The Gaslight Anthem just announced that they’d be taking a break for a while after their summer US tour wraps up. While the news was upsetting, The Garden Statement is here to help soothe the pain with an interview with the band’s bassist/vocalist Alex Levine! We were able to talk to Alex at the band’s stop at the Paramount in Huntington, NY before taking in what may be the last time we see Gaslight perform for a long time. Read on below to see what Alex had to say about the band’s touring regimen, headlining Skate and Surf Fest 2015, and the band’s plans for their upcoming 10-year anniversary! (Special thanks to Thomas Moore for helping out with the interview!)
The Garden Statement: You’re listening to 91.3FM WTSR, on the campus of the College of New Jersey. This is Donald Wagenblast of the Garden Statement, joined by my good friend Thomas Moore.
Thomas Moore: Hello!
TGS: And we are pleased to have with us today, the bassist and back-up vocalist of The Gaslight Anthem, Alex Levine. Alex, how are you doing today?
Alex Levine: I’m doing well, thank you.
TGS: You guys are currently on a summer tour through the United States, some smaller markets, how has it been so far?
AL: It’s been great! It’s been kind of crazy. We ping-ponged through Canada and the States the past week, our bus broke down, there’s been a lot of crazy things happening. We were stuck in a hurricane in Kentucky. There’s been a lot of crazy things this week, but all the shows have been great.
TGS: Well, we’re glad you made it out safely! You guys were just in Europe for the earlier part of this year. How do you think touring in Europe compares to touring in the United States?
AL: It’s a differet animal, for the most part. Even down to the tour bus, it’s a completely different layout, the whole nine. A lot of the venues out there are just hollowed out warehouses and whatnot. Everything is just different, in a good way. I love touring over there, and I love touring over here for different reasons. But the thing that’s the same is that our fans, they’re always great wherever we show up.
TGS: And you guys have been fortunate enough to go overseas a bunch of times. Does it ever get any easier? Has it gotten easier over time for you guys to go over there?
AL: It’s tough, because you have to be away from home for a long time, because it’s expensive to get there. Yeah, you get homsesick sometimes. But like you said, we’ve been doing it a while.
TGS: We’re now a full year past the release of Get Hurt, which came out last year. Being that you guys are still supporting that record, have you gone into this tour with a different perspective than the tour you did right after the release of Get Hurt?
AL: Sure. We definitely have. We’re kind of winding down, touring-wise, taking a little bit of time. A year out from the record is very different. You’re spinning around some of the same spots. Like you said, this is a b-market tour. But yeah, we came out of the gate guns blazing on Get Hurt, and now we’re kind of settled down with it.
TM: Going off of that, I saw you guys play some huge venues on the Get Hurt tour. You played outdoors at the Mann Center, and at PNC. I know we talked about the difference between playing in Europe and the United States, but what’s the difference preparing for an ampitheater show at PNC, and preparing for something like here at the Paramount, or a venue like Terminal 5?
AL: Yeah, especially with the PNC show, it’s a special show because it’s hometown show, and it’s a massive show. It’s a special event. As much as you want to say it’s just another day at the office, it definitely isn’t. You get a little more nervous and whatnot. But with a show like today, which is more or less a hometown show, it’s different. It’s not just another day in the office, but it’s definitely more relaxed.
TGS: Does anything change from a show like that to tonight, with your setlist? You guys are always a band to experiment with things, take this one out, put this one in, you guys definitely have a focus on finding some older stuff that you haven’t played. What goes into the thought process you guys take for a tour like this?
AL: To be honest with you, it changes every single day. 90% of it could be different. We keep a few of them always consistent, obviously. But for the most part, we change it up every day. It’s always something different. We play 26 songs, 27, 28, that’s the thing: it doesn’t matter. We could play 26, we could do 30, we could do 24, it just depends on the day.
TGS: You guys were in a little headlining run at the beginning of this year, and that was capped off by your headlining performance at Skate and Surf 2015 in Asbury Park. Asbury Park, for better or worse, is hallowed ground for you guys, for anyone really. What was it like to not only come back and play there, because you were there for Bamboozle 2012, but what was it like headlining a festival like that in your home state?
AL: That stuff’s mind-blowing. Because I went to the first Skate and Surf as a kid in high school. That kind of stuff, you’ll never get used to. It was insane. It was really amazing, playing a festival like that on the beach.
TM: I think there was a certain point where I was in the front, and I saw the turnout. What was that like, just seeing the amount of people that came out to see that show, and see you guys on a Sunday night?
AL: Yeah, it was cool, because it was Sunday night, so we were the last band of the entire festival. It was great, man.
TGS: You guys have played pretty much every major music festival that’s held in the United States, and a bunch overseas. How do these festival dates compared to touring clubs, or touring ampitheaters?
AL: Yeah, they’re completely different. It’s a different animal altogether. You don’t really have backstage rooms, you don’t really have the comfort of an entire day; bathrooms, more importantly. You’re living out of the bus, so you’re in the elements. Hopefully, it’s a nice day. It’s different. Getting on stage is different. You have, like, those stock festival stages, and they don’t really sound great. It’s cool, because you’re playing to a different crowd. You’re playing to new fans, or just people who may not be fans. It’s always another opportunity to gain some new fans.
TGS: And it’s a great opportunity for you as well. There’s so many bands there, have you been able to immerse yourself in that culture and see some bands a little bit?
AL: Yeah, it’s great. A great day is when you wake up, you go to catering, and you see the lineup and you’re like “Alright, I wanna see this band, this band, this band, then we play, then this band and this band.”
TGS: Going back to the first Get Hurt tour, and when you guys were touring in Europe with Bayside at the end of last year, you guys have started to play an alternate version of “Great Expectations.” It sounds almost like a completely different song. What made you guys want to do that?
AL: We’ve done that with a couple songs. Sometimes you write a song, and you play it through a bunch of times, or a bunch of years, and you realze, “This song could have been done this way.” Maybe it sounds better this way, or maybe you’re just bored of the song, and just want to kind of experiment. In this situation, we got to a point where we were like “This song could be kind of cool slowed down.” It’s cool, it’s good fast I think, but it sounds cool slowed down, it lets the melody shine.
TM: I think the lyrics stick a little more when it’s slowed down, it feels more like a slow-burner.
AL: For sure, yeah.
TGS: Do you see yourselves doing that with other tracks? And is “Great Expectations” just in that slower version, or will you be switching between that and the faster version?
AL: Yeah, on the flip side–pun intended– we just did that with “Get Hurt” a few days ago. We haven’t been playing “Get Hurt” a lot at all, actually. Really we haven’t played it at all. We actually sped that one up. We remembered that when we wrote it, it was intended to be a little bit faster.
TM: Another thing that I’ve noticed is you guys, a lot of times will incorporate other songs into your songs. During one of the Terminal 5 shows last year, you did “I’m on Fire.” I know Brian sang “Skinny Love” in parts of some songs. Is that more organic, or do you rehearse it that way?
AL: Yeah, everything’s organic that we do. We don’t rehearse anything. We actually really don’t rehearse anything, at all. Even our own songs. Sometimes, if we cover a song, it’ll be like one of us will be like “I wanna learn this song,” and everyone else will be like “Okay, learn it!” and they’ll do it, we’ll come in and learn our parts, we’ll sound check it once, and then play it live. That’s it. We’ll never rehearse it again.
TGS: Is that how your cover of “Baba O’ Riley” came about?
AL: That one’s different. The only difference with that was we were asked to play a Who tribute show at Carnegie Hall a few years ago, I think six years ago at this point. So, of course we said yeah. And it was actually during the recording of American Slang, so we had the studio there, so we ended up learning the song there. We were playing with a lot of bigger bands, and we heard that The Who was gonna be there. Obviously, they weren’t, but we were nervous, so we were like “Alright, we really gotta learn this one.” Plus, it’s The Who, so you’ve gotta nail it.
TGS: So all this touring, all these festivals, it’s all in support of Get Hurt, which was released in August of last year. Almost now a full year out, how has the reception been for this, your fifth full-length?
AL: I think on this record, we took a little bit of a different approach to it. It’s not as what people would say a “Gaslight-friendly” album. But I think our die-hard fans are coming out. Everyone’s enjoying it, from what I see. I think it’s been great. To be honest with you, there hasn’t been a song like “45” or “The ’59 Sound” on this record, but I think that’s okay. I don’t think every record needs that. A year later from the release, I still love it, maybe even more than I did when we wrote and recorded it.
TGS: As you mentioned, and in a lot of interviews in the press leading up to the release of this album, you guys talked about how differently you tackled things, but maybe, as you said, for die-hard fans, it still sounds like a Gaslight record. Why was it so important for you guys to convey that message?
AL: You know, I think you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t in the music industry, or in art in general. If you continuously create the same thing over and over again, you’re going to get backlash for not being creative, if you keep doing the same thing again and again. Then, I think when you take a step out and you have the balls to do that, sometimes you get backlash because it’s not what people expected, wanted, or thought they were gonna get. Like I said, damned if you do, damned if you don’t. But if you take that step, maybe that step creatively missed the mark a little bit, but the next time around you’ll be closer creatively to what you wanted to do.
TM: I remember reading something along those lines that you guys experienced when American Slang came out in 2010. It was after The ’59 Sound, everyone expected that sound again. And when American Slang came out, it was different, and I think Get Hurt was more in that vein.
AL: I think maybe, by now, people will realize that we’re not gonna make the same record over and over. I don’t know. From Get Hurt to Sink or Swim, it’s a world apart. We were a punk band, back then.
TGS: It’s funny you say that, because when I first heard “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” my initial thought was that it reminded me of Sink or Swim, and on the entire album, there’s bits and pieces that remind me of all your older material. In addition to that, you guys have always had references to older material in albums you’ve released. Is that something you consciously think about when you’re writing, or is that how it comes out?
AL: I think it how it comes out. It depends, I think when you write certain songs, the previous record sort of sets up what you’re doing the next time. If we never wrote a song like “Queen of Lower Chelsea,” we never would have been able to write a song like “Get Hurt.” I think certain songs convey certain things, and they bridge the gap. We can’t go from “Drive” to “National Anthem.” It’s a world apart.
TGS: One of the biggest differences was your choice of producer. You guys have worked with Brendan O’ Brien, you worked with Ted Hutt. For this one, you went with a relatively new name. You worked with Mike Crossey, who’s known for working with Arctic Monkeys and The 1975, a lot of indie-pop, indie-rock artists. What made him the right choice for you guys to work with on this album?
AL: I think what we were going for was to work with somebody that was going to bring something completely different to the table. We’re a songwriter-based band. We write songs. We don’t really jam to figure out how it’s going to fundamentally sound. We always work with producers who look at producing in that fashion. Mike Crossey was more or less a sonic guy. He was coming in as more of a sound person. He really understood the studio, putting this mic here, doing wacky things to get the sounds out in the songs, rather than the songs themselves.
TGS: Do you guys see yourselves going down that path again, and working with a new producer each time you work on a new album?
AL: Yeah, I think we’ll probably always have a new producer. I think it’s smart. If you want to make the same record twice, you work with the same guys.
TM: This way you sound fresh, and you’re not making the same record over and over again.
TGS: One of the most interesting things about Get Hurt was the artwork. It was very minimal, very striking. What went into the decision to use that as the artwork?
AL: That was an interesting story. The guy we were working with, he was sending us a lot of different things, a lot of really elaborate, cool ideas, and they just didn’t fit. When he sent us that, I think he was just frustrated, but we were like, “Yeah, that’s it!” But yeah, it’s strong, it’s really cool.
TGS: Alright, so for the next few questions, I’m going to apologize in advance if I make you seem or feel old. You guys started playing as The Gaslight Anthem in 2006. Next year is 2016, so you guys have a ten-year anniversary coming up. How does that feel? Were you aware of it before I just said that?
AL: We’ve been talking about it, yeah. We’re old.
TGS: What would you say is the most important thing you’ve learned about being in a band, or more specifically, being The Gaslight Anthem, over that time?
AL: I would say just being true to who you are as a band, and never turning your back on your fans. Your hardcore fans are gonna be the ones that are there forever.
TGS: What would you say is the biggest thing that’s changed over the last 10 years for you guys, or even for the music industry in general?
AL: A lot. People were still buying records back then, they were still watching MTV back then, they were still listening to the radio–actually, I still think people listen to the radio. A lot of things have changed. Spotify has happened. iTunes, the iPhone, in general. It’s crazy.
TGS: So what’s next for you guys? I know mentioned that you might be taking a little bit of a break before.
AL: Yeah, we’re going to Europe and then we’re going to be taking a break for a little bit, to try and assess a few things and just kind of move forward and see what’s next.
The Garden Statement would like to thank Alex Levine for taking the time out to talk with us. In addition to his Gaslight ventures, Alex operates his own clothing line, Tiger Cuts, which you should definitely check out. Special thanks also go out to Thomas Moore for helping with the interview. Be sure to check him out on Twitter!