Posted by: Addison – Oct 11, 2012
Waiting in the backstage corridors at Sprout, the first show jitters assailed the three members of Fire Bison. Despite the strong showing of support from their friends, it was impossible for them to know where any of this was headed. They made their way to the stage and made it through their first song. As the song ended, a random audience member shouted out, “That was awesome!” Fire Bison had earned a fantastic first impression. From that point forward, there was no end in sight.
Fire Bison began when two co-workers were inspired to create something together. Adrienne Shurte and Laurie Lay’s immediate sonic communications created a bond between the two, and helped establish a design for their collaboration. Drummer Wess Brockman was the final component added to the line-up. The last of a run of temporary drummers, Brockman was the first to fit in immediately. By the time Brockman showed up, Shurte and Lay had determined most of the structures of the songs. The simplicity of the group’s lineup configuration helped to define their roles within it. “Adrienne usually plays outside of a basic chord mentality, so it requires me to stretch my resources on bass to play to that,” explains Lay. Brockman has contributions to make as well. “I come from a background of primarily being a songwriter and I have found myself in the role of drummer every so often,” he explains. “It’s nice to take some of the background I have as a drummer in grind bands and straightforward pop bands and find a creative mix.”
Considering the prior work of each of these three musicians, Fire Bison emerges from the remnants of widely varied musical styles. From the post-hardcore of Segway Cops and Hail Hydra to the indie pop of The Catnip Dreams and Jan And Dan and the garage-rock of The Color Kittens, a lot of different musical ingredients are being thrown into the mix. All of these previous groups add certain elements to the foundations of Fire Bison's sound. Ultimately, though, they are all so different that it seems most likely that Fire Bison's sound stems primarily from the union of these three unique musicians in a previously unexplored musical realm.
Two of their earliest numbers,“Instigator” and “Rocking Chair,” demonstrate the group’s prowess. “Rocking Chair,” which ties together a subtle opening and a dynamic and raucous finale, is a proper testament to the band’s unorthodox songwriting approach. By avoiding a reliance on simply mashing chords together, Shurte is able to combine elements that musically illustrate the world these songs manifest. The interlocking lyrical exchange between Lay and Shurte is particularly fascinating. When asked about this, the two mention that each band member contributes the majority of their own vocal parts. “Everyone has a say in their lyrics, and it makes the stories we tell that much more interesting,” Shurte says. “It helps for us to take an idea of where a [narrative] is headed in a Fire Bison song, and all contribute what we want for each aspect,” Lay adds.
The material that followed their initial songwriting burst showed a new lyrical direction for the group, one that involved increased complexity and a more detailed composition process. "[The way] we put songs together might not be practical, but a lot of the words are plot-driven," Shurte explains. The band has developed a fascination with disturbing scenarios. "We do creepy lyrics," Shurte continues. "The song 'Married Men' has a lot to do with a girl who messes with [the] heads [of men] that she thinks are awful people. [It] focuses on the more fucked up, manipulative aspects of her active role in hurting these men.”
Other songs like “Birds,” which references the classic Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name, fit into a cinematic ideal. This shows up again on an even newer song that takes place in a fantasy dimension. “The new song takes place in a dark forest with babies with sharp teeth and claws chasing everyone," Shurte explains. "I know it sounds strange, but I feel like if you are into comic books or science fiction, this could be really up your alley.” Lay immediately points out that such subject matter really isn't that strange at all for Fire Bison. “I think we all find inspiration in so many different places," she says. "It doesn’t seem too wild that we would venture here. I mean, we are just three creepy, drunk people after all.” “Three creepy drunk girls,” Brockman quickly corrects her. The entire band bursts into laughter, showing their easy cameraderie.
A question about the song “Glitter Girls” brings forth much discussion among the three bandmates. It’s one of their more complicated songs to pull off live, yet there is a certain emotion behind it that resonates deeply with almost every audience that has had the opportunity to see it. “A woman came up to me one night after our set and was just floored by the amount of emotion behind that song,” Lay says. “It really meant a lot to have someone come up to us and acknowledge that what we were doing wasn’t just a ‘cool’ thing, [but that] this is what we should be doing.” Lyrically, "Glitter Girls" ponders the way society's construction of rigid, cosmetically enforced gender roles can restrict the opportunities available to women, regardless of their talent and potential contributions in areas having nothing to do with physical appearance. As a band built around the work of talented female musicians, Fire Bison force audiences to re-evaluate their expectations of bands with female members--one of several reasons they are an integral asset to the city's scene.
When asked about other bands Fire Bison consider themselves to have a close musical kinship with, the easy answer was The Milkstains. In the wake of the two bands having spent time on the road together, the dynamic seems natural. “When we got John Sizemore to play on one of our songs, it was just so great,” Shurte recalls. “He already has all the scales down and can really just pick up the pieces immediately. He adds this weird spaghetti western vibe to the track that I couldn’t even comprehend when it all started to come together.” “The funny thing is that our sounds aren’t really alike at all,” Lay says. “I don’t think that matters too much. Even within our own band, we enjoy a lot of different styles of music. If anything, that can only contribute to us creating a Fire Bison sound.” The influences the members of Fire Bison list are all over the place. Shurte expresses a penchant for all things Nick Cave, while Brockman started off into grindcore yet slowly moved on to becoming a huge Morrissey fan. Lay’s background indicates a mentality from the world of garage rock and go-go, but that hasn’t limited her from exploring the musical interests of her collaborators.
Fire Bison spent some time earlier attempting to record a debut release. The results weren’t terrible by any means, but they weren’t as satisfying as the band felt they should be. “We went down to Virginia Beach and it’s really no one’s fault,” Shurte recalls. “I just think there was a communication breakdown between us and the producer.” Since then, there have been constant demands for a release, which the band has heard loud and clear. Within the past month, they have spent a weekend at Sound of Music Studios, where Shurte also interns. The plan is to record four songs and figure out the best means of releasing them, perhaps as a vinyl EP. They may not altogether abandon the Virginia Beach sessions, either--they could see the light of day on a cassette release.
Following the potential release of these recordings in October, the band wants to continue hitting the road. “I’d like to see us travel as far as Europe by next summer,” Shurte exclaims. The biggest priority for the band is to just get their name out there and not fall into a Richmond curse of sorts. “What I think holds Richmond back is the fact that we are so spoiled with having so many bands and musicians in town,” Shurte adds. “There are so many awesome projects that are going on constantly that sometimes a band will fall to the wayside and never really achieve as much as they should. With Fire Bison, this is the furthest I feel like I have gotten with a group of musicians, and I want to see this through.”
The band hasn’t been without a few hardships. It’s disheartening to recognize that there could be sexist reactions that are prevalent when people see a band fronted by women. Shurte hopes to escape all of the nonsense, allowing Fire Bison to be the band she has always dreamed of being in. “That is one thing that has driven me insane as a whole,” she says. “There are people that will come up to me and make a remark about how we are only as popular as we are because we are a band fronted by two women. My first thought to that is ‘Fuck you.’ It’s never been about that, and it never will be about that. I play music because it’s what I want to do, and it means a tremendous amount to me. I don’t want people to look at Fire Bison as a chick band. I don’t want to be seen as a girl that can really wail at guitar. I just want to be seen as a person who plays music, and have all the gender identification bullshit thrown away. It’s not worth any of our times and if anything, it takes away from what Fire Bison is all about.”
What is Fire Bison all about? They are a remarkable group of talented musicians that not only bond over their solid musical foundation, but are taking a new and exciting approach to prove their social relevance in a male-dominated scene. Their fantastic tales, spilling over with creepiness and a penchant for exploration of human follies, are what make Fire Bison a band to keep an eye on.
By Shannon Cleary/Photos by Kristen Lawrence