Archive for June, 2011

An explanation

June 4, 2011

Yes, the interview in the previous post originally appeared as a Q&A on The Fly website. This is just me playing round with stuff really. And adding other bits (the factfile and the discography mainly) so I can use them in my college portfolio.

So regular readers (er, that’ll be you, Peter) can rest easy in the knowledge that this isn’t a drastic new direction for WHTB by any means.

Phew!

“Purely for fun and artistic expression” – an interview with Bill Janowitz of Buffalo Tom

June 4, 2011

Bill Janowitz grimaces.

“Eurgh, that’s so sweet,” he says, his face a mixture of disgust and disappointment. “I had such high hopes for this ginger beer as well. That’s awful.”

This is Buffalo Tom’s first trip to the UK in four years, and this isn’t the best of starts. Fizzy pop is clearly a young man’s game. If that presents a challenge, how on earth will they cope with rock’n’roll?

*

First of all, let’s clear something up: this is not a Buffalo Tom reunion tour. Although the band made a conscious decision not to play together for the best part of a decade, they never actually split up. Having toured relentlessly from the late 80s, through indie rock’s overground boom right through to their 1998 album ‘Smitten’, a sabbatical seemed like the right choice for three thirty-something former college buddies.

Then, almost without warning, they re-emerged in 2007 with their seventh album ‘Three Easy Pieces’. Far more breezily upbeat than their later work, it appeared in the wake of well-received reformations from the likes of the Pixies and Dinosaur Jr. You could be forgiven for thinking the revered Boston trio were trying to cash in on The Great 90s Indie Rock Revival, but Bill’s keen to settle that score:

“We’re treated like elder statesmen,” he laughs, “but it’s not like we’re turning into this big popular band like The Pixies or something. I’d like that! But we’re very realistic. We’re doing it purely for fun and artistic expression.”

Buffalo Tom (l-r): Bill Janowitz, Tom Maginnis, Chris Colburne

Bands that realize they can carry on for fun tend to be the ones that continue to make good records, WHTB suggests.

“Yeh. I think a lot of it has to do with getting to a certain maturity level. When we were in our 20s, we were just figuring out life. But then we had modest goals. When we signed to SST, that was like putting up a gold record on the wall! We really had no idea that there was a chance for a band like us to make money.

“All those bands we played with, like Nirvana, who became the rock stars for a generation… that wasn’t even on our radar! We were always trying to keep each other in check.”

Despite their time off, Bill refutes the notion that the band are effectively starting all over again.

“It kinda feels as though there was never any time off the road,” he says thoughtfully.

“Very little has changed for us. We’re older, obviously, but we’re going back to places we were going to in our 20s.”

Talk turns to their latest album, the elegantly-mature ‘Skins’. WHTB remarks that it sounds like a band that’s comfortable with its sense of self, which suits Bill fine.

“I’ve always seen Buffalo Tom as a ‘mid-tempo ballad’ kind of band,” he grins.

It’s appropriate that Buffalo Tom should choose to return in the wake of Dinosaur Jr’s successful reunion. Furthermore, WHTB points out, a wave of punk bands has also emerged citing Buffalo Tom as an influence, including Bedford Falls and Cheap Girls.

“There was a period of time where Radiohead mentioned us, early on! I haven’t heard it so much lately.” Bill chuckles to himself at the memory.

“But it’s important to me to understand where music comes from.  Some people don’t really care if we were influenced by Hüsker Dü, but I think it’s really important.”

Buffalo Tom in 1993

Tom Willecome from Bedford Falls has said that Buffalo Tom “combine the sound of ‘classic rock’ with the brevity and punch of punk, and refine it to the point that punk becomes a distant memory but the brevity and punch remain”. Bill is interested that newer bands feel the same way as he did about his own influences.

 

“Hüsker Dü started out like a pure hardcore band, then they developed over the years to incorporate all these influences. It’s not like any band exists within a vacuum,” he says, launching into a history lesson.

 

“We first formed because Chris [Colbourne, bassist] and I would be going to Rolling Stones shows, Echo & The Bunnymen shows, Hüsker Dü, Replacements… we had the same taste in all kinds of stuff. Tom [Maginnis, drummer] as well.”

 

The personel of the band has remained the same since those early days, and Bill agrees this has been important.

“Well, I think the major thing is that we’ve never really broken up. We just stopped recording and touring, and that really helped. If we’d broken up then it might have been more lucrative! Who knows? But we needed to re-establish some balance in our lives.”

Bill’s an affable sort, and clearly comfortable recounting tales of days gone by. While he’s in his element, it would be totally remiss of WHTB not to discuss the band’s career-making appearance on early 90s teen-drama ‘My So-Called Life’. Perhaps inevitably, the band feel a personal connection to that period.

“We ran into this show where the creators were big fans. There were so few years between signing to SST [legendary LA punk record label] and being on a trailer on a Hollywood lodge with Claire Danes sitting on the floor, asking us for stories…

“You’d gotta be careful, because if you wanted to take on mainstream things, you risked alienation of your core audience. But we took it and it really changed our audience – not  that all of a sudden we sold millions of records, but it went from being all dudes at the shows to more younger women. And that was great, just to broaden it.”

Suddenly snapping back to reality, Bill smiles ruefully. “But now it’s gone back to the way it was…”

With the band now settling into middle age, WHTB asks how long Buffalo Tom can continue.

“I dunno, I ask myself that every day. Increasingly as I get older. I think of it as one step at a time: this may be our last record, it may not.”

If it came to that, the self-assured Skins would be a fine way to bow out. And perhaps a very grown-up way to bow out at that. Bill’s brow furrows at the suggestion.

“I’m the young guy in the band, and I’m 44,” he says, leaning forward. “We’re still jumping around and sometimes I just feel silly, but it’s pretty real. I’m not trying to put on a show. If I jump at the end of a song it’s because I’m happy to do it… and happy to still be able to do it!”

Cracking a smile, Bill Janowitz leans back and shrugs.

“I mean, we’re not that old.”

(Will  Fitzpatrick)

BUFFALO TOM FACTFILE:

  • The band formed in Boston, Massachusetts in 1986
  • All three members of the band were originally guitarists, with Chris Colburne and Tom Maginnis having to learn bass and drums respectively
  • Perceived early similarities to another Boston band saw them initially written off as ‘Dinosaur Jr junior’ in their local press
  • Their celebrity fans include Glee star Mike O’Malley, who wrote the press release for their latest album Skins
  • Buffalo Tom was the final band to appear on The Jon Stewart Show

BUFFALO TOM DISCOGRAPHY

  • Buffalo Tom (SST, 1988)
  • Birdbrain (Situation 2, 1990)
  • Let Me Come Over (Beggar’s Banquet, 1992)
  • Big Red Letter Day (Beggar’s Banget, 1993)
  • Sleepy-Eyed (Beggar’s Banquet, 1995)
  • Smitten (Beggar’s Banquet, 1998)
  • Three Easy Pieces (New West Records, 2007)
  • Skins (Scrawny, 2011)