"It's a mess, the pedalboard is a disaster right now." Brian Fallon is just finishing up a tour with the Gaslight Anthem, but he's already thinking about his rig for the next one. He's half-joking of course but his love for guitar and all the gear behind it means he's always looking for something to change out. We can relate. But he's also got a very good excuse now.
The return of the band and a new album in the form of History Books finds Brian back with his old friends after a successful run of solo albums and tours. That era saw him growing not just as a songwriter but a guitarist too – one who is open about taking ongoing lessons to continue to widen his horizons as a musician. Now Gaslight are very much back in business and the rig demands are different too.
History Books finds Brian and the band, with fellow guitarist Alex Rosamilia, drummer Benny Horrowitz and bassist Adam Levine, confidently bridging the territories of familiarity and evolution in their sound. And sound, specifically all things guitar, is what we're here to talk about.
Following the journey of your solo career, did you feel different as a musician going into making another album with the band?
"I really do actually, I think all of us do. I think that was something that we realised once we got in the room at the studio and started to work out the songs.
"Because the way that we usually work out a song, we'll have the basic thing, but it's just me singing into an iPhone with a guitar. And so it's just vocals and guitars – really simple. Then once we actually started to play we all kind of realised I how much we'd all grown musically, which was a real treat, because we can do other things that maybe we weren't great at before. It was nice. It was inspiring to see."
Did the roles in the band change at all or did you fall back into the rhythm of the way things were before on the guitar side?
"No, I mean, they're not really that different. I think we've always had kind of a pretty fluid relationship. So musically, it's funny, because [Alex Rosamilia] and I really don't spend much time talking about what's going to happen with the guitars. Which is a really strange thing, I guess. But I think I've heard that with other bands that they don't discuss it, they just kind of do it. And Alex and I have always been like that.
"The instinct is still there with everyone – there's that unspoken instinct. I wouldn't want to say we just like fell into it, but we did in a way because that instinct never goes away."
I noticed on your last solo tour in the UK how much you'd developed as a guitarist and were moving into new areas with your playing. Were you tempted to take on more lead breaks with the band this time or so you see that as Alex's territory?
"I guess we talked about it, and he said, 'Do you want to do [more of that]. He asked me that at the beginning. He said, I know that you do this now – do you want to do more of the solos or whatever? And I was like, 'Not really'.
"I think it's funny because for me, I'm still doing lessons and still doing all the progressing. But I almost think that it's just about musicality for me. I know I can do it, but to show anyone is just not as satisfying as learning something to me.
"For the band, I think maybe like as we go, I might do one or two here and there just for fun, but I like I liked the way Alex plays a lot. So I kind of defer to him a lot of the time."
Peter Katis produced your last solo album, Local Honey. What impact did he have on this album in terms of the guitar approach?
"With Peter, the thing about the guitars is that he comes from much more of a pre-grunge kind of guitar school, I would say. Sonic Youth, and early Dinosaur Jr – the bands that were before Nirvana is where he gets his guitar [influence] from.
"When we came with this record, we said, 'Peter, we don't want to do typical guitar tones', we wanted to really kind of mess them up and go through Big Muffs and really try to make some cool sounds with modulation and things like that. And so he was all for it. And since he's not a traditionalist, because I feel like if you said that to a traditional producer, you would just sort of end up sounding like Led Zeppelin or something – something that's already been done. But Peter is coming from such a different perspective than anyone else, because no one's using Sonic Youth as a reference right now. And no one's using early Dinosaur Jr either – except for maybe Kurt Vile and me. What I mean by that is not many people are copying that in pop music. It's not that no one's referencing it because they are, but it's just not widely discussed in guitar magazines and stuff.
"So that was kind of the angle that we went for. And also a lot of the '80s goth and new wave music with the chorus tones. So we went with Siouxsie And The Banshees guitar sounds for Alex. There would be like this very distorted Big Muff part and then there would be this really pleasing chorus. We used the old Boss pedals from Japan that they used, and we used the old Roland things. That was like a big thing for us – like the early Cure. I think there's a [Boss] Dimension C on there. It was really cool to be informed by [those bands], not musically influenced by them with the songs, but the guitar sounds. If you listen to it you can totally hear it."
There's some really poignant reflective lyrics on this album, seemingly looking back at difficult situations. Did you find it quite cathartic to look back and create uplifting songs from those experiences?
"It was coming from a place of having all that time to reflect during the pandemic and all that. We had a new election in America right around that time when I was writing, because I guess it was 2020 that I started writing. So 2020 was kind of the end of the isolation period because the vaccine was coming out. I think everybody was getting their vaccines and there was a new election and there was a little bit of a sense of hope, but also a sense of, wow we've just really gone through something.
"I think that's what was captured in the music there but also because of the age I'm at, you're bound to think of that kind of thing when you're getting into your midlife."
Let's talk about gear because there's a lot to talk about here. It feels like different eras of your musical life are linked to different guitars. So you used Strats and Jazzmasters live in the last stage of your solo music but now you're moved into using Gibsons again with the band – are those changes just instinctive or practical?
"We used a lot of everything on the record. So there was the Jaguar and there was the Strat, but then there was also the Gibsons. But I think one of the things that happens is different instruments sort of play with different music better. You can make anything sound like anything, but it's a little tough, and sometimes there's a delicacy to certain instruments. And I think for me, they put me in different places.
"I find a lot of the things that a Strat does really well, I can't really do in this band. I sometimes get frustrated trying to make it work. I'll think, Oh man, I'll change the pickup, or do something else, and it's just trying to stick a round peg in a square hole.
"Then all of a sudden I'll ask myself, what worked? Well, American Slang. What did I use? A Les Paul. Ok, go get the Les Paul and plug it into the amp, and it just sounds good. And it works. I think that you have to have the thing that works for each thing you do. It's true for everybody. Like not all drum kits work. The guy who was playing in my solo band has got an old vintage Gretsch jazz kit, and if Benny [Horrowitz] tried to play that it would probably fall to pieces – it just wouldn't hold up. So I think that certain things like they work better for certain things. And especially live, you have to find the thing that works. You have to find the thing that does everything. I can't be bothered switching guitars every five minutes. I hate that."
Is it strange moving from using Fenders a lot to now playing a Les Paul Custom, or are you used to that kind of switching around over the years?
"I think the only thing you have to adjust for is where it's going to put a bruise on your body! If you have like the Jaguar or the Jazzmaster, you're getting a bruise and with a Les Paul Custom you're getting stuck in the stomach. So that's why you have to play a Les Paul Custom lower so you don't get a bruise like that under your ribs. because there's no conflict [laughs].
"But it's not really difficult switching because I wouldn't switch unless there's a frustration – some kind of like thing getting in my way. So it's almost refreshing to make the change. So when I make the change and I find what works, that sort of helps me. So I don't think it's as hard doing that. I think it's like harder to try and stay with something that's kind of fighting you."
Do you have a specific setup you like on electric guitars – like a low-action and favourite string gauge and brand?
"Most of the time I use the Ernie Ball, the purple ones [Power Slinky] – 11- 46. So they're a heavy top. But my action is surprisingly low for what I do because I don't hit the guitar hard. And that comes from lessons – I have a very, very soft touch and I use those really tiny pointed Jazz picks. I think if I tried to use a big one now I would just be clubbing it!
"I generally like to leave a little [neck] relief, but not too much. I like to be able to just grab the chord quickly without pressing down too much."
You tend to control the gain from the guitar more now when playing live – when did that enter the equation for you?
That probably came in during the solo tours, because I had so many jobs to do – I was the only guitarist at the end. I read a lot too, about how other people would set up their gear. With J Mascis, everybody would say, 'He's using a Big Muff. So then I would try to use a Big Muff on the solos and I would think, this doesn't sound like J Mascis – it sounds terrible!
"Then I found out that he was running an overdrive or a treble booster into the Big Muff, to sort of EQ it. I would start to roll down my volumes and my tone controls because it's almost like you have three pedals. If you set up your gain for your the maximum gain you're going to use, and then you roll it down to like eight, that's a good crunch tone. Then if you roll it down to like seven or six, then your volume is really a rhythm tone. And you can really just control it by the volume knob, which is nice."
Are you tending to do that instead of gain stacking with pedals?
"Yes, I don't really use that many. I usually use one, and then I'm trying to just like have one thing and then try to get everything from it. And the only other thing I would have is like a fuzz on top of that for Stay Vicious or I Live In The Room Above Her, Biloxi Parish… those kinds of songs are heavier so I use the fuzz pedal for that."
Is it a bit of a journey to find that one overdrive pedal?
"Well, I mean it's still it's ever-changing. I have pedals that I really like but I don't know that I have one that I love. Again, they work well with different things – like the King Of Tone works so well with a single-coil guitar. You can plug it into an amp like a Deluxe Reverb or something like that with like no midrange… I mean, you cannot find a better combination than the King Of Tone with a single-coil guitar into that amp.
"I'm just sort of anti-Klon. I've had them before, and every time I have one I go, 'Are you kidding me? This is it?' I'm not into it. Maybe it's like the punk side of me, but I hate the price of it just going so high."
Maybe it just doesn't work for your playing – it doesn't fit into your world.
"Maybe. But I don't even like the spirit of it. With the gain staging thing, Analog Man has this pedal called the Bad Bob Booster, and it's kind of like a micro amp. They make a version of it with a gain knob on it and that's pretty sweet for someone like me. People overlook boosts and a micro amp is great. They sound awesome.
"You've got to start with an amp that you like. I think when I found the Orange Custom Shop 50 it was before the Gaslight record. I just remember plugging into it and being like, 'Oh, when I think of what does rock 'n' roll guitar sound like – it sounds like that'. And I thought maybe I don't even need anything [else]. This is all I need. And I can kind of get that thing to do everything because I think I used an AC30 on one song but everything else on the record is that one amp. So all those different sounds I got with that one amp."
Do you take the hand-wired AC30 on the road as well as the Orange?
"Yeah, but I only use the one really. The AC30 was in the studio for sure and we used it on record, but every single song, except for one, had the Orange on it. And so that's really what I'm running right now. I'm surprised, but when I found it, I kind of plugged into it I was like, 'Whoa'. Anything else was always like, you would use the amp and then you would need a pedal and this and that to make the sound that you wanted. But then when I used that amp I plugged into it and was like, 'Oh, that just sounds like it right there. I don't need anything else.'"
Players often tend to tinker with their guitars but you've been an amp tinkerer for years, which is quite unusual. Have you made any mods to the Orange?
"I have two of them and with one I just all I did was just change the caps to Jupiter caps just because I really like the way they break up. And I changed the resistors in there. When you buy the amp it comes with metal film resistors, the little blue ones, and it sounds awesome. So you don't need to do any of this, all the stuff that I'm telling you about is just me being a tinkerer, you can go in the store and buy this amp, and it's 99.9% the same as mine. I'm just an insane person.
"So I changed all the resistors to carbon comp and did the whole thing – I just did it old school style. I just converted it to, I guess, higher-quality parts, but they're not really higher quality. They're just different."
Speakers are a massively overlooked part of the equation with guitar sounds. Do you tend to change them out in your cabs?
"I do. And I'm generally not a big fan of the newer Celestion speakers. And that's gonna get me in trouble, but I don't like them. I have been a longtime Weber speaker user. So what I do is I take the Orange Cabinets, because [in] the 4x12 I use two Silver Bells, and two Weber Blue speakers so and they're in a crisscross pattern.
"If it's a 2x12 I use Silver and Blue, and that's it. I think that mix is really nice – it's British, it's that British sound. You get the chime of the Blue – a kind of Vox thing. And then you get the Marshall thing… it's really good."
Do you have any advice for people who might want to try different speakers?
"The guy who runs Weber Speakers, his name is T.A and his father is the one who founded the company and invented all these speakers. He had a slogan and he always used to say, 'Speakers have the last word'. And it really is the truth. You got the best pickup, you got the best guitar – Tom Murphy Custom Shop, Masterbuilt – going through vintage Marshall blah, blah, blah. And then you've got these crappy speakers…
"My old Tele, from the '59 Sound isn't a Custom Shop. It's an American Standard – a regular old guitar. When you plug it through a good-sounding amp with good speakers, it just sounds like a million bucks. So that's the thing I would say do first because, you know, if your amp sounds a little stiff you can get softer speakers. If it's too bright get a darker speaker. And vice versa. But it's a thing that people don't look up and it's not that much money. Sometimes you can get a speaker for 100 bucks whereas overdrive pedals can be $300."
One way people can hear the difference speakers can make, in a virtual sense, is using IRs in the digital modelling world. I see you as very much an analogue user but does that kind of tech have any place in your world or have you looked into that world at all?
"I have it – I have the ox and all that. And I gotta say that I don't really use it, but however, I'm not against it. Because a lot of the stuff that we do when we work with Peter is in the box, you know? He'll use modellers all the time. The thing about Peter is he has all the real gear. He's got the LA-2A compressors, and 1176, Fairchild… whatever the Beatles sang through. He's got all that real stuff, but then he turns on the computer and he's like, 'Well, I've got this modelling amp and that sounds awesome.' I'm like, 'No, no, no, no, no. And he said, 'Listen, A/B it', and you can't tell the difference, you just can't.
"My friend Brian uses a Kemper. And I think that's awesome – he's going around the world touring. That's probably smarter. I just haven't made the jump, I think because nobody's explained it to me. Like, 'Here is the amp. This is what it does. Here's your Orange, here's your Vox, whatever in this little computer. Just use this.'"
How does it impact you using a specific Orange amp with freight and touring?
"Fortunately we're at the level where we just freight our stuff over on a boat. I think it leaves like two weeks earlier. But most bands have to rent stuff. And the good thing for me is other comparable Oranges will sound good. I'm fortunate that works, and they'll help me get everything I need. Most of the gigs I do is our tours. I don't really do one-off [overseas] gigs, but a lot of people do, especially if you're a session guy and you're playing for a lot of different bands. Then Kemper is the way to go, in my opinion."
You've recently got a '98 Les Paul Custom, have you changed the pickups on that?
"Yes, I don't like those old 490 and 498 pickups. They're not for me – I just don't like the sound of them. But I just go with regular old Seymour Duncans that you could buy in the store. Not even custom shop. I just go get the Seth Lovers, or I really like the Slash pickups. The lower output ones, the first ones. They're Alnico 2. I like Pearly Gates and I like the Saturday Night Special.. But in the Custom are the Seth lovers. Just regular old Seth lovers you could buy anyway."
What's it been like going from the spikier tonality of Fender single-coils in Jaguars and Strats, where they pop in a mix more, back to the darker character of humbuckers? Do you do anything to account for that?
"The good thing for me is when I was using the Strats and the Jaguars and Jazzmasters, on the Jaguars and the Jazzmasters, the first thing I do when I get it into my hands is change the pots. I drop in 250k pots because they're way, way less bright. Those guitars are like take your head off bright.
"And then on the Strats, a lot of the time, I would be rolling the tone back to like six, or five or seven or whatever. So I always found myself chopping off a lot of high-end. Especially if you plugging into a Marshall – that's a pretty thin sound. With a Strat, it's really hard. Even on an AC30 it's cool if you're playing clean, and you're doing solo stuff, or you're doing kind of like Dire Straits or early U2, then you can't beat an AC30 in the second position on a Strat. But if you're playing in a big rock band, and you have a kick behind you, I just can't do it. And I hate the sound of a humbucker in a single-coil guitar. I hate it."
"So the thing about changing to the humbuckers wasn't that big of a deal, because I always make sure that I rewire the guitars to what they call '50s wiring. So there's a little bit more treble bleeding happening. And the reason that I use the PAF-style Seth Lovers and those kinds pickups is because they are brighter.
"The thing that I love about the Seth Lovers is when I use the middle position or the neck position, to me it sounds like a really fat Tele and on a Les Paul. So it's got that nice chime. So for me just worked and I went from one to the other without really much of a change."
The '50s wiring is a big deal for anyone who cleans up with the volume control too.
"That's a big tip. I mean, you can find that anywhere. If you go the Lindy Fralin. website, it's got tonnes of wiring diagrams. Yeah. And they're all good."
Are you doing these kinds of guitar mods yourself?
"Yes, I do all this stuff myself but also when we're on the road my guitar tech Cody Bradley does it for me. When I'm home I do it but I don't have the time to do it on the road so Cody does it for me, and he's awesome. He's really, really good at all that stuff."
You've been using the Emily Wolfe White Wolfe Sheraton live too. How are you finding that?
"That thing sounds awesome. That also has a really cool high-end to it. It's a really nice guitar. I was surprised. When I picked it up I didn't know how it was gonna be. Because all my guitars, and I feel stupid saying it but they're either vintage or they're Custom Shop, Master Built or whatever. But it's awesome – it feels good, everything is good about it."
It's a good reflection of what Epiphone is doing at the moment.
"I know that Emily put in a lot of work, and I know those people Epiphone, I know Codey Allen Messick at Gibson and Epiphone really put a lot of work into that guitar. And that thing sounds so good.
"I also think those new ones that they've got, remember the Epiphone Les Paul Standards when we were kids? The new ones with the custom colours – those are really good."
What's on rotation with your pedalboard at the moment – are the Way Huge Green Rhino and Red Llama on there?
"The Red Llama and the Green Rhino, I love, but you know what sucks is those are vintage pedals and I can't replace those. So I don't bring them out on tour. But I do have the Way Huge STO – the little one. It almost sounds like the Nobels overdrive that all those Nashville guys use. But it's really sick – it's awesome, and it works great with humbuckers. I also have the Walrus Audio Ages – it's the overdrive with the five different positions. I love that thing.
"Then I've got the ZVex Double Rock, the one that J Mascis uses. Then for fuzzes I have a Biff Muff, the IC '78 – the big one. It's absurd, I don't care though. I've got the Loaf too by Big Ear that Ian [Perkins, Gaslight Anthem touring guitarist) is letting me borrow. I like that a lot too. I also have the other Walrus one too – the Eons with the ram on it. I love that you can change the dial on the Walrus pedals and change the [fuzz modes]. I'm a person who loves to tinker so I like that I can reach down during a song and I can just change it."
Are you using a switching system like a GigRig?
"Yes, I use their switcher [Quartermaster]. So it's just like a bunch of switches with the way I use it because I like to be able to choose on the fly [with combinations of pedals]. I like to do it manually. They're great."
Were you using many pedals for the drive tones on the album?
"Most of the time I used the the pedals because I really liked the amp being clean. And it's sometimes when you're recording, you have to use the pedal as like a little bit of an EQ, because you're dealing with not just the amp, but you're dealing with the microphone, and then the compressors, and you're trying to get a sound. So it's a lot less in your control and a lot more in someone else's control, like the producer or the engineer. So you have to sort of just shape stuff, like you have to get the sound that you want coming out of the speakers and then just trust the rest.
"Actually, a really practical reason is usually the amp is in an isolation room. It's all mic'd up in a room separate from me – it can't be in the same room because it'll bleed into the drummer tracks.
"A lot of the time we're playing, we're sitting down live playing together, so you can't have all that bleed. My amp is in another room with a long, long cable running. And so if I want to change something quickly, it's much easier for me to reach down and just change the pedal. And I really use the King Of Tone.
What do you like about it?
"It just blends in with a lot of stuff. You can set it as a boost or an overdrive. But it really just finds its space in the mix really easily. And I find that it's really touch-sensitive so that's a big thing for me."
What's the modulation you're using on the song Michigan, 1975 from the new album?
"So that is a good example of in-the-box and analogue together. The pedal that does that sound is the Analog Man Chorus, and you can get the Mini Chorus and that'll do it – just set the speed fast. Or the Bi-Chorus will do it – any of the Analog Man choruses will do it. I have tried other chorus pedals and they don't do it – it is a specific thing.
"But also in the box it's [a model] of the Boss CE-1 Chorus Ensemble turned way down. So it's almost flanging. Honestly, a flanger might do it even better."
That's a great example of how the right effect with the right part can set a whole atmosphere.
"I was just stealing from John Frusciante, really – that's what I was doing. Paul Waller Fender Master Builder] made me a Jaguar and it's green [like Frusciante's]. I did one take all the way through, totally just trying to steal John Fusciante's sound. And then I played the song and that was it. That's the whole thing – it's a live, one-take. Done. He's trying to sound like Siouxsie and the Banshees, I'm trying to sound like him."
- History Books is out now on Rich Mahogany Recordings. The Gaslight Anthem tour Europe and the UK in March 2024. More info at thegaslightanthem.com