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Brian Fallon and The Howling Weather w/ The Dirty Nil and Worriers
January 16 @ 7:30 pm - 11:00 pm
Brian Fallon’s rockstar days are firmly behind him. And no one is more accepting of that fact than Brian Fallon.
Having recently turned 40, the New Jersey legend has left more than his youth in his rearview. His former outfit, The Gaslight Anthem, reunited for a string of reunion shows in 2018 but now only exists in that murky grey area known as “indefinite hiatus.” He released two well-received solo albums in the past four years, 2016’s Painkillers and 2018’s Sleepwalkers, but even those records dwell more in the rock genre than anywhere else.
Now, with his new solo album, Local Honey, and a partnership for his own label with the venerated, artist-friendly outpost Thirty Tigers (Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell), Fallon has made the record he has always wanted to make and has put himself in a place to release it exactly as he pleases. Its acoustic-leaning, introspective, singer-songwriter artistry is a benchmark of a time and place, a heartfelt and grown-up sound that has been in his mind and in his heart for a long while. Unique amongst his output, Local Honey is a snapshot of Fallon’s current existence and a masterstroke from an artist whose songwriting talent is boiling over.
“I want people to see where I am now,” Fallon says. “I’m 40, I’ve got two kids, a wife, a house—that’s who I am. I’m not really trying to do any thing, I’m trying to step away from that. I just want to tell stories and write songs that mean something to me. And if you’re aging the same way I am then hopefully they mean something to you, too.”
Following the release of Sleepwalkers, Fallon spent the next year-plus demoing a series of stripped-back songs inspired by the simplicity and struggles of his day-to-day life. With a goal to write as truthfully as possible, he experienced a more difficult road than he had faced ever before in his career. Only when he tapped into the intimate feeling of connection he shares with a live audience was he able to reach his desired levels, and the resulting songs mirror that profound, earned intimacy.
“Being truthful in songs is so hard because you have so many insecurities that you want to cover up,” he says. “There are so many layers of self-manipulation, especially when you know you’re going to be examined. The only way I could find to deal was to place myself onstage, looking at an audience, and ask myself, OK, what are you gonna say? I know my audience and I trust them, and I think they trust me to deliver whatever this thing is that we share, and there’s a definite back-and-forth that happens. We’re comforted by each other. So I would close my eyes and see myself onstage and ask what I wanted to play next, and that’s how I wrote the album.”
Armed with the batch of his most introspective songs to date, Fallon sought to avoid an attempt to make “the classic Americana solo album” as so many other frontmen-turned-solo-artists before him have tried. Instead, he partnered with the producer Peter Katis (The National, Interpol, The War on Drugs) in an effort to challenge himself in a variety of new ways and to expand the songs’ sonic horizons. Together, the duo pushed the material to places Fallon would not have attempted on his own, pulling back when necessary but collaborating like a true production partnership. Katis injected the music with an overarching sense of “sadness” that lingers over the work like a blanket, a concept to which Fallon has always been drawn. “That was Peter’s bar—if it made you feel sad, then it was good. I totally relate to that; it’s what I love about all the music I like, in mood more than theme. I subscribed to that right away.”
While the eight songs on Local Honey are some of the most simple and direct of Fallon’s career, it would be a mistake to place them all in the same sonic box. While acoustic guitar and piano are the anchors around which the other tracks come and go, the only other constant remains the unmistakable rasp of Fallon’s voice. That refusal to be pinned down into “country” or “Americana” or even “folk” is apparent from the first listen, and distinct elements of multiple eras and styles drift in and out across the record. Fallon made a concerted effort to improve his own playing, and that care is illustrated in more ways than one. “For this record I put a real effort into being a good player and a good musician,” he says. “I tried to put together the best musicians, I took piano and guitar lessons and practiced to try to get to the level that’s worthy of where I’m trying to go with this. That’s being a grown-up, I guess. My family is the most important thing to me on the earth, but I really care more about my art and what I’m saying than financial success.”
The resulting record is warm and inviting while infused with a sense of space, and designed to be listened to in depth but not to dominate your day. Taking the album title from the signs advertising its namesake Fallon would drive past in the rural farmland near his home, he chose to invoke that same sense of familiar, grounding comfort with the tunes. Beginning with the line “In this life there will be trouble/but you shall overcome” on “When You’re Ready,” the optimistic and earnest tone is established while an enveloping sense of trust is established at once. Fallon says the song came to him in an instant, as he was simply making an effort to tell the truth rather than chasing anything more grand or exotic. The vulnerable tone continues with “21 Days,” a song about addiction and transformation that captures Fallon at his most sympathetic and powerful. Written in pieces, almost as a journaling technique, as Fallon fought to quit smoking cigarettes, the song grew from a placeholder for his thoughts into a full-on blockbuster that displays his songwriting chops.
Elsewhere, “I Don’t Mind (If I’m With You)” is a dreamy ballad about finding peace in love during difficult times of rejection and misunderstanding, “Horses” is a tender piece about how freedom and healing can be found through searching and the deepening of a relationship, and “Hard Feelings” is Fallon’s take on a classic wounded-love story in the style of Mark Knopfler covering Tom Petty. Local Honey ends with “You Have Stolen My Heart,” Fallon’s self-styled first direct attempt at a pure love song, with a calypso rhythm and lyrics inspired by The Smiths’s “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want.” The process of distilling his emotions down to a highly concentrated drip was harrowing, but a journey that Fallon describes as inspiring. “I was sort of chicken to try a pure love song. I’d always have to make it poetic, tragic, or clever. But I think that Smiths song is one of the best songs ever written, and there’s nothing to it—he’s just saying, Come on, let me get this one time. I thought it would be great to write a song just about how you feel. That’s what everyone tells you to do—Sit down and write what you feel!—but it’s so much harder than that. I was peeling away what it was trying to be for my own protection. You always try to protect yourself from criticism when you’re writing; you’ll have this great idea for a song and then you’ll ruin it by trying to cover up what it really was.”
With Local Honey, Fallon has made a grand statement and is prepared to make yet another artistic leap, a form of destiny that remains fully under his own control and vision. Having finally navigated the turbulence of life-after-successful-rock-band, he is settling into his own as an artist and has learned that the best path for him is to simply go it alone on all levels.
“It’s been such a whirlwind of starting over and figuring out how to do this as a solo act,” he says. “The main thing an artist wants is to be defined as something they can live with. After all this searching—major labels, indies, the band, everything that I’ve been through—the one thing I’ve learned is that you have to define yourself. And so I decided I’m just gonna do this thing myself, and partner with someone who can help me get it out to the world. Once I had all that control, I said, Now what? What’s my big statement? Turns out my big statement wasn’t very big at all, it was just: This is my life. This is what I do.
“I think this record is about the process of growing up. I had spent so much time looking backwards and commenting on that life; a lot of older songs were written with rearview mirror commentary. And now that’s just become part of me, it’s made me who I am and now I’m commenting on the current. Every single song here is about right now; this record is 100 percent about the day-to-day. It’s not about these glorious dreams or miserable failures, it’s just about life and how I see it. And I have to think that if this is my life, this is probably a lot of other people’s lives, too.”
Sure, playing 350 shows over the past three years all over the world was pretty impressive. Opening for The Who in front of 50,000 people? Not bad for a couple of loudmouths from the quaint, quiet valley town of Dundas, Ontario. And, sure, winning the Juno Award for Breakthrough Group of the Year made the parents proud. But of all the accomplishments that Hamilton-based power trio The Dirty Nil have ticked off their bucket list since coughing up their debut single, “Fuckin’ Up Young,” in 2011, nothing tops the honour that was bestowed upon them back on March 23, 2015.
“If you go on Reddit,” drummer Kyle Fisher begins, “a video that we had on our Instagram made the top listing of the WTF page! We were staying at a hotel in East Dallas—which we later found out was not a good place to stay. The only room available was a smoking room with that shitty plastic covering on the mattress. And it was a weird night there, with police and drug dealers out in the halls. But when we woke up in the morning, and opened the door, there was a huge, long trail of ants going from one end of the hallway to the other end!”
Like any group of true artists, The Dirty Nil channel trauma into their music… and on the band’s second album, Master Volume, the harrowing experience of seeing the inside of America’s most disgusting hotels, night in and night out, manifests itself in the song “Super 8.” “I’m halfway to hell/ It’s called Super 8 Motel,” Luke Bentham sings, stretching out the words with the palpable pain of someone who’s struggling to catch some precious between-gigs shut-eye on a mattress riddled with bed bugs and stains of dubious origin. But for The Dirty Nil, the effects of non-stop touring go way beyond translating one-star Trip Advisor reviews into song.
The Dirty Nil didn’t just spend the past few years on the road in support of their debut album, Higher Power and companion collection of early singles, Minimum R&B. They spent of much of it opening for—and, more importantly, studying—the greats: Against Me, Billy Talent, Alexisonfire. They’re bands who, like the Nil, cut their teeth for years on the punk circuit playing the dingiest of dives, but now find themselves playing arenas and headlining festivals. With Master Volume, The Dirty Nil are ready to make the same leap—not by polishing their sound for radio, but by bulking it up to fill the stadiums and open fields of their most vivid rock ‘n’ roll fantasies.
Says Luke, “I think the experience of playing with bands like Against Me—bands that can put on a proper fucking rock show—and seeing what works in a big space definitely crept into the way we think about songs, and how to sound powerful. A lot of the times, when you play blitzkrieg-fast, it has a way of sounding awesome in a club. But when you’re playing in a giant space with some sound guy who’s never seen you before mixing you, it can be a roll of the dice.”
Adds Kyle, “Everyone says, ‘a good song’s a good song no matter how it’s recorded.’ But a good song can’t be a good song if nobody can hear it properly!”
Produced by veteran alt-rock architect John Goodmanson, Master Volume is an album that crunches and grooves where the band once smashed and thrashed, unleashing the Nil’s undiminished raw power in more controlled waves to better target the back rows. “It’s less of a sprint and more of a strut,” Luke says, and he credits a great deal of the tempo shift to the arrival of Ross Miller, who replaced original bassist Dave Nardi in early 2017. While Ross was already a longtime friend of Luke and Kyle, his pedigree includes playing with everyone from Wanda Jackson to Single Mothers.
“I’m a big fan of the drums,” Ross says, “so my intention on the bass is to make the drums sound the best they can—Kyle always comes up with cool grooves and I don’t want to fuck that up. I want there to be lots of space so everything shines through.”
Adds Luke: “It takes a lot of confidence to play slower and have a discernible pulse, and Ross totally bounces! And Kyle plays hip-hop style drums when he’s in his natural element, so it was fun making songs around that. I would come up with some chords and lyrics and melodies, and they would be totally moulded around what the fuckin’ Funk Brothers were laying down over here.”
Now, we should be clear that The Dirty Nil have not transformed themselves into a shirtless, bass-slappin’, Chili Peppered punk-funk unit… not that there’s anything wrong with that. After all, the band were stoked to work with Goodmanson not because he’s produced Sleater-Kinney or Bikini Kill or Blonde Redhead or any number of highly respected indie-rock acts; they were more impressed by his mosh-friendly credentials. Says Luke, “We just fucking punished him the entire time for nu-metal stories. ‘Death Cab for Cutie? We don’t give a shit! Tell us about Saliva!’ I think one of the most important and liberating things about the climate in which we made this album is that we celebrate white noise and Sugar Ray and everything in between. We don’t give a shit. We like all rock music, even terrible rock music. We’ll listen to Kill Em All and My War and then we’ll just listen to Aerosmith and St. Anger.”
And they’ll also shamelessly steal song titles from The Beatles (“Please, Please Me”) and Cheap Trick (“Auf Wiedersehen”) just for shits ‘n’ giggles. (“We’re improving them,” Luke says with an unsubtle grin.) But the joy and bravado with which the Nil deliver Master Volume’s pummelling power-pop missives bely the often grim narratives embedded within. The first two songs alone—“That’s What Heaven Feels Like” and “Bathed in Light”—find Luke dying in two different car crashes, flying through smashed windshields and talking to his deceased grandma in heaven; “Always High” sees him eulogizing an ill-fated driver lying on the roadside with their head split open. (“What can I say, most of the rock ‘n’ roll I’ve consumed in my lifetime has something to do with fast cars, as Van Halen as that sounds,” Luke reasons. “And we’ve definitely seen our share of roadside carnage travelling in the Southern states.) “I Don’t Want That Phone Call” is an even more brutally frank treatise on impending death, with Luke pleading to an addict friend to get help and spare him the inevitable call from the morgue. And sure, the album has two songs that could practically qualify as ballads, but the first one (“Auf Wiedersehen”) unleashes its ache in a throat-shredding chorus of “FUCK YOU,” and the second (“Evil Side”) builds to an atomic, noise-blasted climax that, when the band perform it in concert, is liable to trigger an earthquake that swallows up the circle pit.
“I don’t ever sit down and say, ‘I’m going to write about a song about this today,’” Luke explains. “I just open my mouth and start playing… and some pretty heinous shit comes out! I definitely enjoy morbid subject matter of all spades, but I like to try to flash a smirk in there with it, because I think it’s important to paint with different brushes. And listening to certain writers I love, like Townes Van Zandt—he has that sort of bleakness, but also with a little bit of humour with it.”
Loaded with steady-grooving songs about living fast and life-affirming anthems about dying young, Master Volume ultimately amplifies The Dirty Nil’s most essential quality: their refusal to be defined. They’re too melodic and muscular to be purely punk, but too raucous and unhinged to pass as straight pop; too cheeky to be overtly political, but still acutely in tune with the unsettled, anxious energy of the times in which we live. Whether you find catharsis in a crowd-surf or a street protest, Master Volume captures the ecstatic rush of getting swept up in a communal moment… and the frantic fear that it can all come crashing down at any second.
Luke concludes with a laugh “we don’t really have a label for ourselves other than just… the best band. That’s our genre!”
Summed up in one word, Worriers’ new record You or Someone You Know is relatable. It’s an ambitious, big rock record that dares to push the genre forward. It’s not only the music and singer/songwriter Lauren Denitzio’s (they/them) voice, which calls to mind the late Delores O’Riordan of The Cranberries, but also the subjects they tackle in their lyrics. The themes are universal – love, loss, fear of the future – but when written from Denitzio’s perspective, they create a narrative that adds depth to stories traditionally told around those themes and makes space for a diverse array of identities. “I’ve been identifying with music by straight cis men all my life,” Denitzio explains, “I have people come up to me all the time after shows and tell me things like ‘I know you’re not speaking to my demographic but I really like your music.’ But just because I’m speaking from my perspective doesn’t mean it’s not for you.”
Their statement rings especially true on You or Someone You Know – there’s something every listener can relate to when listening to the album. “It’s about wanting to build a life for myself when it feels like the world is ending,” Denitzio says, “Building a life where I’m reconstructing my relationships to everything and everyone.” Deeply rooted in their own experience, the album chronicles a period in which Denitzio’s life was turned upside down after splitting with their partner, who played guitar on the last two Worriers records. The dissolution of their relationship was the catalyst for a sonic change in the band, and a cross country move from Philadelphia to Los Angeles for Denitzio. The combination allowed them space and opportunity to start anew.
On the album, Worriers confront society’s relationship hierarchies – that heteronormative relationships are the standard to which all people should aspire, that couples somehow rank above singles, the idea that marriage is the ultimate legitimization of love. Ideas that are rarely overtly stated or talked about, beliefs that people never even realize that they carry, but that are so deeply ingrained in our cultural norms that they infect our relationships to everyone and everything. “I think a lot of the album is about having sympathy for myself and everyone in my life, understanding that feeling of desperation when you’re trying to navigate the world right now,” Denitzio explains.
The record’s themes of reconstructing and reexamining relationships touches on how they play into the current zeitgeist. “I thought a lot about how the state of the world makes any sort of partnership stressful. The album is partially autobiographical but it’s also addressing more universal questions that people have to ask these days. Do we have kids? Do we move to a place that could be underwater in 20 years? How does having no idea how you’ll ever retire affect planning your future?”
Sonically, the new album does an incredible job of reflecting these anxieties and the massive shifts for Denitzio and the band over the past year. Worriers added guitarist Frank Piegaro, who recorded You or Someone You Know with Denitzio and longtime drummer Mikey Erg and bassist Nick Psillas. To help capture the band’s fresh sound, Denitzio recruited veteran producer John Agnello, best known for his work with some of indie rock’s most influential acts such as Sonic Youth, Kurt Vile, Alvvays, Dinosaur Jr., and Hop Along. Agnello recorded with Worriers over 11 days in Jersey City, NJ at Kaleidoscope Sound and in Brooklyn, NY at Russell Street Recording. Unlike their previous releases, 2015’s Imaginary Life (Don Giovanni) and 2017’s Survival Pop (Side One Dummy/reissued by 6131 Records), the band recorded the majority of the album live in the studio, working with material from demos they had sent back and forth in the months leading up to recording. “John was such a cheerleader throughout the whole process. His unwavering support and enthusiasm really helped shape the record,” Denitzio says.
With the help of Agnello and their bandmates, on You or Someone You Know, Denitzio has created a rock epic for these times, imbued with heart that is felt throughout the album. Embracing the feeling of precarity that has become a familiar and constant facet of contemporary life, the songs are bound to resonate with listeners in these times. “You never know what’s going to happen, and I think the content of the songs reflect that. In Los Angeles, it’s sunny all the time and beautiful but there’s fire and earthquakes and rising sea levels. Our songs often sound upbeat and happy while being about difficult or dark topics, so I’m not surprised I’ve ended up out here.”