In Chicago for Riot Fest ’17, QRO sat down with The Mighty Mighty Bosstones tenor saxophonist Tim Burton. In the conversation, Burton talked about playing the twentieth anniversary of Let’s Face It on tour & at Riot Fest, working on a new record for next year, getting all the guys together for fun projects, good music filtering through (and some that doesn’t stand the test of time), flying the Boston flag (while not living there), getting Spotify hits thanks to a white supremacist government, Jimmy Kimmel on clarinet, ska-bbaticals, and more…
QRO: Other than just the actual anniversary, what brought about touring Let’s Face It?
Tim Burton: I think that’s pretty much the motivation, the twenty years.
I think that we were looking for something exciting to do, for our little summer tour that we did. And also, we like to challenge ourselves – we like to make it fun for us. So that was something I think we thought we be cool, and fun, and force us to maybe do some songs we hadn’t done in a while.
QRO: Were there any songs from Let’s Face It that you had to relearn?
TB: Oh, my god! Songs that we had to learn for the first time, practically…
QRO: Were there songs that you’d never played?
TB: I don’t know if ‘never’, but maybe not ever in eighteen years or something.
QRO: Since you toured that album…
TB: And there’s a couple of new guys in the band. Songs certainly they hadn’t played, and that we rely on them for backing vocals and stuff.
QRO: You guys have so much stuff going on…
TB: We gotta figure out who does what and everything.
We’re getting a lot of Spotify hits, but it’s at the cost of a fascist nation…
QRO: Riot Fest is known for bands playing a classic album in full – had you decided to tour Let’s Face It before deciding to play Riot Fest?
TB: I think, maybe, the Riot Fest thing was kinda what spurred the whole thing.
You kinda get offered [Riot Fest] like five or six months ago. So we knew we were going to do this, and then, I think, the Let’s Face It idea came to us, ‘Let’s do this on this tour.’
And then, there’s been, oddly, a lot of interest in that album, too, because some of the lyrics, in the light of the political situation today. There’s actually been kind of been a resurgence of interest in that album – I just read that the song “Let’s Face It”, off that album, is like #10 on Spotify, twenty years later…
QRO: [laughs] It’s older than Spotify!
TB: Because we have white supremacists running our government now. The good side & the bad side. We’re getting a lot of Spotify hits, but it’s at the cost of a fascist nation… [laughs]
QRO: But that tour was in July – so this is your last Let’s Face It date?
TB: I guess so. We’ve got a few things in Boston we’re doing. I don’t know we’ll do it at those shows or not. I’m sure we’ll do a bunch of songs off it, but I don’t know if the front-to-back thing.
We’re kind of a full-time band, and we’ve been doing a lot of stuff recently, but we’re also a band that has, our members all have side jobs. Dicky is the lead singer– the announcer on Jimmy Kimmel. There’s like three or four of us who work in the film business in L.A. – I work in the film business in L.A. There’s a college professor, a guy who works at a video game company.
So we’re all off doing different things as well, and when we get the opportunity to do something awesome like this, we get together.
QRO: With all the members of your band, is it hard to arrange tours, get it to work for everyone’s schedules?
TB: There’s nine guys in the band, and then crew, and gear, and everything.
It takes a lot of work, but I don’t do any of it. Somebody books me.
We just have to check to make sure everybody’s schedules can handle it. Is it something cool that we want to do, and then, can everybody do it?
And, honestly, the ‘can everybody do it?’ is almost never an issue. Everybody wants to do them, and I think people have enough flexibility in what they do that we can almost always do it. It almost never comes down to like, ‘Oh, we can’t do that, because somebody has…’
We’ve actually got a different sax player today. We’re bring back Roman [Fleysher], who played sax for us for about eight years between, I don’t know, 1999 and 2007? He kind of left the band because of job – he’s a commercial airline pilot, and that kind of schedule really doesn’t jive with being in a punk rock band.
He left, and we’ve got a guy named Leon [Silva] who plays with us now, but he also plays with Justin Timberlake, so he’s in South America with Timberlake. Timberlake gets dibs over The Bosstones…
That being the case, Roman’s playing with us today.
Our fill-in in a guy who played with us for eight years – really the height of the band.
And he’s a killer sax player – the guy kills it. You wouldn’t know it by looking at him; if you saw him walking through here, you’d want to order a sandwich from him, but once you see him on stage…
QRO: I’ve noticed that, when you’re not in your twenties anymore, punk bands look normal…
TB: We’re pretty normal guys. We’re all working class guys from Boston. We came out normal lives. And that’s always the way we approach music, approach work.
QRO: You don’t walk around, all in plaid, all the time…
QRO: Do you get hot on stage?
TB: Fuck, yeah!
You know, the suits make you hot, I guess, but there comes a point where it doesn’t matter. You could be wearing shorts & a t-shirt, and still would be hot.
And we’re permitted to take our suit off, if we’re gonna pass out or something. ‘Don’t take the suit off!…’
QRO: Have you been getting nostalgic, remembering odd things from the time of Let’s Face It, etc.?
TB: Mmm… not so much.
We’ve had such a great career, and really to be able to still be doing it, is so awesome. The guys in the band, we all really enjoy each other, so that’s a big part of why we do it. We have fun, we like to get together, we like the challenge of getting here and pulling it off, and putting on a good show.
Yeah, I mean, there’s a certain amount of nostalgia, but some of us are pushing fifty, and we’re still doing it. You just kind of enjoy it, and are glad that you can still do it.
We’ve had such a great career, and really to be able to still be doing it, is so awesome.
QRO: A lot of acts, and not just at Riot Fest, are doing the ‘play an album in full’ – but it’s always an album from back when people bought CDs & records. Do you think a band that put out a huge hit album now, in twenty years, will there be that same sort of interest?
TB: Do people really listen to albums anymore? I don’t know. It’s a good question. I could ask you that question…
I think there’s probably still good albums being made.
QRO: Yeah, but the album concept…
TB: I think that has certainly changed, with digital music and everything.
And is anybody going to care about the music of today in twenty years? It’s probably ‘some old man’ sounding, but I do think there’s a lot of good music that’s happening.
And usually the good music filters through. You know, everybody talks about the seventies, and how great the music was, and ‘why can’t it be like then?’ I read this article, and they were pointing out the fact that, the year that Jimi Hendrix came out, a great Led Zeppelin album, Songs In the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder – and the number one song, that won the Grammy, was The Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar”. What makes it into pop culture isn’t necessarily what stands the test of time.
I think that will probably happen. I think that there are new filters that are happening. Back in the album days, a lot of the filtering came from the label, or came from the A&R people, and from radio stations & everything else. And now those filters don’t exist, but there probably are filters that are developing in other ways, and stuff will shine and stand the test of time.
And quite frankly, there’s stuff from our era that doesn’t stand the test of time so well, either, that was pretty big & hip. I don’t want to name any bands…
QRO: [laughs] No, please do…
TB: You listen to some of them, and the lyrics are very dopey.
I mean, here’s an example, and I love these guys, and I think their music is awesome and all that stuff, but I think if the Beastie Boys came out now, I don’t think they would be very popular, and I don’t think people would have those lyrics. They’re sexist, they’re kind of purposely dumb. “She’s On It”, or “Fight For Your Right To Party”? Maybe, I don’t know if that would really cut it today.
And I don’t know if the first Bosstones album would cut it today, either. Heaven forbid! It didn’t really cut it back then… [laughs]
There’s people in the industry that probably have better answers to that question. I find it to be interesting.
I don’t know if the first Bosstones album would cut it today, either. Heaven forbid! It didn’t really cut it back then…
We’re actually working on an album right now. We’re just kind of in the beginning stages, we’re like writing songs and we’re hoping to have something out in the beginning of the year, pretty soon.
Because the manufacturing and distribution doesn’t take so long, records come out a lot quicker. Or can come out quicker, now, if you want to do that.
QRO: Is it hard to get everyone together to make a new record?
TB: Most of the guys are in L.A. I live in L.A.
Joe Gittlemen, is our college professor, who’s one of the primary songwriters and producers of the music. He’s a college professor, and he’s on sabbatical. So I have a sneaking suspicion that that’s part of the reason we’re making this album, so he can come back to college, and go, “Hey, thanks for paying me for this year. Here’s a record I made…”
QRO: He’s on ska-bbatical…
What’s it like, being so associated with Boston?
TB: We’ve always flown the Boston flag very high. I don’t think The Bosstones could have really been from anywhere else. We were so supported. We were playing a very unusual style of music, and we got support from the music scene. The Boston music scene has always been very diverse, very supportive.
Back in those days, we’d go to other cities, and you’d see really stratified scenes. Where there was like the heavy metal scene – even down to the skinheads were beating up the mods, and we’re like, “ Wait – that’s the same thing, isn’t it?…” [laughs]
Boston’s been, again, supportive, it’s cool – it still is. There’s a good deal of camaraderie from the bands that we came up with. I think the new bands, there’s still a good scene there. There’s still industry there, there’s still radio there, there’s still stuff like that that supports emerging bands.
We love Boston – just none of us live there anymore… [laughs]
QRO: Or does Boston not have that underdog reputation anymore, since the Red Sox won the World Series & The Patriots won everything?…
TB: We kill it…
QRO: I wonder if it’s a little more insufferable.
It’s less. It’s less insufferable. Because everybody’s mellowed out. Before, people were wallowing in misery all the time, and now that’s gone.
I mean, maybe it’s insufferable to somebody coming from out of town, and we’re all like, “Fuckin’ Pats have won five Super Bowls!” [laughs] That might suck, but it’s more chill to me.
QRO: Animated versions of you were seen in the crowd of The Simpsons’ Boston episode…
TB: I’ve been immortalized as a Simpsons character…
A lot of the writers for The Simpsons, I know, are from Boston. I mean, for instance, Conan O’Brien started out writing for The Simpsons – he’s a Boston guy, he went to Harvard.
Jay Leno is from Andover, Massachusetts. There’s three famous people from Andover, Massachusetts: Jay Leno, Michael Chiklis, the actor, who was The Commish, and coming in a distant third, Joe Sirois, the drummer for The Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones playing “The Impression That I Get” with Jimmy Kimmel:
QRO: What was it like playing “The Impression That I Get” on Jimmy Kimmel Live – with Kimmel on clarinet?
TB: He’s actually played a few shows with us.
Jimmy’s just like an awesome guy. He supports The Bosstones. Obviously he & Dicky are very close.
He’s come & played a show with us in Vegas once. He’ll just come and see us, and he’ll bring his gigantic clarinet. He gets in there, man – he thinks he’s like rockin’ it. He kind of is, but maybe not as much as he thinks he is.
He’s just an awesome guy; he just haves fun with it. And we obviously love having him up there.
QRO: How hard was it to make the set list for the rest of the Let’s Face It shows?
TB: I don’t know. We just pick the songs we wanna play.
I mean, there’s certain songs we wanna play every night, so that also leaves you less slots.
We’re always bringing back new stuff, so there’s always kind of a stable of tunes we’re playing. It’s kind of a moving thing that we just have. Today, we only have like maybe six or seven songs that we can play, other than the album, because it’s a festival, so we don’t have a really long set. Then it’s even smaller.
QRO: And I suppose, at least with doing the album, you don’t have to deal with people shouting requests…
I bet you get a lot of requests…
TB: Calls for songs that we would have no idea how to do…