Bison is a seven piece alternative folk band from Chesapeake, Va. that has been focused on American history.
“We try to be forward thinking in our music while holding to some traditional roots,” lead singer and songwriter Benjamin Hardesty said. “Since the bison is an iconic symbol of this time period, I just latch on to it as a name for the band.”
“We call (our music) Mountain-Top Chamber music,” Hardesty said. “It combines alternative folk sounds with classical sensibilities.”
The band has been influenced by movie scores, old bluegrass, Allison Kraus with Union Station, Borodin’s String Quartets and Fleet Foxes.
With seven members in the band, each member has been able to give their own touch to the music.
“The sound, though guided by me, is definitely a blend of what each member brings to the mix,” Hardesty said. “We knew when we added the strings that we wanted them to maintain the classical feel that came with their training.”
Bison’s album, Quill was released in September of 2011, focusing on its live performances.
“We had been playing locally and gaining a following,” Hardesty said. “At every show people were asking for recorded music. We knew we wanted to capture our live sound. Switzerland was recorded in one take with the violin added the second day. It is very fulfilling when we are told that our album sounds like our live show.”
Live or in the studio, Bison has unique sound that many people will enjoy.
How did you get your start in music?
My dad, who plays banjo and mandolin in the band, gave me a guitar when I was 2 years old. It was a small plastic guitar that I just dragged around. I started playing seriously when I was thirteen. My dad was always playing so I grew up around music and especially guitar. My first performance was playing a snare drum for a home school co-op band. I started writing music in high school and we would arrange music around the songs at home as family and friends. This eventually led to the formation of Bison.
Do you have formal music training?
No I most certainly do not. Nor does my father. All the rest of have had some form of training or lessons. Teresa (violin) and Amos (cello) have had some pretty serious training.
Have you always played folk music or have you tried other genres of music?
All of music that I have written has been folk, but my father and I had a brief stint as an alternative rock band and I also played guitar with a blues/rock band in high school.
How did you come up with the name Bison?
I have always been fascinated with American history, Manifest Destiny and Westward Expansion. The whole era surrounding the move west is saturated with searching for new frontiers and forward progress. We try to be forward thinking in our music while holding to some traditional roots. Since the bison is an iconic symbol of this time period I just latched on to it as a name for the band.
How would you define your music?
We call it Mountain-Top Chamber music. It combines alternative folk sounds with classical sensibilities.
Who are some of your influences?
I love old bluegrass and Allison Kraus with Union Station, Borodin’s String Quartets, and also enjoy modern bands like Beirut, and Fleet Foxes. My writing is also influenced by a love for movie scores, especially those of classic Disney movies.
What artists have you been listening to lately?
This week it would be Deep Forest, Vampire Weekend, and some Pheonix
Since there are seven members in your band, how do you make decisions on what your music will sound like?
I write the songs and come to a rehearsal with the core of the songs figured out. Sometime I have other parts in my head that I will ask band members to play and many times each member creates and adds their unique interpretation to their parts. The sound, though guided by me, is definitely a blend of what each member brings to the mix. We knew when we added the strings that we wanted them to maintain the classical feel that came with their training.
What is the story behind your album “Quill” and how did you come about its recording process?
We had been playing locally and gaining a following. At every show people were asking for recorded music. We had been told of a guy in Richmond who was good at recording live and had worked with various bluegrass and jazz groups. We knew we wanted to capture our live sound after trying a few layered recording efforts that just had no life. A friend fronted us some money and we scheduled two days at Minimum Wage Recording. Teresa (violin) smashed her finger in a car door the day before we were to record and so she ended up laying down all her parts the second day. Other than her parts on 7 of the 11 songs and a few vocal and percussion additions, the entire album is live. Switzerland was recorded in one take with the violin added the second day. We refer to those two days as miracles that can only be explained by God’s intervention. Lance Koehler who engineered and mixed the album was amazing in the studio and captured our sound perfectly. It is very fulfilling when we are told that our album sounds like our live show.
What is your favorite song to perform and why?
Tired Hands, because of the complexity of the song. When we pull it off well, there is a synergy in the band that ignites the audience. When the audience joins in on the “heys” in the chorus it becomes a community song. We love that.
What has been the most interesting experience you’ve had in your career?
It’s difficult to point out one thing. But something we can’t explain is the love we get from the Hip-hop community. Various Hip-hop artists and rappers have reached out to us interested in working together.
Do you like to perform in front of large or small groups of people and why?
There is something special about playing with no sound system for a small group of people where the line between audience and artist gets blurred. That kind of intimacy is beautiful, and the natural sound of the instruments is unaffected. However, I must say that playing on large stages where the volume is intense and a large crowd is responding to each song with a roar is inspiring to say the least.
What do you do in your spare time? When you aren’t doing anything related in music, what are you doing?
Fishing, raising bees, thrift store shopping, reading my Bible, texting my girlfriend who lives 350 miles away from me, and spending lots of time with family and friends.