SLEEPWALKERS sees Brian Fallon once again pushing timeless rock ‘n’ roll into the modern era, recasting British Invasion rock, first generation UK punk and American pop and soul into a near irresistible sound he’s dubbed “Heavy R&B.” Recorded earlier this year at New Orleans’ Parlor Recording Studio with producer Ted Hutt – the man behind the board for The Gaslight Anthem’s breakthrough, THE ’59 SOUND – the album is perhaps the strongest example yet of Fallon’s always adventurous artistry, with songs like “Forget Me Not” and the brass-blasting title track fit to burst with spirit and light, an intangible magic that draws listeners to the dance floor while also striking chords within their hearts.
“I haven’t had this feeling since THE ’59 SOUND,” Fallon says. “When I wrote that record, I was pure. I had no pre-conceived notions. I was following this thing and when it was done I knew it could stand against anyone.”
Known far and wide as singer/guitarist of The Gaslight Anthem, as well as The Horrible Crowes, Fallon made his long-anticipated solo debut with 2015’s masterful PAINKILLERS. The album – which includes the hit singles, “A Wonderful Life” and “Painkillers” – drew widespread critical applause upon its release, with Rolling Stone noting, “For a guy whose songs have always traded in the pains and pleasures of nostalgia, the Fallon of PAINKILLERS seems to have arrived at a newfound, forward-looking clarity.”
Fallon toured the world in support of PAINKILLERS, during which time the New Jersey-based tunesmith began considering what might come next. Once again, Fallon had a sound buzzing in his ear, a modern marriage of rock and soul with the hard edge of punk, ribboned with the “cool and kind of creepy” tones of the one and only Vox Continental, the distinctive organ used by some of his favorite artists spanning The Animals and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to The Specials and Elvis Costello and the Attractions.
“Believe it or not, I started taking piano lessons,” he says. “As a professional musician, you think, well, taking lessons seems weird, but then you remember there’s still a world of things you don’t know. I was okay with the idea that I didn’t know anything about playing piano so I was able to really learn. And that opened up whole new worlds for me.”
Despite his new skill set, Fallon was still somewhat stuck, unable to access the part of himself necessary to truly go deep in his songcraft.
“It seemed like I had all the music in the world, but couldn’t find the melody,” he says. “The brakes were on. The muse had left the building. I was really struggling to get songs because I was still searching for something. I finally had to let go, I had to stop trying to control it so much and just tell the truth. Once I did that, once I let go of any preconceived notion of what it should be, that’s when it all came out.”
Fallon knew he had the musicians needed to back his hard R&B in The Howling Weather – guitarist Ian Perkins, bassist Nick Salisbury, and drummer Dave Hidalgo – but the right studio partner was key to truly nailing his sound and vision. He decided to reach out to an old friend in GRAMMY® Award-winner Ted Hutt (Old Crow Medicine Show, Dropkick Murphys), with whom he previously collaborated on The Gaslight Anthem’s landmark THE ’59 SOUND and AMERICAN SLANG LPs as well as The Horrible Crowes’ ELSIE.
“I thought, who’s going to understand what I’m trying to do,” says Fallon, “and not try to correct it. I thought, there’s nobody who loves what I love, the British rock, the R&B and soul music, there’s nobody who understands this music better than Ted. And no one draws the best out me like Ted. He pushed me hard on these songs, it was like, you’ve got to dig for this. He knew what I needed to do and how I needed to get there. It was great to be pushed liked that by someone you know cares for you.”
Fallon began writing about his real life, his immediate family and closest friends, baring himself to the bone freely and unguarded. The celebratory sound of songs like the opening “If Your Prayers Don’t Get You To Heaven” belies the heart of darkness that beats within Fallon’s always frank songwriting, the fist-pumping choruses and body-rocking rhythms casting light against richly complex lyrics born of a recent “conversation with mortality.”
“I’m not the same kid that wrote THE ’59 SOUND,” Fallon says. “Things are very different now and I think I sort of lost my place, like what do I write about now? I don’t want to write songs about taxes. You have to find your center and just write about where you’re at now. I decided to just write about me and my friends and my family, I’m going to write about the things that I know right now.”
“Proof of Life” and “See You On The Other Side” provide potent bookends to SLEEPWALKERS, offering a glimpse of Fallon’s trepidation and desire to confront his own naked truth. “Forget Me Not,” the album’s first single, is an impassioned rush of ‘60s pop, all urgent guitars and giddy handclaps, though Fallon admits the glorious energy disguises a badly broken heart.
“I was thinking how every song doesn’t have to be so serious,” Fallon says. “It can just be fun. It can just be a song that I would want to play live. ‘Forgot Me Not’ came out in just a couple of minutes and actually ended up being pretty serious – it seems my subconscious had other plans.”
Recording SLEEPWALKERS in New Orleans marked the culmination of a longtime dream of Fallon’s, getting to spend real time in the Big Easy and truly absorb the culture. Indeed, the special musical energy of the Crescent City infused the album with an even greater connection to the swinging garage R&B he and the Howling Weather were cooking up in Parlor Recording. “Etta James” is both heartfelt paean to the legendary singer and a universal celebration of pure artistic passion in the face of great personal difficulty while the title track conjures the soulful spirit of Sam Cooke with big brass from the one and only Preservation Hall Jazz Band – remarkably, the first time Fallon has incorporated a horn section into his polyglot approach.
“At first I was very against it,” Fallon says, “ but I said, you know what? I’m just going to go for it. Full on. So I had known Ben Jaffe – the Preservation Hall creative director - and the guys a little bit, we did a song together once in Asbury Park, and they invited me down to hang out and play some music. They were so cool, I said, hey, we’re recording right down the street, you’d be great on this one song I’ve got. They came down and they just started going full throttle, they just went for it. It was done in about a half hour but that half hour was mindblowing. Just this incredible experience of hearing your own music be birthed and come to life. It was insane.”
As emotionally powerful as it is musically exultant, SLEEPWALKERS is Brian Fallon at the very top of his game, now as ever pushing and kicking the rock ‘n’ soul sounds he grew up on into the future.
“I think my job, in one sentence, is to carry on the tradition,” says Fallon. “That’s all I’m doing. All I’m trying to do is take what I’ve learned, give it my own spin, and keep it living. Keeping the pulse going.”