As of July 2010, Brian Fallon said he was working on new material for a fourth album. Subsequently, Fallon stated on his blog that the band would start writing their record in January 2011. However, prior to playing at Pinkpop in June 2011, Fallon stated that they had just started working on the new album and that it would not be released for at least a few months. In the same interview, Fallon said the band's next record would sound closer to their breakthrough record, The '59 Sound, rather than American Slang. During this time, Fallon was also working with good friend Ian Perkins, putting the finishing touches on their side project The Horrible Crowes.
On October 6, 2011, the Gaslight Anthem announced via Facebook that they had officially signed with Mercury Records. They stated that they were sorry to leave their friends at SideOneDummy Records, but felt that the change was necessary for their musical career.
On October 14, 2011, the Gaslight Anthem announced that their last show before going into the studio to record their new album would be on December 9 at the Asbury Park Convention Hall.
On January 12, 2012, the band announced via their Twitter feed that they would be recording the following week in Nashville. Recording took place at Blackbird Studios, Nashville. On February 17, 2012, they announced that recording of original songs for the album had been completed and they would soon be recording b-sides and covers. It was announced on February 22, 2012, via the band's Twitter feed that their fourth album would be titled Handwritten.
The band announced on their official Facebook page on April 26, 2012, that the album's lead single would be "45", and it would be receive its worldwide premiere as Zane Lowe's Hottest Record in the World on BBC Radio 1 on April 30.