The Last Bison Explain How Faith and the Civil War Influence Their Music
A true "family band," the Last Bison feature frontman Ben Hardesty; his father, Dan; and his sister Annah, as well as brothers Jay and Andrew Benfante. The Virginia-based seven-piece folk outfit -- which also includes members Amos Housworthand Teresa Totheroh -- even titled their 2012 debut album 'Inheritance,' a fitting name for the musical chops handed down by family members.
Since releasing 'Inheritance,' the band has received favorable comparisons to groups the Decemberists and Fleet Foxes. But what distinguishes the Last Bison from all the other neo-folk revivalists is a self-described "mountain-top chamber" sound, accented with subtle historical and religious references. While on a brief break from touring behind the album, Ben took a few minutes to chat with Diffuser.fm about how faith and history inspire his writing, and what it's like being in a band with dad.
You obviously come from a musical family, but when was the first time you remember wanting to play?
When I was two years old and sitting on my grandmother’s lap, I remember watching my dad and one his friends play guitar. That is one of my first memories, and shortly thereafter, my dad gave me little plastic guitars to goof around on. I used to stand behind him and act like I was playing. Those were really some of my first memories of being around music. I grew up watching my dad play all the time, and it’s pretty cool now to get to play with him, since he was a part of some of my earliest memories of music.
When did you guys start playing in more of a traditional band setting?
My dad is a pastor of music at our church, so I’ve been playing with him there since I was about 14. We had some stuff that we just goofed around playing when I was in high school. I also went to a bible school in the northern part of England for a year, and when I came back is when we started actually working on the stuff that I had written. So we’ve playing together forever, in the living room and around the house goofing around, but we started playing more with other people and playing original stuff when I was about 18. Ever since then in the past few years, we’ve been doing the Last Bison thing.
You mentioned growing up with those different religious influences. How important has your faith been to your songwriting?
I think it’s very important to me. Anyone who has beliefs, I would hope that comes through in their music, no matter what it is. It’s definitely the case for me, and it’s a huge part of my life. I do believe in the things in I do, and I truly believe that anyone who has beliefs, it should come out in their songwriting, and in a genuine way. It just comes out of me, and it’s something that I don’t try to force.
You can certainly hear the influences, but it’s never seems too overt.
That’s what I’m going for, so it’s what I want to hear.
And you also have a lot of references to history in your music and in the way you guys dress, specifically the Civil War era. What is it about that period that interests you?
Our whole band was home-schooled and we each did different things with that. Everyone did different extracurriculars, like a lot of orchestra or symphonic stuff. But what I liked about it so much is that I could study less of the things that didn't really interest me and more the things that actually intrigued me. One of the things was American history, and particularly that era, the first few hundred years of our history and the wars.
I guess what I was just saying about really liking certain things, and having those things come out in my writing. Our country isn’t that old, compared to other countries. We’ve had about four hundred years of history, which is so young compared to thousands of years of ancient history. It’s pretty condensed, but there's so much to it. Growing up in northern Virginia, too, there’s so much history in my backyard. That’s always made it so much more real, to just be able to see the places where a lot of this was going on.
Being from that part of Virginia, did you ever have a hard time pursuing a music career?
I never really thought about being a musician as a career at all until I decided to pursue it. At that point, I remember a lot of my friends telling me I should move to Austin, or Brooklyn, or Seattle. But I love Virginia. Everyone I know is from Virginia, and I want to represent Virginia. So my mindset was questioning why I would want to leave this place where I can do everything I want to do right from this place that I love.