The Last Bison is a seven-piece indie folk band from Chesapeake, Va. Formed by lead singer Ben Hardesty, the group includes his father and sister along with some close family friends. The band released its first album, Quill, independently in 2011, and recently recorded an EP with Universal Records that will be released Oct. 23. The Last Bison recently kicked off an East Coast tour with Langhorne Slim. The Spinnaker caught up with the group after its Oct. 11 concert at Underbelly in downtown Jacksonville.
Q: You guys obviously aren’t your typical band, so how did you form?
Ben Hardesty: It started basically in the living room and around our bonfires. Me and my sister and my dad and Andrew would just break out the instruments. We started working through ways to play my songs and how to embellish my songs. Before we even started to do that we knew we wanted a bigger sound than that. We didn’t know if that was going to be by adding horns or cellos and violins and stuff, but I always wanted it to be strings. So within four months of forming we met [Theresa and Amos], became really good friends with them and they joined the band. And then very quickly after that we added Jay with all the percussion, and that’s what created the septet of folk.
Dan Hardesty: (Laughs) The septet of folkness. But you know, honestly, a lot of it just sort of happened. If you noticed, we don’t have a drum kit and we don’t have a bass player, which is a little weird for most bands. I don’t even know if that was intentional. It was just kind of like ‘ok. Here are the people we know and all of us play instruments. What do we have and how does it work together?’ and we just made music.
Annah Hardesty: We didn’t even have a chosen style or anything like that. The music we make just happened to be the music that we made.
Q: Where do you foresee the band going? Do you have any specific goals?
BH: We would just like to play to as many people in as big of crowds as possible. The experience is thrilling and for us it’s a joy to play music and to share that joy with the audience if we can translate that in some ways.
DH: We’d like to play the Sydney Opera House. (Laughs)
BH: I would, actually. Actually, I want to play this place called Teatro La Fenice. It’s this huge historic theater with all these booths and boxes in Venice. It’s kind of like my dream place to play there.
DH: And to fill it with homeless people.
BH: Homeless people that don’t have to pay. Like, rent out the place and just fill it with Italy’s homeless. Just because it’s a place that they would never get to go. I don’t know if the government of Italy would like that.
DH: And serve the finest wine.
BH: I think it’d be awesome to treat the homeless like kings for a day.
Q: What are some of your musical influences as far as forming the band?
BH: Growing up I loved a lot of the Carter Family and Alison Krauss and Union Station, so a lot of that old country folky bluegrass sound. I think a lot of the music that I listened to growing up had a lot to do with the movies I watched because I watched tons of classic Disney. So, like, the soundtrack to Bambi and Fox and the Hound and whatever music Disney was putting in their classic movies is the music that is kind of instilled and ingrained in my head that I absolutely love. So on our Facebook our two inspirations are King David from the Bible and the soundtrack to Bambi.
AH: We have a lot of classical inspirations too.
DH: It would really vary if you went around and asked everyone.
Amos Housworth: (To Ben) Yeah … those are kind of your songwriting influences and then there’s everyone elses influences as musicians and their own little piece they bring.
Q: And then what’s the songwriting process like with so many people?
BH: I take a long time writing songs. I write the whole song and then we embellish it together. I’ll bring the song to the table and then we’ll create the dynamic and the parts for the different instruments and such.
Q: You guys were just called Bison before, so what inspired the name change?
DH: Ben came up with the name Bison way back when he was in high school and just liked it because of the whole — he was infatuated with westward expansion and that whole kind of turn of the century environment, and bison was kind of of an icon of that. So he chose that name and then as things grew and we got more and more opportunities we realized ‘Wow there’s other bands out there named Bison,’ you know. Actually some of them have actually released music. So we signed with Universal last spring and Oct. 23 is finally the release of some of that music on the Universal Republic label, so when we did that our attorney, and some of the law people at universal were kind of like ‘something you might want to consider … you might run into issues with people who recorded music and are selling music under the same name.’ So really it was just a ‘well let’s avoid any future complications. And then let’s come up with a name we all can agree on.’ You talk about cats in a bag.
Housworth: It took about six months to finally find something that we all liked.
DH: And then we were recording in LA and the manager was in there and he had his phone out and I was like ‘what is on your phone?’ and he’s like ‘list of names’ and The Last Bison was on there.
BH: It was the first one that we liked and wasn’t taken.
Email Dargan Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org