This time last year, Brian Fallon was gearing up to cross the pond for his Songs From The Hymnal UK tour – a series of stripped-back shows in which the New Jersey musician performed songs from his extensive back-catalogue using just a guitar or piano. He didn’t know it at the time, but it would later give him the confidence to attempt a full record of stripped-back, mellow music – a far-cry from his early punk rock days in The Gaslight Anthem.
“I didn’t know if that tour was going to work,” he tells Kerrang!. “But it seemed like people liked it, and the shows did really well, so I felt like, ‘Okay, maybe my audience is accepting of this kind of thing.’ I think maybe that tour made me feel like I had permission.”
Even so, Brian didn’t initially set out to specifically write the style of music that now makes up his forthcoming third solo album, Local Honey, due out on March 27 via his own Lesser Known Records – which was launched in partnership with Nashville-based distributor Thirty Tigers. And yet he’s thrilled with the results, taking his songwriting skills in stunning new directions with the help of producer Peter Katis. Across the record’s eight songs, the musician takes his listeners on a journey of introspection; it’s “definitely one for the headphones”, as Brian explains. “I would say that all of my music up until this point has been for driving and playing really loud in the car, but this one is like the after-the-show record, when you’re like, ‘I’m having a night in and I’m gonna sit here and think about stuff.’ It’s one of those…”
How did you figure out what direction to take Local Honey, Brian?
“I had maybe 12 songs that fit a similar vibe, and then there were a couple that didn’t, and I said, ‘Well, I can either take the ones that are already here that are more mellow, and I can try to make them louder.’ So I did, but every time I took one of these louder songs and moved it into that direction, it would lose something. I would listen back and say, ‘That doesn’t move me at all.’ Then I would take away that stuff and strip it back to just a piano or guitar, and I would say, ‘Okay, now I feel that those words make sense.’ I read this quote where an author said, ‘There’s the book that you plan to do, and there’s the book that you get – and you just have to do the book that you get.’ And that’s funny, because that’s exactly what happened to me. It was like, ‘Well, this has come out of me and I like it, but I don’t know if anyone else will!’”
Is there anything on the album that started off more rocky, and then you stripped it back?
“Originally, a couple of songs were pretty loud. 21 Days and I Don’t Mind (If I’m With You) were pretty loud, and Lonely For You Only was mega-fast! But the lyrics are so important to me – I was writing about things that weren’t heroic or anything, they were just about my life – and the faster I made the song, the less it felt like I meant it when I was listening back. I’d listen and go, ‘That doesn’t sound like I mean it,’ so I’d slow it back down and then felt like there was room for it to breathe. Maybe one day when I’m in my 60s I’ll release a B-sides record and put the original ones out!”
Is that why the album has eight songs?
“Yeah. I had more, but I didn’t feel like that would help at all. I felt that the story I was trying to tell was good. You take a piece of vinyl, put four songs on one side and four on the other, and they tell a story and go together. It’s long enough for people to feel like, ‘Okay, I’ve gotten something that I can digest,’ but it’s also not so long that you feel like you’re being hit over the head with it. It was more taking people’s time into consideration! I know that I don’t have the time to sit down and listen to an hour-and-a-half record, but also, more than that, it was an artistic choice, because anything more than eight songs would have been overwhelming. You can’t stay in that space of contemplation for too long. I think that sometimes things go on a bit too long, and you’ve got to be considerate of that. And it felt like this is more of a compact story, and whatever I was trying to communicate was done in those eight songs.”
And the story of it is inspired by your life right now?
“For sure. I’ve been through a lot, and now I’m almost sitting here going, ‘This is a lot, so what do I think now? What’s happening, and how do I feel about the stuff that’s happening right here?’ I don’t really need to reach into other parts now. I feel like I’ve done that a lot in the past, and I think I did a pretty good job with that back then.”
What was it like figuring out how you were going to do that?
“It wasn’t really that easy to say things that are about right now, because you sort of feel like they’re not that important; when you think about your life and what you do on a daily basis, it’s like, ‘That’s not worth a song.’ You usually have to wait until you have this big life event. But people’s lives are made up of the day-to-day – big events are few and far between. And I think everyday life can affect people just as much as the big stuff.”
Did you enjoy that challenge of writing about something a bit more simple?
“I don’t think I enjoyed it very much while I was doing it! It was really hard (laughs). It was hard to boil everything down and be direct. The songs are pretty open, and they’re not really hiding much, and that’s not easy to do – at least not for me. Sometimes I’ll sit down and write in these bursts, so I had to go, ‘Well, what are you really saying?’ I had to chip away until it was what it was.”
What was the easiest song to write?
“It was the first song, When You’re Ready – it was done in maybe 10 minutes. Those songs don’t come very often, and I don’t know if that makes them better or worse… most people say the good ones come like that, but I don’t really know. But that’s when you feel like you’re in touch with the divine when that happens! You feel like it’s sort of coming through you, and you’re just trying to keep up with typing as fast as its coming. It just comes out, and you’re so grateful that that’s happening, because I struggle so hard with the other ones. Some of them are really difficult, and I can’t just churn out songs.”
When You’re Ready is about your daughter. Presumably it was also a very emotional one for you to write, too?
“Yeah, it was. I mean, to tell you the truth, I was crying when I was writing it. It was really hard, and I didn’t realise that I felt all those things. It snuck up on me, you know? It had been in me, but I hadn’t really said it out loud. It’s about my kid, and I don’t really talk about that, and I’m still figuring out what it all means, and how to be father. It’s not easy, because you want to do it right, but you feel like the world is crazy and it’s like, ‘How am I going to send you off into this world?!’ All that stuff just came out, but it also felt good to get it out, that’s for sure.”
Are you nervous about putting that side of yourself out there?
“I feel really comfortable with it right now, because it’s the place that I’m in. I think it’s okay to show people this stuff, and I never was this big rock’n’roll guy. I’ve always been a pretty normal person who’s quite introverted but then I’m in a public place. I would keep a lot of that in to stop myself from feeling anxiety about being exposed or on display in any way. But now I feel like maybe my audience is going through some of the same things that I am, and they’re probably grown-up, too. The people who’ve been there for a long time are probably in the same spot as me, and so I’m not really hiding anything!”
Did you attempt anything different, vocally, on this album? There are some surprising falsettos towards the end of You Have Stolen My Heart…
“Well, I stopped smoking a year ago! I haven’t smoked cigarettes in a year, and it’s been a lot easier to sing since. I didn’t know that I could do that, and I just did it one day on the demo; I was just goofing around trying to find a melody, and I was like, ‘Oh! That sounds cool.’ Then I sent it to my manager, and he was like, ‘I didn’t know you could do that!’ I’m excited about it – and equally shocked (laughs).”
On your two previous solo albums, Painkillers and Sleepwalkers, you’ve had title-tracks, but on Local Honey you don’t. Where did that name come from?
“It’s funny, because I live near a lot of farms, and down on the beach there’s a lot of organic food places where they make their own food, and they get their own honey. I always see signs that say ‘local honey’. I started reading about what it was, and it’s like a medicine for people, and they use it for all different kinds of things. I was thinking that I’m always away, and I feel like when I come home, the immediate things around me – my family and friends – make me feel better. The title isn’t rocket science or anything (laughs). I just thought it was cool, and for me, being home is like medicine. All these songs are about this love that you find at home and through your immediate family, so I was just like, ‘That sounds like a good title!’”
What was the recording experience like?
“It was really cool. Peter Katis is known for his recording abilities, and making these sounds happen, and creating, like, movies in the songs. But I wasn’t sure how that would work for me. I was like, ‘How do you want to do this, because I’m more traditional?’ And he was like, ‘Let’s just try it.’ So I did, and I thought it worked great. It was a real collaborative effort, and for each song, we would make new sounds just for that song. You would think some of the things in there are keyboards, and they’re not – they’re other things that are put through effects. He’ll put it through, and it’ll come out sounding like something completely different.”
How do you think you’ve changed as a songwriter since Sleepwalkers?
“Oh, man! I think that you learn every time, and I’m constantly in piano and guitar lessons, and listening to music to try and find things that I don’t know. I think you grow by trying to apply yourself to learning. You could sort of say, ‘Okay, I have a career and I don’t need to learn any more.’ But then I think that it shows when you’re performing and writing. Sometimes people don’t change or grow, and that’s fine, but I keep looking for more. I always want to see, ‘How far can this go?’ and, ‘What can be done next?’ and, ‘How can I get better?’ I don’t know if I do get better, but I can try. The pursuit of that is very fulfilling.”
Local Honey is due out on March 27 via Lesson Known Records/Thirty Tigers. Catch him on tour across the UK and Europe at a show below – get your tickets here.
Brian Fallon UK/Europe tour 2020
22 Cologne Carlswerk Victoria
23 Berlin ASTRA Kulturhaus
24 Copenhagen Vega
25 Stockholm Debaser Strand
26 Gothenburg Pustervik
28 Hamburg Docks
29 Frankfurt Batschkapp
30 Nuremberg Lowensaal
02 Munich Cafe Muffathalle
03 Vienna Arena Wien
05 Milan Circolo Magnolia
07 Barcelona Sala Apolo
08 Madrid Sala But
09 Cascante Patio Antiguo Colegio
11 Paris Osullivans
12 Stuttgart LKA Longhorn
13 Utrecht Tivoli Vredenburg
15 Norwich Waterfront
16 Manchester Academy
17 Leeds O2 Academy
18 Glasgow SWG3
20 Nottingham Rock City
21 Bristol O2 Academy
22 Birmingham O2 Institute
23 London O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire
Posted on January 15th 2020, 12:58pm