Interview with The Gaslight Anthem: Radio City Spectacular

From the bowels of the New Brunswick club scene, to sharing festival stages with Bruce Springsteen, The Gaslight Anthem has traversed quite a bit of hallowed ground since releasing their first album in 2007. They have played Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, The Austin City Limits music festivals, and been hailed as the next saviors of rock and roll, a moniker once worn by Bruce himself.

And how about being compared to New Jersey’s most famous musical legend? “How about it?” laughs Alex Rosamilia, guitarist and co-writer of the anthems on the bands latest release, American Slang. “Somebody told us Bruce liked us, and we’re like, ‘That’s awesome.’ His manager talked to our manager, and then he came out and played with us and that’s obviously the coolest. People ask if we get upset or tired of us getting compared to him. But if you want to compare me to one of the greatest musicians of all time, how do you get tired of that? Bruce got compared to Dylan, and Dylan to Woody Guthrie. Obviously people relate you to who you are. There are a lot of worse things you can be compared to than Bruce Springsteen.”

Alex is joined in the group by Brian Fallon on vocals and rhythm guitar, Ben Horowitz on drums, and Alex Levine on bass. “We’re from the New Brunswick area,” he continues. “I’m from a little north of there, in Union, and went to high school in West Orange. We’re all from central Jersey, New Brunswick, Bridgewater. Brian’s from Red Bank, and then moved out to western Jersey, which is where Alex is from. Brian decided to try and put something together. His last band needed a drummer, and a band I was in with Benny had just broken up, so he started playing with him. They changed the name to Gaslight Anthem, and they needed a guitar player, and I ended up playing with them. I didn’t meet Brian or Alex until I joined the band.”

It was actually something different for Alex, in terms of the musical direction. “I had never been in a band that sounded like that before,” he relates. “I was always playing in slightly heavier bands. But I was totally into the music. They gave me a couple songs to listen and I thought they were great. We pretty much started practicing and playing out as much as we could. About a year later, in January of 2007, we did our first tour, and pretty much didn’t stop from then on. We all quit our jobs at the same time. We decided to quit our jobs and not come back.”

The band has been described as punk, Jersey shore rock, classic rock, rock ‘n’ soul and a myriad of other ways. “I don’t know, I don’t really hear it in any of the genres that they give for it,” Alex says. “It’s music, man, it doesn’t fit in one place specifically, it fits in a lot of places.”

The sound is a combination of various influences the members bring to the group. “Robert Smith, Johnny Marr, that’s kind of my whole thing when I started playing guitar,” explains Alex. “They don’t use it as a rhythm instrument as much as a melodic instrument. And there are the obvious ones like Clapton, Page, and Hendrix. There’s one guy who is in a band called Minus The Bear, I think he’s amazing. Dave Knudson. They fall under the radar for a lot of people. I really don’t know why. He’s real technical without getting techie. There’s a lot of bands we all kind of like, but we definitely didn’t go to all the same shows when we were growing up. But there were some shows we all could have been at. Hot Water Music, for sure. And that’s one of the few bands that when we got together, we wanted to sound like. They’re another band that didn’t get their due.”

The songs come to fruition in various ways. “You know, it all depends where the starting point is,” Alex muses. “It could be a riff, or a drum beat. Most often Brian will come in with lyrics and a progression, and we’ll work around that. Like “Cowgirls,” the riff came first, then the melody, and we worked around that. Once the initial part is done and we start working on it, everyone does his part. No one tells anyone you should do it like this or like that. Everyone does their own part. Sometimes in the studio we’ll hear what somebody’s doing and say, ‘So that’s what you’re playing there!”

As far as personal favorites among the songs, Alex isn’t particularly partial to any over the others. “Yeah, there’s a lot off the new record I like a lot,” he says. “But I wrote them all. I wouldn’t write something I wouldn’t like. I don’t understand how people can be in bands playing music they don’t like. “Spirit of Jazz” has become one of my favorites to play. And “Senor and the Queen,” I like playing that, and “Cowgirl.” But live it’s just fun to watch Brian kind of flip out. I tend to watch him more than pay attention to what I’m doing myself.”

And what has been the highlight of the wild ride of touring that the band is currently on? “Japan! Is that fast enough of a reaction?” Alex exclaims. “I’m a little of a Japanophile myself. We actually had a couple days off, and had a chance to go around and see some stuff. So I actually got to walk around a place I always wanted to go. The show itself was amazing. The kids were singing. We had a lot more people at the end then we had at the beginning. It’s Japan, it’s awesome! It’s the first time I got a culture shock. Like in Europe you can still figure out what the sign says, but in Japan it’s completely different. It was pretty cool. I would have enjoyed it better if I was single at the time!”

The future seems to hold a great deal of promise for The Gaslight Anthem, with the sky being the limit. It’s pretty heady stuff for some boys from the central Jersey bar scene. But Alex seems to have both feet firmly on the ground.

“Honestly, I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do,” he states. “Everything I could possibly want to do, we’ve done already. My goal was to tour two or three weeks in the summer. The fact that I can do this for my full-time job is amazing. I never thought I’d’ be able to go to Europe, or go to Japan. So many things have happened, not that any one was bigger than the other, but you just keep moving forward. I remember thinking that opening up for Hot Water Music was the best thing that ever happened to me. Then a few months ago, at a festival in Germany, Hot Water Music was playing before us.

“I guess you know what, the most thrilling point of my life as a musician was joining The Gaslight Anthem, because it led to all this stuff happening. It’s all icing on the cake. I am one of the luckiest people on the face of the earth. Anyone doing this who doesn’t think that should put their guitar away and go work at the mall.”

Gaslight Anthem is playing at Radio City Music Hall on Sept. 30 and the new record, American Slang, is available now via SideOneDummy Records.