The Gaslight Anthem: Once Upon a Time


Simply put, the Internet has been abuzz over the Gaslight Anthem for the past year. The ’59 Sound was one of 2008’s most acclaimed releases, garnering plenty of coverage from to Pitchfork, and the group’s single even got national radio play.

“Any band that puts out a record expects something, I guess, because they’re proud of it. We didn’t really expect the mainstream feedback that we’ve gotten,” bassist Alex Levine admits. “This year’s been incredible. Everything that’s happened because of The ’59 Sound has been unbelievable.”

The band kept pace over the summer, playing huge festivals like Lollapalooza, Reading and Leeds and opening for Bruce Springsteen in Europe. Not too shabby for a band who started a mere four years ago in New Brunswick, N.J., without any aspirations other than to create good music. In fact, at that time Levine was working as a cook, singer Brian Fallon was a pizza delivery boy and gas station attendant, guitarist Alex Rosamilia managed a shoe store and drummer Benny Horowitz worked at a newspaper.

The four guys grew up going to and playing in local weekend concerts, a Jersey staple.

“I sort of realized that that was going on all over New Jersey. There were VFWs and Elks Lodges all over New Jersey,” Levine recalls. “This was where the Bouncing Souls were from. This was where all these bands that I loved are from. I remember thinking ‘Does this happen in, like, Nebraska?’ No, man, this happens in New Jersey. That’s it.”

The band released its debut, Sink or Swim, in 2007, which received generally positive reviews and allowed them to tour the country. The opportunity left a mark on Levine about how lucky his upbringing was.

“In Jersey, it was way different and way easier to get a show than many other places around the country,” he points out. “Brought up in that scene, you have a different outlook on putting on shows. Playing shows is kind of picking up anywhere and playing. That’s really how Jersey is. You play in a basement. You play in a VFW. That’s it.”

That work ethic has allowed Levine and company to acquire a fondness for older times, particularly the ’50s, and their albums are full of its impact.

“I’m really influenced by the way people dressed and just about living, when it comes down to family life to hanging out,” Levine says. “I wish I could go back to 1955 and start my life back then. It just seemed like a different time and a better time, for music and for living in general. After the war, people were happy.”

As the economy struggles today, the Gaslight Anthem’s blue-collar roots and everyman storytelling seem almost tailor made for our time.

“People gravitate towards real struggles and real problems and real life situations, especially in times like this where people are having trouble with losing their money and getting jobs,” Levine says. “It’s that ’50s aesthetic. It all comes full circle. That’s how it was back then, and then all of a sudden that’s just how it is now. People always gravitate to music that’s a little bit different, that’s speaking to you differently and telling you different things, and I feel like people haven’t really been talking about certain things that we’ve said in some songs.”

Meanwhile, the band will headline its biggest tour yet this fall and jump back into the studio come January.

“We’re just going to write how we write. We’re not very conscious of how we sound most of the time,” Levine laughs. “Whatever feels good comes out. We’re not one of those bands that are going to be like, ‘We need to push the envelope here. We need to be more innovative.’ That’s not who we are. We just kind of play a couple chords and that’s really about it.”

“We’d be happy playing the shows we’re playing right now for the rest of our career, headlining these kinds of venues and doing things like that,” Levine continues. “You’d be a liar if you’re not going to say you’re striving for more and better, because any human should, but we’re not really expecting anything.”

Originally appeared in Campus Circle