The Last Bison: Faith, Family, and Old-Fashioned Fun

The Last Bison photo 2

2012 has seen a plethora of country, folk, “Americana,” artists flourish among the masses… and while The Last Bison appreciate that their genre seems to be conveniently “in vogue,” they very much hope that you will see them as a band more than able to stand on their own merit and talent, without the help of a popular trend.  The seven-piece band hails from colonial Virginia.  At the heart of the band is Ben Hardesty, but the lineup also includes father, Dan, and sister, Annah, along with four family friends (All of whom grew up in a manner seemingly of decades past… Most notably, they were all homeschooled… Ben, himself,  drives a 1989 station-wagon and is regularly found operating a tractor on the ranch where he was raised.)  The band, who describe their sound as “mountain-top chamber,” released their “official” debut EP, “Inheritance,” on Republic Records this October and are already drawing comparisons to the likes of Mumford & Sons and The Decemberists.  The Last Bison are currently on a short string of live dates, which include a stop this Wednesday, December 5th, at World Café Live in Philadelphia.  I recently got a chance to chat with them about what you can expect of both the live experience and their upcoming output.

Izzy Cihak: What are your thoughts on music in general in 2012?  There are quite a few bands who would seem to share your inspirations and aesthetic, to a certain degree, who are becoming quite big, something that would seem to be a relatively recent phenomenon.

The Last Bison: We are excited that the recent trend toward folk styles encourages an appreciation of musicianship and exploring the natural sounds of instruments.  This trend also foments grassroots music, where house shows are a norm and anyone can try their hand at crafting and performing songs. We recognize that we are part of this trend and find it to be both 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 individual merit.  At the same time, we appreciate that our songs sit alongside those of others within a genre to which people have a heart connection.  There is something authentic about this style of music and it seems people are longing for that authenticity.

IC: What are the band’s biggest inspirations, whether musical or otherwise?

TLB: The band is made of people to whom faith is important and it would be fair to say that our biggest inspirations are the natural and specific revelations of God. We see an ancient message of power and order within nature that gives us a sense of wonder and drives us to create. We also draw tremendous inspiration from the Bible, which has a powerful influence on our lives and music. Given that we are a band of family and friends, our relationships are another inspiration.  We value long-term commitment, and are all works in progress as we strive to put people over projects. As for songwriting influence, we draw from lots of places: old Disney soundtracks (especially Bambi), roots and bluegrass music (Allison Kraus and Union Station), classical works from the likes of Chopin, and many of us are die hard U2 fans.

IC: What have been your favorite responses to the band thus far?  Is there a certain type of person who seems to “best get” or “most appreciate” what you’re doing?

TLB: There is a guy back home who bakes us cookies and brings them to our shows – that’s a pretty awesome response.  Perhaps the most rewarding response is simply when people tell us that our music has given them joy, hope, and encouragement to make it through some difficult moment.  We so enjoy talking to fans and interacting with them off the stage.  There are wonderful moments when we are touched by their own stories. We have found that our music seems to have appeal across many generations.  We get young and old at our shows, and even have parents bringing their children (even babies.)  We once received a video from a fan in Venezuela of his baby dancing to our music in his crib.

IC: Your live shows have garnered quite a bit of critical praise.  What can we expect of the live experience in Philadelphia?

TLB:  You can expect a grand ole genuine hootenanny! We are passionate and joyful about what we do and pour a lot of energy into our live performances.  At the same time we want to create an environment that is intimate and allows us to connect with everyone in the room.  We will definitely be looking for some audience participation.  Expect to see some family and friends who love music and people.

IC: I understand that there’s an LP already in the works.  What can early supporters expect of that?

TLB: We are very proud of the project and excited for everyone to hear it.  Our producer, Kevin Augunas, challenged us in many ways and worked hard to sonically capture the many layers of our music.  Early supporters will be rewarded with four new songs and some rearrangements of previous material that was featured on our independent release, Quill.

IC: What are your general plans for 2013, musical or leisurely?  Any New Year’s Resolutions?

TLB: We will be touring heavily in 2013, kicking off with dates in February that will route us to SXSW in March, on to the west coast, up to the Pacific Northwest, and then back across the heartland.  We are also filling our summer with festivals, so general plans are to perform for and meet as many people as possible and expand The Last Bison herd.  Not sure there will be a lot of leisure time, but Teresa wants to read more books, Annah wants to spend as much time with friends and family as possible, Andrew will turn 21, so he wants to explore the world of craft brews, Dan would love a getaway to some exotic shore with his wife, Jay plans to build a dugout canoe, Amos wants to play more Frisbee, and Ben wants to write more music.

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.