Since the conclusion of 2012’s Handwritten, THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM voiced their intentions to “find new legs”. Names such as The Beatles and Pink Floyd were tossed around and press clippings outlined a balance between “weird” and “similar”, prompting fans to prepare for a period of adjustment. Despite every preconceived report about it, Get Hurt spills over with depth, reflection, intimacy, and the sort of courage that studies new musical territories without forgetting about home.
It relays an initial shock but it’s adjacent to the growth of acts such as The Walkmen and The War On Drugs, and how The National progressed to High Violet and became suppliers of musical ambien. For The Gaslight Anthem, it’s a welcoming change and after releasing two singles, Ben Horowitz (drums) and Alex Levine (bass) talked to us about their LP and why the group needed to reinvent themselves.
The teaser for your new album has received a lot of mixed reviews including “The Grungelight Anthem”. Is it hard to write a new record when you know people aren’t so accepting of change?
BEN HOROWITZ: Oh, I saw that one. On YouTube right? I look at all of that shit, it’s funny. Like if you’re a grown man on the Internet and you can’t realize that the person on the other end is probably 14 and if you can’t remember yourself at 14 and what you would have done on Internet comment boards… then you’re outta touch. Especially if you take any of that too seriously.
ALEX LEVINE: Yeah I used to not read any of those reviews or whatever just because they’re mean and you don’t want to read something about yourself that’s negative, you know? But now I just take it for what it is and it’s a lot of the same people generally, and if you’re going to take the time to criticize someone then I guess you’re doing something right. I would never sit there and criticize someone if I didn’t care whatsoever. I wouldn’t take the time to write a fucking bizarre YouTube message… like on YouTube of all the things.
Are you aware there’s a place on the Internet called fuckyeahalexlevine.tumblr.com?
ALEX: Really? That’s pretty cool!
Yeah, so don’t worry. People are saying nice things too!
BEN: That’s the funny thing. Most of them are nice but people have a tendency to focus on the one negative thing and then take that and run. Again, this is where we need to remember ourselves. Like if I was a 14-year-old with constant access to being able to comment – I mean I was fairly respectful little kid, but the stuff I hated, I hated and with a passion for some reason… probably because I was fucking 14-years-old and you don’t know what to do with these emotions! They’re going crazy!
ALEX: I don’t get annoyed with opinions I get annoyed when people are blatantly wrong.
BEN: You gotta take it the David Lee Roth way. I just listen to his explanation of Van Halen’s thing with brown M&M’s. He knew that all this time there was a very logical explanation for having brown M&M’s on the rider. It was actually in there as a safety precaution to make sure people were picking up on lighting rigs and things like that.
They put it right in the middle of the rider because I guess at the time they were using the largest production in the history of touring rock and not all stadiums were equipped to hold their lighting and their sound. So in the middle of those requirements, if they find one brown M&M backstage, the venue and the promoter have to forfeit all profits from the show. But it got out as a crazy request from rock stars and that Van Halen won’t touch the stage if there’s a brown M&M, and he ran with it on purpose because it was funny. It just adds to the stupid rock n’ roll narrative.
ALEX: Did I ever tell you my uncle Jeff did that? He worked concessions in 1983/84 at Madison Square Gardens and he had to pick out the brown M&M’s.
What are your feelings on the statement “rock n’ roll is a narcissistic hero fantasy”?
BEN: I do think there’s a point to that statement. But that being said, I think the thing that drives people to do this isn’t necessarily that clear-cut. It can kind of turn into that but a super uncomfortable 12-year-old kid who can’t talk to girls and isn’t good at school doesn’t pick up an instrument to be cool. Most people who are musicians were that kid and though that’s not how it usually goes down, the path can turn one of these fucking kids into someone with a narcissistic hero complex. But I’m not going to deny that statement either because it is an incredibly self-serving task most of the time unless you view your music as some fucking gift to the world and that’s why you have to do it.
ALEX: If that’s the case, I’d respect an artist like Prince for example because he’s gone that route forever and he plays that role so well that you actually think he’s not better than you. Instead, he’s this majestic creature of rock n’ roll and it’s more of a character (laughs). But for everyone in between, it’s hard to justify getting there and acting that way just because you have all these “yes” men around you.
BEN: People who have a clear idea of who they are before they get into it can stay that way. But I don’t think many people obtain that idea first. Who said that quote anyway? Dave Grohl? Robert Plant?
No. It’s no one famous.
BEN: Well that changes it because now it’s coming from a place of jealousy and not knowledge.
It’s a statement that was made in an article by VICE/Noisey.
BEN: Oh it’s a VICE statement! That’s funny because without rock stars that have narcissistic hero complexes, that magazine doesn’t exist. Their whole thing is that rock n’ roll romance drama. They try to play the other side but they are just as complicit in all that bullshit. They dramatize it and they’re no better than anybody else that’s involved.
That’s fair. Let’s back track a bit – what are some of the larger themes on Get Hurt?
BEN: It’s the same really. We write songs about heartbreak pretty much (laughs).
What new song was the most difficult one to finish?
ALEX: “Red Violins”, I think. It started as a completely different song – it was something we were trying to make into a ballad or an acoustic-y song on the record, but it just wasn’t working and we tried a few things but we ended up recording all of our parts separately on that song. We had a clear idea of what we were doing on every other song on the record and we recorded them all together, but we didn’t know where that one was going until it was done.
So that’s not really your standard writing procedure?
BEN: Well, for that song we came in with it one way, but we didn’t really like it so it started to get scrapped. But there were pieces of it that we liked so we were able to rework it. We usually don’t do a total reboot of a song.
ALEX: We’ve never really done anything like this. We had the basis of the song so I sat down with my bass and all I knew was the verse chords were the same. Everything else had changed. So listening to what Brian recorded earlier on, we were just trying to figure out what we were going to write as we were recording it. There was no rehearsing or anything like that, and then I flew home for the weekend and I had no idea where that song was going to go.
Are you guys happy with the end result? Was it worth salvaging?
ALEX: Yeah, it’s one of our favorites on the record.
Based on what I’ve heard, I feel like Get Hurt is a departure from your older material, but not too far from Handwritten. What influenced you to continue to open up musically?
BEN: Well I’ve read the same YouTube comments you did and most of it is cool and people are stoked, so I don’t get a feeling of resistance from people who like the band. And even a comment like “The Grungelight Anthem” isn’t necessarily an insult to someone who loves grunge. There’s definitely a clear idea that you want to try something different and move into a new direction because it’s weird to spin your wheels and play the same music forever.
But at the same time, you don’t want to take such a big side step that you’re going to abandon the people who have been into your band and the thing that you’ve built. I think bands are a bit presumptuous to think they could make a 180 degree turn, be so good at “this new style”, and end up being the best at it.
ALEX: They’re trying to reinvent the wheel, which isn’t really a possibility in rock n’ roll.
BEN: You need to reinvent yourself, you don’t need to reinvent the whole fucking thing. I mean even with the teaser, we’re just fucking with people. Andy Diamond and I are just running down the street and he’s spitting beer out of his mouth, like we were just having some fun with that one. But that was part of the reason… like we would rather people be like, “What the fuck is this?” than say, “Oh another Gaslight album, ho hum”.
What would you consider to be the biggest enemy of creativity?
ALEX: I would say time constraints and people that control your music and your direction. I know for us, time has been the worse offender when it comes to creativity and stifling us that way. You have “X” amount of time to do what you need to do and a lot of the time a few things fall by the wayside because you can’t get it all in.
BEN: That’s definitely true on a functional level. It’s happened to us a few times but I think the biggest issue for creativity can be like ego mixed with a sense of satisfaction. Like when people have the feeling they’re the best at what they do and that’s good enough then they’re done being creative. They no longer have that push and the most creative people I’ve ever known are the ones who always think everything they do is a piece of shit from the second it’s over. Like not a piece of shit, but not the best thing they’ve done or the best thing they’re going to do.
What would you say is the biggest thing missing from today’s punk rock community?
BEN: To me, hardcore and punk is just missing a fucking message. It’s missing danger and it’s missing fire. It’s lost. The whole purpose of it from when it started is… well, not lost because there’s people who still do it, but the whole thing I grew up with… I can’t find it anywhere. And that bums me out.