Americana outfit Bison Bone will release its second album, Take Up the Trouble, produced by Mark Anderson of Paper Bird, on February 22. The Denver-based group blends an Americana sensibility with soaring pedal steel guitar and hard-times songwriting to create country-tinged rock for real life. With momentum gathering behind it, the band looks to a bright future both locally and on the road.
Bison Bone is Courtney Whitehead (vocals/guitar), Brianna Straut (vocals/tambourine), Wolf Van Elfmand (lead guitar/vocals), Adam Stern (pedal steel/lead guitar), Tony Piscotti (bass) and Adam Blake (drums).
Westword spoke with Whitehead to get the band's story.
Westword: So where'd you get the band name?
Courtney Whitehead: I got it from an old folk song. In the song they talk about the land run and describe what they're seeing, and one of the lines is "bison bone been bleached out in the sun", and I thought Bison Bone is a cool name, and no one else has it. I looked it up, and no one was using it, and it works great for Americana roots music. The biggest part of looking for a band name can be finding something that no one was using, and that was it.
It also works well for Colorado...
It sure does.
What do you consider the band's home base, and how old are you all?
We're based out of Denver, and we're mostly all in our early thirties. So we've been doing this for a while. We're just getting to the sweet spot with this band. Sonically speaking, it's the most talented lineup I've ever had, and we're at a place where we have the opportunity to tour and work on the music without day jobs or families getting in the way. We've stuck it out long enough, and now we're finally making some headway.
How long has the group been around?
I've had the band name Bison Bone for about five years. The group has a changed a bit over time, and the sound has evolved a bit here and there, but I've had this current lineup for about a year. Our last full-length was released two years ago and since then the radio has treated us well and the whole local music scene has been very receptive.
What was your previous release called?
It was called The History of Falling. The new one is called Take Up the Trouble.
And your themes touch on darker stuff, right?
Yeah, they do. Take Up the Trouble has a couple different themes running through it, but one of those is about a relationship on the rocks. There is one kind of hopeful song in the bunch. It's like, "Hey, this sucks, but let's keep doing it. It's not that bad." But, yeah, the rest of it is about when you hit some rough parts in a relationship. The songs aren't all autobiographical, but it's a little about myself and some friends I knew and stuff that was happening around the time I was writing the songs. Our themes tend to concern working-class issues and trying to get by. Whether it's about jobs or failed relationships or trying to keep your land, we don't sing about a lot of uplifting stuff. But the good thing about our live shows is that even though we sing about downtrodden stuff, it's still a party. People are shoving their hands in the air and shouting, "Sing that song about cancer! Sing that song about divorce!" [laughs].
The music itself feels good.
Yeah, sonically, it's pretty uplifting. It's kind of what you might picture someone in a dive bar listening to. You know, good rock and roll for day drinking.
Do you write and sing the songs? And how many people are in the band?
Yeah, I write all the songs and sing most of them. There are six of us in the band. Like I said, I'm really happy with our current lineup. Brianna Straut, who does backup harmonies on all our stuff, sings lead on the last song, "It's Only Goodbye," which is a really nice way to end the record. So it's myself, Brianna, a guy that plays lead electric guitar and another guy who goes back and forth between electric guitar and pedal steel, and then the bass and the drums.
Are you from Colorado?
I'm originally from Oklahoma, from a little town just outside of Norman. It's about two hours north of Dallas. I moved to Denver in 2015. I grew up playing music and have been writing songs since the seventh or eighth grade. I graduated from college in Oklahoma and then moved to Dallas for a while, where I played music before moving out here.
Are you all transplants?
Yeah, I don't think anyone in the band is actually from Colorado proper. We all met through the local Denver music scene and from word of mouth.
Are you chasing a certain sound, and do you have specific influences?
We sometimes get comparisons to bands like Son Volt, who we opened for recently. I like comparisons to anything alt-country, Americana or that has a Western rock-and-roll sound. Those are all genres that we like. But really, we're just trying to be ourselves and make music that sounds good and feels good. We're not trying to do anything that's isn't organic.