Interview: Gaslight Anthem
Punk Rock is about being courteous? Humbled to be mentioned in the same sentence as Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan? They don’t know the secret to their own success? We’re clearly well out of Razorlight territory here… Instead, I had the pleasure of catching up with one of 2008’s most critically acclaimed bands, the Gaslight Anthem. With a hefty European tour underway, a hit album (‘The ’59 Sound’) under their belts and an approaching date with one Bruce Springsteen Esq. at London’s Hyde Park, 2009, I got the chance to ask bassist Alex Levine about the boss and the prospect of a new album.
Rivmixx: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, you guys are on one hell of a tour. Where are you now?
AL: Yeah it’s pretty crazy, but it’s going really well. We’re going all over Europe, we’re in the Netherlands right now. It’s pretty cool here.
R: You’ve got a massive show coming in up in Hyde Park with ‘the Boss’, how are you feeling about the gig? It’s got to be one of the largest shows you’ve played…
AL: Yeah I really can’t understand how it feels… It probably just won’t hit me until just before we go on. Right then it’ll feel like a pretty massive shock. I really don’t know though, I can’t comprehend it.
R: Have you met the guy yet?
AL: Yeah About 3 years ago he came to a show we were playing with Against Me. He actually came with his son, he was a really nice guy, but he probably won’t remember… [3 years down the line…] Yeah right, who would have known?
R: Would you ever consider working together with Springsteen? I think a lot of people would be interested to hear that…
AL: Who knows? [Laughs] I’m sure we won’t say no. If we’re asked, then yes of course, it just depends you know.
R: You have been compared to Springsteen more times than you can count. Obviously, there are certain similarities in the song-writing, but why else do you think this is the case? Is the influence rooted in a shared background perhaps? Be it location, situation etc.
AL: It’s probably a combination of a lot of different things. You just really can’t lie about where your influences come from, if they’re really that strong they definitely come out in your music.
R: I read that ‘Red at Night’ is a tweaked version of (Billy Bragg & Wilco arranged) Guthrie tune ‘Way Over Yonder’. Do you feel in anyway that you’re modern inheritors of the folk tradition?
AL: That’s a great compliment, that you brought that up… we just go down the line down the line, we’re big fans of Joe Strummer and The Clash and all the songwriters, Bob Dylan, Springsteen etc. I guess time will tell with us, it’s just a really humbling experience to get compared to any of them. Like I said, your influences come out and those are by far our biggest influences. We really don’t have a song plan, we kinda just play how we wanna play and it just comes out.
R: You’re famous the nostalgic spin of your songs. Do you reckon given the current political/economic climate that the West is pining for a more innocent time?
AL: Yeah, I think really worldwide, I mean, I look around and we’re travelling basically every country in Europe, and you really see how badly hit everyone is, especially in the UK. I think everyone’s kind of in the same boat. I don’t really know if it’s our job to say, but people find solace in that [nostalgia].
R: Your website mentions your ‘cultish fan-base.’ Do you have any theories as to what inspires this following? Is it just treating them well?
AL: Well we personally know the people that run the fan site and street teams and everything. We know how they really feel about our music and in some cases it’s really helped them change their lives. [Hesistantly] It’s the craziest thing, but it’s helped people… From depression to getting over girlfriends to money trouble, just really anything.
R: How does that make you feel?
AL: I can’t even put it into words you know, it’s just really weird, because I’ll go home and I’ll listen to the same bands that have done that for me, it’s hard to make that connection.
R: You come from a punk background, a lot of great bands toil away in the punk scene and never break into the mainstream. What is it about the Gaslight Anthem that has enabled you to manage it?
AL: I’m not really sure actually, we’re still trying to figure that one out! But I know that the people that work for us are great and they put the steps in correctly, we’ve always wanted to not be one of those bands that found themselves moving too fast.
R: Is it hard to reconcile punk ideals with the kind of success you guys have achieved?
AL: Yeah and no. In my experience the whole ‘punk’ way of looking at things is really different for a lot of people, you know you can have your kid with your D.I.Y. albums telling you one thing and you can have some guy with so-many cars and a big bank account telling you another thing, that he’s been punk for 40 years… To me punk is, it’s what it is to you, rather than an ‘ideal’ of punk
R: Do you feel like you’ve stayed true to your own ideals throughout the process so far?
AL: Yeah of course, we haven’t done anything that we’ve never believed in and we won’t ever. That’s what punk rock is all about: standing up for yourself, doing what you want and being courteous to the people that help you out [fans, street-teams etc.]
R: What’s on the horizon for you guys? It’s getting on for a year since your last record. Is there another in the pipeline?
AL: Yeah well when we finish this long, long tour we’re on, we’re gonna take most of August off and only play a couple of festivals, some in the UK (Reading and Leeds). Then we’re gonna do a US headlining tour in September and October and maybe be back in the UK by November, though we’re not too sure. Then we’re gonna take a little while off a write a new record.
R: You’ve established your style pretty strongly now. What kind of direction do you see yourselves going with the next record?
AL: One thing I think you’ll see on the next record is us being a little punchier, a little more aggressive, but the songs will probably be based around the same kind of skeleton, the same kind of vibe. But like I said we don’t really think too hard about how we sound, just whatever comes out comes out and if you like it you like it and if you don’t you don’t.
Written for Rivmixx