“I threw this barbecue one time and, in the middle of it, we heard a knock at the door,” says the Gaslight Anthem singer. “It was Bruce Springsteen. He just invited himself. Seriously, what do you say when Bruce Springsteen shows up?”
Springsteen is a neighbour in New Jersey. He and Fallon are mutual admirers and have performed together. That didn’t lessen the shock of him showing up out of the blue. “Nobody was casual about Bruce Springsteen being there,” says Fallon. “It was a big deal, for sure — a really big deal. You don’t just shrug something like that off and go back to finishing your burger.”
Anthemic and blue-collar, the Gaslight Anthem have been compared to Springsteen from the beginning. It used to annoy the frontman. Nowadays he is sanguine. Let people hear what they want to hear. “You wanted to do your own thing,” he says of his early hostility. “You think, ‘No, no — THIS is what we are about’. Then you grow older and you realise that, actually, it doesn’t matter. What really lasts are the shows you play and the songs you put out. Once you start singing, people stop thinking about comparisons.”
He appreciates why the public seeks comparisons. People are busy. They like their bands to fit into pigeonholes. It’s neater that way.
“You are only going to be known for one or two things. That’s as much space as there is in the general consciousness for you. So if they are going to associate you with another artist, Springsteen strikes me as pretty good. You can get too precious about it.”
These are exciting days for the Gaslight Anthem. Produced by Pearl Jam collaborator Brendan O’Brien, last year’s Handwritten LP has brought the group to a new level. The record was a top 10 hit in the US and they have graduated to mid-tier venues.
“On our tour of the US recently it seemed that everything had doubled in size,” he says. “It was a relief because we had taken some time away. You come back and you worry whether people still care. Attention spans are shorter. You never know.”
He was nervous about working with O’Brien. Big name producers sometimes regard the artist with whom they are collaborating as subservient. Fallon’s fear was that O’Brien would attempt to impose his vision on the group.
“You think, ‘Will he have a weird way about him — will he even care about our band?’.
“What we found out was that, as well as a big-name producer, Brendan is a guy who cares deeply about music. He is both in one package.
There wasn’t a lot of sitting down and talking. I think he understood what we were doing. We got on from the start.”
Hailing from the industrial town of New Brunswick, when the group travel abroad, they are struck by the way fans and journalists romanticise their New Jersey roots.
“It runs both ways,” he says. “You have audiences in America who romanticise Ireland and the bands that come from there. If you flip it around, you will see that people tend to mythologise some place that is far away.”
Handwritten was the group’s major label debut. They’ve been wooed by majors for years, but until now they always resisted.
“It felt like the right time to do it. We had pushed majors away in the past. We were of the opinion that we needed to grow at our own time, in our own way. I think we are finally ready.”
Fallon had qualms. He fretted Mercury would interfere. “Actually it wasn’t anything like that. It has been a lot easier than I expected. I thought you would have to justify everything. In fact, everything feels very straightforward.”
With their fervent fanbase and anthemic songs, the Gaslight Anthem are seen as potential arena headliners in the vein of their friends, the National. Fallon is conflicted about mainstream success.
“You think, well, it would be nice. But would the music translate to that sort of setting? Would we feel comfortable doing it? I kind of go back and forth on that whole thing. I can see positives and downsides.”
* Gaslight Anthem play the Olympia in Dublin this evening.