Boston’s beloved Buffalo Tom comes roaming back with new material
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Boston’s beloved Buffalo Tom comes roaming back with new material

Music

The trio will headline the Lowell Summer Music Series on Saturday while promoting their new album, “Jump Rope.”

Buffalo Tom returns to the area with a show in Lowell this Saturday. Photo by Kelly Davidson Studio

During the band’s 1988-1998 heyday, Buffalo Tom — which formed at UMass Amherst in 1986 — was a fan and critical favorite to comparative degrees in the U.S. and the UK.

Comprising guitarist Bill Janovitz, bassist Chris Colbourn, and drummer Tom  Maginnis, whose first name give the group the latter half of its name (with ’60s folk-rock band Buffalo Springfield inspiring the former), the trio recently unveiled its 10th LP, “Jump Rope.”

The 14-track collection is the latest entry in a second act that began with the 2007 release of “Three Easy Pieces,” which appeared after a decade-long hiatus by the trio. During this time, Janovitz began a career in real estate and wrote the first of three books, the most recent of which is a bestselling biography of Leon Russell, and the next of which will be about The Cars.

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Buffalo Tom will occupy the headlining spot of the Lowell Summer Music Series on Saturday, when they will showcase new songs and revisit old favorites.

Boston.com: What do you think that fans will find refreshingly familiar and surprisingly different about “Jump Rope”?

Bill Janovitz: I’m not very good at predicting our audience’s reaction to stuff. I’m never good at picking out songs that are going to click with people. But I think that the main difference is, and it’s not some big change, but Chris has been bringing more and more songs to the band. I would say almost half of this record are songs that Chris sings and wrote the main idea of the songs.

But what I’ve seen from people’s reactions is that Buffalo Tom is a comforting thing. That’s the nature of the band. It’s a somewhat predictable, comfortable pair of jeans that you go to more often than anything else. I think that people who were Buffalo Tom fans to begin with will love this record.

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Were any specific influences consciously brought to bear?

The overarching idea going into this record was to make more of a campfire record. We said, “Why don’t we pick the more acoustic songs and kind of keep them acoustic?” In that respect, it was like R.E.M.’s “Fables of the Reconstruction,” which they did with Joe Boyd in England. Or “Out of Time,” where they did a lot of mandolin. It’s really more like us noticing our influences bubbling up, like this is our [Rolling Stones song] “Coming Down Again” thing, or that a lot of these songs sound like late-’60s [Rolling Stones album] “Aftermath”-type songs.

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The grunge explosion happened smack dab in the middle of Buffalo Tom’s 1988-1998 run. How was the musical landscape different before and after the 1991 release of “Nevermind”?

When we started, the stakes were extremely low. It was just like, “Let’s see if we can get a gig; let’s see if we can open for The Replacements here at UMass,” stuff like that. Then we started making demo tapes and sent them out to all of the indie labels in our collection. A Dutch one responded and signed us to a questionable deal. But the guy eventually licensed out to Beggars Banquet, and we signed a new deal there. That was like ’88-’90.

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Boston was super fertile then. So many bands, so many clubs, and there was a lot of competition for slots. For R.E.M. and Husker Du and The Replacements to sign to major labels, that was huge to us. We were like, “Oh boy, are they selling out?” … “Oh my God, The Cure on top 40 radio.”

Then our generation went from college radio to mainstream radio and MTV. Then we’re headlining Europe before we could headline in the states. It was sort of like an incremental moving of the goalposts. We realized that we could keep doing this and avoid getting a real job!

Then Nirvana hit, and that was the big pivot point. Everything just changed. When I hear some of those records, like Screaming Trees’ “Nearly Lost You,” it brings back such fond memories of when mainstream radio was playing almost all awesome stuff.

But very quickly, the FCC acts that Bill Clinton signed into law —  and I’m not blaming him, but he had a huge part in it — allowed for massive consolidation. And that’s what we’re dealing with to this day: one corporation, one playlist, across the United States. It predictably resulted in absolutely the lowest common denominator version of grunge, like Limp Bizkit and Creed.

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That brought us up to ’98. We had just signed to a major label in the U.S. and we immediately got dropped. We immediately took the money that they paid us off with and took a break. That led to getting real jobs and raising kids.

How did you end up singing your song “Taillights Fade” with Eddie Vedder at Fenway Park in 2018?

It was Labor Day weekend, and I was having a glass of wine and we were about to take my daughter to college that weekend. And I got a text from Eddie saying, “Buffalo Bill, what do you think about doing ‘Taillights Fade’ in centerfield at Fenway Park?” And I said, “I feel like that would be a lot of fun!” So he said, “What are you doing right now? Can you come down [to the rehearsal]?”

They played the first show on Tuesday, and as he was leaving the stage, he said, “Play two? Do it again?,” and I said, “Alright. I’ll be back!”

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Can you give me a thumbnail sketch of your upcoming book about The Cars?

The Cars book is going to be substantive. It kind of starts with Ben [Orr] and Ric [Ocasek] meeting in Ohio and kind of goes from there. And it’s a little bit about each of the guys’ backstories. Like Dave Robinson, who was in The Modern Lovers [with Jonathan Richman] and DMZ with one of the biggest characters in Boston, Jeff “Monoman” Conolly. Then you give it one more shot and you’re in The Cars and you sell 6 million records. What an amazing story! It’s also about how they define the pivotal point between ’70s excess and slick, pared-down new wave, and basically the music I was listening to as a kid.

What is the Please Come to Boston Festival that you are curating?

Basically, we’ve got three nights at The Armory in Somerville. I hope to make it an annual thing and maybe grow it, but right now we’re keeping it pretty simple. It will be Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Nov. 1-3. It’s going to be a mixture of music and conversation. We doing do three different records: “Let Me Come Over,” “Big Red Letter Day,” and “Sleepy Eyed.” We going to do one per day.

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We’re going to have Dave Hill, a comedian and musician, on Saturday. He’s going to do a set. And we’re also going to have an Earfull Series that day with Tom Perrotta, me, and Dave Hill doing some readings. We will also have another comedian, Eugene Mirman, on Friday. Then Sunday, we’ll have Punk Rock Aerobics with Hilken Mancini in the morning, and we’ve got food trucks coming all weekend.

Buffalo Tom plays the Lowell Summer Music Series on Saturday, June 29, 7:30 p.m. at Boarding House Park, 40 French St., Lowell. Tickets are $48-$98 plus fees.

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