A few weeks ago, The Curator’s Charles Carman had a chat with Ben Hardesty, the lead singer of The Last Bison, an indie folk quartet from Chesapeake Virginia. “VA,” The Last Bison’s new album will be released on September 30.
Charles Carman: Was music part of your community/family/neighborhood? Are you a folk band by nature (where you came from), or was it more deliberate than that?
Ben Hardesty: In my more formative years, music was a huge part of family and community life. As a child I would sit at family gatherings and watch my uncles play through Marshall Tucker songs, always hoping I could someday play along, singing and picking away with them. It’s hard to say whether the community makes the music, or music makes the community.
The band started as a group of friends and family just making music together. However, through making that music, the music formed us. It wasn’t that we were like, “Oh let’s start a folk band; that’s cool!” Acoustic instruments could be taken outside, played around fires, and in the beginning years of the band that’s where we spent lots of our time. Things were naturally happening; all we had to do was commit to it.
C: Where do you draw lyrics and concepts from—historical events, local cultures? Who do you read/listen to? Do you look at paintings? What are you celebrating with your music?
B: With this next cycle, we’re celebrating themes of freedom from bondage, in both the literal and figurative sense. The narratives of freedom in cinema, literature and the Bible have always been ones that pull at my heart strings. My lyrics are often pulled from fictitious narratives floating around my own head. A piece of some story not yet put together, a glimpse into a moment. I’m also inspired by the places I’ve been and things I’ve seen. Travel is just as good as a well written book often times, in my opinion. It leaves you with characters, plot lines, conflicts, and the resolution to those conflicts. After a trip you’re left is vivid memories of the story of that particular adventure. I’ve had many such adventures, and a gamut of my songs come from the effects those geographical journeys have had on me. Lastly love. Plain and simple. A love that strives to be selfless and transparent. Experiencing that from people, and attempting to love that way often enters the lyrics.
C: Some lyrics, for instance in “Watches and Chains,”sound like vignettes from the Civil War era or earlier. Is there a historic era that especially fascinates or influences you?
B: 19th century America, for reasons I don’t know. I spent a lot of time in school studying the Civil War. It’s complexities fascinated me and my guess is because of that, the aesthetic stuck with me.
C: What is good folk music? What’s folk trying to capture?
B: I don’t think I have any say in what good folk music is. If I had to give an answer, I’d say anything with acoustic or ethnic instruments that comes from the heart. People want authenticity. Good folk captures that authenticity. It has a nostalgic feel about it— like somewhere you’ve been, or something you’ve seen before. It could be the the guys who don’t sing a word, but pick faster than you’ve ever heard, or the guy who knows a handful of chords and can put what your thinking into words.
C: Any funny concert stories?
B: One of our first shows ever here in VA—I won’t name the venue—has a short, sweet story. I was stomping so hard I broke their makeshift plywood stage—cracked the board pretty well down the center. I played the rest of the show. We packed and split. I never told anyone. That was bad of me.
C: Favorite whiskey and tobacco pairing?
B: Samuel Gawith Full Virginia Flake (FVF) with Reservoir Rye Whiskey.
In May 1607, The Virginia Company sent out three ships that landed in Virginia and founded the colony of Jamestown. They set off in search for a route to Asia to advance trade with China with hopes also to discover gold. They failed at both. The mortality rate due to starvation, disease and warfare with the natives approached 70%, and only one thing saved the remaining souls at Jamestown…
B: This tobacco is the fullness of a Virginia blend, and is reminiscent of the same Virginia blends of the old days. When paired with Richmond’s own Reservoir Rye Whiskey, it is a real treat. I’m usually a bourbon guy, however the spice of this Virginia Rye blends well with the thick smell of fresh hay that the FVF emits. This pairing goes well with my favorite fiddle tune Ashokan Farewell.
C: On that note, thanks for your time.