Courtney Whitehead, the primary creative force behind Bison Bone, is feeling pretty good about the amount of material that his Denver Americana band has created over the past few years.
“Right now, we’ve got a good hour and a half of songs that I really like," he says. "I feel like I’m becoming a better singer and better songwriter. We have a lot more strong songs.”
The band will add to that growing repertoire with the release of its second EP, The Lost Weekend, on November 12. According to Whitehead, the album has more of a rock-and-roll bent than Bison Bone's previous, heavily Americana-inflected output.
“I don’t know if I went in there with that mindset,” he says, “but I definitely put it out there, and that’s how it worked out. … It’s making the set more rock-and-roll, too. I’m really enjoying that.”
The EP has an overarching theme of friendship, of appreciating the people in your life and the contentment that comes with it. Whitehead experienced that firsthand over the past year and a half and the pandemic; he lives alone and thinks of those who invited him into their homes during that time. It was an act of kindness for which he is eternally grateful.
“I live by myself, and people are always opening their house to you and letting you come by,” he says. “They care about you in that way. That’s not easy to do. Things like hosting take a lot of work, and not everyone wants to do that.”
To show his appreciation, Whitehead created a lyrical storyline about spending time out with friends and community, which became the EP's title track. He says he took inspiration from Canadian songwriter Andy Shauf’s concept record The Party, which tells a story of a night out on the town through a series of interconnected vignettes.
Because he's a fan of both rock and roll and Americana, Whitehead worked to combine the two styles on "The Lost Weekend," and is happy with the results. "I like that song lyrically and sonically,” he says. “It’s one of my favorites that I’ve written.”
“Tell All Our Friends” weaves a feel-good summertime story about going home to see family after having been on the road. It comes from a place of nostalgia as he gets older, Whitehead says, likening the style to the straightforward, heartland-rock songs of an artist like Bruce Springsteen.
“I’m trying to be careful about being too autobiographical right now,” he explains. “I can do a little bit of that, but also write characters.”
His songs go in other directions, too. “What I’ve Found” concerns personal growth and is inspired in part by Whitehead's struggle with Lyme disease — he’s doing better now than in years past — as well as the pandemic. “The last verse of that song is really the most vulnerable I feel like I’ve ever written,” he says. “I’m really proud of that verse.”
“What I’ve Found,” which was released as a single on October 27, has an accompanying video that features a woman driving around in a pickup truck with small children. It’s very pensive stuff, directed by French filmmaker Dominique Eyraud, a professed Bison Bone fan.
“He reached out about wanting to do a video,” Whitehead recalls. “I said, ‘Well, we have these new songs, but I don’t have a budget for doing a video right now.' He said, ‘Well, I want to do it for free. I like what you’re doing.’” (Whitehead notes that he’s sold more vinyl in France than in his Oklahoma hometown; the French apparently have a taste for Americana.)
The final track, “Wasting Time,” has a touch of Leonard Cohen to it, sonically speaking, though the content is much more upbeat than that of most Cohen songs. The EP has gotten some Dire Straits/Mark Knopfler comparisons from early listeners, too. “That one just kind of worked out that way in the studio,” Whitehead says. “It’s coming from a place of fun and appreciation and gratitude.”
Whitehead went back into the studio in March after bandmembers started getting vaccinated and it felt safe to come together. They began practicing in June and playing shows, including the Underground Music Showcase and the Westword Music Showcase. Prior to that, the band hadn’t been together for about a year.
Whitehead is Bison Bone's primary songwriter and its only permanent member. There have been a few lineup changes during the past year; he spent most of that time just being careful, and continues to do so when planning live shows.
“The last two shows we’ve done coming out of COVID have been fun and really inspiring,” Whitehead says. “It’s exciting, and I hope we can keep a bit of the momentum going and not stall out for too long.”
The Lost Weekend premieres on November 12; "What I've Found" dropped on October 27. Visit bisonbone.com for more information.