The Gaslight Anthem is a five-piece American Rock band from New Jersey. They got their start in 2007 and have since been taking the music world by storm, having released an EP and three full-length albums since.
On September 12th, Gaslight was the opening act for headliner Rise Against at the Bell Center, and before their show I had the chance to sit down with Benny, the drummer, to talk a bit about their latest album ‘Handwritten’. He was by far one of the nicest guys I’ve met in a long time, and his passion for the band and their music was immediately noticeable. We ended up discussing a lot more about traveling and the trials bands’ go through on the road, and I managed to learn a lot of new stuff about Gaslight that I had never previously read about!
CONFRONT: Are you enjoying Montreal so far?
BENNY: Yeah! This is a much nicer place than the club we played last time.
CONFRONT: Do you remember where you played last time?
BENNY: Hmm… No! *laughs*
CONFRONT: *laughs* It was probably Metropolis or something?
BENNY: That might have been it. It was a pretty small, few hundred people kind of venue
CONFRONT: Oh then you probably went a bit smaller than that one!
BENNY: Yeah. When we were in Quebec City yesterday, it was just SO nice. It looked like Switzerland over there!
CONFRONT: It really is so pretty! They have all those cute buildings
BENNY: You don’t see places like that in the States ever.
CONFRONT: Actually, I hear that Montreal and Quebec City are often compared to Europe, and I feel like they’re pretty noticeably similar!
BENNY: Yeah definitely. I travel Europe all the time and I really felt like Quebec City… Well, it didn’t feel like France, but it looked like Switzerland- a city in Switzerland- which is a beautiful place, really.
CONFRONT: Is it one of you favorite places in Europe?
BENNY: Oh for sure!
CONFRONT: I should put that on my to-travel-in-Europe list!
BENNY: Oh you definitely should. It’s so beautiful and honestly it’s a rich country too, so everything is just really well taken care of. I’m from new Jersey- which I love more than anything- but it’s a little grimy in comparison.
CONFRONT: Oh its okay, Montreal has it’s grungier areas too, but you love it because it’s home!
CONFRONT: Alright, so, would you be able to give me a brief history of the band and how you guys got together?
BENNY: Sure! It started from a band that Brian had, and they put out an EP on our friends’ ‘XOXO’ record label, they did a short tour, and Brian lost his bass player and drummer on that tour. They came back and were looking to do some stuff, and I’m an old friend of the guy who ran XOXO records from the hardcore scene. He was like ‘I’ve got this dude who’s putting out records, do you want to try and play drums for him?’ So I listened to the stuff, got invited up, asked to play, and then I started. We did one tour with that lineup, and after that the other guitar player left. I previously was in a bad with Alex, the guitar player, and I was like “I think he’s the guy we should bring in” so that’s when Gaslight REALLY started, when he was there. I met Brian and those guys in September of 2005, and Alex joined a few months after. Beginning of 2006 was when we really started cruising- we did a 3 song demo, burned the CD, did our own packaging in my old office where I used to work at. We’d just use like six computers after hours to burn CD’s, print labels and stuff like that.
CONFRONT: The good old days!
BENNY: *laughs*Yeah, the good old days! Exactly. So we just pushed the demo and we ended up releasing our first record on XOXO Records- same label, and yeah! We’ve been going from there.
CONFRONT: Awesome. Have you always been a drummer or do you play other instruments?
BENNY: No, instruments don’t come easy to me. Drums came fairly easy to me, but it’s taken me a fairly long while to get to where I’m at and I just want to get better at what I do. I have no interest in fronting my own band or something like that.
CONFRONT: You like the drums.
BENNY: I’m a drummer’s drummer! I like drums and I like that more than making myself the front of a band. I appreciate building the base of the band and letting other people take that role- I have no need for that role.
CONFRONT: That’s really cool of you, because I from a fan standpoint the drums just seems like the hardest instrument to learn!
BENNY: Well, when bands break up, it’s always the drummers that get called first because it’s a good drummer that can write and record and tour (and isn’t a mental case) is pretty hard to find, sometimes! It’s the most underappreciated instrument sometimes, but for those who know music, you know you’re not doing shit without a decent drummer.
CONFRONT: You need to keep up the pace for the band.
BENNY: You’re not going to see a band at a level we’re at- or any good band is at- with a bad drummer. It just doesn’t happen!
CONFRONT: You guys pretty recently just released your new album ‘Handwritten’- How does it differ from the last couple albums you put out?
BENNY: There wasn’t some major focus for change. We always try to write from a natural place that you just want to hear. The music we want to write at that time is what we write, and that’s how you get the most natural, well-written music to begin with. The largest changes are that we changed producers, we decided to travel again to record- which was a great idea- and that was something that we’ll probably keep doing. We recorded ‘American Slang’ in New York City, and for us that’s just a small commute- you go to work, go to the studio, take the train in every day- and then as the day ends you’re thinking about dinner and going to sleep, and then you go home and you’re dealing with whatever type of thing you’re dealing with at home. It was just a process that didn’t feel artistic or natural. So this time we decided to leave again. We recorded ’59 Sound’ in LA, we recorded ‘Senor and the Queen’ in Austin, Texas, so we just realized we had to get away. We packed up the van, we brought Alex’s dog, and we just drove down to Nashville, rented a little house outside of town, and every day we traveled to the studio together, went back to the house together, and actually talked about what we were doing before going back to the studio again. It was a much more interactive process. I think it was super beneficial.
And then sound wise, we wanted to get away from the clean guitar sound that was good for ‘American Slang’ but a little thing, so we wanted a nice beefy guitar sound again. We just made a beefier record overall. We added Ian as the third full-time guitar player, which is pretty cool too!
CONFRONT: For sure! Do you find that you’re the opposite of a homebody? You mentioned really enjoying traveling to record, so is that just the lifestyle you prefer?
BENNY: It’s hard to say. What’s really hard is splitting the two- the mindset and the way that you live at home compared to the way you need to be on the road is just different. It calls for a different disposition in a lot of ways. You almost need to change every time, and it’s like a grace period on the first few days of tour where people get used to that group. When you get home, it’s the same thing. It takes a little bit to get re-adjusted to being home and waking up, and realizing you don’t have sound check, press, or a scheduled dinner. You realize this is MY day, I need to plan it, take control, and be that kind of person again. It’s an odd psychological yoyo.
CONFRONT: It’s sounds like a constant battle- you’re home, then you’re not…
BENNY: It kind of is, and when you tour as much as we do, in a weird way you get more accustomed to THIS- which is fucking fantasy land, this isn’t real life!- it’s odd when people DO get used to this because it means you’ve forgotten what real life is actually like. I remember this interview I read with Kirk Hammett from Metallica. He was so young when Metallica got big, and he said that when he came home from a tour once, he forgot to take out the trash. He just didn’t know where to PUT IT anymore. You don’t realize sometimes what we’re doing out here. It’s really bizarre when you start looking into. Luckily, we’re the types of people who do bother to look into it, which means we’ll probably stay fairly grounded. I’ve seen a lot of people get sucked up and never really come back the same.
CONFRONT: Definitely. Would you say that you guys are really making an effort to stay grounded and to stay away from the mentality that THIS is life?
BENNY: We’re trying! It’s a constant pull-back. You get so used to this lifestyle that sometimes you can go to a backstage room somewhere and there are no towels. And you think to yourself “God Damit there aren’t any towels!” and then you’re like… wait a minute, I’m in Sweden right now, I’m playing music, I’m getting paid to play music in another country right now, who the fuck cares? I’ll be alright. On the opposite side, when you’re home and you feel like washing your face, you stand up, go where there is soap, hot running water, and a bath towel. To get those three things together on tour? Sometimes you won’t get that for like a week! It’s one of those weird things where people who don’t travel don’t realize what you actually STRAIGHT UP give up in terms of comforts from home.
CONFRONT: Yeah exactly ! Then you go home and you’re like “wow is this really RIGHT HERE FOR ME TO USE?”
BENNY: Exactly! Like, oh I don’t even have to put socks on! It’s bizarre. I even wrote something for Q Magazine not too long ago on the psychology of a touring musician, like what brings people to this lifestyle. You see that a lot of bands break up because people just can’t take this. That’s a huge variable, when people wonder why bands break up. It’s just difficult. And this doesn’t even include addiction and all those other things.
CONFRONT: Oh yeah, you guys must go through just a million different little things every day. Crazy. If you could describe your band in ONE word, what would it be?
BENNY: Hmmm… Rock?
CONFRONT: Cool. If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?
BENNY: I actually had a pretty good job before I got this gig! I was the night production manager at a newspaper.
CONFRONT: Oh, that’s really coo!
BENNY: Yeah! So I had a good salary job before I did this. It was a job I liked! If Gaslight wasn’t full-time, maybe I’d be doing that! I actually had a crazy decision to make right before Gaslight became a full-time thing. I have this friend who worked for the NBA- and I’m a CRAZY basketball fan and I LOVE statistics and sports- right when Gaslight started, my friend offered me a job at the NBA, basically tallying statistics. Basically dream job #2 besides this. It took me a minute to really think about it, but I said that I really liked this band and I don’t want to take this job and have to quit, this and that, so I said sorry but no. He actually came to see us play really early on and told me that he thought I should have taken the job!
CONFRONT: No way!
BENNY: He’s still a friend of mine and I break his balls about it all the time- and he doesn’t even WORK for the NBA anymore, he works for baseball now.
CONFRONT: So, no regrets!
BENNY: No, you know I never have regrets. It’s just funny how close you come sometimes, simple twists of fate that direct you every which way. It’s interesting.
CONFRONT: For sure. My last question for you, what’s your most memorable Halloween experience?
BENNY: I feel bad, but my most memorable experience was getting beat up for my candy! I was trick-or-treating when I was somewhere between 10 to 12 years old, and we used to take pillow cases? I had a good half pillow case, we were out for a while, and some kids in a car screeched up and pushed me away and took it!
CONFRONT: Well thank you very much!
You can learn more about The Gaslight Anthem at the links below: