Form A Line Here: An Interview With Buffalo Tom’s Bill Janovitz

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I distinctly remember the first time I heard Buffalo Tom come blaring out of a cheap pair of car speakers in the wee hours of a hazy Sunday morning in 1990, the now defunct WFNX was playing Birdbrain, which provided that rare eureeka moment, where nothing else mattered but what was being transmitted through those crakling speakers. The fact that a band like Buffalo Tom existed, never mind existed in my back yard was remarkable to me. For nearly 30 years Buffalo Tom have established themselves as one of the Boston Music Scene’s most revered bands and tonight’s sold-out show at The Paradise further proves the strength and consistency of their catalog, as well as their prowess for delivering exhilarating Live performances. Just yesterday we had the chance to catch up with Buffalo Tom’s Bill Janovitz to discuss the legacy of his band, playing guitar based rock music at 50, and the fact that tonight the band will be debuting a few new songs.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: When it was announced that Buffalo Tom would be playing its yearly summer show at The Paradise, word came that the band would be debuting some new songs. What can you tell us about the new material?

Bill Janovitz: As always, the songs are instantly recognizable as Buffalo Tom, but with some new directions. Maybe we are the only ones who detect the novelty of certain new songs sometimes. But then again, fans like certain things and not others about certain records and songs and I view it all as a continuum in the long view. We will play 3 or 4
new ones that are still in various stages of evolution.

AGP: How do you decide what songs get relegated to Buffalo Tom as opposed to your other projects like, The Needy Sons?

Bill: It more depends on what project is ahead of me more than any aesthetic choices. But some songs are so obviously BT, whereas I mostly write for the Needy Sons with two-guitar interplay in mind. Having other projects helps me grow and there is a mutual influence back and forth. When I don’t have any impending projects, I tend to not be as inspired to write. Sometimes ideas will float and I will not put guitar in hand, or roll a recording to capture them. Once I am engaged and we have a few songs for one or another project, a snowball starts to roll and pick up other ideas.

AGP: What can longtime fans and new ones expect from this weekend’s performance?

Bill: Two sets starting at 9:00(Sold out). A broad range of material from pretty much all the records.

AGP: With the bands early years being spent in Western MA, I was wondering how you feel about the new crop of bands coming out of that area over the past few years, that seem to be following a similar path set by bands like Buffalo Tom?

Bill: While we did begin out there in Northampton, we did not really feel part of any local-based scene. Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh were pretty much the only things really cooking out there, but even then it was more about Boston and NY.

AGP: With the success of your Rolling Stones related books, Rock Off – 50 Tracks That Tell The Story Of The Rolling Stones and Exile On Main Street from the 33 1/3 Series can we expect future literary efforts from you?

Bill: Yes. I am casting around a few ideas right now. But as I am not a full time author, I am feeling a bit frustrated at my lack of progress with a new one.

AGP: With nearly 30 years under your collective belts what does the future hold for Buffalo Tom?

Bill: Death is a constant for us all. Ha. Only half joking, I just turned 50 and just feel lucky to be able to draw a few people at a time to hear us play guitar-based rock music, never mind people who travel to see a sold out show. I hope we can tour, but that means making a record. As this is no longer our full time vocation, it means trying to get us all on the same page, which is difficult with three different careers and families.

AGP: One of the most memorable Buffalo Tom gigs I’ve witnessed was 1993’s Shake A Leg Benefit in Newport, are there any performances that stand out for you?

Bill: That was a truly special show. I never remember the sets themselves, but I almost always remember the people, the band, the weather, the settings, etc. I especially remember when other musicians would come to early shows, like Paul Westerberg on one of our first tours. Or playing with bands that were characters, like Courtney Love. The big festivals are always memorable. But the ones I love the most are small-medium Euro festivals, like the Cactus Festival in Bruges. Buffalo Tom has played that twice and I played it a third time solo. Amazing location in the center of that medieval city.

AGP: Let Me Come Over seems to be a go to record for many fans, but I was wondering what album you’d chose from the Buffalo Tom catalog, if you could only choose one?

Bill: They honestly all run together. That one probably has the most songs that we almost always play or play the most. But we are entertainers and like to please people who come. I like digging deeper as well. As a fan, I always want to hear lesser-played songs by my favorite acts.

Buffalo Tom will play to a sold-out crowd tonight at The Paradise. The band will perform two sets beginning at 9PM.

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