Over the last six years, Gaslight Anthem have emerged as one of the best new bands in rock, particularly on their 2010 album American Slang, a gripping set of punk tunes mixed with leader Brian Fallon's sharply observed narratives of blue collar life. Think Bruce Springsteen for the Warped Tour set. But Fallon has long wanted to experiment, and with his new side-project The Horrible Crowes the heavily-tatted 31-year-old is exploring moodier terrain inspired by gothic-soul songwriters like Mark Lanegan, Nick Cave, and Tom Waits.
"We built something very special with Gaslight and we don't want to mess with that sound too much," Fallon tells SPIN. "But I've always wanted to do a record where I can put strings or organs or pianos or whatever on it."
On the Crowes' debut album Elsie, which he's currently recording in a New Jersey studio and prepping for release this September, Fallon has teamed up with Gaslight's one-time roadie Ian Perkins for songs that mix girl-group-style harmonies, digitized beats, roots-y instrumentation, soaring choruses, and lung-busting vocals from Fallon. If it sounds weird, well, that's the point.
"Radical is a good word to describe the record," says Fallon, who taught himself how to play Hammond organ and piano for some of the tracks. "It's definitely out there. There are song structures, but it's not what you expect from me at all. Someone's either going to get pregnant or want to steal a car listening to this record."
Fallon's new tunes could be his darkest yet, and his lyrics explore the pain and heartbreak brought on by three intense relationships he had as a teenager. "All these relationships I thought, 'Man, I'm going to spend the rest of my life with this person, and then one day they just up and leave," says Fallon, adding that one song deals with how he overcame his depression after meeting his current wife. "I played these songs for her and she just got to hear me totally lose my mind. It was cathartic to revisit that past, in a weird way."
Fallon and Perkins have laid down 15 tracks — some featuring Gaslight members Alex Rosamilia and Benny Horowitz — which will get whittled down to a dozen for the final product. The most out-there song is titled "Go Tell Everybody," which Fallon says sounds like Cave covering a Marvin Gaye song. Another cut, titled "Mary Ann," explores Fallon's religious upbringing. "That song would give a kid nightmares for months," he says. "It's all about the end of the world."
Fallon's new project doesn't mean Gaslight Anthem have called it quits - the group has a string of European festival dates this summer and he adds that the band's next record will hew closer to their breakthrough, The '59 Sound. "It's all about knowing your audience," says Fallon. "When I buy a record by a band and it sounds completely different, I'm just like, 'Why didn't you change your band name?'"