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Saturday, April 21st, 2017
$25 / ALL AGES / BALLROOM
Brian Fallon & the Howling Weather
“This one is different,” says Brian Fallon. “This one is mine.”
Bursting at its seams with huge hooks, big choruses, and enormous heart, PAINKILLERS marks the first solo album from Brian Fallon, known far and wide as singer/guitarist of the Gaslight Anthem, as well as such acclaimed outfits as The Horrible Crowes and Molly & The Zombies. Produced by studio superstar Butch Walker (Taylor Swift, Frank Turner, Keith Urban), richly textured songs like “Long Drives” and the addictive title track encompass the great rush and flow of American music, fusing sonic hits of heartland country and folk with hardcore punk energy and classic rock ‘n’ roll swagger. PAINKILLERS once again affirms the NJ-based rocker’s elemental gifts as a songwriter and storyteller, booming with insistent imagery, narrative craft, and the extraordinary emotional acuity that has informed his music since the very start.
“I’ve had this sound kicking around in my head for so long,” says Fallon, “but it took maturity to get it out.”
Fallon decided to begin work on PAINKILLERS immediately following the announcement of The Gaslight Anthem’s indefinite hiatus. Though his prior extracurricular projects were made under alternate band monikers, a dear friend suggested that this time perhaps he might think otherwise.
“She said I was limiting myself,” Fallon says. “’If you make a Horrible Crowes record, then you’ve got to make Horrible Crowes music. You have to float within those guidelines. But if you use your own name you can make any record, you can change throughout your career, work with different musicians, be whatever you want to be and then wrap it all together.’ That’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten.”
Solo or otherwise, Fallon knew he couldn’t make his record all alone. He considered a number of potential collaborators but again and again, Butch Walker’s name kept coming up as an ideal match. A meeting was arranged and the two musicians hit it off from the jump, tracking four demos in three days, including fleshed out versions of “Painkillers” and “Nobody Wins.”
“It was just like fast friends,” Fallon says. “All the sounds fell into place. There wasn’t any searching – it was all right there. We had a blueprint from the records we grew up on.”
Fallon set to work in September, spending three weeks at Nashville’s Taxidermy Studios backed by a crack outfit featuring Walker, Molly & The Zombies bassist Catherine Popper (Jack White, Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, Willie Nelson), and drummer Mark Stepro (Hayes Carll, Ben Kweller, Jackson Browne). Freed from any brand, Fallon felt more comfortable and confident than ever before, unrestrained and able to fully articulate himself in the studio.
“I felt like I was doing exactly what I should be doing, at exactly the moment I should be doing it,” he says. “There was a very nice feeling, like, you’ve been working towards this record your whole career and here you are getting to do it.
Fallon had spent much of the past decade pushing himself in different directions, challenging himself as a songwriter by trying on various guises and techniques. This being his solo debut, he decided to return to his initial path, cutting through the craft to simply write “couch songs” on his trusty acoustic guitar.
“I’d been trying different things for the past few years now,” Fallon says, “but there’s a path that I started on. I thought, let me go back to the very basics of where I started writing songs and maybe see if I’ve gotten any better. I know I haven’t mastered the craft but now that I’ve learned a bit, let me see what I can pull out now.”
Inspiration came, as it often does, from Fallon’s lifelong canon, specifically BORN IN THE USA and FULL MOON FEVER, milestone rock records unafraid to work as mass appeal pop statements. Classic sounds abound throughout PAINKILLERS, from the ringing Rickenbackers that drive “Among Other Foolish Things” to the shingled backing vocals that give lift and spirit to each of the album’s dozen songs. “A Wonderful Life” is perhaps Fallon’s greatest anthem thus far, a righteous slice of 60s-fueled dance party rock ‘n’ roll brought full stop into the new century.
“It’s got all the bits,” Fallon says, “the riff, the whoa-whoa-whoas, the chorus, the whole thing. It’s simple but we just knew right away that that one was something else.”
Other high spots include “Red Lights” and the intensely orchestrated “Long Drives,” both originally written and demoed by the country rock-inspired Molly & The Zombies but never properly recorded. Walker helped Fallon retrofit the Molly tunes by “straightening out the beat,” bringing them in from the front porch and placing them square on the boardwalk where they belong.
“I didn’t want to make a country record,” Fallon says. “I’m from New Jersey, not Nashville. But I thought those songs were too good to throw away.”
Fallon’s garrulous lyricism – as ever, ribboned with spot on setting, telling character study, and cultural references spanning “Famous Blue Raincoat” to DC post-hardcore heroes Rites of Spring – is more than matched here by his musical ambition, for the first time truly weaving his wide-ranging tastes into a distinctive and dramatic unified whole. Remarkably, PAINKILLERS was recorded with but one amp, the very same Tone King Imperial 20th Anniversary Edition Fallon used to record his initial demos.
“This thing does everything,” Fallon says. “Sounds like the Byrds when you plug in the 12-string, it rocks when you plug the Les Paul in, it does country, everything. I showed it to Butch and he was like, alright, cool, we’ll use your amp. He plugs into it, we recorded all the guitars for one song on it, he goes, wow, that amp’s pretty good. Let’s use it tomorrow. And that’s what we did. At the end of the session, Butch said to me, I don’t think I turned on another amp this whole time. It was awesome!”
Fallon – with Tone King Imperial in tow – plans to spend much of 2016 on the road, accompanied by a stellar combo comprised of The Gaslight Anthem guitarist Alex Rosamilia, The Horrible Crowes’ Ian Perkins, and the aforementioned Catherine Popper. With PAINKILLERS largely crafted in the studio, transitioning its songs to the stage offers yet another happy challenge.
“You just do it when you’re making a record,” Fallon says. “Then to play it live you kind of have to pull it all apart and put it back together again. So the songs take on a whole new life, which is the benefit of going to see a band live.”
The Gaslight Anthem will return, avows Fallon, but for the time being his focus is firmly locked on the present moment. For him, PAINKILLERS marks neither an end nor even a beginning – where he’s at now is all that matters.
“Pseudo-philosophically,” Brian Fallon says, “you really only have what’s in front of you today. That’s kind of where my head’s at with this. I’m doing this now, I’ve always wanted to do it, let’s see where it goes. And that’s kind of it.”
Exploring your emotions can make for a good song, but it’s shining light on those which plague us all that builds the backbone of the truly great ones. Coupled with tireless melodies that seep into the small spaces between your bones; it’s the kind of music that brings on little movements when life has gotten too stiff. This is what Caitlin Rose does best. Her lyrics – visceral, illustrative, witty and wry – are pieces of stories that examine matters of the heart through a unique lens that makes us all see a bit more clearly: from the loneliness of relationships, to palpable dissolving human connectivity, to the loss of love with none of the melodrama. At her core, Nashville’s Rose is a storyteller and a song-crafter who is more interested in what’s being produced than how it helps her along the way.
Though much of her acclaimed debut Own Side Now was personally-inspired, what stood out most was its ability to paint a picture and tell a near-cinematic story, from the simultaneous last puffs of both cigarette and relationship, to the delightfully seedy characters pocketed in a coin-toss on the streets of New York City. With her follow-up, The Stand-In, Rose seems more interested in telling tales than spilling confessionals. “It feels more compelling to live through a song than it did having already lived it,” she says, The Stand-In is a journey down a road she’s always wanted to take: the path of the story-song. One track, “Pink Champagne,” inspired by a Joan Didion short essay, accounts for the desperate, short-lived passions of a Vegas wedding. The emotions stem from both protagonists, but are dissected and recounted by the watchful eye of the chapel or some honest observer from within. This collection of songs seems bent on investigating relationships from different perspectives; male and female, young and old, left and leaving, but they all tackle the bitter farewells, romantic misunderstandings and endless responsibilities in life. Using fibers of her fringe country roots and the bold musical capabilities of fellow producers/co-writers, Jordan Lehning and Skylar Wilson (Justin Townes Earle), The Stand-In seamlessly melds pedal steel guitar with restless pop beats, creating lush instrumentals that build on the more spare construction of Own Side Now. ”These songs are all based in sentiment. We wrote the stories to convey a feeling.” The result is infinitely more universal.
Rose doesn’t like to categorize her music, but like the great songwriters of our time, what she creates is beyond easy classification. While she often mentions core influences like Linda Ronstadt, Bob Dylan and Patsy Cline, she’s constantly absorbing books, movies, cultural ticks: when explaining her writing style, she pulls a quote from famed 1930′s daredevil, Karl Wallenda who said, “being on the wire is life; the rest is just waiting.” The quote is referenced in Bob Fosse’s 1979 semi-autobiographical film, All That Jazz. The film was written and directed by the famed choreographer turned director whose colorful personality and editorial brilliance became a lead inspiration in the making of The Stand-In. In the context of the scene in which it’s used, the quote comes off as a bit of a put-on, but somehow rings true for ‘slave to show-biz’ character Joe Gideon; and Rose as well for whom, all paths lead to the song. Much like Fosse, she tends to describe her work as restrained and deliberate, something evident on Own Side Now. Though for The Stand-In, she’s taken a few leaps outside her comfort zone, making the result, as she puts it, something like a “first attempt at a high kick.”
It’s fitting that Rose wrote her first song at sixteen as a substitution for a high school paper. Even as a means to an end, she recognized the power of music, and of melody, to relay emotions and stories in the most gripping way possible. A youthful observer, she enjoyed hanging out after school at the local Waffle House drinking cups of coffee and quietly shaping bits of gossip into first person tales of woe.
Growing up in Nashville to music industry parents (her mother, Liz Rose, is a songwriter who found success working with artists like Taylor Swift, Leann Womack and others), Rose inherited her mother’s “inclination towards melody –the ability to naturally know where melody could and should go” early on and again credits her love of songwriting to a long list of influences, many of which would be easily found in either of her parents record collections. From Hank Williams to The Rolling Stones, she says, “I’ve always been more inspired by what others have done.”
This is evident in her penchant for covers – two have made their way onto The Stand-In (“I Was Cruel,” by The Deep Vibration and “Dallas” by The Felice Brothers). She considers herself not just a writer, but an interpreter of song, eager to take works she admires and expose others to their brilliance and also reinvent them in a way that upon listening you might catch something you missed before.
“For me the intention behind any song is writing a good one,” Rose says “and to create something worthy enough to share with other people” Rose’s songs, however, are way beyond worthy. They’re downright necessary.
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