Fatherhood Influences Janovitz' Solo Set
Bill Janovitz says that early in his career, he vowed never to become the sappy sort of singer/songwriter who writes cutesy songs about the birth of a child. Well, he can't keep from chuckling as he aBill Janovitz says that early in his career, he vowed never to become the sappy sort of singer/songwriter who writes cutesy songs about the birth of a child. Well, he can't keep from chuckling as he admits that he's failed.
On "Up Here" his second solo effort -- a one-off release for spinART due Aug. 21 -- the Buffalo Tom frontman offers up the sweet "Light in December," a lovely tribute to his two-year-old daughter: "You are my last reward/When the light leaves the day, I have something to look toward/Your mother's laugh, the photograph, the flash pops on the better half."
"It's almost like if I heard myself saying these words 10 years ago, I would have been like, 'Oh, no, don't ever become that guy' Ya know, 'You've got to stay edgy and cynical,'" 35-year-old Janovitz says, laughing. "But that [vow] just went out the window two months after I had a kid. It's like you're just sitting there with a guitar and the words that come out are the words that you're sort of living. I hope I wrote something unique. But, if not, whatever. It just really makes me think of a really nice time in my life."
Although he also includes a song written for a friend's wedding ("Like You Do"), make no mistake, most of the 10 songs on "Up Here" aren't as lyrically direct. The balance of the album is built upon that often vague and sometimes brilliantly vivid lyrical imagery that helped Buffalo Tom carve its own niche among the flurry of alt-rock acts to gain prominence in the early and mid-'90s.
But unlike the six rousing sets from the always rousing trio -- which a few months ago decided to take an indefinite hiatus -- "Up Here" never rocks out. Instead it's a quiet, acoustic venue for Janovitz's softer, prettier songs that fans of such Buffalo Tom ballads as "I'm Allowed" have yearned for.
More folky and sentimental than his twangy solo debut, 1997's "Lonesome Billy" (Beggars Banquet), "Up Here" features very little bass and no percussion. Instead, it relies on the sometimes sweet, sometimes smoky vocals of Chris Toppin (one of two frontwomen in fellow Boston-area act Fuzzy who was also part of another of Janovitz's side projects, Bathing Beauties) and the exquisite piano work of Phil Aiken -- which help these songs resonate on a deeper, more personal level than most of Buffalo Tom's.
Lyrically, Janovitz admits that most of his Buffalo Tom songs "are so idiosyncratic, they're so odd and kind of quirky -- maybe that's what kept Buffalo Tom from having a hit." He says after finishing "Light In December" and "Like You Do" (which he says is more of a "romantic look at domestic stability... just a really nice look at coming home") his wife asked, "Why don't you write more songs like that?"
The album is composed of new songs, as well as a few mid-tempo, slow-burning numbers ("Atlantic," "Up Here," "Goodnight, Wherever You Are") that Janovitz says were first taken to Buffalo Tom and were rejected or simply didn't fit the band. Some are songs Janovitz self-recorded in his basement.
"There's similar themes from a lot of my work, which are these just kind of individual, kind of almost alienated feeling of like not being in sync sometimes. But, then, there's probably more moments of sort of domestic bliss on this record than there has been on anything else. I think having a kid does that to you, as much as you try to avoid it, saying, 'Well, ya know, you don't want to write the happy family record.' But, sometimes you can only write what you know, sometimes. Ya know, I don't really write a lot of completely confessional, autobiographical fill-in-the-blank stuff."
"To come up with something a little more countrified, or a little bit quieter, and to do a solo acoustic song on a band record is kind of asking a lot from the other guys [bassist/vocalist Chris Colbourn, and drummer Tom Maginnis]. It's like, 'Okay, I don't want you guys to do this, but I want to this acoustic song.'"
When he started work on "Lonesome Billy," Janovitz says he wasn't trying to distance himself from the band, rather he was just really excited about working other musicians (that album features Toppin, as well as members of the Tucson, Ariz., act Calexico). And the same is true now.
"Being in a band for 15 years for me," he says, "Has been really like being in my family. I'm the oldest of five kids, and I think it would even worse if I was the youngest, or middle [child]. Ya just want to get the hell out of there as soon as possible. You appreciate them and want to come and see them on holidays and stuff. And that's really what Buffalo Tom has become. I have this real love for these guys, but at the same time, it's just like, 'Wow, get me out of here.'"
"[Buffalo Tom is] the opposite of a big U2-type band, where you put out a record and it's like this cycle. But [with us], it is still a cycle in of itself. I think maybe even because we were less successful, we became even more dependent on that recording-touring schedule. And you never really get off that merry-go-round. So, there was that, and, at the same, I was starting to get this collection of songs that Buffalo weren't really interested in or weren't fitting into the Buffalo Tom thing."
The band was on still on the road as recently as last fall -- playing the radio singles and fan favorites collected in Beggars Banquet's best-of collection "1988-99-A-Sides" -- and is still together "on some level," Janovitz says. "I don't know what the future holds. But, we just played a gig [in the Boston area in late May], and I kind of mentioned that we're probably not going to play shows for a while, because we don't want to be this kind of nostalgia act, almost, for early '90s alternative rock -- where we don't put out any records, we just tour or play shows. So, I don't think we'll do anything for a while, but we will hopefully regroup at do another record at some point."
In the meantime, stay-at-home dad Janovitz says he'll do some shows, but nothing too extensive. He's also shopping for a label deal for a new side-project, Crown Victoria, a rock act he's had together for about two years now. "It fits in the pop rock realm. It's Buffalo Tom a little bit, it's a little bit more country, and little bit more folk, here and there too."