Buffalo Tom’s Bill Janovitz: Between The Lines Just One More Time
Quiet and Peace is not as much of a resurrection album as it is an addition to a consistently impressive catalog that always delivers the right thing at the right time.
Buffalo Tom are skilled at offering emotional connectivity smothered with the lyrical prowess of its frontman Bill Janovitz, whose inflections envelop you with a familiarity to all the vocalists for all the bands you adore.
From the first note I heard on the opening track of their self titled 1988 album, I knew that my musical landscape had shifted. As a teenager, I somehow convinced a group of friends to go to Liberty Lunch in Austin on a school night to see the band on their 1990 Birdbrain tour. There was an urgency in the guitars, a support in the rhythm, and some hope sprinkled in the devastation. I stood transfixed at the front of the stage. Almost like a series of bookends I can relate periods of my life to the albums they have released. Now a few decades and nine albums later, that relationship hasn’t changed.
Alongside Buffalo Tom albums, Bill has released several solo and side projects, two books, and has published numerous articles on everything from sports to his love of the Rolling Stones.
GPBH: I’ve always been the most drawn to Buffalo Tom songs that feel like you’re exiting a storm, referencing windshield wipers, taillights, trains, and final journeys. Do you feel you do more writing about going to or coming from, and why?
Bill: I am most inspired when I am taken out of my routine at home. Traveling jars the senses and emotions. The imagery of literal travel no doubt has a large place in my writing. But I am by no means alone in these themes. The journey is a common theme in art since the days of, oh I dunno, the Odyssey, ha.
GPBH: Your guitar has often felt like a second vocal track to me. There’s a screeching and often a hesitation like it is also searching for the right words to break the silence. How much do you feel the language of your instrument contributes to the telling of the story?
Bill: Hmm, interesting question. Music is there to express the ineffable. Words and music together elevate expression beyond what words or music could do alone. Getting lost in squalls of feedback and the pummeling of rhythms, or lifted by soaring melodies, solos -- yes, the language of the instrument is perhaps the largest part of the story.
GPBH: When you think of the history of the band now approaching the 32 year mark what accomplishments have allowed you to feel the most satisfied creatively? What moment comes to mind when you think of the greatest Buffalo Tom story?
Bill: It is all sort of chasing the dragon after those first few records -- trying to always capture that buzz that comes from successful expression, connection with an audience, continuing it, and hopefully getting better at it. Hard to pinpoint one moment after that release of our first album.
GPBH: You’ve been able to stretch your legs a bit in other ways by writing your 33 1/3rd book as well as Rocks Off, how does the process differ for you from music to literature?
Bill: They are not even in the same ball park. Being a musician since I was a child has helped me listen and a great amount of practice on writing prose has allowed me to express some bit of what makes certain music so effective, which is the thrust of my approach in writing about the Stones and other music. But that relationship, the perspective I bring as a musician, is about the only overlap in the experience of writing about music, and writing and performing music.
GPBH: You had your daughter add vocals to your new record, and now Tom’s daughter has been creating visuals for the live shows (as well as music videos for the new album). When you became a father was it always a goal to share your craft, or were you more inclined to insulate your children from it? How does it feel to have family involved?
Bill: We joked about calling the album Daddy and Daughter Dance. It is so predictably satisfying to have our kids grow up and be part of the effort, to give them a chance to show off their own skills and get experience.
GPBH: Finally, what three albums by other artists should someone who is just learning about you listen to for a better understanding of your material, and why?
Bill: Three artists who had a big influence on us that are not as obvious as Dinosaur Jr., Hüsker Dü, or the Replacements, which have probably been the most often mentioned over the decades:
- The Moving Targets
- The Neats
- The Gun Club
The Moving Targets were an amazing band who all three of us loved around the time we were forming the band. They were in that first wave of post-Hüsker Dü bands, overlapping HD for a year or two more than we did (we overlapped HD in our formation but not with any records). I think people who listen to those first two Targets records will hear a lot of us. I listen to the Japandroids and hear a lot of Targets to them as well. But I doubt those guys have any idea who the MTs were.
Another Boston band, earlier than the Targets, was the Neats. They had REM open for them and were part of that moody, dark, Boston/Hoboken/Athens/Paisley Underground wave that gave us so many great records. I remember J Mascis also was a fan of theirs and might have even pointed out that one or two of our early songs reminded him of the Neats.
Finally, Chris and I used to go see a few bands together repeatedly. I could point to any one of them -- Echo and the Bunnymen; the Screaming Trees; the Died Pretty; even Van Morrison. All three of us love all those bands to a varying degree but the Gun Club was one we covered early. In fact, before there was BT, I used to sit in with Chris' band and sing "For the Love of Ivy.'
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Listen to Buffalo Tom's latest record Quiet and Peace
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