LOS ANGELES — For years, a common critique of the beloved New Jersey rock band The Gaslight Anthem was to label them “Bruce Springsteen” copycats. Now they’ve released a song with the Boss.
“History Books,” the title track from the band’s first album in nine years, is big-hearted freeway rock, made ascendent by frontman Brian Fallon and Springsteen’s tremulous harmonies.
“There’s a definitely a little wink in there,” Fallon tells The Associated Press about the song and his band’s long-held comparisons to the Boss, which once escalated to the point where he wrote to his fans, “My name isn’t Bruce.”
“Some people kind of wrote us off. It’s like ‘Now write this off,’” he says. “We’ve got the approval of the guy! What are you going to say? You can’t say anything!”
If there is an intersection where Green Day, Social Distortion, and the Replacements’ various styles of melodic punk meets Springsteen, it is found in The Gaslight Anthem. The sound landed them a fiercely loyal fanbase from their beginnings in 2006 up until 2015, when the band embarked on a seven-year hiatus. It was briefly interrupted in 2018, when The Gaslight Anthem got back together to play a few shows celebrating the 10-year anniversary of their retro rock album, “The ‘59 Sound,” a fan favorite.
But the break resumed until 2022, when the band felt they had something to say.
“We didn’t want to make a record that felt sub-heart,” Fallon explains in his own vernacular. Taking time apart allowed them to work through concerns of being “the old guys playing the circuit” and become better musicians in the process.
Fallon, who has established a friendship with his idol over the years, connected with Springsteen during the hiatus. “The E Street Band took a big break, too,” Fallon says, so he went to the Boss last year with a request for guidance. “It was going to seek the guy on the hill for wisdom, but really, it was Federici’s Pizza in Freehold (New Jersey). But some mythical work was done at that table. We brought the band back together.”
When they headed home, Springsteen texted, “Hey, why don’t you write us a duet? I’ll come sing with you.’”
“I never would’ve had the guts to ask him that,” Fallon says, comparing their relationship to “being friends with Batman.”
Fallon wrote the song by himself; Springsteen didn’t provide notes. He was on tour at the time, so he recorded the song in Dublin, Ireland over a few days off. Fallon speaks about the collaboration in disbelief. “It’s really cool to have one of my top three heroes singing on a song I wrote at my desk in my house. It’s insane,” he laughs.
He describes the song as “unusual” for The Gaslight Anthem, because it is “not a friendly song,” inspired by a lesson he learned in therapy: “The only people who have a problem with boundary setting is the people who are breaking them.”
“I imagine that’s something (Springsteen) can relate to, with his level of fame,” he explains.
The Gaslight Anthem’s sixth full-length album, “History Books,” will be released October 27 on Rich Mahogany Recordings via Thirty Tigers.