Interview – Benny from The Gaslight Anthem

He may be rocking out, but he is clearly thinking about his fantasy baseball team while he does it.

Benny Horowitz plays drums in the rock and roll band The Gaslight Anthem. We recently had an IM chat with him about the new album, touring, baseball and Justin Bieber.

PE:   Microphone check.

Benjamin:  Yo son, 30 seconds, putting the finishing touches on a grilled cheese.

PE:  Will do.

(30 seconds go by)

Benjamin:  Cool, what’s up good man?

PE:  Not much, just working the office gig and doing this blog when i should be doing things for the company.

Benjamin:  That’s the way to be.

PE:  How have you been?

Benjamin:  Good man, just getting all things in order for tour, signed the lease on a new place to live and just got back from a week in Costa Rica.  Lot’s of stuff.

PE:  Did you make the jump up to Brooklyn like Brian (TGA singer Brian Fallon- ed), or are you keeping it Jersey?

Benjamin:  Keeping it Jersey!!  I had to fight for it too, my girlfriend works in NYC and would’ve preferred to be over the river.  But I can’t leave, I’ll fall apart.

PE:  Did you compromise?  Are you up in Weehawken or Jersey City?  Somewhere easy to jet over to the city from?

Benjamin:  Yeah, J.C…that was our compromise.
That way she’s a 15 minute PATH ride to downtown and I can keep a car and get down to Central Jersey pretty easily.  Yeah, trying to get used to this “urban” thing, might not be for me.

PE:  So how was Costa Rica?

Benjamin:  It was cool man, crazy trip.

PE:  What was the highlight of the trip?  Then we’ll move into the rock and roll interview type questions.

Benjamin:  I’d say the highlight was just the beauty of the country.  The jungle really creeps right into the ocean, and staying/swimming there is a trip.  I meant trip in a hippy groovy way, sounds redundant in this context.

PE:  Good clarification.  So getting to the rock and roll stuff – the few songs that I’ve heard off the new album seem to have incorporated a new direction for the band.  Not a complete departure from what you’ve done before, but particularly rhythmically there seems to be more openness to exploring some genres beyond straight ahead rock and roll.  As the drummer, how did you approach the songs to make this album different than what you’ve done before?

Benjamin:  Yeah, well we definitely set out to not make The 59′ Sound part two.  Which definitely entails moving forward and trying new things.  I think with the drums, I have a lot more confidence to let the groove do the work and not have to fill it all up to feel like I’m doing my job.  On a couple songs on this record, a few years ago I may have felt too “un-edgy” or something.  Now I’m just focused on laying the framework for good rock and roll songs, and trying to inject some of my flavor.  It’s actually far more gratifying, for myself and the song.

PE:  Excellent.  Which track off the new album would you say is your favorite, or that you are most proud of?  Either individually as a player, or of the band as a whole.

Benjamin:  “The Queen of Lower Chelsea”, we’ve never written a song in that vibe before and I love it.  Brian’s lyrics are sick, and we managed to do our version of “Straight To Hell”.   I was watching Jimmy Cliff in “The Harder They Come” when we wrote that.  It started super fast, and I started messing with that reggae-ish beat, we ended up taking it that way and I’m stoked.

PE:  That’s a great track – so much open space on it, yet still driving due to the chugging bass line.

Benjamin:  Yeah, that’s fun too, cause it’s like playing in and out of a bass metronome.  Fun for me.

PE:  And I think a perfect example of what I was talking about, that exploration of other rhythms – similar to what the Clash did.  So of course, the album comes out very soon and once again you will be touring the world for a very long time.  What’s some of the shows on the schedule that you’re most looking forward to?

Benjamin:  Basically any headlining club show we have coming up I’m stoked for.  Play with our friends, and for our fans.  I’ve been home too long, going crazy, I have to play soon!  We have a show in Detroit though…where we got to combine with The HoldSteady…that’s a sick lineup now.  I wanna give it a Don King name now, like the throwdown in Motown or something.

PE:  That’s awesome.  I know you are all big fans of the Hold Steady.  I want to go with something you mentioned though – you talked about playing with your friends.  You guys are one of the few bands to make it to the level that you have who regularly give opportunities to bands who you became friends with when you were still playing in basements.  I know on the last tour you had The Loved Ones and Ninja Gun out with you, both bands that are pretty small.  How much pressure is there on you guys to take out openers who are hot buzz bands or whose manager is some big wig who you should be doing favors for?  And how do you guys walk that line of staying true to your friends and still filling the obligations of being a big time rock band?

Benjamin:  There is definitely no pressure for us to take out “buzz” bands or big manager bands.  Actually, someone called a buzz band would probably be a turn-off for most of us.  But you’re right that there is a line there, because these are big places and sometimes we do need help drawing in big rooms, and taking two local bands probably won’t help that.  So we’re absolutely conscious of that and try to walk that line the best we can.  But, we also feel a real responsibility that if people are paying $20 plus dollars for a show, we owe them a fucking good show.  Not just shitty draw bands.  I want people to be impressed by the people who play before us.

PE:  Well from what I’ve seen and know of you guys, you do it better than most.  So kudos to you on that.

Benjamin:  Thanks man.

PE:  Ok, back to the tour – you guys are playing the Great Allentown Fair with Weezer.  That fair runs for a week, and I want to let you know who some of the other headliners that week are, and I’d like you to pick which one you would like to open for if you could.  Ready?

Benjamin:  Oh boy, yeah, I’m ready.

PE:  RUSH, Keith Urban, Justin Bieber, Jeff Dunham, J&J Demolition Derby

Benjamin:  Easiest question EVER to answer.  You’re talking a RUSH fan.  I hope I get a chance to punch Keith Urban and Justin Beiber in their respective noses.  My first concert, in 1990, was Rush/Mr. Big at Brendan Byrne arena in the Jersey swamps.  Actually I don’t know anything about Keith Urban, he might be nice.

PE:  He’s Australian and was married to Nicole Kidman

Benjamin:  But Justin Beiber needs a schoolyard lesson in humility.  Clearly a little shit who’s never gotten his ass kicked before.

PE:  And you think him getting beaten up by a grown man in his 20’s is the lesson he needs?  Wow, you ARE Jersey.

Benjamin:  Haha, I didn’t say I’d do it.  It’s eastern PA, I’m sure I can find some willing kids to do the dirty work.

PE:  What would their reward be?

Benjamin:  Then they’ll get their 10 minutes of YouTube hype just like he’s having.  As you can see, you’ve struck a chord, I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me about that kid.  But anyway, Rush is the shit.  That’s my final answer.

PE:  Glad we could be your outlet.  Moving forward – the new album is called American Slang.  What’s your favorite American slang, and what is your favorite non-American slang?

Benjamin:  My favorite American slang has to be 60’s and 70’s pimp jive.  The stuff from Shaft and Superfly, so fucking funny.  My least favorite, probably someone in their 80’s from Texas, I just feel like I’m going to get killed.  This interview is going to get me into trouble, it’s bad when I know the person asking questions.

PE:  If you had to pick one favorite slang word, what would it be?

Benjamin:  I like calling people cats…like, “that guy is a cool cat”…I don’t know, I try to be gramatically correct.  After I spell grammatically wrong.

PE:  I’ll edit that out.

Benjamin:  Keep it live man, people should know the truth.  I’ll take it like a man.

PE:  Ok then.  So I know I lured you into doing this interview by saying we’d talk about baseball.

Benjamin:  Come on, there was no luring.  I’d do a bunch of things for you.  But yeah, let’s talk hardball.

PE:  Other than your beloved Yankees, who do you like this year?  Or are you such a fan that you don’t allow yourself that option?

Benjamin:  Nah, I’m a HUGE baseball fan, so I can definitely respect and pull for other teams.  This year, I dig how tough the Nationals are playing.  I’ve liked Zimmerman and C. Guzman for a while, and Strausburg is coming up to pitch June 8th…fun team.

PE:  Do you have a fantasy baseball team, and if so, how’s it doing?

Benjamin:  I have two, my head to head team is almost in first, my roto team just went into the gutter after my week in Costa Rica.  The head to head team I’m especially proud of, since I made probably the biggest drafting blunder of my fantasy career.

PE:  Being?

Benjamin:  I had the #2 overall pick and accidentally drafted Pablo Sandoval instead of Hanley/Arod.  But, it forced me to take more chances in the following rounds, some of which really panned out.

PE:  Are any of the other TGA guys in the same fantasy league as you?

Benjamin:  Nah, I am the singular nerd.  Big Alex follows baseball, but not as nuts as me.

PE:  Ok, tying it all together.  Would you rather get to open for RUSH, or get to throw out the first pitch at a Yankees game?

Benjamin:  Ahhh, that’s tough, cause the first pitch would be just for me…but I guess nobody in the band really likes Rush much anyway….so I’d say the Yanks.  Just putting my feet on that field would be a dream come true.  My hands touched the sand when I was younger.  I snuck down to the baseline and jumped all the way over to grab a foul ground ball with my friend holding my feet.

PE:  Would it still have the same meaning now that it’s a new stadium?

Benjamin:  No, not the same, but still pretty damn awesome.  At least I’d be even bigger on that gawdy jumbotron.

PE:  And that’s what it’s all about.  Well man, I need to wrap this up.  Any last words for the piece?

Benjamin:  Sure, my last words are, “Don’t be a dick, the world is bigger than you.”  That’s a blanket statement, for all potential readers…

PE:  Glad you have my readers pegged as dicks.

The Gaslight Anthem release their new album “American Slang” on June 15th on Side One Dummy Records, followed by a world tour.  Find out more here.

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