INTERVIEW: Bison Frontman James Farwell

Vancouver’s BISON recently released a fantastic new album, You Are Not the Ocean You Are the Patient. It’s a raging, intense tour de force (read more in my review here). To learn more about the album, I asked BISON frontman James Farwell a few questions.

Farwell feels that You Are Not the Ocean You Are the Patient differs from BISON’s previous releases because he was “in a good space, surrounded by love, a new son and another on the way.”

“I was able to dive right in without the risk of drowning in it,” Farwell elaborates. That meant the album “came together fairly effortlessly. There was no money, no timeline, nobody on the other end of the phone pestering about progress and there was little of my own self-sabotaging at play.”

Elsewhere, Farwell has described You Are Not the Ocean You Are the Patient as “a story of a new life and escaping the city, while still being tethered to it.” I found that an interesting topic, and asked him to expand on the way in which Vancouver itself influenced the album.

It turns out that earlier statement is very directly about Farwell’s own life. Unable to find a home suitable for a newborn in Vancouver, he and his family moved (or escaped) to Squamish. His work and his music keep Farwell tethered to Vancouver, though. Those tethers are very emotional ones, too. The dichotomy between Farwell’s work and art in Vancouver and his family life in Squamish was a strong influence on the new album.

“I still hold a job in Vancouver,” Farwell says, “working with marginalized populations, helping them navigate a system which is prejudiced against the poor and non-white communities living with mental health issues and/or substance abuse issues. I also have dear friends who are still carving out an existence, which I am in awe of, and of whom I am very proud.”

He continues: “All of this was boiling to the surface while writing this album, it was fresh and happening, while discovering a new space in Squamish which afforded me the safety to delve into the shit, with some lifeline to pull me out — my family, happy and safe in a beautiful place.”

Farwell’s favourite song on the new record is ‘Raiigin.’ “I wrote it in 1996 for my band back then called Idahoan,” he says. “It fits seamlessly with our sound today. Personally, that speaks volumes to me and my base songwriting.”

I also took the opportunity to ask Farwell about his favourite venues and bands in Vancouver.

“Well, I loved the What Gallery back in the day,” he says. “It was my first introduction to a thriving, truly underground Vancouver punk scene. Drugs, booze, fighting skinheads… It had it all. Also, the Nappy Dugout was another of my favourite places to play and see music. Skateboarding and music will always go hand in hand to me.”

As for bands, he rattles off a list without hesitating: “I love the Sumner Brothers, Brass, Haggatha, Satan’s Cape, Erosion, Little Destroyer, View Master, Needles//Pins, Waingro — I could go on. I love these bands because they love what they do and pour heart and soul into their art. I’m sure I missed a couple… Vancouver is finding itself; we just have to come together and build it together, without nurturing our segregation and poser-scented bullshit. Peace.”

Stream You Are Not the Ocean You Are the Patient now on Bandcamp. Order a physical copy from Pelagic Records.

Click here to read my review of You Are Not the Ocean You Are the Patient by BISON.