Q.Are you getting better?
A. I don’t know. Yeah. I think yes. A lot of artists do peak and then decline. But some of my favorite artists did get better, and some I only liked in their later period. I saw Nick Lowe the other night, and I love Rockpile, but I think his newer records, I mean, talk about maturing. He’s striking and charismatic and witty and writing brilliant, beautiful songs.
Q. Isn’t there a stigma to maturity in rock music?
A. The mythology is loud and crazy and edgy. That’s gonna be an evergreen concept. People want to see bright flames and they want to see them flame out. They want to see the drama. They want to see Kurt Cobain. To me Tom Waits is a guy whose early records are fine but his later records, wow. Here’s a guy who used to write about drinking and Kerouac and it was all very caricature-y, but interesting. Then he started writing about what he’s going to leave behind, from a real human perspective. About being a father. About being a guy. About mortality. Bands are a little tougher. They have a shorter shelf life. Sonic Youth is a band I love and I couldn’t articulate why I stopped buying their records.
Q. What are your goals as an artist now that music isn’t your career?
A. I was never thinking about sales and radio when I was writing. [Pause] I’m checking myself. Buffalo Tom, to a fault, we were always in our own little world. We did what we did before, during, and after the spotlight swung on us. We were never fully in the right place and right time to capitalize on it. We definitely benefited from those post-Nirvana years, but we made music because we all liked the same records and we all went to the same shows, we liked the same books, the same movies. We were creating an entity. We still have a lot of those moments.
Q. Are you self-conscious about getting older?
A. I’m definitely self-conscious about it. I was making old guy jokes ten years ago and the other guys would cringe. My wife goes, “You keep drawing attention to it. Just stop. You’re young.” But I have to address it. This is the year of the reunions for bands of our generation. I went to see Superchunk the other night. I thought it’ll be cool to hear the old songs again. But it didn’t feel dated. I was checking myself, again, to see if I was delusional, and I wasn’t. It was really vital. I went to see Come, and it was really vital. And I thought why the fuck do I not listen to these records anymore? These are relevant to me. These are great records. I have started to think I’ve got to rein it in a little on stage. I’ve got to stop jumping around. I’m not Mick Jagger. Mick Jagger shouldn’t even be doing it. I could really risk injury. I used to make fun of people in their 40s and 50s for still being in rock bands, but the thing is to just do what’s true to you and don’t listen to anyone else. Of course I don’t blame a 20-year-old for saying “Yo, dude. Buffalo Tom? My dad listens to them. Hang it up.” That’s a perfectly justifiable position to take, from a cultural standpoint. Look at Aerosmith and J. Geils as a double headliner. Peter doesn’t want to talk about it. The others don’t even want to admit it and are doing everything to deny it. But you’ve got to be able to allow for that growth, as Keith Richards says. Muddy Waters, Duke Ellington, they allowed themselves to have growth and become versions of themself. They weren’t trying to be 1972 Aerosmith over and over again. You have to let that go.
Q. Is it hard to let that part of yourself and your identity go?
A. That’s been part of my struggle. It’s not the stamp of approval so much but….talk about energy. Once we could stay out all night and rebound the next day and write something and do it all over again. And I’d get home from tour and decompress a bit and start all over. Now at 7:30 at night I’m done. So if you’re not doing it for a living…I mean, this is an indulgence sitting here with you. I have a job. It takes actual time. There are people out there hustling to still be a musician. But to me it wasn’t about just trying to be a musician. It’s a means of expression. It’s being an artist. I don’t mean to discount the stamp of approval aspect. I want to feel like an artist again. It’s simple to say, but it really encapsulates where I’m at in my life. I’m a real estate agent and there’s a jokey aspect to that. What happened to him? He’s a real estate agent. And that’s demeaning in a way, and I did it to myself, It’s a sacrifice, because I had to make a living. But I’d love nothing more than to continue the thread of Buf Tom and be an artist on my own terms. I guess the thing to do would have been to become a rock star back then and not have to worry about money. But that didn’t happen. My only regret is I wasn’t able to take the experience and gracefully merge it into something new. I stopped and did something else. I made a delineation. This is music. And this is life.