Eight-hundred and fifty miles to the southwest of New Brunswick, New Jersey, is Bowling Green, Kentucky; the city known for making Corvettes is where the band famous for singing about Old White Lincolns faced a crossroads.
“Bowling Green, Kentucky was as far as we made it,” recounts former Gaslight Anthem singer Brian Fallon about the band’s first tour. “We felt like we were millions of miles away from home with absolutely no money. There weren’t cell phones or anything like that back then, so if our van broke down, we’re hitchhiking home and the gear would stay there. There would be days we would be like, ‘Are we eating or getting gas?’ For me it was part of the deal, and I was just paying my dues. I was like, ‘I won’t eat today, I’ll just eat tomorrow.’”
Understandably, at the time, a career in music seemed impossible for Fallon. But, he made it work, and The Gaslight Anthem and his solo career made it much farther than Bowling Green.
Just a few years after that first tour, which Fallon called “disastrous,” he would be sharing the stage with fellow New Jerseyan Bruce Springsteen in London, and Fallon would tour all over the world.
But no story about a New Jersey musician is complete without wanting to get out of your hometown, and for Fallon, that meant getting out of Hackettstown.
“I hated it,” says Fallon about the Warren County town where he spent his teenage years. “I think everyone from there hated it, and there was nothing to do for younger kids. It was not cool, and there was nothing to do for younger kids. They had a bike store and BMX store, and they were starting to build ramps but then they plowed those down. It felt like every time there was something for kids and the youth it immediately got shut down. It was a real typical American town where there was the bully on the football team, and the punks who would throw stuff at you from the car.”
As Fallon puts it, “There was only so much nature you could take when you were 14,” when describing life as a teenager in the Jersey Skylands. Fallon wanted to see the world and do exciting things. And the world that Fallon wanted to live in was one full of art and music. So, for a time, he was the change he wanted to see: he and his friends helped build a music scene in Warren County.
“We all got together and made the scene because the scene wasn’t there waiting for us,” recalls Fallon. “When we all got into the idea that we could throw shows, it got cool for a second. We had the power to put on a show and call bands. I remember calling Planes Mistaken for Stars, and having them come play at our Hackettstown Elks Lodge, and it’s still insane to me. We realize that the things that you want you can make happen just doing things together and organizing with each other.”
Ironically, it was the town Fallon wanted leave where he realized the power of community, especially in music.
“It was definitely a thriving community,” says Fallon. “Maybe you weren’t in a band, but you could make flyers as an artist. Maybe you weren’t an artist, but you could cook really well and then the bands could stay at your house, make a meal for them and make them feel at home for a night. It was really cool.”
Though Fallon was on track to becoming a musician, originally he wanted to become an artist, and loved comic books.
“I started with Wolverine and X-Men” says Fallon. “There was a period when I was growing up where comic books were edgy again. They were less like ‘Superman is gonna save Johnny at the grocery store,’ and the 1950’s Leave it to Beaver thing was on it’s way out and the comic books were more raw and edgy, and I was into it.”
Fallon, who was into fashion design as well, liked the way that art spoke to people and how people could express themselves through art and fashion. But it was a failed art school orientation that derailed his plans to become an artist.
“I went to orientation and had my portfolio that I worked on all year, and it was really beautiful. I went to the orientation and they were immediately like, ‘Where’s your apples?’ and I was like, ‘Where’s my apples? what are you talking about?’ And they were like, “You gotta show perspective,’ and I said, ‘I did show perspective,’ and they said, ‘You gotta show apples and shapes,’ and I was like, ‘There are shapes there,’ and it was a really stunting thing. I was like, ‘This is art school, and it’s supposed to be free,’ but it wasn’t that way. That orientation didn’t go well, and it was months and months of disappointment.”
Fortunately, of course, Fallon had music to fall back on. And for someone who was told he “lacked perspective,” there is no lack of perspective in the songs that Fallon has written with The Gaslight Anthem and for his solo career.
Over the years, Fallon has been compared to a certain musician from Freehold, but even though the Boss is a big influence on Fallon, it’s not the only influence.
“He’s not the sole influence,” says Fallon about Springsteen. “If I had only listened to Bruce, I would have made more music with horns and stuff like that. There were equal parts Bruce and the punk bands I grew up listening to. They were like my musical parents. I didn’t want to do songs that were too rock and roll, and I wanted punk to be a part of it because it was a big part of my life.”
Fallon discovered punk music at the age of 14 while riding his dirt bike. “I was riding BMX behind this Burger King where there were dirt trails. This one guy who was a little bit older than us showed up and opened the windows to his car, and he put on Operation Ivy and it blew my mind. It took me months to track down the album and I eventually got the album, and when I listened to the album I was like, ‘This is not from this Earth.'”
When listening to The Gaslight Anthem, the Springsteen and punk influences hits you immediately, but when you’re listening to Fallon’s solo stuff, you hear more of a folk influence. Fallon is the type of person who always believes in evolving, and it’s evident in listening to his music.
“I’m not the type of person who says I’m gonna be this way for the rest of my life,” says Fallon. “Humans change, and when you’re in an artistic community, you need to follow your creativity and be able to express yourself in different ways. I think some people want definition and human beings are incredibly undefinable.”
Even though, at 41 years old, Fallon is a different person today than the person who had $50 to his name in Bowling Green, he still visits the past from time to time. And on Feb. 3, he’ll revisit The Gaslight Anthem’s sophomore album The ’59 Sound and will play it full on a livestream.
“It holds up really well,” says Fallon about The ’59 Sound. “When I listen to it now, it’s hard to believe that I was a part of it, and it was my songs that were on there.
The reason why there is even a livestream of The ’59 Sound is because Fallon has had to cancel a large chunk of his tour due to COVID.
“I had to cancel two-thirds of the tour, and I’m not gonna reschedule it,” explains Fallon. ”Like, when am I gonna do make up dates, and then people’s money gets held up. It’s too many dates and if it was like five shows I would have rescheduled, but theres like 20-something shows that have been canceled and I just don’t have the time. I gotta keep moving forward and not look back right now.”
And looking forward, Fallon has a string of shows lined up in Red Bank with his band The Howling Weather in March, and he always cherishes playing in the Garden State.
“The crowds are always life-affirming because it’s your hometown crowd. It’s always like this is my slice of Earth here, and there are people here that I understand. “
Brian Fallon will be livestreaming The ’59 Sound in its entirety on Feb. 3. Ticket information can be found here.
Fallon and his band the Howling Weather will also be playing the Hackensack Meridan Health Theatre at Count Basie Center for the Arts on March 4 and 5 along with Hurry & Worriers. Ticket information can be found here.