few times for various pieces of news—my favorite artists list did include Jimmy Eat World and Jack's Mannequin, after all—but on that day in February 2008, I finally took the plunge and set up an account. Excuse the cliché, but little did I know that I'd just made a decision that would change my life in countless incredible ways. (or, as we call it around the forums) has meant different things to me at different times over the course of the last eight years. At first, it was little more than a source for b-sides and rare bonus tracks. The b-sides thread in the General forum was my main haunt—if not my only one. Then, it was my place to ruffle feathers and blow off steam online. I can't much fault the many trolls I have argued with and banned from the site over the years, because I used to be one of them.

But then, slowly, AbsolutePunk started to become my "home" online. It became the first site I hit every day when I came home from school, and the site I hung around in the evenings. Whether I was looking for new music, trying to find out about leaks, or chatting about longtime favorite bands and albums, became the ultimate outlet for my music obsession. I'd been a ravenous music fan since 2004, but most of my friends in real life didn't share the passion. That's not to say my best buds listened to bad music, but it was rare for me to have long, in-depth conversations about records or artists with friends, or to trade mixtapes or recommendations with people at school. Aside from my brother, there weren't many people in my life who followed music with the furor I did. That situation meant it was incredibly fulfilling and personal when I'd discover a new album that blew my mind, but it was also a solitary place to be.

AbsolutePunk gave me a way to talk to a whole slew of people who adored music as much as I did. These people were passionate about the same artists I was; they connected to music in the same visceral way that I did; and perhaps most importantly, they knew about artists and bands that I'd never even heard of. To say that hanging out on the forums at introduced me to a lot of new music would be an understatement. To give just a few examples, people on this site turned me on to (in rough chronological order) The Gaslight Anthem, Valencia, Copeland, Bon Iver, The New Frontiers, Lydia, The Damnwells, The Dangerous Summer, Cary Brothers, Chad Perrone, Charlie Simpson, Jason Isbell, The 1975, Kacey Musgraves, The Hotelier, Noah Gundersen, and Chris Stapleton. For anyone who knows me, has heard one of my playlists, or has read any of my writing over the past several years, just seeing the artists on that list should be enough to convey what this site meant to me. Perhaps more impressively, that list barely scratches the surface of the music I discovered on AbsolutePunk.

Eventually, AbsolutePunk evolved into something else for me. I posted on this site every day throughout college (even the day after I bombed out of my college major), always reading the reviews or chatting about Springsteen or JEW with other users. It was my place to write about music before I was really a writer at all. And then once I did start blogging, the forums were always one of the first places I would go to share my work. I did that for a year, from the summer of 2011 to the summer of 2012, slowly becoming more confident in myself and the words I wrote. It was always a treat to be bolstered along by compliments and thoughtful conversation from the people on this site.

Then, one day in July 2012, I posted a review of The Gaslight Anthem's Handwritten on my blog. As was customary by then, I quickly went over to the forums and dropped a link to the review in the official album thread. I didn't expect anything to come of it: the site already had a Handwritten review by then (shout out to Thomas Nassiff's 10.0 endorsement) and I was mostly aiming to continue the emphatic discussion about the record that I'd already been having with other users on the site.

But when I logged on to later that afternoon—at work, no less; always the slacker—I had a private message in my inbox titled with three simple words: "Contributing to AP." The message, sent by one-time staff member Matthew Tsai, was short and sweet: "Hey! I passed on your Gaslight review to some of the staff and a lot of us really dig how you write. Jason was wondering if you'd be interested in coming on staff and writing for us. Let me know!" I didn't need to think for more than a split second before typing out that, yes, I would be interested.

I could say "and then the rest was history" at this point, but I don't think that line would do justice to what writing for did for me, both personally and professionally. As fate would have it, I'd just switched my college major to professional writing (from classical voice) and reviewing records on AbsolutePunk was the perfect complement to that academic pursuit. Working for the site gave me an edge over my fellow students—not just in terms of resume, but also in that I had a chance to take all of the writing habits I was learning in the classroom and employ them in a practical environment. I progressed so quickly as a writer during my two semesters of senior year, and while a part of that has to be owed to my great professors, perhaps a bigger part was owed to this website.

Indeed, AbsolutePunk was the perfect place to develop my voice as a writer. Instead of being pinned down by assignments, I had the freedom to decide what I wanted to write about. Instead of dealing with deadlines, I could work projects on my own time and hone my reviews until they were precisely where I wanted them to be. Instead of being held to some bullshit standard of objectivity, I could be as blatantly personal and subjective as I wanted in my writing. Other publications around the internet might have had "better" writing or more "prestige" than we did at AbsolutePunk, but I fully believe that our staff consisted of the most honest and passionate music writers on the internet. And artists noticed.

Writing for AbsolutePunk taught me how to stay motivated and govern the quality, approach, and scope of my writing on my own terms—skills that have served me well in my current role as work-from-home freelance writer. More than that, though, writing for taught me to love music more deeply and not to be afraid of sharing those emotional connections with other people. Over the course of three and a half years as a staff member, I wrote 200 reviews (on the dot) and contributed dozens of other articles and features. The best of those—and the ones that tended to get the biggest response from readers—were the ones where I took the site's mantra of "Music Mends Broken Hearts" to…well, to heart. I spilled my exhilaration and fear about graduating college in pieces about Jimmy Eat World's Damage and Bruce Springsteen's The Wild, The Innocent, The E Street Shuffle; I reflected on past heartache every time I wrote about City and Colour; I went full fanboy and reviewed every single Butch Walker album in the span of a week; I talked about the life-changing power of music and mourned the loss of my grandfather in a retrospective piece about Jimmy Eat World's Futures; I talked about falling in love with my wife in my 10-year retrospective for Jack's Mannequin's Everything in Transit; I wrote myself to tears talking about how Born to Run had acted like a "hidden map of life" during my coming-of-age years; and I waxed poetic about learning life's big lessons not in the classroom, but at Bruce Springsteen's live shows. These pieces were incredibly special to me, and it was nothing short of life affirming to see that they were special to other people as well.

Reviews weren't the only thing that made being an AbsolutePunk staff member amazing, either. Everything from getting albums months early to shooting the shit with other staff in Slack to chatting with my favorite artists made this job a joy. How many people get to spend hours picking their heroes' brains about music? The remarkably in-depth conversations I had with Chris Carrabba, Chad Perrone, Brian Fallon, Noah Gundersen, Jason Isbell, Matt Nathanson, and Donovan Woods taught me more about songwriting and the musical art than two and a half years in music school combined. Suffice to say that those conversations played a big role in getting me to a place where I was ready to write and record my own album. More on that later.

And how poetic is it that, almost exactly seven years after I found AbsolutePunk while digging around for Butch Walker b-sides, Butch Walker himself called me up for an hour-long telephone conversation? That interview, about Butch's masterful 2015 release Afraid of Ghosts, is the kind of career highlight that I'm not sure I'll ever top. How can you beat a candid conversation with a guy you've worshipped since before puberty? How can you top an interview that comes together not because of a publicist, but because your hero reads your tweet, recognizes your name, and replies back "Dude, I'll do an interview with you!" Even getting your review retweeted by Taylor Swift can't quite rival that.
That's the thing about AbsolutePunk. We never necessarily did things by the book or the way that other publications did. In a lot of ways, we were amateurs. But when it comes to loving music, there's no such thing as being a professional. This place, from the forums to the staff all the way up to Jason Tate himself, was always a bastion of musical adoration the likes of which you couldn't find anywhere else on the internet. Now, the sun is setting on that bastion. Countless broken hearts have been mended by music and by the supportive community that AbsolutePunk offered, and now, it's time for the next adventure. Mission accomplished. Mischief managed.

As Jason said in his lengthy farewell post to AbsolutePunk, this ending is not a goodbye; rather, it's the end of one chapter and the start of another—the start of one that, hopefully, will be even better. When Jason first showed me in January and told me about his plans to "sunset" in favor of the new site, part of me was hit with the realization that something I had loved was ending. But another part—perhaps a bigger part—was excited about the future. I have never seen Jason as excited or as passionate as he has been in the run-up to Chorus. Since AbsolutePunk built its brand on passion, it's only logical that the next site would start there too.

Still, there are things I'll miss about I'll miss calling myself a Senior Editor of a major music publication. I'll miss organizing massive site features, like our staff-combined year-end lists. I'll miss going back and sorting through all of the content I wrote over there (though I've reposted almost everything here on this blog). But hey, at least I got a poetic ending. Last month, I posted my 200th and final album review on the website, of Brian Fallon's new solo album, Painkillers. Since I got hired to the site for writing about Fallon's main project, The Gaslight Anthem, closing out with another review of his work was a nice coming-full-circle moment for me. Now, I'm ready for what's next: the next review; the next interview; the next EOTY list where I write way too many words about the albums I loved; the next discovery on the forums; hopefully not the next kid telling us that it's AbsolutePUNK not AbsoluteSomeGenreOtherThankPunk.

But before we get to that, I would be remiss if I didn't cast one last look back on the entity that shaped my writing more than any other, or give one last thank you to all of the people who made it worth it. To everyone who ever read and enjoyed my reviews, challenged my way of thinking about music, recommended artists, or worked alongside me—thank you. You know who you are. Thanks especially to Jason Tate for the myriad of amazing opportunities this site has given me. You'll probably be hearing a lot of thank-you's to Jason over the next few days, and it's not hard to see why: was the place where many of us grew up and found our voices. Here's hoping there's some kid out there who will be able to let do what did for me.

Some (Almost) Final Statistics:

Why is there no "Minutes wasted arguing with fellow users" section?
I wish I had a total review word count here, because I'm sure it's just ridiculous.
My Final Post: 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Interview: Donovan Woods (February 10th, 2016)

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to speak with Canadian folk singer/songwriter Donovan Woods. We talked about Woods' fantastic new album, Hard Settle, Ain't Troubled, which is officially out today. We also spoke, in detail, about songwriting, co-writing, the idea of capturing a dichotomy of ideas in a single song, American country music, and Donovan's experiences writing songs for Tim McGraw and Lady Antebellum's Charles Kelley.
You've got a new album coming out in, what is it, two weeks now?

Yeah, I guess two weeks! The 26th, so what's that? Yeah, two weeks.

Anything planned for the day of the release?

I'm going to be on a tour, so I'll be playing in Winnipeg on that night. So it'll just be a show day and then back on the bus, but after this tour is over there'll be a big release party, probably in Toronto, in March I think.

Are you on a solo tour or are you touring with someone right now?

I'm opening for a fellow named Matt Anderson who's a blues artist from Canada. Haven't started yet, starting on Monday going all the way from BC to Halifax in Canada.

In the past few years your songs have appeared on albums by Tim McGraw and then the new one by Charles Kelley. Who else have you written for or written with?

I wrote a song that's on Billy Curington's record, he's a country guy. A bunch of Canadian artists. I written with a lot of Canadian country artists. People that aren't quite famous south of the (Canadian) border, but people that do well on the radio up here. And now I'm starting to write with all types of Nashville artists as well, but don't want to talk too much about it, because you never know if the song is going to make the record and you're sort of just waiting in the wings. But all types of people, big and small, which is very lucky.

So how does the experience of writing for other people--and especially since you've been writing with more Nashville artists recently--how did that influence the music that you were making for this new record?

Well this is my first record that's ever had co-writes on it. All three of my other records I wrote entirely by myself. I wrote these songs--five of these songs I wrote by myself and five of them I wrote with other people. So I've never had that before. I never recorded a song under my own name that I recorded with someone else. So that's a new experience. I don't know that two years ago I would have ever said I would have done that, but eventually you find the right people to write with, and then before you know it, you're leaving the room with a song that you might love and you might put on a record. Once you're writing with good people, you end up with good songs. Not surprising! So once that sort of changed, yeah, it was easy to see myself putting a co-written song on a record. And maybe that makes the songs a little bit more...impersonal? I don't know that it does. I'm not sure that it does. I'm not sure what it changes. I think that the best part about co-writing is you get a point of view that you don't have on your own. I don't know, are you a musician?


So you know how it is. You sort of play the same thing on the guitar, you sort of do what you do. You have your tricks, and it's really hard to break out of that. You're kind of trained, in a lot of ways. It's hard to break out of your patterns. And lyrically, I'm sure that you know it's kind of the same way: it's hard to break out of the phrasing that you use, and it's nice having another person there to get you outside of that. Then you can make something that's actually new and exciting. Hopefully!

Yeah, definitely! Yeah, when I go to write songs it's always usually like, I start with the same chords and I find myself writing similar melodies so, I can definitely picture--I've never written with another person, at least not yet--but I can imagine.

Yeah, before I done a bit of it, I thought...I couldn't imagine it. It seemed so, like such a crazy idea to me. It's fun now to be a lot more comfortable with it and, yeah, I don't have that problem anymore where I sit down and I play something that's the same when I write with somebody else. The other function of it is that it just gives you an appointment to go do it. But I'm old, I have a whole bunch of responsibilities, so I really need to structure my time in writing. Because if I don't...I have all types of cool stuff in my house! (Laughs) Like, I would go watch TV, you know? I would almost rather do anything, because writing songs's pretty hard! So having a writing appointment is pretty convenient once you're an old dude. I'm not that old, but you know, once you have a whole bunch of responsibilities.

When you sit down to write a song, do you say to yourself "I'm going to look to have this cut by someone else" or do you say "This one's for me," or do you just write the song and see where it goes?

You just write. I mean, the funny part is that any time I've ever sat down thinking "I want to try to write a song for X artist," it never works. It's just...I don't know, you are usually not rewarded by the songwriting gods for doing that, and deservedly so. It just seems to me that sitting down with a good idea and sitting down with someone to try to get that idea to the best place, try to tell a story in the best way you can, try to represent an idea in the best way to can, or like map out a feeling, or...trying to do that accurately is always more rewarding to yourself, at the end of the day, and always more rewarding in that people want to cut it. And the ones that I've had cut we didn't think anybody was going to cut. When we were writing that "Portland, Maine" song that Tim McGraw cut, we didn't think anybody was going to record that. It was too sad! We were like "No one's ever going to like this." We turned it into the publishers, they were like "No one's ever going to cut this." And it made sense, because it was too sad, it was too...sort of a tiny little story, a tiny little narrative. You know, it's not what's on country radio, it's not what country artists are doing right now.

But the ones that you write and feel passionate about tend to be the ones that other people feel passionate about too, so I try to not prescribe anything and just sit down and try to write a good idea. To write a song that I can be proud of and don't have to be ashamed of. Because I've certainly written a lot, and there are songs on the radio in Canada that I'm ashamed of. (Laughs) And the feeling of someone like Charles cutting a song like "Leaving Nashville" and the response that that gets from people is infinitely more rewarding than making some money off a song that you want to blow your brains out when you hear it.

Last year we got two one-off singles from you: we got "Portland, Maine," your version of it, and we got "That Hotel." And neither of those are on this album.

Yeah, well "Portland, Maine" will be like a bonus track: you'll get it when you get the record I guess.

Yeah, I saw that on the iTunes version.

But it's not a real...not really on the record.

Yeah, not on the vinyl.

Oh yeah, that's right.

Was there a specific reason that you decided to leave those two off?

Well, I felt that "That Hotel" was a bit more...I mean, this record wasn't really about me, and I think the ones on this record me, they're about me. And it felt like those two were a little bit not about me. Although, "That Hotel" is...I mean, at the moment, it's becoming more and more about me, but... (Laughs) I also just thought that the mood of it didn't really suit this record. And I like it as a standalone song. I like that it was released as just one sad as hell song. (Laughs) So I didn't want to mess with that. I just thought I would leave it alone and let people enjoy it for what it is.

So speaking of "Leaving Nashville," that song is sort of fascinating to me, because it provides this very sobering view of Nashville—and sort of by extension, a sobering view of the American Dream. What inspired you to write that song? And was it coming from a cynical place or was it more like, this is just how life in this city and trying to be a professional songwriter is?

Yeah, I think that one of the things I'm always trying to do with records and songs is get that dichotomy of experience accurately, just in terms of how bad things can feel good and good things can feel bad. Something can be awful and feel fine at the same time. Both of those thoughts can be present and true simultaneously. So I think that loathing a place and loving a place is an idea that was interesting to me, and that's sort of what I was trying to represent.

I think that, like a lot of places, it was an idea that I'd had for a really long time, and I had pitched it at a couple other writers, and they didn't want to write it with me because they didn't quite understand it. So I took it to Abe [Stoklasa], and Abe understood it immediately. We wrote it in about 30 or 40 minutes. So it resonated with him.

I think the idea, to me, I didn't want it to be cynical. I didn't want to be, like, shitting on Nashville. I think that there's something about that place, and a lot of places in America, that there isn't in Canada. Like, we don't have towns like that in Canada, where it's ruthless and it's like a hustle to get to the top, but that can reward you in such a fantastic way. It can be simultaneously depressing, the bottom of the barrel of these people trying to make money on songs. But at the same time, there's just this fantastic hope, this crackling energy of possibility. And New York is like that. Los Angeles is like that. These towns that can be loathed and loved at the exact same time.

I think that certainly is what Nashville represents to me. There's just so many people there doing exactly what I want to do. Ever since I was a kid, I've wanted to go there and write songs, and the first thing I Googled when I got the internet was Warner Capitol, because I heard that that was a company that paid songwriters just to write songs. So I think there's something about it that I love, and I was just to represent that dichotomy of feeling about that place. Sorry, that's a very long answer!

No, that's great! That's sort of what I got from it, is the dichotomy, so it's cool to hear you explain that.

Yeah, it just felt like it was a good way to represent the feelings of it, you know? Just to list a bunch of really sort of on-the-line can-be-awful things, and then saying it's doesn't matter: you're still never leaving. Ironic for me, because I don't even live there and I leave all the time. (Laughs) It's kind of ironic when all you do is leave!

Yeah, and speaking of irony, that song is also the closer on that Charles Kelley record. Is it ironic to you that this song, where it's like "if it ain't a single it don't me nothing," this was one of the ones that you wrote that another artist ended up picking up and recording?

Yeah, I think it's funny. I don't think it'll be a single! (Laughs) I still don't think it'll be a single. But we also tried to make the song--like, it says "pour out your heart in 3:20"--we also tried to make the song exactly three minutes and 20 seconds. I don't think Charles' version is that exact length. But you know, I think that's part of the appeal of it. I mean, to hear Charles sing "your friends are friends with country stars," to have a country star singing that know, there's something really interesting about it. And it's got layers to it that you can think about. I think that's why it's resonating with people. That's why we liked it when we wrote it. We just thought "Wow, there's a lot of shit in here. There's a lot of stuff going on in this song." I don't think there's much...I don't want to, you know...I love Nashville, but there's not a lot of stuff like that coming out of Nashville. Kacey Musgraves and Chris Stapleton. And Jason Isbell, you could say, is part of Nashville, but in a way he's not. But, there just aren't very many songs that you can live inside. But that's not...not all songs have to be like that, you know? Like, there's value in Luke Bryan. He's really great. Those guys are amazing at what they do. But I love a song that you can get lost in.

Yes. Absolutely. I agree. So, when these artists like Tim and Charles cut your songs, do you meet with them or speak with them? Or do you just get a call from your publisher and it's like "Hey, someone wants this song"? I've always been curious about how that works.

Sometimes it's either one. I mean, the one with Tim, neither of us know--Abe Stoklasa and I wrote that "Portland, Maine" song too--neither of us know Tim. So, yeah, that one was just our publisher calling and saying "He likes it." And I never spoke him at all about it, until briefly later. But it was just that: he said he was gonna cut it, and then we waited around to hear it. And I didn't even hear it until the record came out. And I bought the record the day it came out, went looking for it.

So sometimes it's like that. And other times it's like...Abe knows Charles and has written for him before. Abe wrote a song on Lady Antebellum's last record. The best song on the record. So Abe knew Charles and had a relationship with Charles, and we sent him the work tape of the song. And we never demoed the song, he just cut it off the work tape. So then we were in communication with him about whether he was going to use it and whether he liked it, so we knew he was thinking of putting it on the record. Eventually I heard the studio version, but I heard that a long while ago, before it came out. And I've since written with Charles on a bunch of other songs.

So yeah, it's either/or, and sometimes it's both, you know? A lot of times, cuts in Nashville come from personal relationships with artists, though. The Tim McGraw one, with him completely not knowing us, is pretty rares. It's also pretty rare for him to pick a song from two writers who had never had a cut before. But it happens in all different ways and that's what's so fun about it.

Yeah, that's great. So there's a song in the middle of this record that, when you said "a song you can live inside," it made me think of this. Because this song kind of reminded me of Jason Isbell, actually. But it's "They Don't Make Anything in That Town." And it's really desolate and heartbreaking and pretty much made me stop what I was doing and pay attention because it's that kind of song. What inspired that for you? Is that autobiographical.

Yeah. Thanks, I'm glad that you like that song! Those are stories from my hometown. I don't have that negative feeling of my hometown. I go there pretty frequently. But I feel like it could be pretty hard for some people. But that's sort of just a pastiche of things that I heard about happening in the town, but things that didn't happen to me. But just sort of trying to add up to something that's indicative of a bigger story. That's all I'm trying to do. Pretty depressing, though, that song. Pretty depressing. (Laughs)

Yeah, it's a tough one. (Laughs) I was actually sort of surprised that that one didn't end the record, but then I remembered that "Leaving Nashville" was on here.

Yeah, that was the big argument. I kind of wanted "They Don't Make Anything in That Town" to end the record, but I kind of let my producers...I like to let my producers have a big fan track order, because they've listened to it more than anybody. I just feel like they need a say. I don't know, I feel like every song I've ever written is probably a "last song on the record," to be honest with you, so it never surprises me whichever one gets picked.

Just a lot of sad. Yeah, you gotta end the record sad.

Yeah, I don't know what... (Laughs) Why is that true? I wonder why that's try that it's always sad at the end of the record.

I think it comes from wanting to end on a ballad, and then a lot of ballads are sad.

Yeah, I guess. So many times though, when somebody cuts one of my songs and I see the tracklisting, it's like number 11 or number 10. And then you know, you know they're never singling it. (Laughs)

I mean, with Charles at least, that song wasn't a pre-release thing, but he did the one mic, one take video, so...

Yeah, he did the video for it and all that. Yeah, that song, people will know enough about that song to sort of reach out to hear it, and all the reviews are about it. But you know, you get to wanting to hear, I wanna hear my songs on American country radio. I've heard myself in Canada. I've just dreamed of having a song [on American radio]. I think I will eventually, but I don't know if it's that song. That song is pretty sad for the radio.

Yeah, I think if there would be one on hear that I would call a "radio song" for country, it would probably be "The First Time," because that one has a theme that a lot of people can relate to, I think.

Well maybe! Who knows? That one's pretty depressing too, though. (Laughs)

Yeah, but it's depressing in a different way, I guess.

Would you say that working with Nashville artists pushed you toward a more American country sound for this record? Because it sort of feels more Americana to me than your past ones.

Yeah, I always wanted to have those instruments. If I could have afforded them on the last record, I probably would of had them. But having pedal steel and having all different types of players is primarily a function of having a bigger budget for this record. But yeah, I think certainly in the last four years that I've been writing in Nashville, I've come to appreciate country music more than I did. And I always did appreciate it. I grew up in a town where everyone likes country music, so, I was never...I always liked it. But, I think that's probably fair to say.

When you write a song and someone else records it for their record, is there a feeling of awkwardness when you decide to put it on your record too?

Yeah, I don't know. That "Leaving Nashville" song, I just loved it. I think if I didn't know Charles, I would have...I think kind of the courtesy that you're giving another artist is to let them release it first. And that's sort of part of the deal. I wouldn't have released it before him, that's for sure. But to say that is also silly, because my reach is so incredibly small in comparison to him. So if I release it, nobody's going to hear it and if he releases it, everybody's going to hear it. Part of it is just the attention. I wanted to make sure that he was able to release it first and that he got most of the attention for it. But that's a song I love and I definitely want to have it on my record. Charles knows that I'm an artist and he has my records. So there was no weird discussion about it. I said "I'd like to record it too, for my record" and he said "Of course." It's kind of a pretty normal thing in Nashville, so there doesn't have to be too much awkwardness about it.

I think Chris Stapleton said something about it, because he...that "Whiskey and You" song on Traveller, that was a Tim McGraw recording too, back in 2008 or something. And he's like "It's a great song, anyone can record it and it's gonna be new anyway because it's a different interpretation."

That's part of it. That's written in the DNA of Nashville is that a song is a song and you can't keep anybody from cutting it. We've sort of fallen off that in the music industry in that, now we seem to think that everybody should write their own songs. But we used to know that not everybody is capable or even really wants to. But there's really something to be said for amazing song interpreters. But the idea now is that, if you're singing it, you should have written it, which is kind of a new idea, and we're a little bit silly to hold it so dear, you know?

Yeah, definitely. Sort of among the elitists that view country music as "the mainstream stuff" and "everyone else," it's like, "well these guys aren't writing their songs, so is there artistic integrity to that?" But it is kind of a pointless argument, I realize, because most people aren't even going to know.

Most people don't know, and nobody''s not a lie, it's not a fraud or anything. I mean, Frank Sinatra didn't write his songs, and everybody likes him. Elvis didn't write all those songs. Even the Beatles sang other peoples' songs early on. But, you know, ever since the Beatles and ever since Bob Dylan, there's sort of a "real artists write and perform their own songs" [belief], and I don't if that's necessarily true. I think we can do ourselves a bit of a disservice. Nobody gives pop people a hard time for doing it. But I think sort of the authenticity of country people is that they wrote these songs and went out and did it. But I don't know. Hearing Charles sing "Leaving Nashville," that's his song. That's his song, you know? There's no argument from about that. He sings it as well as anybody could sing that song. And even Tim singing "Portland, Maine," was like, "Of course he wanted to sing that song." There's a real ability in identifying those songs that you're going to sound good on, and following through with that, and that shouldn't be discounted. It's just bullshit: that's real talent.

And Charles, his version of "Leaving Nashville," he just does some different stuff with the vocals and phrasing, to the point where they're definitely different songs.

Well certainly from mine, they are definitely different songs. Mine is, I think, the saddest version.

Yep, yours is sadder.

But his is...yeah, his is almost defiant. But they're both great. When I heard his, I was over the moon because he really went for it. His felt important, and that's my favorite thing.

I read an interview that said you had the title for this record and you've had it for a bit, and I was wondering what the title means to you and why you decided to choose it.

I always have the title way before the rest of the record. I have the title for the next one all set up too, I think. But I don't know: it was two songs, "Hard Settle" and "Ain't Troubled" were two songs I was working on by myself but never really finished. They just weren't good enough to make it on the record. But to me, it pretty accurately described the first half and the second half. I tried to group the songs in such a way that the first half is "Hard Settle" and the second half is "Ain't Troubled." I just like the way those words sound. I like the dichotomy, that one sounds like a struggle and the other songs like everything's fine. I think, to me, that's the interesting part of life: that people will cope. And I think, to me, it's about coping and feeling like you're not bothered by the hustle, not bothered by the struggle.

Interview: Brian Fallon (February 4th, 2016)

Last week, I had the chance to sit down and chat on the phone with the great Brian Fallon. The interview runs a range of topics, including the inspiration behind Fallon's folk-heavy new solo album Painkillers (due March 11th), working with Butch Walker, the uncertain future of The Gaslight Anthem, favorite Springsteen songs, and the intriguing possibility of an Elsie: Part II.
You've done a bunch of solo shows already, where you've been playing all of the songs on this record, plus some Horrible Crowes stuff and a cover or two, but no Gaslight material. How did you feel fans were responding to the songs?

So far, it's been good. You know, it's a lot to ask of people to go out and just play new songs that they don't know, and expect them to be quiet and have an attention span of any kind. But they've been doing really well, and they've been just kind of absorbing the music, which is cool because I've always kind of thought of myself and my friends as music listeners. We kind of absorb everything and pay attention to what's going on, and I'm finding out the audience is doing that as well. They're kind of shifting with me, which is really more than you could ever ask of anybody.

You've always had a folk-leaning song or two on the Gaslight albums, and there's plenty of Americana influence, but you guys have never gone full folk or alt-country. What drove you in that singer/songwriter direction for this album?

Well I think that's where I started playing music, in general, when I was really young and before I'd decided anything on my own about what musical taste I had. So, it kind of seemed natural, if you're going to try something new, to start from the beginning. And go back to "what did I get into music for in the beginning?" And it was also a little bit of a re-focusing as well. You know, why did I start doing this in the beginning? And what made me happy about it? And what did I get enjoyment from?

A few of these songs turned up, in different forms, as part of the Molly and the Zombies project a few years ago, but you made it clear at the time that you weren't planning on doing an album for Molly. What's the story behind that side project and how did you know that...I mean, were you saving those songs for the solo record, or did you just not think you were ever going to end up using them for an album project?

I knew that, at the time, I wasn't going to do anything with it. And I was just sitting there, thinking of the songs as I was going, because we got a show offer from the Bouncing Souls to do the Home for the Holidays thing, and they wanted me to do it by myself. But I didn't really have songs, and I didn't want to just go and do acoustic Gaslight songs, because I didn't think that would be that cool for that kind of crowd. So I decided, "I'm just going to kind of make up a band."

And then I called a couple of my friends to play in it, and it sort of...quickly, I had the idea that when I used to go to shows—and like house shows and VFW Hall shows—and I would see bands. You know, you would see a new band and you couldn't...maybe they had a demo tape and that was it. And you had to wait for a record and there wasn't any record, and it was just, if you liked the songs, you went and saw them again.

So I kind of had this idea that, what if we just made a band and played some songs and I don't know if there's ever going to be a record or any kind of recorded versions. And if people want to see it again, they just come check it out.

That was the initial idea behind Molly and the Zombies. And then it kind of fizzled because I was just so busy with Gaslight, and then I, I didn't really want to do another band. It's's a lot of bands, you know?! I can't do them all at once, so I sort of said...once I knew that Gaslight was going to take a break and I was going to do some sort of record—because right away, well I gotta do something. I'm not just going to sit here and do nothing for a while.

So I decided that I would take all the bands that I had, the side projects, and kind of wrap them into one. And then I thought awhile about recording those Molly and the Zombies songs. I was like, "Maybe I shouldn't? Maybe I should just make new songs and have it only be new songs?" But then I was like, "Well these songs are good though, I don't want to throw them out." And the people who know Molly and the Zombies is...I mean, there might be 200 people who know who that is. (Laughs) You know, I don't think that the rest of the world is going to be too disappointed. You know what I mean? Like, it's gonna be a new song! The reach of Molly and the Zombies is not that far. (Laughs)

Right, yeah, the version of those songs I have on my computer I think is like the Red Bull Sessions or something, so...

Yeah, they're just live. We just went in there and played them. And the thing is that the songs sound a little bit different now. They're not

Yeah, they're definitely not the same.

No. And they kind of feel different, and I felt good about that. You know, I explained that to [producer] Butch [Walker] when I was going to go record them. I was like, "You gotta make 'em sound different, or else there's no point in recording them."

Right. Yeah, one of it "Long Drives" that has different verses completely?

Yes, it's a totally different song. That one, I just kind of...I was like "I don't know if I'm just going to...if I'm going to put this one on there"—I struggled with whether to put it on there or not—and I said "Alright, well this one I'm going to draw the line at." If I'm going to put this on there, I can't record it the way that it was, because I didn't feel that it went along with the rest of the songs. And there's people who would probably disagree with that, know, I was kind of the only one there to ask! I figured it would be better if I was going to put three of them on there that I would change the whole thing and rewrite it right now, as a fresh song.

Yeah, because I was listening to it, and I think "Long Drives" was the one I liked the most from the Molly and the Zombies thing, but I hadn't listened to it in awhile...

Yeah, it's one of my favorites too.

So then I put it on, and when the verse came on I was like, " this even the same song?" And then it got to the chorus, which was familiar. But yeah, that was pretty cool to hear.

It's like a little adjustment period. But then I think, once it settles in...I would say to people that like the old version, I would say I like the old version too. I like them both. But just give it a second, because once it sinks in with you I think it's kind of cool.

So, speaking of Butch, full disclosure: I'm a huge fan of his music, been a huge fan for like a decade, and I interviewed him last year when he released Afraid of Ghosts, so I was excited when I heard you were recording with him. I was wondering how you ended up working with him and what that was like compared to some of the people who have produced the Gaslight albums, like Brendan O'Brien and Mike Crossey and Ted Hutt.

Well, Butch came about mostly through friend recommendations. That's how his name got thrown in the pot. Because I was sort of looking around for a producer, and I said "You know, I probably should work with somebody that I haven't worked with before, because I don't want to repeat anything that I've done." I didn't want it to be...I didn't want it to get the Gaslight treatment. I didn't want the record to have that, which people will automatically do. I find that, if you've done a band for a long time, people will...before you've even played a could have a disco record and they would put the slapback vocal on it, because that's what Gaslight does. And you'd just be like, "No, come on!" Don't just rehash the same thing. Then we might as well call up the guys and get them in here.

Right, for sure.

And if you're going to do something know, I figured we would try something different. And when I talked to Butch, it was real easy. He started coming up with ideas right away. He was like "Okay, you've always done a little bit of reverb or echo on the vocals, so we're going to do nothing on the vocals." You know, we're gonna leave them...just bare. And then, he was just like "We're just going to go in and record it, pretty much on the floor, and see how we do with it." And it was pretty immediate. So running into him and having him be such a fan of...of music in general, that was really easy to work with.

A lot of guys that we've worked, Brendan is super good at the rock thing. He's really great at big rock sounds and stuff like that. And Ted is kind of...he's just another world. Ted's really...he does everything from the heart. Ted's really artistic and he's got a whole way about him. I love working with Ted, actually. And Mike is like a sound guy. Mike loves sounds. And this, it was totally like...get in there and don't worry about anything and just sort of sit down, and do it, and leave the mistakes in. That's foreign to me: usually the mistakes are gone.

Right, yeah! That's really cool. And Butch plays some guitar on this record too, right?

Yeah, it was like me and Butch just playing guitar! Pretty much the whole record is just me and Butch playing guitar. (Laughs)

That's really cool. So, I personally really enjoyed Gaslight's last record, Get Hurt. And I think I spoke to Benny for that one the morning it came out, and he was super excited about it. And then it got super mixed reviews and some pretty harsh pans from like Pitchfork and Slant and those guys. Did that in any way lead to the band's decision to go on a hiatus instead of keeping up with the every-two-year release strategy?

I wouldn't say that those reviews gave know, they didn't come into the band. I don't think you can make your band decisions based on what one or two people think. And I would definitely say that...that kind of thing, you can't let that play into what your band's decisions are. But I'm not going to sit here and say, personally, that that didn't bother me. I mean, for sure it did. And I think the guys took it a lot better than I did. Like Benny for instance, he's got a great head on his shoulders where he...he kind of was like "Yeah, but that's just what a few people think." Like, we were doing something a little oddball-y. Of course people are going to do that. And he's like "Some people are gonna love it, some people are gonna hate it," but he's like "I was ready for that."

And, you know...I agreed with him on that aspect. But I also felt that it got a little personal. It got a little bit more...not necessarily about the band or the record, but about what [the critics] thought I was doing. You know, like what my intentions were on some of them. And I was like...these are people I've never met. That's a low blow to be throwing on somebody you've never met. I wouldn't say that kind of stuff about someone I hadn't spoken to, or done an interview with, or whatever. I think you can make an assessment based on a record, but you can't make an assessment on a person's intentions, you know? That seems a little far-fetched, and to be honest, a little self-righteous.

But you guys toured a lot in support of that record, right? Like, I don't know if it was the most touring you ever did, but it seemed like you were on the road for awhile and there were multiple tours. And at the shows I went to, at least, it seemed like the fan reception for those songs was pretty good still.

Yeah, it was a divided thing. I don't want to say it was like, all of the critics didn't like it, because some people said it was awesome. And that seemed to be the dividing line: it was either people thought it was awesome, or people just didn't like it at all. So there wasn't really a middle ground which...I guess that's good? But the kids at the shows seemed to like it, and that was, I thought, encouraging.
Because truthfully, I'm not writing songs for reviewers or magazines. I'm writing songs for myself and for the audience that we play for. That's who I feel matters in the big picture. That's always been the start of it: you're trying to communicate with your audience directly. And so those are the people that you're shooting for. And so they seemed to embrace it, which is cool. But yeah, there was definitely a divide. I think we got some of the harshest criticism but then some of the praise was pretty good too. It was mixed, and we hadn't done that in awhile. People kind of tend to like the records that we had put out prior to that. We were lucky in that sense, that people seemed to really gravitate toward the other records.

So what is there a next thing for Gaslight right now, or are you sort of just playing it by ear? I know Sink or Swim turns 10 next year, so I was wondering if you guys were going to get into the 10-year tour thing?

Oh no. We're not usually the kind of band to sit around and dwell on those sort of things. I think it's cool if people do that. Mile-markers and stuff like that. But I don't know if that would be something that we would do, because it would just be doing it "Just because." Like, unless there was a reason to do it. You know, unless we all got super pumped on it and were like, "Alright, we're gonna go out and do this."

But as of right now, there's not really plans to do anything, because there hasn't been...there's just not the "What's next?" feeling, you know? What do you do now? To me, if you ask me, I can't imagine a record that we could write that would be better than 59 Sound or Senor and the Queen, actually. Those two records to me—I like all the records—but those two records to me are great. I love them. And I don't know what I can do that's better than that. And I think that, until I found something that I think is on par to that, I don't think I would try to touch it, because I don't want to do anything that's gonna damage the band as we go on. And I feel that everyone else kind of agrees with me on that. And they sort of said, "Well, if we don't have another idea that we all feel strongly about, then maybe we should just do nothing and that's the best bet." You know, rather than just ruin something. Especially half-hearted. That just seems like a big slap in the face to everybody, including the band and myself.

Yeah, especially because you sort of had the routine going where you did a record, and then you went and toured for awhile, and had maybe a few months off, and then you did another record. And it was two years, pretty much down the line. So...

Yeah. I don't think you can do that over and over.

At some point you earn yourself a break.

I do think that. Because, if you just do it just for the sake, why are you doing it? Are you doing it to pay your bills? And then I don't think that's that cool, you know? I don't think it's something you should do. Bill Armstrong from Side One Dummy said the coolest thing to me one time, like, years ago. And this was when there was no money coming in at all, so it was a funny thing to say. But he said "Never put your commerce before your art." And I just always remembered that. I was before commerce, that's the thing. And you have to make the music first from a love of doing the music, rather than "Oh, well, I've got my bills to pay so I better put out a record so people can buy it." That sounds disgusting to me right now, actually saying that out loud. (Laughs)

And, look, I'm not trying to say...we're not a punk band, as far as being...because I don't want to be disrespectful to bands that are punk bands, you know? And that's why I say that. But we do have an ethic that we came up with that's like: look, you don't do this on somebody else's back. You do it for the love, and that's why you do it. And like Tim Barry says, "You play for the lovers, that's what you do." And you know, unless you're 100% sure and backing it, then I don't think you should do anything.

So that's why it's more like, Gaslight decided "Okay, let's just shut up for now, because we don't have anything on the plate that we're pumped about." I'm not sitting on American Idiot in my back pocket or something. I'm not going to release record like that. I think that's an awesome record, American Idiot. Green Day had this big long career, and then they did that, which was pretty...that's surprising. Late in a band's career, to have such a great record come out of them? And so inspired? And I'm not sitting on that right now. (Laughs) I'm kind of sitting on nothing. I don't have any ideas. So that's why, I think...the only idea I would have is to sort of be like, "Alright, I guess that Gaslight sounds like 59 Sound, so let's kind of rehash that." But, to me, that sounds awful. I don't think anybody would want to hear that.

Wow, yeah, I think that's a good way of looking at it. Getting back to the solo record a bit, what inspired your songwriting this time around? I did notice there were a few songs coming from a female perspective, which I thought was interesting.

The whole thing came from the old songwriting tradition that I grew up on, like folk music and singer/songwriter music and that kind of stuff. Because I don't Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen, I guess they're rock bands, but they're more singer/songwriters. That's what they are. And those guys and all the folk music and even like Wilco and that kind of stuff...I was going back to where I started writing songs from for this one. So it sort of felt really fresh to me—fresh and familiar at the same time—that I could go and delve into these things I hadn't fully gotten to explore previously in my career.

Someone from the site wanted me to ask this: do you have a favorite Bruce Springsteen song?

Oh yeah, I've got a ton of them, actually. A lot of my favorites are really on the Tracks box set. Like that first CD of the Tracks box set. There's this one tune that I always go back to called "Zero and Blind Terry." And I just...I love that song. I feel like it encapsulates everything that Bruce was doing that was different and new, all in one song. It's six or seven minutes long, but it''s so rad. And when you listen to that song, you can totally hear how songs like "Jungleland" and "Born to Run" and Thunder Road" and these epics that would come in later. But this song is like the rawest version of a beginning of that, and to me, that's so exciting. It's like hearing the first Against Me! record: it's so rad and raw.

Yeah, it's nuts some of the stuff he didn't put on records.

I know right? (Laughs) There's some good songs!

Are you catching this River tour, by any chance?

I'm not, because I've been traveling around so much. I keep going on tour and I keep missing the shows. But I did just get the box set, that River box set?

Yeah, my brother got that for Christmas. It looked pretty great.

Yeah, I haven't watched [the DVDs] yet, but it's pretty cool. I just bought it.

Yeah, I'm heading brother and I are going to see him in Kentucky I think in two weeks now? Which...I mean, I haven't seen him in like four years, so I'm pretty excited about that.

That's awesome. Last time I saw him was in Nashville. We were recording Get Hurt and he played down at the area there, the Bridgestone Arena. And we all took off early in the session. We were like "Let's go!" And we all went to see Bruce Springsteen. It was cool.

That's great!

(Laughs) We just like, bailed out of our own record to go see Bruce. Like "Forget this, let's go."

Did he know you guys were there? Did he like, call you up to the stage or anything?

Yeah! No, he didn't call me up to the stage, but he knew we were there. We let him know that we were coming and then he was being cool to us and it...he's really cool. I mean, he's real cool to us too, which is nice.

So Jason Tate, I think you've talked to him before, he runs AbsolutePunk. And his favorite record of yours is Elsie, the Horrible Crowes record. So I was wondering, on his behalf, do you ever see there being another Horrible Crowes record? Or is it sort of at this point like, if you're going to write something that's not Gaslight it's probably just going to be solo?

Well, I mean, if I was going to do another Horrible Crowes record, it would probably be under my own name, just for the reason that I gave before, so that it's all wrapped up into one. But I definitely have a desire to do a "part two" of that, and that was my first idea when Gaslight was like "Okay, we're gonna take a break." My first idea was like, "Maybe I can do another Horrible Crowes record. But I couldn't think of anything in that genre that would be better than Elsie, so I was like...I don't know if I want to start diving into that one. Because that's special to me. That record is...I love that record! And I still listen to it, even. So for me, I would have to get into it, and really see if I could find something that was as good as that. I would probably just do it under my name, but it's definitely on the plate to do something like that again.

And Ian Perkins is still touring with you for this anyway, right?

Yeah, he's always there. So yeah, it wouldn't change anything. Like, Ian would still have a part of it, and he would still...everything would stay the same. It would just be the name on the record that would be different, but everything else would still be the same record. I mean, I'd probably call Ted for that too, and say "Well, you gotta do this next one, because we did the first one." I would probably get exactly the same people and not change a thing.

Right, yeah, totally. But I'm pretty pleased that you went the country route more for this one, because I think it really, the instrumentation is really nice. On songs like "Honey Magnolia," like, I really like that guitar solo in there.

Yeah, me too! That's the thing: you sort of have to just obey what you feel is coming out of you at the time. You can't really control it. So, I felt like [the Americana-influenced sound] was the thing, and I had a lot of things that I'd always wanted to do—like what you were saying, writing in the perspective of a girl. And that's part of the folk tradition: taking on characters and trying to empathize and see from their point of view. And that was really calling and gnawing at me, and I really...I just knew that this was the time and I had to sit down and do this record.