BISON by Dillon Collins
Vancouver’s sludge metal titans Bison (formerly Bison B.C.) return with a savage vengeance with their searing album You Are Not The Ocean You Are The Patient. Metalheads Forever caught up with founding member James Farwell to delve into the inner workings of a modern metal masterpiece and the ups and downs of navigating the cut-throat music business.
You guys just released your highly anticipated album You Are Not The Ocean You Are The Patient, your first album in five years. What are your immediate thoughts on the hype and reception surrounding the release?
James: I feel really good about it. A lot has happened in the last six months with it. I’ve been living with it and the songs for quite awhile now and it’s really accelerated in the past six months or so. I feel great about it. I think everyone in the band worked really hard and I think it’s some of the best songwriting that I’ve ever done. It was almost effortless, so there’s something to be said about that I suppose.
To me based on my first listen this is the most textured and cohesive album you guys have made – a much more mature and layered sound, if that makes sense?
James: Yes, absolutely. I think because the way the songs were written and just how I approached the songwriting on this album was just completely different than any of our past records.
Bison added Shane Clark, who we all know from pioneering B.C. metal band 3 Inches of Blood, in 2015. How do you feel he meshes in the band and what does he bring to the table?
James: Well A, we all have great chemistry and have all been friends for a long time and enjoy each other’s company. We’ve all always wanted to play together but have both been so busy that there’s no opportunity. It was kind of serendipitous when unfortunately 3 Inches of Blood hung up the horns. We decided at the same time to slow our pace down, which kind of fit for him too because he was kind of burnt out with going through the mill with 3 Inches and road-dogging. It’s such a tough and thankless industry so you kind of get a little burned out after awhile. We were all in that same head space where we wanted to make good music and have fun and make this art but we didn’t want to answer to anyone and go out and do shit we didn’t want to do. So on that level it was perfect.
Then, Shane is just an amazing musician. You’re thinking Shane is just a f***ing shredder on the guitar, the triplet king. He’s just an amazing guitar player, but what he brings to bass playing, he understands the music and being a guitar player he understands what he as a guitar player would want a rhythm section to create. Let’s not mince our words, it’s guitar focused rock ‘n’ roll. The music is guitar focused and he knows that. He knows when to lay back and he knows when to f***ing put it out and destroy people. He’s had a really excellent idea of how the meter of the song and vibe of the song works. Him and Matt have been friends for a long time so they just work amazingly together. It was kind of a no-brainer. Me and Shane had been fooling around in this punk band for awhile, he played bass and I played guitar and it was like wow, this is really easy. So why not? A lot has been made about the ‘business’ of music and how cut-throat things can get. Of course you had a major deal with Metal Blade Records that sort of ended abruptly and now you’re on the heels of what could be seen as your greatest album, without the backing of a massive label. I think that speaks volumes.
James: Once it started happening with the songwriting I could see what was happening and I hadn’t felt that good in a long time. I kind of reflected on that and I tend not to dwell on past bullshit. I wouldn’t say Metal Blade f***ed us over, I’d say they slit the throat of the Lovelessness album right in front of me and broke my heart when they dropped us mid-album cycle and it died and that’s something I’ll never forgive them about. They were what they were and we weren’t a good fit. They’re a business and I’m so much of a f***ing artist that I don’t have a ton of ethics but I have a few ethics and a few rules and especially when it comes to music and we just did not align with that kind of stuff. It’s a big business and I don’t get along with big business and that’s what I really learned from that. Also when I started writing I had a new house in Squamish, one child at the time, and my life was just completely different. The times I set aside for songwriting were very purposeful in that I was either writing songs or listening to demos I had created. I was really getting into it and really digesting and seeing and taking more time with it.
I know you guys recently wrapped up a Western Canadian tour. Are there any designs of a full national tour? Maybe branch into Europe?
James: Three of the four of us have families which means more planning. You have to pick and choose. I can’t go on the road and play for $50 a night anymore because I have a family at home. These are all things to consider and it’s that weird thing where you have to try to stand up for what you’re worth because you’ve worked hard and are worth something now. I think that’s what a lot of musicians now have forgotten because the climate of live music, people don’t want to pay for it. They don’t want to pay for records, they don’t want to pay for your show and if that keeps on going you’re not even going to have awesome music to steal off the internet anymore. It takes a lot to stand up and say we’re worth something. You pick and choose.
I’d love to get out east and we’re going to try to figure a way to do it. We’ll go to Europe next year for sure because our label is there and they’ll have a lot of support for us. We have a great following over there so it’s not like we’re going into the unknown. There won’t be any U.S. shows. I’m done with them for awhile. I bought into them being the center of the entertainment universe and I’m just going to distance myself for now. Great fans and great people down there but with the logistics of what’s going on down there I’m not going to bend over for that, for sure.
We know you guys have matured as individuals, as songwriters and musicians but you still have the reputation for putting on face-melting live shows. I’d imagine that hasn’t changed?
James: Nothing has changed on that front, but still when you ask somebody who is playing music that you can physically feel and feel like you’re a part of it when you’re watching it that’s what you want to do. You want to share it with people live because it’s this thing where the mood changes. As a musician that’s interesting to see that there’s bits of music where you don’t play it the same. Even if you run into a problem and have to solve it, anything in the live music setting is why I love music. Live music is very important to me. Writing the record is the fun part, recording not so much because it’s just like a documentation and you kind of want the best of it. To me that’s not even the truest form of it because you want the best representation of that song and what that song can be. It’s almost like it’s not organic but you’re making the best thing that you can. Then after you produce this thing you spend your life trying to make it better playing live, and you have to look back at this beautiful thing you’ve done. That’s the science and the live performance is the art. I like the art, it’s always better. That’s why it’s important for me that people have a good f***ing time at our shows.
Bison’s You Are Not The Ocean You Are The Patient is available worldwide now through Pelagic Records and digital music platforms.
Dillon Collins/MHF Magazine.