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National Anthem

The Gaslight Anthem break big, but that doesn't mean they want to talk about it
IT'S A GASLIGHT: Music in the Park hosts New Jersey breakouts the Gaslight Anthem on Thursday.

If guitarist Alex Rosamilia is to be believed, the Gaslight Anthem's story could not be any more boring.

This despite the fact that the New Jersey band, which plays Music in the Park this Thursday, July 22, has become a bona fide hit in two short years. The release of the single "American Slang" in spring, followed by the album of the same name in June, saw them building on the success of 2008's The '59 Sound, and its hit title track. In that time, the band has been positioned by critics and fans as the working-class hero of modern rock, a successor to Springsteen himself.

It's no coincidence that as the band's albums have gotten more Boss-like in their sound and production, especially on the new record, the comparisons have multiplied. It's no longer just that vocalist Brian Fallon happens to sound quite a bit like him; the Gaslight Anthem have now carved out a permanent piece of real estate in Springsteen's America, a sonic landscape that's very much like the real America, except that most of the Eastern seaboard is pretty much New Jersey, and yet you never have to run into those douchebags from Jersey Shore. (It extends to the Midwest, where it butts up against John Cougar Mellencamp's America, but that's another story.) The handing down of the mantle of Bruceness was sealed in many minds when Springsteen appeared onstage with the group in England last year.

All this from a band that came out of what one would imagine to be a pretty small punk scene in New Brunswick, where Gaslight drummer Ben Horowitz was booking shows himself before playing in the band. Horowitz and Rosamilia played in the female-fronted, post-hardcore band the Killing Gift before meeting Fallon through friends and forming the Gaslight Anthem.

Rosamilia, on the day I spoke to him at least, didn't see anything worth talking about in this string of events. Honestly, it was one of those nightmare interviews that, as a writer who goes in with a curiosity about the band and hopes to write something halfway insightful about them, you end up only hoping it will come to a merciful end as quickly as possible. On how the outside world's perception of the band has changed with their success: "It's not something I think about a lot." On the formation of the band: "It was uneventful." On the musical goals of the band: "We never really talked about it much." On whether the Springsteen comparisons have been a blessing or a curse: "I think there's enough out there on the Internet about that already."

Whoops. Outside of suggesting I should steal from other people's reporting rather than do my own, not a lot of provocative material. Definitely the textbook definition of a bad interview, one of any journalist's biggest headaches. Luckily, it doesn't happen often, in fact, it's easy to get spoiled by how many artists out there are eager to talk about their music—or a million other topics. Like interviewing Lou Reed—it's basically lighting a fuse and then letting him go off. Or sometimes it's just a mind-blowing conversation; recently, I talked to John Vanderslice for two hours and roughly a quarter of it was just comparing notes about David Lynch. Damn you, Vanderslice, and your conversational gifts!

I guest-teach a class on interviewing every quarter at UC–Santa Cruz. Without fail, one of the most popular questions is "What's the worst interview you've ever done?" That would be Jonathan Richman, one of my all-time musical idols, who is an incredibly charismatic person, but a guaranteed interview fail for the simple reason that he doesn't think about his art, he just lives it. This makes for great art, but terrible articles.

To be fair, Rosamilia was a last-minute replacement for Horowitz, who couldn't do the originally scheduled interview. Handling press can be a grind for any band, especially when they're on the road and may or may not be in the mood to talk about themselves, for any number of reasons. Some cop a too-cool-for-anything attitude, others sort of sleepwalk through the questions. A good interviewer will switch up his or her approach countless times in an effort to find a subject or question that clicks. But after a while, every so often, it just becomes clear that it's a Donnie Darko situation—the jet engine is going down no matter how you play it, and you just have to laugh when it comes through the roof. Of course, you could always turn a bad interview into a story about bad interviews. But who would do that?

The Gaslight Anthem

Thursday, 5:30pm

Plaza de Cesar Chavez, San Jose


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