The New Brunswick punk rock scene is truly something special. After producing young bands like Streetlight Manifesto and The Bouncing Souls, it continued with The Gaslight Anthem. This is a scene heavily embedded in underground, basement shows, and local acts taking their music to havens like The Court Tavern. It’s something else when a band can start in the midst of a local scene, and catapult to national and international success. The Gaslight Anthem are the modern heroes for punk bands in Rutgers Town, and have just released their fifth album, Get Hurt.
Although the band has left NJ to play venues from around the country and world, they made their way back home this August to perform at Vintage Vinyl record shop in Fords, NJ. This local music store has been home to various guest appearances and concerts over its 35 years, and most recently, welcomed back The Gaslight Anthem. The band did an in-store performance and played some tracks off of Get Hurt. The event was a great way for the group to test out some of their new material, while playing a few of their own classics.
Fans from around the area arrived early to assure their spot in the sold-out performance. However, this was no ordinary show, as it was more of a homecoming. The band seemed to be just as excited to be in attendance as the fans were. In between songs, the quartet joked around and interacted with the exuberant crowd. Following the performance, they were happy enough to sign their latest release for their fans. I also had a moment to talk to the band’s drummer, Benny Horowitz, to discuss their most recent LP.
Topics of conversation included the writing and recording techniques, producer Mike Crossey’s contributions to the making of, and the guest appearance of Sharon Jones of the Dap-Kings. Although I didn’t get to talk any more about his enjoyment of The Office, we got right down to business in discussing the band’s work ethic, local Jersey record stores, and tips that could help artists from the underground scene. Check out what Benny had to say below:
I read that the writing process for Get Hurt was much different than that of the last LP, Handwritten.
Yeah, the writing process has been changing along with technology for us. Back in the day, it would kind of happen in a couple different ways. Either we would all just sit in a room and come up with an idea, or Brian [Fallon, vocalist/guitarist] would record some acoustic demos for us. If we would do it the latter way, then he would send them over to us on a cassette. I remember one night Brian drove down to New Brunswick pretty late because he had just done a demo and we sat in my car and listened to it on the tape player in my car. With the advent of home recording, this time around, there’s a lot more work being done via digital demos with lyrics and guitars and emailing them out back and forth. This way, everyone gets comfortable with the song and writes their own part before sending it back out. Then we will usually get back together and put them all together as a group.
So it has changed a little through the years with technology. We actually weren’t even together when we did our last fan club 7″. Brian sent me and Alex [Rosamilia, guitarist/backing vocalist] the lyrics and guitar parts, we brought them to the studio here and finished it. It’s getting interesting with stuff like that. I will say this record was probably the most complex in terms of demos. There’s always room for everybody to write their own parts, but this one was very well thought out by the time it even got to us, which I think was pretty cool because it gave us a better sense of direction in terms of which way things should go in.
Absolutely. And how did the Sharon Jones collaboration come about?
That was actually pretty simple. We had these parts we thought she would be great on, we knew her work and that she was cool, so we asked. That’s one of the funny things of being where we are at these days, we can just ask and sometimes people say yes (laughs). I believe we sent the music over to where she lives and she did her part in a studio there. We actually never got into a room with her but we think it was great that she was into it and we love the way it came out.
It came out great. What did producer Mike Crossey bring to the table?
Bringing in a guy like Mike Crossey is great because he knows how to work the studio in some pretty crazy ways. He is open to sound and experimenting and no idea is off the table. If you have an idea, he’ll try it, see how it sounds, maybe even put it in. He is very gifted like that. One of the main attractions to going with someone like that is that he makes records that sound very modern like they were recorded now. He makes good rock and roll albums that don’t use an old model of doing things. He uses technology in a very organic way. That sentence might be contradictory (laughs). But I think there is a way to use something like Pro Tools, where sometimes the program might take over, but also you can use it to improve whatever you want to enhance. I think it is more organic, more thought out than the way most people use it. He, along with a couple of guys named John and Mike, have a really good sense of when to use that technology.
How was it translating the songs into the live environment? Was there any difficulty?
Yeah, I think that will always happen. Sometimes after working on the record, and you get home and don’t play together for a bit, when you get back together, some songs need to be adapted in order to make them translate live. We are still in that phase right now. We have only played a couple shows that we were able to even play the songs from the new album. From what I’m hearing, some of them sound great live right off of the bat, like I am super stoked to play them. Others may need a little tinkering on the nuances to make them come across. That will all happen over time.
It’s funny listening to some of our older records and noticing how different some of the songs we have played live for so long have become. When you play a song over a couple hundred times without listening to the original, it just starts moving in some funky ways and developing on its own.
You guys recently played a show at Vintage Vinyl in Fords. There, you were able to play the songs from Get Hurt. Have you ever bought records or had any experiences there previously?
Sure. I have history at Vintage Vinyl (laughs). That’s why playing there is such a cool thing to me. I wouldn’t be lying if I even said that I have visited there over a couple hundred times. Even my mother, growing up, was a vinyl record collector. So in the ’80s and ’90s, we would go up that way. That’s even when it was maybe a sixth of what it is now. It was a much, much smaller record store. Throughout the years, they became much bigger.
I was also a show promoter when I was younger. And before there was technology and the internet, if you were a promoter, you would rely on flyers. The only places that would be great to pass out flyers or hang them up was either at Vintage Vinyl or Curmudgeon, which were the two record stores in the area, as well as going to other shows and passing them out there. It was necessary that you had a stack of flyers of your show at Vintage Vinyl or no one would know about it. And then over the years, buying records and selling my band’s demos to consignment when I was in high school. I have even seen a lot of bands there. It goes for everyone in the band. Continuing to play there and do that kind of stuff is cool for us.
It also has to be great to play such an intimate show about 20 minutes from where you guys started.
Yeah. I actually even worked at Vintage Vinyl’s competitor, Curmudgeon, in Edison. I was from the Bridgewater area. I would drive up and make the loop in the Middlesex County area where I would go to Curmudgeon in Edison, Vintage Vinyl in Fords, Cheap Thrills in New Brunswick, and Sound On Sound in Highland Park for a while. So I would try to head there every week or two and get what was out or new, and put out flyers. It was a very vital or integral part in buying and promoting music in those days. You needed those music stores.
Diving more into the DIY culture, you guys sprung from local act in New Brunswick to local heroes. It’s great when young artists have a success story such as yours to help inspire them and keep them going. What is your best advice to these acts?
There’s a lot to it. The scene we came out of, there are tons of guys talent-wise that were equally as good or even better that don’t get to do this. I think young bands spend too much time trying to impress bigger people and send demos to labels and booking agents and waiting for someone else to help them out. In our scene, in those days, no one waited around for anyone. If you were a band and wanted to play, you would ask other bands to join you and play a show in your basement at your house. You also created your demos and screened your own shirts. It was your own little thing that didn’t rely on anybody else. That is the thing to take from it all. You don’t wait for someone else to create your reality. You should create your own reality. I think that’s important.
The other thing is if there is anything else that we as a band may have had over others was a very serious work ethic. There is always a time to have fun, but we never screwed around with any of our opportunities. If we were on a great tour, we always showed up on time, we set up our own gear, and we did not give anyone a hard time. We were our own little entity that nobody needed to worry about. That made us easy to work with, and bands wanted to play with us or take us out on road with them for that reason. It’s not like there was a guy that got too drunk and played like garbage the next day, or any sort of drama. We did not accept any of that stuff in Gaslight. We were a little older when things started going good for us and nobody wanted to come near squandering the opportunities we had. It was too important to all of us.
I think people gotta take it seriously. I know you are in a band with friends and you are partying and messing around, but you gotta write and play music first if you want to get noticed. That is something that I think people forget. They want to be the character before they have the music.
You are achieving lots of success lately. This year you are headlining PNC Bank Arts Center, another monumental NJ music venue.
Yeah. The only time we will have played in front of more people than that venue holds is at a festival. We have never played a bigger headlining show.
Anything else in the works that you can talk about?
We are just really excited to get out there and play these songs with bands like Against Me!, Jimmy Eat World, Twopointeight, Deer Tick, and Bayside. Those are just some super good bands we will be doing the next couple tours with. I am excited to get back on the road and play shows.
The Gaslight Anthem will be playing with Jimmy Eat World and Against Me! at the Skyline Stage At The Mann in Philadelphia on Sept. 12 and at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel on Sept. 13. Get Hurt is available now. For more information, go to thegaslightanthem.com.