Down To The Bone: Courtney Whitehead Of Americana Band Bison Bone Talks New Album ‘Find Your Way Out’, Denver Music Scene, Ping Pong, & More

Americana is said to be a melting pot of several American music genres — from country and western, to bluegrass, to rock-and-roll. Denver-based group Bison Bone embraces the melting pot proudly, blending hypnotic melodies of the pedal steel guitar with gritty guitar solos. When hearing their discography, listeners are greeted with the dynamic spirit of rock instrumentation juxtaposing against soulful lyrics found in a folk song. 

Each member of the group transplanted to Denver, making them a fusion of backgrounds like the genre of music in which they create. Lead singer Courtney Whitehead grew up in small-town Oklahoma, moving to Dallas before eventually falling in love with the Denver music scene. The blend makes for a sound that can best be described as quintessentially American: a perfect soundtrack for hitchhiking across the Rockies or watching the red sunset over the Oklahoma plains. 

Bison Bone just released their latest album, Find Your Way Out, this past Friday. The record encompasses all the aforementioned elements of Americana and then some. Tracks like “Downtown” and “Drinking to Do” make for easy-listening party anthems, while “Alright” and album finale “Sad Machine” take more melancholy approaches, exploring themes of homesickness and coping with defeat. 

I had the privilege of asking Whitehead questions about his sources of inspiration, his creative process while songwriting, and his experiences whisking together his melting pot of an album.

So I was hoping you could talk about how Bison Bone got together, and the genesis of the band overall?

There is no one big story of how we got together. This lineup has been together for over two years now. Two of the members had recently moved here prior to joining the band and I had heard good things about them, so I snatched them up quickly. The others were a part of the music community here and timing was right. I hope we can keep this lineup together for a long time.

How has living in Denver or maybe more so Colorado influenced the band’s sound? 

The band members are all from different parts of the country, so our sound comes from all over. Colorado has offered us time and opportunities to gel. Lots of good taste makers here in Denver. I am sure Colorado has inspired a lot of our sound that I could never quantify or put into words. It is a really inspiring state that pushes us constantly.

What can fans expect from your new album Find Your Way Out, and what sets it apart from previous albums?

Find Your Way Out I think brings a tighter sound that is leaner than anything we have done before. We had been a band long enough to gel and smooth out the edges. This record brings a lot more hooks sonically and lyrically than any of the prior work. We had a great production and mixing team that helped us cut some fat. No wasted notes or lyrics. The arrangements are a lot more thought out.

It’s no secret this year has been hell for many. You said this album was for people “coming out of difficulties or discomfort.” How do singles like “Downtown” provide a sense of escapism from the difficulties and discomfort? 

“Downtown” is more of a southern rock barn-burner for us. Lyrically it is coming from a place of appreciation for friends and support coming out of a dark place dealing with some health issues. It is coming from a place of hopefulness and appreciation. Those are tough emotions to feel right now in 2020, but they are emotions that can strengthen us right now.

Singles like “Downtown”, “Drinking to Do”, “Pack it Up”, and “Alright” are all pretty up-tempo songs. Will we see some more ballads in the album? Is there one that you’re especially proud of and eager for fans to hear? 

Yes. “Bad Luck”, ” I Know” and “Sad Machine” are slow to mid-tempo songs on the record. They are some of the best songs I think I have ever written. We were actually opening our shows with “Bad Luck”, so that should tell you a lot about how we feel about that song. I love “Sad Machine” capping off the record. It feels so fitting to have that one end the record. Lyrically I am very proud of the lyrics to that song.

Can you talk about the band’s songwriting process?

I usually write most of a song and bring it to the band about 80% complete. I write all the lyrics and have the key and melody figured out. The rest of the band goes into editing mode with tempo, and hooks, and their parts, intros, outros, etc. They help with some of the structure and usually everything they edit is the right thing to do. I trust them a lot and they trust me.

What’s one of Bison Bone’s most memorable show or tour stories? 

Our favorite show story happened right before shut down. February 8th, we had wrapped our record and played The Bluebird Theater here in Denver that night. It’s about 550 capacity beautiful looking and sounding venue. It was also a member of the band’s birthday. It was a great day and great night. It was one of the last shows we played and it has somehow made Covid a little more bearable knowing we had that experience and will be ready to go back to it when it is time.

How have you been coping with the inability to play live? 

I have been coping by doing lots of walks, reading, writing, vocal lessons, playing lots of guitars, yoga, hiking, meditation, and ping pong with friends, lol.

The definition of the word “Americana” tends to be rather convoluted. What does Americana mean to you, and how does it affect the way you make music? 

“Americana” to me has always felt like an analog way of doing things, very integrated in roots, a strong craft in the lyrics and song writing. Trying to make a real connection with listeners not something they can just dance to. It is more a slow burn, not as easily digestible. I don’t know how you would classify us, if not for Americana, maybe just rock and roll. Alt-country maybe but that doesn’t seem to work all the time either. Americana is a big umbrella when it comes to genres, lots of styles fit under that description but I think it is a good starting point. When you say that I think fans of that genre have a good idea what to expect. I like so many different types of bands that fit under Americana. It could just be lazy marketing, too but that might be a different conversation.

Who are some Denver peers/musicians that most influence what you do?

Well to start, would be the producers on this record Mark Anderson and Ben Wysocki. Both great drummers, producers, singers, you name it. Lots of great bands from here. Some more obvious than others, but lots of talent in this city.

What might fans expect to see from Bison Bone to close out the year?

With everything up in the air for a while, the only thing we can do is go record the next record. And that’s exactly what we are going to do before the end of the year.

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