Benny Horowitz of Gaslight Anthem: Interview

Seattle Music News had a chance to speak with Benny Horowitz, drummer of the New Jersey based band Gaslight Anthem. Open and humble, Horowitz took our list of questions and had quite the conversation with it, proving once again why he’s one of the easiest dudes to talk to. Read below to find out his views on drumming, tour life, and leather speedos!

SM: So you’re about to start a tour I see at the end of February. Are you excited for it?
BH: Yeah, sure. Always, you know? A little bit of a mix of I haven’t been home very long, so you miss both when you’re away from everything. But I’m sure I’m excited.

SM: Is there any routine that you do on tours? To keep going or anything you do to prep for a tour?
BH: Yeah, I mean actually I find a lot of comfort in finding routines out there. That’s kind of important for me. I found out that since Gaslight started playing 2 hours shows a long time ago that if I don’t practice a bunch and exercise a little bit before I leave for tour I’m going to feel like shit a few days into tour. So I do try to kind of physically get ready a little bit. If I’m having a real fat, lazy week right before I leave for tour I’m not going to feel so good when I’m playing. So I try to do that and then I have every night I do have a pretty regular routine and trying to get onstage and get ready. I cut myself off food 3 hours before we play and booze I don’t like before we play. I do a lot of stretching time before when the band before us is playing is when I’ll get my hands all ready and band-aid up and put on the clothes I’m going to play a show in. I don’t have stage gear I just have basically a pile of super shitty clothes I play in every night because a drummer on tour basically destroys two sets of clothing every day. When you don’t have a lot of laundry accessibility it’s a good idea to kind of play in the same shitty thing every night so you don’t ruin a new pair of clothes every night that you can’t wash. So, I know some music guys who will send out every few days to have their laundry done by people, but it’s kind of expensive and sort of a waste, I think. So I just wear crummy sweat-stained clothes pretty much every night.
SM: Oh, Okay, that actually-
BH: I gave you all that explanation because I didn’t want you to think that I put on a big sequined jumpsuit or something like that to play.
SM: No, actually that makes a lot more sense as to why I see certain drummers just wearing jogging shorts and tank tops.
BH: Yeah, yeah. I don’t think people realize how much we sweat back there, but we’re kind of like the gross plumber of rock and roll, you know?
SM: Yeah, I can-
BH: We definitely get the dirtiest and break the most stuff and it gets ugly back there. But we’re sitting down so not many people can see it. So I feel like, I’m a big dude so if I went up in jogging shorts and a little tank top I’d look a little silly. I think.
SM: You could. You could get quite a bit of attention. You’d get photographers for sure.
BH: Maybe I should go the Tommy Lee style and just wear the leather speedo thing.
SM: Yeah. I’m surprised he doesn’t slide off his seat sometimes when I see that.
BH: Maybe he velcros down or something.
SM: Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised, knowing him. Or, not knowing him, but hearing what he does.?
BH: Yeah, who knows? He’s a wild card, that fella.

SM: Well when you guys are on tour how do you keep yourselves in line? Do you guys get along? Like how did you form because that was really hard to find out. How did you guys become a band and then how do you guys keep yourself going while on tour. Especially since you guys do longer tours.
BH: Well, I mean how we became a band is a pretty long story, but essentially somewhere around the end of 2005 Brian was doing a different project and he ended up losing most of his members and he got Alex Levine to play bass and then eventually through a friend met me and that was toward the end of 2005. Then the beginning of 2006 we added Alex Rosamilia and we did the Gaslight demo. Alex Rosamilia and I had played in bands prior to Gaslight so that’s how that happened and then you know it just started like every local band around here does. You just start playing shows, you start figuring out a way to put demos out, push them to everyone you know and then try, you know? It’s kind of the same formula that we used in all the bands we ever had the same we used for Gaslight. It just happened to work this time. That’s sort of how we started getting going and I mean we used to be chill on tour. I mean I think one thing that’s important and I’ve learned through the years is to understand when you get on tour it’s important, for me at least, to submit to a group scenario where you’re going to have a little less independence. You know you’re making decisions, decisions that 12 people need to be on board with so if you’re a very controlling person or something like that it’s good to try and maybe curb that a little bit. Because it’s hard to have much control on tour.
SM: Yeah.
BH: And it’s a lot easier when you just submit to the situation. So I think that’s part of it. And then honestly i know it sounds cheesy but just communication. It’s like you got a problem with somebody or something’s going on or someone did something. It’s important to face it and talk about it and get it out rather than being a dick to somebody and them not even knowing why and then it just turns into this whole domino effect of emotional shittiness and stuff like that. You know, they’re relationships and relationships we’ve had a long time and sadly we see the people in our band more than we see our wives, you know, and stuff like that. You know there comes a point where you really do have to treat it as a relationship where you need to make sure you’re talking about shit and shit’s nice and clear or else it’s going to find its way into the music. So, yes, that’s important.
SM: Hmm, interesting. Yeah, I feel like it would be hard to be stuck on a bus with the same 4 or 5 dudes every day so I don’t know how you guys did it.
BH: Try trapped on a bus with 10 or 11 dudes, not 4 or 5. Because we travel with the guys we travel with. We don’t have separate accommodations or anything so a lot of the guys on our crew are dudes who’ve been with us for 4 or 5 years, guys that we’re really close with and people who won’t be afraid to tell us anything. So just members of the touring family just like we are, so-
SM: That’s cool.
BH: There’s a lot of things to navigate for sure.

SM: Cool. Well I noticed that Brian stated that he channeled Pearl Jam for the new album Get Hurt and I was wondering if you were- did you channel the same thing or did you have a different take on the new, the most recent album?
BH: No that’s not really where I took my influence from this time. I mean drum-wise I was sort of leaning a different way. I was going kind of 70’s actually and I was listening to a lot of the drums on Hendrix records and for some of the spacier stuff we were doing I’m listening to some Radiohead and the new Beck and stuff like that. Yeah, that’s kind of the stuff I was coming from this time. And I’m a big hip-hop fan and when I’m writing a record I usually end up listening to a lot of that because I start getting a little sick of guitar and drum music. So yeah, I do that a lot too. And actually one of the important things on Get Hurt to me was trying to really make all the songs sound independent of each other where it almost sounded like maybe they got produced in a different spot or they really had, each song had it’s own identity. I was kind of inspired to do that from the new Kendrick Lamar record album.
SM: Oh.
BH: Not the newest one, the- you know- the big one, the first one the Mad City and I love the way that record’s done where each song has this very independent feel from the next one. So even though I wasn’t influenced by the music on it, I was influenced by the production of that.
SM: That’s awesome. And so I was going to ask you what you’re currently into but I think I can establish- it’s nice actually that you take different inspirations. It let’s you bring a lot to the table when you guys are actually songwriting.
BH: I think it’s always kind of been a bit of the part of the band is that. Besides for a few bands that were generally loved by all of us, which there are, everybody in the band kind of does have different musical tastes in a lot of ways and I think that’s something that’s actually helped through the years to kind of hone in on our own sound and stuff like that. We don’t really do it intentionally but I think just by letting your influences come through it’s going to sound a little bit more original maybe.

SM: Yeah. Well, I know one of my favorite songs off of your guys’ newest album is “Get Hurt” and I was wondering what made you come up with a decision to name the album after that song?
BH: I don’t know, it was just something that came up and felt right. Especially when we started getting into the design of the cover and stuff like that it all seemed really cool and cohesive to call it that. So it was a pretty easy decision and nothing like too deep about it, I don’t think.

SM: Also how do you think your music has matured over time?
BH: I mean I know it definitely has. I mean I think it has. How so is hard to kind of pinpoint. I mean I think through 8 or 9 years you definitely get better at just your instrument in general, or you’re better at playing it. You get better maybe at being tasteful and understanding not only your role as a player, but where your part is going to fit in the song in relation to everybody else. So I think just by writing a lot of records and writing music with people you start to gain this fluidity with other people and stuff like that. So I would say that definitely comes into play and then songwriting-wise you’re much older and maybe things start coming from different places, more grown-up places and not because you’re trying for them to, but just because you are more grown-up than you were. You know?
SM: Yeah.
BH: So I think that plays a pretty big role too.
SM: Yeah, that’s awesome. Yeah I started listening to you guys when “45” came out and then of course from that song I had to go backwards and figure out the rest of your guys’ stuff and then you guys definitely have matured and it’s nice though to see the progression because you went from a really raw state than to you had some introduction of new sounds and the new album seems like you guys went back to a more raw state which is really nice.
BH: Yeah, I mean we thought so, you know? So that was definitely the way this record was coming. So, thanks. I’m glad you see it that way.

SM: It’s always good to just hear it from a fans point of view. Now if you guys could, who would you collaborate with?
BH: Who would we collaborate with?
SM: Yeah.
BH: I mean there’s tons of people, you know? I think we’re pretty open to most collaborations so I was saying I think it would be pretty cool if for the 40 years of Rush they wanted to do something. That would be fun.
SM: That would be.
BH: I’d love to meet Geddy Lee.
SM: Rush. That would be interesting.
BH: They’re a great show too if you have the chance to see it you should do it. It was my first concert and it was memorable.
SM: Wow. So I’ll have to put that on my list.
BH:  Good.

SM: Okay, so this is my last question so you can start your day. We ask this to every person that we interview. If you were stranded on an island and could only have one book, one movie and one album to entertain you what would those be?
BH: Oh, man. That’s always such a hard question. All right, I’m going to go off the gut just to make it fast. We’re going to say Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides is the book. We’re going to say Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy as the movie.  And we’re going to say the Trojan record “Dub Reggae” section of the boxed set for the album. I’m going to be stuck on an island so having a bunch of Reggae dub would kind of be … you know if I chose AC/DC I might be bummed out in six months because its a little aggressive for the island so maybe by then I’ll be in a super island vibe and I’ll want something chiller, you know, like that.
SM: I think that is the fastest I’ve heard anyone kill this question. That was pretty awesome.
BH: You know you just got to go with your gut on this stuff, you know?
SM: Well, cool, that’s all we have. Thank you so much for taking the time to sit and chat with us and I think you’re coming to Seattle early next month for us so I hope to see you there.
BH: Awesome, yeah, thanks for taking the time. I appreciate it.

Be sure to catch Gaslight Anthem during their Seattle stop at the Showbox later this month. You can purchase tickets here.

Interview by Sunny Martini