Published August 1995, The Aquarian Weekly
The active recording career of the Beatles covered a mere seven-year period between 1962 and 1969, fusion lasted about as long as Gerald Ford's presidential term, Seattle is old-hat, alternative music is now mainstream, trends come and go and Vanilla Ice, Geraldo, Hammer and Tavares are already trivia game answers or forgotten footnotes in future bad-moments-in-musical-history anthologies.
If you actually stop and think about it, eight years is a considerable amount of time for anything to last in these trendy times especially something as potentially volitile as a rock `n' roll band.
In an era where controversy reigns and you're only as big as your current hit, Buffalo Tom has managed to carve out a fairly successful, eight-year career by way of constant touring, minor radio success, a low-key approach to the press, smart business sense and good, solid, quality albums completely lacking in rock star flash, but brimming with honesty.
Starting with their 1988, J. Mascis produced debut on SST records, vocalist/guitarist Bill Janovitz, bassist/vocalist Chris Colbourn and drummer Tom Maginnis have slowly, but steadily, accrued a growing core of devoted fans as the quality and scope of their music has improved with each successive release.
With shooting for the "Tangerine" video completed, interviews, photo shoots and radio promotion for Sleepy Eyed going at full speed and upcoming gigs during New York's CMJ New Music Seminar and overseas in Denmark and Holland just around the corner; Buffalo Tom's Bill Janovtitz recently found the time to chat with the Aquarian Weekly.
How did Buffalo Tom first come together?
"The three of us have known each other since we were 18-or-so and formed the band while we were at U. Mass (University of Massachusetts) in the winter of '86. All of us were, at the time, in other bands that weren't doing much. Actually, none of us were doing what we really wanted to do in our other bands. We were at school, living in a big house and there always seemed to be equipment laying around. We borrowed a drum set from J. Mascis one day and formed the band for the hell of it. We started out playing parties and gigs and, eventually, made our way to Boston where we gigged, wrote, recorded, worked and shopped our demos and, luckily, caught SST's attention. The ball somehow just kept on rolling and here we are five albums later ..."
Where did the band's name come from?
"Tom used to be a very shy guy when we first started out and that's part of the joke about the name ... naming the band after Tom, who was, at that time, almost painfully shy. Buffalo? Buffalo Tom was like, sort of the underdog guy, the guy nobody's ever heard of ... everyone knows about Buffalo Bill and Buffalo Bob, but, what about old Buffalo Tom?"
When were you finally able to give up your day jobs?
(laughs) "Well, it was a long, slow process. I was sort of an assistant manager at a copy store and Tom was doing editing at a local cable-TV station. We both decided we were, uhm, done with our jobs around the time of Let Me Come Over (1992). Chris, who was working at a booking agency for bands, held on to his job until just last year.
I think keeping our day jobs as long as we did, was, in retrospect, one of the smartest things we did. It allowed us to not have to make crucial decisions based on money. We didn't have to take huge publishing or recording advances or make records when we weren't ready to pay the rent and we don't have the pressure, now, of paying back those advances we were, somehow, smart enough not to take back then."
You've always balanced pop melodiousnes with gritty, wall of noise guitar ... what bands influenced you?
"I remember when the first couple of Husker Du records came out ... I'd been listening to R.E.M., Echo And The Bunnymen and a lot of textured, 60's-influenced, kind of jangly, atmospheric bands; but when Husker Du came along and melded pop with punk's energy, speed and rage it was like a revelation for me. I still listened to stuff like the Talking Heads, The Replacements and Mission Of Burma ... but Husker Du ... Buffalo Tom are the direct descendents of Husker Du."
The new album sounds a bit "rawer" than your last effort, did you consciously aim for a crunchier feel?
"With Big Red Letter Day, we felt that we'd sort of taken the production as far as we could. After playing those songs live for the last year or two, we realized that we should ... we needed to capture some of our stage energy. We went into sessions for Sleepy Eyed with a live approach in mind. We set the studio up like a gig ... no headphones, monitors on the floor, first takes, live vocals, the three of us feeding and playing off of each other ... it's kind of an old-fashioned way to make a record, but it seems to've worked for us."
How has Buffalo Tom managed to endure despite minimal press and no major hit, while bands with two or three hit songs and Rolling Stone and Spin covers on their resume are delivering pizza?
(laughing) "I don't really know ... I worry more about what would happen if we did have a hit. We never expect, or expected, to have a hit, let alone put out five records; although at this point, I think we're prepared in the event that we actually do have a hit record.
We've never expected huge success, nor do I think we really want It. We've got a growing fan base, we're allowed to do what we want to do on our records and there are no ridiculous sales expectations based on our albums.
We pretty much fulfilled all of our rock `n' roll goals with the first record. Think about it, we had an album out on SST, home of our heros Husker Du, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur and Black Flag, had dinner with Greg Ginn, headlined at a major Boston club on a Friday night ... I mean ... that was it! Back then.
As you move along, however, you find that you kind of keep moving the goal posts down-field just a little bit more each time."
-- AL MUZER