The Gaslight Anthem's Benny Horowitz on Handwritten and SB 1070

The Gaslight Anthem
The Gaslight Anthem
Danny Clinch

It's a pretty good time to be The Gaslight Anthem. The band, which at times sounds like a nostalgic punk rock version of Bruce Springsteen, recently signed to a major label to release its forth full length album, Handwritten. After the band's frontman, Brian Fallon dedicated some time to bluesy side project, The Horrible Crowes, The Gaslight Anthem is back with a vengeance. The band is currently on tour with Rise Against and Hot Water Music, and will be performing at Mesa Amphitheater on Friday, September 28.

We recently caught up with drummer Benny Horowitz to discuss the recording process of Handwritten, his thoughts on SB 1070, and how hard work and luck factor into The Gaslight Anthem's success.

See also: The Gaslight Anthem @ Marquee Theatre (2010) See also: Nothing Not New Reviews Gaslight Anthem: American Slang

Up on the Sun: What's it like touring with Rise Against and Hot Water Music?Benny Horowitz:

It's cool. Aside from them being great bands, they're both bands that we've toured with in certain capacities. We know all of the bands, we're friends with them, we know all of the crews, we're friends with those guys, so sometimes when you leave for a tour, there's kind of this getting to know you grace period with everyone to sort of get comfortable. With [this lineup], from the first day, it's just like seeing old friends and getting on the road again, so that's a real treat.

Just being able to tour with Hot Water Music is a trip within itself. That's a band that we all grew up listening to, a band I saw in a basement when I was 15 years old. To think that one day you can actually appear and play with them, it's a trip, it's definitely a surreal experience.

What inspired your most recent album, Handwritten? A lot of things inspire a record. [There are] tons of things as far as music and life that all go into an album. Some of those major parts to this record were maybe a back to basics approach to songwriting and recording, doing everything in a room again and recording it as live as possible. With signing to a major and moving to a producer and stuff like that, there are some kinds of expectations and talk that surround moves like that. I know it was important for us to do what we do, and write songs that we like and kind of let everything else play itself out.

Do you feel like it lived up to those expectations? Yeah, if I could tell you in 100% truthfulness, I couldn't give a fuck what other people's expectations are for our music. I believe in the guys I play with and I believe in the music we write. If I leave the rehearsal studio with a bunch of songs that we think are great and they're songs that we want to record and we stand behind, I kind of don't care what anyone else says.

Right on. So, why did you decide to record it in Nashville? The actual city itself kind of panned out because that's where Brendan O'Brien works out of now. He works at Blackbird Studios on the outskirts of Nashville. It's a badass studio, I love all those guys.

As far as a specific city, it wasn't us sitting around going, 'We need to go to Nashville.' The motivation was we knew we really wanted to get out of town to record the record. We recorded the last record, American Slang in New York City, and when we record in New York City, everybody goes home every night. We're basically commuters where we just pop in the studio, and you work, and you go home at night.

On the record before that, we did The '59 Sound in Los Angeles. We did Senor and the Queen in Austin, Texas. I think we've found it really beneficial to be away to really release yourself in the record, so we tried to do that again. We just loaded up the van, we brought Alex [Rosamilia]'s dog and we rode a trip down to Nashville and rented a little house outside of town. We were really more interactive in the process. Instead of going home at night to your family or whatever people's situations are, we drive to the studio together, we sit there all day, we drive home together, we eat dinner, and then we sit around the house, we're still talking about the record, thinking about what we can do the next day and things like that. The motivation was really to get away, just so we could really put our heads into the record.

It's an awesome town, so that worked out. Sadly, we were studio rats when we were there. We didn't get out and about too much, we saw some of the cool stuff, we hung out with some cool people we know down there, but pretty much six days a week, we were holed up in the studio doing our thing. We were being social with the guys working on the record, we weren't really men about town, so to speak.  

You guys have released four full length albums in a relatively short amount of time. That's a pretty fast turn around, How do you pull that off?

Yeah, it definitely happens fast. I don't know, actually. It's definitely never been a specific goal of ours to turn this record out really fast. When a record's over and a record's out, I think we all really start putting our eyes forward after that.

You've mentioned Los Angeles in a few of your songs, and you recorded an album there. Do you feel a particular connection to the city, or are you more drawn to the romantic ideal of old movies, Mulholland drive, and so on? Probably more so than that, it's such an iconic town. If you write about storytelling and imagery, it's only a matter of time before you get to there. At the same time, I know '59 Sound is littered with L.A, references, simply because of the fact that we were there.

Brian tends to write lyrics about things he sees, things that are right in front of his face. That's where a lot of it came from for '59 Sound, just the fact that were there. I don't know, I don't think there's a specific homage to LA. It's interesting to hear, I've never thought of it, but now that I think about it talking to you, I can see that there's quite a few.

Yeah. I thought it was interesting since you guys aren't from there. Yeah, I do too now. Now I'm curious. I'll start investigating.  

A hot topic in Arizona right now is our controversial immigration bill, SB 1070. You guys actually played at Marquee while The Sound Strike was going on. Did you ever consider boycotting? Does this issue concern you?

That's actually interesting, we've always assumed ourselves to be a fairly non-political group in most ways. There are personal issues that we tend to take up by ourselves, but we've always made a conscious effort to keep certain polarizing things out of the band. The two most polarizing things that end to be are religion and politics. Those are things that as a group we've never really felt comfortable about speaking out against too much.

But, we did think at that time...this is hard to say without sounding like a personal thing, which is what we try to avoid with something like this. It seemed in a way, since the show was already booked and since people had already bought tickets for it. When it came up, it was more of a punishment for people who would come see us, especially for a band our size because it's not very big. If we come to Arizona and play or don't play, there's really not any kind of dent to the economy or something like that. I felt like we'd be protesting against the people who bought tickets to see us more than anything.

On a personal level, I think that immigration bill is ridiculous and fairly vile in the way it was approaching treating people in the human aspect, but I don't feel like cancelling our show would have done a damn thing except make us not play to the people who wanted to see us.

That ended up being a fun show too, so I appreciate you guys coming. Do you have any plans after this tour? More tours, that's pretty much all we've got going on until the end of the year. We finish this Rise Against/Hot Water Music tour, and then we leave for a headlining tour in Europe with Blood Red Shoes and Dave Hoss, and then end of November/early December, we're doing a bunch of headlining shows on the east coast. Then we'll probably shut it down for a couple months for the winter. Those are the immediate plans for now, like I said early in the interview, keep writing, keep pushing and I'm sure we'll have half the record written by the end of the year.

Sounds like you guys are hard working and you never stop. That's how we do it, there's no point in being lazy now. If the history of music has told us anything, is that people's windows close really fast, sometimes. If people are interested and there's people who want to hear us play, then we're going to keep doing it. Something I'm proud of with the band and with what we've done is that we didn't wait for opportunities at first. We just created our own and we put ourselves on tour and we recorded our own shit and we got it out there and worked.

If anyone is to be successful, it is a mix between talent and hard work and at least one third luck. You really need timing and you need a lot of these small little variables to come together to make everything work. I almost find it comical letting people from labels try to manipulate the whole thing, because so much of it is random luck, and timing, and things that nobody can really understand. We worked really hard, but we got really lucky too, and we're definitely thankful for it.

Gaslight Anthem is scheduled to perform Friday, September 28, at Mesa Amphitheater.

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