Year after year, Faneuil Hall proves to be the public entertainment mecca of Boston – musicians, comedians, and magicians come together to provide music, laughs, and awes for the millions of tourists that pass through the historic hub of shops and restaurants. Not only do buskers enjoy playing in Faneuil Hall for the amount of foot traffic and the diverse, international crowd their particular acts can appeal to, it is well-known that the listeners and viewers find a sort of freedom to engage in the space by dancing and cheering. One Faneuil Hall newcomer who found that out this summer is Tom Burke, drummer and songwriter for the local rock fusion group Pineapple Jam.
Sitting down to chat with Tom, it was amazing to hear him talk about his passion to pursue music as a full-time profession. Never did I expect the words, “I left my job as a graphic designer to busk full-time last summer” to come out anyone’s mouth. But Tom did just that. After spending some time working in an office, he found the environment limiting and unnatural, so Tom grabbed his guitar and signed up to croon his acoustic covers to the Faneuil Hall audience. From our chat, I would say he made the right choice, as his passion shined through whenever he discussed his solo work or the time he spends with his band.
While busking, Tom plays acoustic guitar through an amp, performs covers, and always takes requests, which allows the listeners to easily engage. One of his fondest memories from the summer was singing Coldplay’s “Adventure of a Lifetime”. A group of middle schoolers on a field trip gathered around and sang the callback with him, drawing in even more people to listen. He received his fair share of unexpected compliments, which served as confirmation of his efforts to keep pushing forward with his music. His mindset is that his success is fully dependent on his own efforts.
“We all like pineapple, and we jam a lot”
A few years ago, Tom and his childhood friend Steve Baldrate, a guitarist, got together in their hometown of Billerica, a northwest suburb of Boston near Lowell, and spent some time jamming, just improvising some music for fun. They were reluctant to join a band in past years, but decided to get something going when they had some material that they liked. They added Steve’s cousin Mike Powell as a second guitarist and Alex Kotzias on bass for live shows. Kotzias reluctantly left the band recently and was replaced by another hometown friend Kyle “Larry” Leblanc. Tom and Steve serve as the songwriters.
Pineapple Jam seems a rather appropriate name for the band, as their music gives off a somewhat tropical vibe; it is easy going and has a sleazy twang to it. It is bright, it is crisp, and it is fun. The harmonies provide some of the best highlights in their debut album, “Best Served on Toast”. Listeners can hear their influences Red hot Chili Peppers, Pink Floyd and the John Mayer Trio heavily integrated into their music – Flea’s funk infused basslines, David Gilmour’s progressive rock guitar playing, and John Mayer’s over-arching blues charm. The combination of the sounds makes for an immersive listening experience with lots of fun surprises along the way.
To promote their album and new music they’re working on, they have been playing gigs through Boston at Cantab Lounge, Sally O’Brien’s, and, their favorite venue to play, Downeast Cider House, where they’re kindly paid partially in delicious, local hard cider. They are currently focused on booking more gigs in music specific venues, and you can catch them live at Aeronaut Brewing in Somerville on January 26 from 9 to 11:30PM.
Beyond music, Tom is currently a long-term sub teaching graphic design, which allows him to keep a stimulating job during the day that supports his personal creative outlet during his off-time. Through his background as a graphic designer, he also creates all the artwork and t-shirts for the band, as well as the website.