Written by Luke McCormick • June 21, 2016
Brian Fallon drives a Mini Cooper. That may come as a surprise to fans, considering he's made a living writing songs about old white Lincolns and getting the hell out of your hometown. "People think I drive a '56 Chevy and that Elvis comes over to wash it with me," says the Gaslight Anthem frontman while waiting for a new navigation system to be installed. "New stuff works too!"b These days, Fallon is all about things that are shiny and new, from his cars to his recent foray into solo songwriting.
After Gaslight Anthem's last album Get Hurt, the band mutually decided to take a break, and Fallon started to weigh his options for what he'd do next. He'd worked construction and knew how to fix cars, and contemplated going back to both. It wasn't until a close friend encouraged him to continue making music that he picked the guitar back up. "She said, 'You write songs and play them for people who love them.'" Upon hearing that, Fallon recalls, he quickly got to work on the songs that would become his solo debut, Painkillers.
"People want Gaslight to be cars and girls and Jersey and I'm ok with that!" he says. "But I'm 36. I'm not 27 anymore. I don't wanna write about Old Lincolns right now. The Lincoln's been sold. It doesn't exist anymore."
Fallon knew he wanted to come at his solo music from a totally different place. "This is more of a confessional thing," he says. "I knew I wasn't going to be writing rally, fist-pump songs, and you can't fake writing those because people can tell immediately." So he grabbed his acoustic guitar and returned to the folk music of his youth, along with current storytellers like Jason Isbell. Painkillers isn't '60s Greenwich Village or 2016 Nashville, but Fallon thinks his lifelong fans will see it as an "easy breach." "I wanted the record to feel familiar but a different experience at the same time," he says. The album is still full of Gaslight Anthem's thematic touchstones, like rebellion, loss, hope and, of course, love. "I knew I couldn't make a full blown country record. That'd be like The Hives doing an album full of piano ballads or something!"
Thanks to a recommendation from the Wallflowers' Jakob Dylan, Fallon joined forces with producer Butch Walker to bring Painkillers to life. Walker,who has worked with everyone from Taylor Swift and Katy Perry to Keith Urban, Frank Tuner, and Gavin DeGraw, left his mark all over the album, Fallon says. "I asked him, 'Butch, you wanna make a Tom Petty record?,'" Fallon laughs, recalling the process behind the song "Among Other Foolish Things." "He was down and we were immediately knocking out great harmonies because he's an incredibly versatile guy."
Though the record has its fair share of handclaps with big hooks, there's not a heavy coat of studio gloss, which is something that Fallon appreciates. "He did his magic with my songs and just left the slick stuff at home," he says. "It all worked out."
And while he's very proud of his latest work, Fallon still has a lot he wants to do musically. Currently, he's studying early Stones ("Under My Thumb"-era stuff) and pre-Blonde On Blonde Dylan, and trying to figure out what's next. Most of all, he's excited to be doing exactly what he wants.
Returning to that friend who pushed him to try the solo thing, Fallon explains that she works with "weirdo geniuses" like Iggy Pop and Patti Smith, both of whom are artists he aspires to emulate. "Patti's not just a punk or a poet—she's just Patti," he says. "To be defined by just a name is a very powerful thing."
He may only be one album in, but Fallon's name is already starting to carry some weight of its own.
Brian Fallon is on tour now. Catch him in a city near you here.