Virginia based The Last Bison mix traditional folk with elements of classical orchestral instrumentation to create their unique style of music. A seven piece, this large musical family is striving to expand the geographical stretch of their audience with the release of their latest Inheritance EP. They took the time to talk to us about their music and what else lies ahead for the band.
BLS: Tell us a little about how The Last Bison got its start?
LB: Many of us in The Last Bison grew up together creating music as family and friends. We would create and play music at home and in church, so we were familiar with playing together. Ben started the group after returning home from a year of school in northern England. He began writing songs and we (Dan, Annah, and Andrew) started arranging and performing the music wherever we could get an audience. Teresa and Amos joined later adding the strings element and Jay, who was at all of our rehearsals, simply started playing things we didn’t have enough hands to play.
After making some connections with local bands, we were offered a spot at a local showcase at the NorVa (Norfolk, VA) which gave us exposure to local radio (WROX / 96X) It all happened very fast and very organically. We are amazed that what started in a very homegrown sort of way, in less than a year lead us to recording with Universal Republic and the larger opportunities we have today.
BLS: What is the significance of your band’s name?
LB: Ben came up with the name Bison while in high school even before he had a band. He loves the whole late 1800s vibe, and culture of the westward expansion. Later we took the name on, loving its strength and how it is an American icon. We think it captures the coupling of tradition and new frontiers in our music. Expanding the name to The Last Bison came after realizing there were a handful of other artists using Bison. We discussed various options including total name changes but landed on The Last Bison being what we thought was even a stronger symbol of heritage (another theme we love.)
BLS: Your band has seven members in it. What is the hardest part of having so many members on tour and in the studio? Any benefits?
LB: It’s a tight fit when we squeeze 7 band members along with a few support people into a van for long periods of time. The close quarters with very little time away from each other can create tension. It certainly creates opportunity to live in community, practice patience, and learn to accept and live with personality differences and the various needs of each person. Opinions vary not only artistically but even when it comes to what to eat, where to sleep, how clean the van should be, and what music to listen to. It’s a continual process of learning to love and like each other!
BLS: It’s been a year since you released your debut album Quill. Has the band evolved or changed any during this time? How So?
LB: We have certainly developed a more cohesive sound in live settings. We’ve grown deeper in our understanding of one another on personal levels that translates into live performances musically being more creative and tight. There is a spiritual side of the band as well that we are trying to cultivate, though touring makes this difficult. We feel that the more spiritual community we share as a band the stronger our music will be.
BLS: What does the rest of 2012 have in store for the band?
LB: Some tour dates, a few local Christmas shows to support the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia, and hopefully some time for creating and writing new material!
BLS: You have found success in your hometown region? As you focus on gaining attention on a more national level what are the greatest obstacles you face?
LB: Touring is rewarding in many ways. Meeting new people, performing in new cities, and sharing our music and art is exciting. However, touring is also very tiring, and we recognize the need for down time and ample opportunity to be home with friends and family. Keeping up with the pace is certainly an obstacle.
We also recognize that we are playing Indie Folk music which has seen a definite rise in popularity over the last several years. This is an opportunity and an obstacle. We do not want to simply be seen as riding the band wagon so to speak. We feel our music is unique enough to stand on its own and hope it will be embraced for its own merit.
BLS: Recently, you had the honor of having your song preformed by Hickory Middle School in Chesapeake, Virginia. Was any of the band members involved in school music programs? How did it prepare you to be a commercial musician?
LB: Many of the band members were involved in piano, voice, and orchestra with lessons and recitals. Amos (Cello) and Teresa (violin) were both involved in Bay Youth Orchestra as well as regional and state orchestra and did side-by-sides with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. Teresa says that having to play for Concerto competitions prepared her to play her best in front of audiences. She would add that practicing hard is important to performing well.
BLS: Having spent time in Virginia I know the ongoing argument of Northern Virginia versus Southern Virginia. How would you say this argument plays out in the area of song writing?
LB: We may be somewhat ignorant to the ongoing argument. We are deep in the southeast corner of Virginia and maybe have been sheltered from such discussion. We love Virginia however. We love its history and heritage and are proud to be from the Mother of States. We certainly draw inspiration from the land and history of the place we call home. And although the state we call home is blanketed with battlefields, both historic and political, we would say that our music is less about tension and argument and more about the wonder of life and the beauty of relationship within the context of love and faith.
BLS: Virginia has a long standing tradition of folk music. How much does Last Bison draw on this tradition? From what other main sources do you gather material for your music?
LB: Though we do not play bluegrass standards (nor could we,) folk music and the simple, narrative style of Appalachian music certainly influences our song writing. Ben claims that hours of hearing Allison Kraus and the Carter Family along with southern influenced guitar styles strongly influenced his love for roots music. Another very strong influence is classical music. When Amos and Teresa joined The Last Bison we knew we did not want to add fiddle or folk influenced strings, but rather wanted to maintain the classical sensibility that they brought to the music. The end result was a blending of the folk tradition with classical sensibility, poured into a pop-rock container.
BLS: Name 5 bands you love but who few people have heard of?
Deep Sea Diver
The Soil And The Sun