Bison B.C.’s Scorched Earth

Bison B.C.’s Scorched Earth
James Harwell, singer and guitarist for East Vancouver sludge metal tyrants Bison B.C., is wearing his heart on his sleeve. Taking a break from his job at a homeless centre in the heart of downtown, he’s eager to his share passion for music, beginning with the riffs. "It’s hard to explain; it’s kind of like being in love,” he deadpans. "It’s this feeling: when you first write it you get butterflies, then you kind of almost get a little sick… it’s something that makes the hair on your arms stand up.”

It’s impossible to talk about Bison B.C. without mentioning Harwell’s former band S.T.R.E.E.T.S., the fast skate-punks who left a legacy of thrashed living rooms in the East Van punk scene. Still, after seven years, Harwell says everyone was ready to move on. "S.T.R.E.E.T.S. were a really good band to cut your teeth on,” he explains. "We toured a lot and we recorded a lot, but we were delinquents. We just wanted to get drunk and cause trouble. After [it] ended, I think we all maybe grew up a bit.”

Along with the good times, the band taught Harwell a lot about working hard. As a result, Bison B.C. have built a reputation on their willingness to get in the van. "We weren’t afraid to eat shit in order to take our music outside of Vancouver,” he explains. "And I thank being in all those touring bands before, where it taught me that’s how you do a band. You go on the road. It’s your duty. If you are serious about your music, it is your fucking duty to take that music and show it to as many people as possible.” That do-or-die work ethic attracted the attention of Metal Blade, the Sony-distributed powerhouse responsible for everyone from Cannibal Corpse to As I Lay Dying.

Naturally, signing with such a large label brought its share of concerns, but Harwell saw it as an opportunity to focus his efforts. "I had been in a very DIY scene for a very long time, and it’s exhausting,” he explains. "So when you get the opportunity to work with a really good label that’s been around for 25 years and has a really good reputation for putting out quality music, it’s a dream come true really.” It helped that Metal Blade didn’t try to stifle the band creatively. "They were just really rad,” he remembers. "All they wanted was a metal album. That’s what they said to us: ‘Just don’t give us a folk album... You guys can do whatever you want as long as it’s heavy.’”

Quiet Earth, their Metal Blade debut and follow-up to last year’s Earthbound, is nothing if not crushingly heavy. From Sabbath-esque breakdowns to subtle moments of experimentation, the record sees Harwell and guitarist Dan And wield monster riffs atop the pummelling rhythm section of bassist Masa Anzai and drummer Brad Mackinnon. Rather than go with a big name on their major debut, the record was produced by longtime friend Jesse Gander at the Hive Studios, a choice that reflects the band’s priorities.

"I’m from Vancouver, and this community helped this band get to where we are, so I’m going to record the fucking album in Vancouver,” he explains. "I’m going to get my friend to draw the cover. I’m going to get my friend to take all the photos. I want to get as many people from the community involved with this project as possible because they all do quality work. They do just as good of work as if we went down to goddamn Los Angeles to record the album with some huge douche bag.”