Exclusive Interview: Bison BC Guitarist/Vocalist Dan And
Unlike many of its more populous peers, Canada’s metallic output falls squarely under the “quality, not quantity” camp, stretching from the outer limits into the Ross Bay cemetery, and stopping in Wendigo country along the way. Vancouver, British Columbia’s Bison BC have spent the last six years carving out a niche for themselves within the Great White North and beyond, occasionally venturing further south to pummel ‘merican audiences with their burly, bottom-heavy tunes. I first came across these dudes in 2008, at a weird one-day fest in NYC that billed them right below Harvey Milk and The Body. Needless to say, there was a lot of heavy lifting happening, but Bison BC immediately stuck out – live, those dudes are a kinetic swirl of beards and broken strings, fun as hell and formidably tight. They won me over then, and I’ve been happy to come see them play whenever our paths crossed – infrequently as that has been, given their pared-down US tour schedule of the past few years.
Bison BC have got a new record, Lovelessness, out now on Metal Blade, and I took the chance to talk to my old friend Dan And (guitars, vocals) about the new songs, their new drummer, and why what happens in Chicago, stays in Chicago.
Writing a record that, according to press materials, “attempts to map out the pathetic and desperate pursuit of love, which in itself becomes violent like a cancer, an assault on anything that is good in the world,” is a pretty weird pursuit for a dude who just got hitched (congrats to you and your wifey, by the way!). I’m guessing that the lyrics and themes on this record are more hypothetical and generalized than personal?
Haha, well to be perfectly honest I actually took a huge step back from the song writing responsibilities on this album. Years of being on the road and partying like it owed me money finally started to catch up to me. I needed to take some time away for my health and mental well being. It was difficult to step away from the creative process the way I did but it was necessary for me to be able to stay in the band. There were times over the past couple years where I actually considered the possibility of leaving the band purely to save myself from suffering a complete nervous breakdown.
Unfortunately, I didn’t act on that idea soon enough and eventually did end up having a melt down. I found one of my bottoms so I took a little break from the band, cleaned myself up and got my head back in the game. I focused more on helping to arrange songs instead of trying to exorcise any of my personal demons. Maybe I’ll try to get some of those out on the next record!
Judging from the song titles, this record ain’t the happiest, or even the angriest – the vibe I’m getting is more hopeless, desperate, and burned out than anything from “Anxiety Puke” and “Finally Asleep.” The latter sounds like it could be an ode to tour life. Can you fill me in on what I’m missing here? What is blood music?
I think this record was much more of a catharsis for James [Farwell, guitarist/vocalist]. He took the reigns on this one. The past year and a half has been difficult for all of us and he focused all of his frustration, confusion and sadness into this record. There was a lot of loss and change in our lives. When you are in the thick of it, it can be hard to see how any of it could eventually have a positive outcome but after finally having the record finished and released we are now back on the upswing.
I would never want to put words into James’ mouth, but to me,”Blood Music” is his ode to the stress of being involved in the “record business.” It’s no surprise that the business of selling records has changed a great deal in the past decade. Bands now have to rely much more on touring to survive and labels aren’t in that position. It’s makes you wonder how much longer music labels can even exist
Speaking of the open road, it seems like you’ve been hitting it hard in your own country, but sadly haven’t traversed US soil for what seems like forever. When are you coming back? And will you be bringing along any homegrown Canadian talent along for the ride?
As of the exact moment of my answering your questions, it has been an entire year since we have toured the US. After Matt joined the band in the spring of 2011 we had our whole year pretty much planned out. We broke Matt in with one local show followed by playing with Sleep in front of a few thousand people at the Olympic Plaza in Calgary. It was at this we began working on the songs that would become Lovelessness. The opportunity arose to do a 6 week run with Weedeater, Saviours and Fight Amp so we decided to make that our final hurrah before we hunkered down to finish the new record.
We currently have loose plans to come back south in the spring of 2013 but nothing is definite yet. After 6 years of relentless touring and losing a founding member it seemed like a good time for us to pump the brakes and re-evaluate our lives and roles in the band. It’s way too easy to burn yourself out on the road. Being in an active, touring band is a blast but it comes at a personal cost. It’s important to maintain the balance between both sides of your life: the band life and the home life. We used to tour for 9 to 10 months a year and there was a time where there wasn’t much to come home to. We aren’t getting any younger and I think the years of strain on our personal lives has made us that much more aware and appreciative of those that have stuck with us.
Canadian metal (as popularly immortalized by Fenriz and that Anvil movie) is an insanely fertile, influential, and all-around badass entity, from the Ross Bay Cult over to the Quebecois black metal scene to Weapon’s move to Relapse to noiseniks like KEN Mode and Biipigwan. It seems as though the past few years have really shone a light into the Northern darkness, but we must be missing something. Who are a few Canuck bands that we’re all fucking up by not knowing?
Haha! And lest we not forget the snide Botch anthem “To Our Friends in the Great White North”!
Canada is a fucking hard place to tour. Especially for bands just starting out. There aren’t many drives under 12 hours and not even very many places to play. Add to that the cost of everything up here and unpredictable winter weather and it makes Canadian tours not for the faint of heart. Fortunately as more Canadian bands get out on the road then more Canadian bands see that with perseverance it can be done. It’s a tough nut to crack so we all have to encourage each other as best we can. There’s amazing bands here in Canada that have started hitting the road more and more: Lava Goat (Saskatoon), Haggatha (Vancouver), Head Hits Concrete (Winnipeg), Wake (Calgary) Hoopsnake (Squamish), Hond Of The Horse Witch (Kamloops), Begrime Exemious (Edmonton), Mass Grave (Vancouver), Car 87 (Vancouver), Bridge Burner (Kamloops), Galgamex (Vancouver), AHNA (Vancouver)…and like you said KEN mode and Biipiigwan. There’s also a huge amount of bands that unfortunately don’t get out on the road (due to work, families, etc): Weirding, Cathar, Blood Drunk, Ancients, Anion, Osk, Shooting Spree, Mashiter…. fuck, I can’t wait to hear from whichever bands I forgot… sorry buds, not many brain cells left.
Back to the band. Matt Wood is a new addition on drums, right? Where’d you find him, and how did you convince him to join your motley crew?
We’ve been working on getting Matt in the band for near on six years. James and I started the band in 2006 and we tried to get Matt to play with us at that point. He’s an old friend of all of ours and even used to play with Masa in the tragically underrated local sludge legends Goatsblood. He spent a couple years beating the skins in 3 Inches Of Blood (he played on their Roadrunner debut “Advance And Vanquish”) and then started his own boogie band Pride Tiger. Pride Tiger blew up for a brief while up here which unfortunately was at the same time James and I were trying to get Bison together. We ended up getting Brad MacKinnon as our drummer and spent five amazing years with him. Eventually Brad made the difficult decision to leave the band and we found ourselves back to square one. Over those same 5 years Pride Tiger broke up and Matt started playing with an amazing local sludge/doom band Haggatha. It just so happened that we have been sharing a jam space with Haggatha for years. After some mild cajoling Matt started jamming with us and that was that.
We’ve all been friends with him for such a long time that it was like second nature once we started jamming together. I can’t even count how many times he’s jumped up on stage at our shows over the years to pour beer down our throats and act like a goof. He already knew all the songs before he joined and jumped right into the creative process when we first started working on Lovelessness. Brad was an amazing drummer that I feel lucky to have had him in our band during our formative years. It was great to watch him grow as a musician and we became very close over the years. He had to make the difficult, personal choice to leave the band for his own reasons and I completely respect that. Matt is a completely different type of drummer and human so I will never compare the two of them. When people hear the new record they might think we sound different and they are completely right. My suspicions are always raised when a band can replicate themselves seamlessly despite member changes…same goes for any band that sounds the same live as they do recorded.
Lovelessness was recorded with Sanford Parker, who’s done records for, well, everyone ever at this point. Tell me about working with the Space Fox! Did you guys get a chance to get out there and enjoy Chicago during the process, or is Bison more of a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of band? I know you must’ve had at least one blackout night at the Flatiron…
I absolutely love Sandy to death! I met him a couple years ago when I ended up with Blake [Judd] on Nachtmystium’s bus after a show in Vancouver with Cradle of Filth. We woke up Sanford and got him ready for his brutal drive through the snowy, Canadian Rockies. We met up again a few months later when we were on tour through Chicago. Apparently we talked to him about the possibility of recording us at some point. Fast forward another bunch of months and we’re living in Chicago making a record with Sandy and hanging out with our posse of crucial Chicagoan buds.
I am not at liberty to discuss any events that may or may not have occurred at the Flatiron. Although I will say that one night when we were there with Withered, Marduk and 1349 some people might have been asked to leave, haha!
How does Lovelessness compare to your other records? I know bands hate this question, but I’m curious: while writing these songs, could you see/hear/feel a difference as you knocked out drum tracks and fiddled with chords, or does the band’s evolution and maturity become apparent only after the finished product has had some time to stretch its legs?
To be honest, I am completely riddled with doubt the entire time we are writing any of our records. Certain songs will stand out and i will have confidence in them but others take time to grow on me. Usually it isn’t until we are well into the mixing stage that I can begin to hear the record as a whole and see how they all fit together. We always write the songs for each album in a specific period so subconsciously i guess we build them off of one another.
As the songs were being pieced together i could hear that this would probably be called our least “METAL” album. I kept hearing little bits of 90’s influence creeping up here and there. At first all i could hear were the individual hardcore, punk and even grunge parts but once it all got slammed together (no pun intended) it still sounded burly and sounded like us.
What were you listening to before you went into the studio? Do you pay much attention to what’s happening in day to day metal world, or are you mostly holed up cranking Priest and Voivod?
In terms of what was playing in the van on our last tour : Handsome, Carpathian Forest, Deftones, Failure, Gutter Twins, Seaweed, Nick Cave, Eyehategod, PJ Harvey, Tad and that Boris record with Ian Astbury singing. At home and in my car i listen to a lot of the same stuff but also a lot of Skinny Puppy, His Hero Is Gone, Killing Joke and a ton of Chicago black metal shit. The output of Chicago music these days was certainly a factor in why I initially wanted to record there. I grew up listening to absolutely everything Wax Trax or Invisible put out (and also TVT from New York) so I’ve always been enchanted by the Chicago music scene. Over the years we have made some incredibly dear friends in Chicago and have gotten to know bands like Nachtmystium, the Atlas Moth, Chrome Waves, Twilight, Wolvhammer, Indian, Leviathan, Yakuza, Macabre…etc.
I personally don’t follow too closely to new metal bands or hyped releases unless i actually know the people in the bands. There are certain albums we come across that we will all get really into but even that is usually only on the recommendation of friends. There are millions of heavy bands nowadays and I honestly find about 75% of it complete garbage. Contradictory to our wide tastes in musical styles, we can be some of the most critical people you will ever meet. I think it’s important to be critical of music though. We listen to some shit that I’m sure would really surprise some people but honest, original, interesting music is captivating for those very reasons, regardless of style.
Let’s talk about that album cover. From here, it looks like a pile of bloody ventricles. Are you really taking the “broken heart/fuck love” idea that far, or do I need to go find my glasses?
That’s the closest guess I’ve heard so far! It’s actually a picture of a massive fifteen-pound tumor that was removed from James’ dog, Milo. Unfortunately, a month after it was removed, Milo passed away. He was a huge part of all of our lives but of course it hit James the hardest. Milo was a massive husky/Great Dane cross and he was the sweetest, most gentle creature i have ever had the pleasure of being around. He was actually the one behind the growl of the Wendigo heard halfway through “Wendigo pt 1 (Quest For Fire)” on “Quiet Earth.” The album is dedicated to him and the role he played as James’ companion for many years.
This album sort of sounds like if High on Fire and Unearthly Trance and Valient Thorr all got locked in the back of someone’s van and somehow were able to write some bangin’ tunes in between bong hits and freakouts. How would you describe this beast? What were you going for?
Haha, I don’t know if C could top a description quite like that! It’s really difficult to objectively describe an album that we worked on as intensely as we did with this one. Our previous three records were written sporadically over a longer period of time. Lovelessness was the first record where we actually set aside time to focus solely on writing and arranging. I think this record is far more personal than our other ones. There seemed to be an outward focus of anger to the world around us on our previous records. This new one feels much more personally focused. Instead of saying “The world is fucked and I hate it,” it’s more like, “My life is fucked…what do I do?”
Sonically speaking, we were completely open to trying something new. We wanted to put ourselves outside of our comfort level and see what the result would be. I had always been pushing to work with Sanford because i love the way his records sound and hit it off with him the second we first met. Our first three records were done by dear friend Jesse Gander here in Vancouver. He was constantly pushing himself and us to make the best sounding records we could. The end result had always far exceeded our expectations of how we could sound on record. It was difficult to even consider recording without him but we felt like it was time to challenge ourselves by becoming vulnerable in an unfamiliar setting. We were thousands of miles away from our families, friends, jobs and regular lives and as such had no choice but to focus solely on making this new record.
The last words are yours! But no really, when are you coming back to the States? And also, Europe? Can you please bring Blasphemy with you?
I would be absolutely terrified to go anywhere with Blasphemy so I don’t see that happening anytime soon! We would probably do much better with SNFU. Chi Pig actually asked James to join SNFU when Bison was first starting out. True story.