“I feel like our previous music was fall and winter music. I wanted this new album to sound more like summer. I want people to feel like they walked outside on a summer day.” – Ben Hardesty
To capture the new sounds on The Last Bison’s upcoming album titled VA (pronounced Virginia,) the band spent many days and nights in an old A-frame cabin. The cabin, called “the Wigwam” sits on a summer camp on the edge of the Great Dismal Swamp near the band’s home in Chesapeake, Virginia. The pine-lined walls and high-lofted beams became home to a temporary studio where front man Ben Hardesty says, “We had freedom to explore and create without the time constraints we lived under on previous projects.” Out of this rustic cabin emerged a collection of music with booming organic drums and energy beyond anything on their previous work.
In 2012 The Last Bison seemingly rose from the marshes of southeastern Virginia to captivate the national music scene with a rare blend of music that NPR dubbed, “Classical influenced southern folk rock.” Commenting on the band’s self-released debut album, Quill, a blogger for the popular music sharing site NoiseTrade remarked: “(The Last) Bison has already crafted a sound that is threaded with their own singular strands of creativity. Songs unfurl in textured, poetic waves that are based far more in inspiration than imitation.” WXPN of Philadelphia noted The Last Bison “has subsequently swept the musical scene with its complex arrangements, refined lyrics and vocal harmonies.”
Having drawn comparisons in the past to indie superstars the likes of Mumford & Sons, The Decemberists, and Fleet Foxes, their most recent project harvests a more dynamic, and anthemic sound from the soil of their folk roots. The addition of electric bass and keyboards to their extensive collection of acoustic instruments has been compared to Bob Dylan going electric at Newport in 1965. After a performance at Norfolk, Virginia’s Harborfest, the The Daily Press commented on the new musical direction saying, “The result is a more rocking sound, though the band still remains true to its folkie roots.” Ben Hardesty, who is the primary songwriter and vocalist, recorded the drum tracks on the new album. Andrew Benfante, who has played a 1930s reed organ on previous works, adds piano to the layers, and Amos Housworth has expanded from cello to offering all the bass tracks on the project. Dan Hardesty alternates from banjo to mandolin to guitar, while he and Annah Housworth, who plays bells, provide the lush backing vocals. Teresa Totheroh’s violin is the thread that sows the myriad parts together.
The 11 songs on VA reveal a band relishing in the struggle for and the discovering of freedom. When Hardesty sings, Take me with you, I can’t stay here, from “She Always Waves At The Gate,” and, Into the den of the shadows I’ve come / Far beyond what is shallow I’ve swum, from the dark and atmospheric “Sleep,” he reveals the emotional tension of desperately desiring something beyond, while treading in new territory both thrilling and threatening. In the mysterious piano driven song “By No Means, “ Hardesty proclaims, I’m lost in caves that have no end / Astray in caverns that begin / Yet when explored, disorient / And I have waited patiently / To see such grace and mastery / Personified to this extent, declaring he has found something that satisfies his longing, and finds rest as he rejoices with the words, “All who are weary, come lay your burdens down” in the song “Burdens”.
Following their first independent release, Quill, in 2011, The Last Bison was signed to Universal Republic Records and created the Inheritance album in 2013. The most recent project finds The Last Bison returning to their independent roots, having self-produced the project in collaboration with Media House Music. The Last Bison album, VA, is due for release September 30, 2014 with a tour to follow.