We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Tim Burton of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. The Bosstones are a band that has spanned the musical landscape for the last thirty years. They have gone from the garage to sold-out stadiums to quiet night clubs. Along the way, their trademark sound of Ska Punk brought forth the coming of a new type of music for many disenfranchised youth who plodded through the grunge era of Rock with little enthusiasm. In their time, The Bosstones have become a household name and their hit song “The impression that I get” (see video below) helped drive their Let’s Face it (1997) album to Platinum. Being one of the original band members, Tim was able to sit down with us here at SRO magazine for a while.
SRO: First, we’d like to thank you for taking your time to come and speak with us.
TB: Yeah, no problem.
SRO: How are things going?
TB: Great man, great. I’m flying up to Ontario tomorrow for a concert. So we [Bosstones] are taking some time out this summer to go be rock stars.
SRO: That’s awesome! So you guys are back together and touring some is that correct?
TB: Yes, we are. You know man, I think some of us in the band just wanted a break to go pursue other things. Here we are now and we never stopped loving to be together. Some of us just had aspirations to go after other things outside of the band.
SRO: We’re glad to see you guys back again. In 2003, the Bosstones went on hiatus. During that time you went out West and got involved in film. What drew you to do that?
TB: Well, I went to film school when I was younger and decided to try to make a career with music instead of film. It was weird because when I got to Hollywood a lot of my friends who I went to film school with were already producing big TV shows. So, here I am just kind of starting not on the bottom rung but, I haven’t accomplished near anything to what my friends had. So, I got into whatever I could.
SRO: In the span of your musical career with the Bosstones how much would you say you have grown musically from the first album, Devil’s Night Out to the band’s latest album, The Magic of Youth?
TB: Not that much [laughing]. I was a pretty good saxophone player when we started. My skills haven’t improved that much. They have stayed the same. While I can’t say I’ve gotten better personally, but as a band, we definitely have gotten better playing as a band with each other. I definitely think that playing almost every night like we did for years helped us better collectively. I have never claimed to be this great sax player, but I’m a very good one. I think there are probably some better sax players that I personally know. What I do well is write pop songs. I can write original horn parts for songs and that’s not something everyone can do.
SRO: The Mighty Mighty Bosstones are coming up on 30 years of playing together. What’s the key to staying together for such a long time?
TB: I’d have to say we are professionals. We wanted to deliver a good show. We were blue collar kids from Boston, Massachusetts, not good looking, not necessarily talented and playing Ska Punk music when everyone else was listening to Guns N’ Roses. We were just doing our own thing. We were tenacious, honed our craft and didn’t just settle. The energy is there now because we bring it. We are a rock band and that’s what rock bands do. They bring it or go home. Right now, we aren’t ready to go home any time soon.
SRO: What made you pick up a saxophone?
TB: Honestly, I just got into it when I was younger and going to a really good school. I grew up on Martha’s Vineyard Island. It’s an interesting town to have to grow up in. Well, you have your town’s people living there year-round like the cops and fishermen. The local population is a bunch of regular blue collar workers. During the summer, we always had this influx of incredibly wealthy people who would be there visiting and living in their trophy mansions. These people would pay taxes while they were there and all this money would be left for us to use for services like firefighters, cops and schools. That meant that our schools had a lot of money in their budgets. The school I went to had a thriving music department because of it. They actually gave me a saxophone, private lessons and band every day. I played guitar as well and my parents were really supportive. I always thought that if I was in a rock band that made it I would be holding a guitar doing it. I never thought my saxophone would take me all around the world like it has.
SRO: What made you stick with the band?
TB: Well, I had grown up with some of the guys and we had played together for some time. We really enjoyed playing and kind of jamming on what we liked. We liked Two Tone and Ska, and the Bosstones just coalesced around us. All of a sudden I was graduating from college and we were starting to tour. I remember we got a gig in Cleveland and the only thing they offered was us breaking even and free beer. At this point my film career had started to get going and I had to make a choice. Did I want to keep working films or pile in a van with my friends to play a rock show in Cleveland and drink free beer?
SRO: What were some of your influences as you were growing up?
TB: I love Hard Rock but I also listen to Blues, too. I pretty much listen to everything. I was really into Jazz when I was younger. The best for me was Thelonious Monk, the piano player. He plays this discordant style. It doesn’t sound like that to me though. To me that always rang true throughout the horn parts I wrote. I just did whatever sounded cool to me. I think some of our horn parts sound jazzy and out there. I think that’s pretty cool.
SRO: What are some of your favorite places you have played?
TB: We have played everywhere man. There are some great clubs you love to play like in Chicago. I think Amsterdam was awesome. I think any of the rock territories where they really appreciate Rock. We were able to go to Australia a few times. The best crowds though are in America.
SRO: What is one thing that you didn’t see coming as a result of the Bosstones’ success?
TB: I always thought we’d be successful. Even at the pinnacle of our popularity I always thought that this could be over in a year. I didn’t know if in a year from that point we’d be playing. Maybe someone would get tired of touring or maybe someone would have a nervous breakdown. Maybe the lead singer would want to quit or the drummer would quit. Or even someone would end up face-down in a swimming pool or somewhere. You just hope that it’s not you, wouldn’t be you, ya know? I would have to say that the longevity is what really is surprising to me.
SRO: Was there ever a moment for you when you wanted to put the saxophone down and walk away?
TB: Oh yeah, every day man. I was on tour with twelve guys on a bus, plane or train doing three hundred shows a year. It’s a little bit physically exhausting and a lot mentally. You all go out there and play a rocking show and hit the ultimate high. Then, you are back in the back [of the bus] and arguing with one of your band mates, ready to kill him and walk away. There’s always something it seemed, ya know? The scheduling, the money, who’s representing you, there’s a million different things that would make you want to quit and walk away. All of that goes on, but as soon as you walk out onto the stage it all melts away and you hit that high again. I definitely think the way we handled the money is something that played an immense part of the reason we stayed together. Another reason was that we were friends too. That helps a lot. We were very fair about the distribution of money throughout the group. Technically there were a couple guys who could have taken more of the money because they wrote more songs or whatever, but they didn’t. They decided to split it up evenly and that saved us a lot of stress and fights.
SRO: The Bosstones came out and blazed a path for several other bands that followed behind you. The band’s ability to take your sound to the next level enabled others to follow in your footsteps. How do you feel about that?
TB: Well, we definitely took it to the mountain. Yes, our sound was a little different but there were bands out there that were doing the same thing like Fishbone, The Specials, and Operation Ivory who didn’t get that big. I always thought of the Punk Rock bands that got big at the same time as being part of the same thing we were ― like Green Day and Rancid. You have to look at it like this. Nirvana ended in 1995 because Kurt Cobain killed himself. Then after that all these bands tried to copy Nirvana. They didn’t have the soul Nirvana had. They thought they could just strum on a guitar, whine and make it. That wasn’t it though. The essence that Nirvana had couldn’t be duplicated by these bands. There were a lot of these bands and they just weren’t that interesting, compelling, or musically sound. So what happens is that the fans got tired of that. This made way for the Ska bands and not just the Ska music scene but also Punk bands and Swing got really big for a while. I just think it was a reaction to bad boring Punk Rock. I also think it had to do with the fact that Punk Rock Underground and the do-it-yourself guys from that scene worked extremely hard to push their bands. They came out with their own magazines and community radio shows. They worked really hard for their bands and the sound they liked. Now they are heads of radio stations and working at record companies in A & R. I think it worked out really well for us and them.
SRO: Are there any nights during your career that really stands out in your mind?
TB: There used to be so many shows that I could remember, that stood out for me. Now I can hardly remember half of those.
SRO: It’s all a blur, huh?
TB: No, not really a blur [laughing], but I have forgotten some. I would have fans come up to me and ask, “Hey, do you remember me from Cleveland?” I would say, “Yes” and I would remember that kid from Cleveland, but now, not at all. The shows that stand out the most now are the ones where something weird or out of the ordinary happened ― Like your bass player gets stabbed in Italy by an Albanian T-shirt bootlegger or if you fell off the front of the stage. One moment I do remember is a show with Fishbone we did. So we’re on the stage with Fishbone and we have three of their horns and our three horns were playing together kind-of-a copula style on a Dixieland-type tune that Fishbone does while Angelo Moore was singing. We played the song to the end like that in a circle around Angelo and when we stopped the crowd just went nuts.
SRO: Is there anyone or any bands out there that you haven’t played with but you’d like too?
TB: No, not really. We just played with the Foo Fighters and those guys are so nice. Dave Grohl is so nice―almost way too nice. I am like, “Dude, save some for the fans.” I mean it’s hard to say who. There were a lot of bands that played that I wanted to see but never had the chance.
SRO: The music industry has been hijacked by YouTube and several other media outlets. Would you guys have made it today?
TB: It would have been totally different. There’s the whole record label thing, actually we probably would have sold more CD’s. The main thing we did was tour. That’s how we kept our autonomy from the record label. I’m not kidding, I had a girlfriend at the record label and they would ask her, “Where’s the Bosstones playing tonight? Where are they at?” Meanwhile, our song is number one on the radio.
SRO: Will we be seeing you guys touring 15 years from now?
TB: The guys in the band do enough outside of the band to stay busy and happy. So, when we come back to play and tour it’s not like, “Oh My God!”. We’re all friends and we still enjoy playing together. One of the band members is an announcer on TV, another teaches at a college and the college loves it when he is out there. We still enjoy it all. We put out two albums by ourselves in the past four years and look to do that again. I don’t see us stop playing anytime soon.
SRO: We look forward to hearing from you guys and thank you again for stopping by and taking time to talk to us.
TB: You’re welcome.
If you would like to see the The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, they will be appearing Saturday September 14, 2013 – 7:00 PM at the Shindig, Carroll Park, Baltimore, MD. Tell Tim you read about him and his amazing band in SRO Mag’s article and he will likely get you backstage (OK, OK… I just made that last part up, but say hello to him anyways).