For most bands in the punk rock community, success comes with a price. Whenever a band achieves a new level of popularity through radio play or a larger distribution deal, there comes the inevitable backlash of naysayers who ardently proclaim that the band isn't as good as they used to be or that their new found success somehow undercuts their credibility. While there have certainly been cries of Springsteen-lite and there may be less mohawks at their concerts than there once was, The Gaslight Anthem have maintained their positions within the punk rock community while breaking through to achieve main stream success. It's a rare combination – many other artists have failed while trying – but for The Gaslight Anthem it seems natural.
Maybe that's because the Jersey-bred rockers are more concerned with writing songs than they are with scene politics. The band's four full lengths have consisted of up-tempo, working class, tracks mixed heart-wrenching ballads all within the rich tradition of the Jersey-punk scene. It's a winning formula that The Gaslight Anthem seem to be sticking with, and people seem to be gravitating to.
Recently Scene Point Blank had an opportunity to catch up with Gaslight bassist Alex Levine.
Scene Point Blank: One of the thing that seems to come up a lot in interviews is when/if The Gaslight Anthem will make the switch from large theatres to arena rock shows. Is that something you've discussed as a band?
Alex Levine: With the upper/mid-sized venues you can still be intimate with your fans. They're the perfect in between. I've always loved playing bar shows and smaller shows but you dance on the line of safety sometimes, and we don't want anyone getting hurt. Places like this [The Sound Academy in Toronto], it's a nice big area but you can still feel the emotion from the crowd. An arena…it's an arena.
Scene Point Blank: With the band's growing popularity, do you feel like that's a step you'll have to take?
Alex Levine: Maybe. Playing with the bands like The Foo Fighters - they make it happen. That band can make fifteen thousand people seem like they're playing in a venue less than half that size. You have to able to do that. We're not ready to do that right now, but if you'd asked us three or four years ago, I'm not sure we'd have been ready to do a show for five thousand people. It's time, and it's steps, with music life. If you overshoot your boundaries you're going to burn yourself.
Scene Point Blank: Any band that achieves success within the punk community usually sees some sort of backlash. Your band has seemed to sidestep that. Why do you think that is?
Alex Levine: I think that the biggest problems bands might have is—a punk band like ourselves who have played in front of X amount of people or signed to a major label—is that early on in their career they take a stance against XY and Z and then, later on in their careers when XY and Z comes about and they go for it, that's when a backlash comes. We never stood for anything or against anything. We're punk rockers that play rock music. Over the years our music has become a bit more mature or whatnot but we never said we weren't going to do anything. Punk kids are smart, and they'll latch onto the things you'll say—
Scene Point Blank: I still have a weird relationship with Against Me! for that reason.
Alex Levine: They were young and passionate when they said those things. They are a punk band and they have punk values. They just got popular. People hold that against people sometimes. It's hard because an everyday person could say one thing and do another, but if you're in the limelight or somebody’s writing about you…it's hard. At one point they didn't want to be on a major label but that can change.
Scene Point Blank: It's cool how many people have come back to the band after Laura's transition.
Alex Levine: Yeah. Honestly, people turned around and realized that this is still a punk band, regardless of whether they signed to Warner Bros. five years ago. They're still a punk band and we're a community for a reason. If you're in the punk community what do you stand for? You stand for everything that she's doing now. How big of a hypocrite would can you be if you say that "you made this decision so I don't have your back anymore?” Come on. It's a testament to a lot of fans who came back after Laura did what she had to do. I respect her for that decision. It took a lot of guts.
Scene Point Blank: The trans issues can still be a big step for a lot of people.
Alex Levine: She would expect the punk rock community to support her. Punk rock meant you could be different. And if you're gay or trans or whatever, punk should be there to support you. I'm glad so many people have done the right thing.
"We never stood for anything or against anything. We're punk rockers that play rock music."
Scene Point Blank: Having the pleasure of seeing your band play, I'm always blown away by the openers you take with you. Is that your way of giving back to the punk community?
Alex Levine: One hundred percent. Against Me! did that for us years ago. They heard our first record somehow and asked to play this secret show in this New York squat, then asked us if we wanted to come on tour. Just because they liked our music. And that taught us a lot. You've got to go back and help your brothers out. If we can give anyone opportunities then that's amazing. Even when we're just getting ready to play a show, it's so much easier to get excited when you've got a band like The Menzingers or Polar Bear Club opening for you. If there is a young band killing it out there then you've got to step up your game.
Scene Point Blank: Early last year the band sold out three gigs at Terminal Five in New York which was a huge accomplishment. As a band do you have any particular goals for your success?
Alex Levine: That just kind of happened. We don't put expectations like that on ourselves. We're not like: We want this as a top ten single, we want a number one record, we want to play Madison Square Garden. I feel like we've had organic success because we just write records and play music. People really like it, and that's awesome. We're thankful for our new fans and we're thankful we're getting bigger. But it's hard to keep up that growth. You can't expect to get bigger every single time. A lot of bands get success and then expect to stay there, but I'm just happy anyone is coming out to see the show.
Scene Point Blank: There is this great quote from Jack Terricloth of The World Inferno Friendship Society where he says, "We'll see you on the way up, and we'll definitely see you on the way back down."
Alex Levine: That's a great quote and Jack's a crazy showman. Look at a band like Green Day: they were huge, then they fell off, and then they did American Idiot and were bigger than they ever were. It's all cycles.
Scene Point Blank: Now that you are playing venues as big as you are, how does that effect the relationship with the fans?
Alex Levine: We put a lot of time in from the ground up in a lot of places. There are people who might look at you a little differently, but the kids who we met five or six years ago treat us the same as they ever did. Then there are some people who might have just heard us on the radio and look at us like we're Justin Beiber or something, because that's their mindset. That's always weird to me. I'm super happy to sign an autograph or take a picture but I'm just a guy. That said you can tell the difference between the people who really like your band and those who are just there casually. Which isn't meant to take it away from anyone, it's just different.
Scene Point Blank: Thanks so much for your time.
Alex Levine: Thank you!