Buffalo Tom: Music
LIFT-OFF Buffalo Tom’s career was starting to take off when they played this record-release show for Birdbrain at the Boston Children’s Museum in 1990.
Ironically enough, the Suns had an LP titled Career in Rock. I remember the thrills of first recording at Fort Apache studio — the first one, in Roxbury — and having producer Tim O'Heir (or was it Sean Slade?) tell one of the other to-be-legendary producers (Gary Smith, Joe Harvard, Paul Kolderie, Lou Giordano?) that the songs we were recording were really good and that "We might have a new Volcano Suns on our hands." That was good enough for me: I was beaming.

These names are all known to alt-rock fans, but the importance of the Fort Apache founders, as well as what Mike Denneen and Jon Lupfer were doing concurrently at Q Division studios, cannot be overstated. When we finally hit the road, people would always ask us about the Boston "scene," as if it were some salon of artists comparing notes at a café somewhere. In hindsight, it sort of was, but it was hard to see that while we were living through it. There was camaraderie, especially among us and other brand new bands like Galaxie 500, the Lemonheads, and the Blake Babies. Throwing Muses, the Pixies, the Suns, Dinosaur Jr., Big Dipper — they all had a record or two and a few tours under their belts before we got going. But mostly, we got to know those bands on the road. The relationships with the Lemonheads and Blakes bring back memories not just of the Rat, Chet's Last Call, the Channel, and the Middle East (thanks to Billy Ruane and Skeggy Kendall, a newly hatched place to play back then), but even more vividly, bars and dressing rooms in Tampa and Hamburg.

But those two studios were headquarters, clubhouses, launching pads. It wasn't so much a salon atmosphere as an ongoing party, broken up by actual planned parties around the holidays. One great moment: J Mascis sitting in with Kim Deal and David Lovering of the Pixies, playing "Gigantic" at a Fort Christmas shindig. A not-so-great moment: having to delay a session of recording our third album, Let Me Come Over, because on the previous night the Bags had celebrated the final mixes of their own record by getting a non-drinking engineer so thoroughly drunk that he puked all over and into the expensive vintage mixing console. When we arrived at the crack of noon, interns were still cleaning the knobs, pots, and patch bay. "Career in rock," indeed.

This lack of respect for recording equipment was a hallmark of what endeared us to Fort Apache. When we first made demos at some glorified suburban home studio, we were continually chastised for our sloppy playing and over-reliance on volume. Mascis, no stranger to volume, hipped us to the dudes at Fort Apache. They're musicians themselves, he told us. Not like jazz-fusion or Tom Scholz musicians, but real punk-rock musicians.

What we found were not little Japanese amps or six-string basses but banks of moldy old Marshalls, torn speaker grills, Gibsons and Fenders in cases covered with bumper stickers. And instead of framed gold records or LP covers of acts that had stopped there for a remix and a cup of coffee, there was a taped-up wrinkled poster, as if torn off a teenager's wall, of Iggy Pop smashing 45s with a hammer.

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