Interview: Five Minutes with BisonBison

BisonBison is the Toronto-based collaboration of producers Dani Ramez and Chad Skinner alongside Caribou drummer and producer Brad Weber, harpist Sinéad Bermingham, and vocalist Sophia Alexandra. Through a collage of acoustic and electronic elements, BisonBison creates lush, downtempo and atmospheric soundscapes that embody the rich storytelling of traditional folk music, along with the grooves of contemporary dance music. 

The intersection of Ramez’s affinity for experimental sounds with Skinner’s taste for spacious pads and organic rhythms creates a musical aesthetic that is unique, inspiring, and intellectually engaging. The production style provides the perfect platform for the elementally human contributions of Sophia, Sinead, and Brad to shine through creating a listening experience that is all at once meditative, melancholic and uplifting.

Set the tone for us. Why the arts?

We all found our way into the arts in different ways, from theatre to visual art and music. We have rather active imaginations and all share the same desire to create whenever possible. The arts were just a natural choice for all of us.  

Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea?

Our process is improvisational by nature, our ideas are never pre-planned and tend to flow naturally. We often start with creating and playing with sounds and the idea blossoms from there.

Tell us about the concept behind your new single ‘Recover’.

The lyrics of ‘Recover’ best describe the concept of the track so here’s a quote from our vocalist Sophia. “The concept behind the lyrics of ‘Recover’ was cultivated over many years of personal experience and inner growth. The insight that I gained eventually found a home in this musical composition. ‘Recover’ seeks to explore the sensation of regaining and rediscovering clarity in moments of uncertainty. It is a song that delves into the tenderness of returning to old lessons and recalling the sensation of reconnecting to one’s self-worth.”

Does your material feature any collaborations?

All the music on our first album was at its core a collaborative effort. We’re really just a bunch of friends hanging out and making music. What came from those experiences was a collection of unique sounds which we eventually complied into the album Hover. We are always inviting different musicians into the studio, mainly friends who we have a relationship with outside of music. We give them complete creative freedom to express themselves and engage with the song in whichever way speaks to them. During the recording process of Hover we invited our friends, Erin Munro (viola), Jeff LaRochelle (clarinet), Elly Ball and Antonia Boultwood (Lyrics/vocals) to join our sessions, their inputs have been vital additions to the album. The project has been collaborative since day one so it’s important for us to work with musicians of all kinds.

What are some of the complexities that arrive from playing as a quintet?

One major obstacle is that we never write music with the live show in mind so when it comes time to learn parts it can be a little hectic figuring out who will play what and how to structure the songs. We all play multiple instruments while writing and recording so it’s never simple breaking the tracks down into live versions. Another complexity is finding a rehearsal schedule that works for everyone. We’re all very busy with side gigs and jobs and life in general so coordinating with five of us is sometimes pretty difficult. 

With such diverse backgrounds in music, are there ever clashes in ideas? 

For the most part, we all have similar tastes in music and an idea of what we want this project to sound like. We come from different musical backgrounds but tend to be drawn to similar sounds and vibes while writing music together. We try to maintain an open and inclusive space so all ideas are welcome. There are very rarely disagreements on a song because if it’s working then it works and we all feel that. 

What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?

We like to experiment with the manipulation of recorded sound. That could be anything from acoustic instruments to found objects or textures around the house. For example, we’ve recorded the sizzle of Dani cooking curry for us (she’s a mean chef). We then play with chopping, pitching and/or doubling to get something unique and textural. We are always searching for a good balance between acoustic and electronic sounds.

Take us through a day in the recording studio.

Most recording days we meet up for brunch at our favourite local diner. It’s become something of a tradition for our Monday jams. We record all of our music at Chad and Sophia’s home/studio space, this is where we start by experimenting with sounds and improvising until an idea begins to stand out. From there each of us takes turns either recording or producing, we’re constantly encouraging one another to experiment with new ideas. Once all the elements are there the attention shifts to song arrangement, giving structure for vocal ideas and melodies. We sometimes spend a whole session on one song or sometimes we start several song ideas which we return to at a later session. There’s always a lot of excitement and laughter throughout the process and the environment is light-hearted and relaxed.

Any emerging artists on your radar?

Alex Hentze, Mabe Fratti, Hymns57, YĪN YĪN, Joseph Shabason, RAMZi, Marley Carroll, Vargkvint, Rhoda, Kogane, Kira May

If we gave you the budget to put a line-up together for a mini-fest, who would you book and where would you play

As adamant fans of dance music and supporters of the underground music festival scene here in Canada, we would probably gravitate toward a small, independently run festival out in the countryside with a mixture of live bands and DJs. We’d put a large emphasis on local and emerging talent and would love to include some of our favourite DJs like Fouk, Laurence Guy, Tilman and Alma Negra as part of the lineup. We would probably play an early evening set to get things warmed up but would also play some late-night DJ during the heat of the party!

What gets your creative juices flowing?

Hearing new and innovative music. Seeing local live shows. The support of friends and family. Life experiences and self-growth. Each other.

If you could collectively paint a picture of your unique sound, what would it look like?

It would be like a Bob Ross painting but with a dark and mysterious undertone. 

Take us through your collection of gear, tech or software that accompanies your creative expression.

We are all experienced Ableton Live users. We use a number of hardware synthesizers often in place of software midi which allows us to manipulate audio and create unique and interesting sounds. We keep the emphasis on recording the emotion that goes into a take rather than processing individual notes as we go. We make use of any acoustic instrument in the room whether or not we are formally trained to do so, for example, the band owns a banjo that we all simultaneously started playing during BisonBison jams. We also have a harp, several guitars and a very old cabinet grand piano which offers up a super-rich tone. We use different live percussion pieces,  household items, and percussive sounds such as leg taps and claps to give a sense of the space in which all the music was recorded.

Any side projects you’re working on?

Each member of BisonBison has multiple other projects that they are involved in. Dani, Chad and Brad all DJ regularly both in Toronto and around the festival circuit. Sinéad has a solo electronic project called Animal Party and plays in an electro-punk band called Other Families. Sophia is preparing for her debut solo release and is currently still in the writing process. Brads main gig is playing the drums with Caribou but also has a solo project called Pick A Piper and plays with a band called Loopsy Dazy. Dani produces electronic music under the name Spookyfish, as well as creates videos and other multimedia art projects. Chad released his first solo album this past May under the moniker Sun Rain. 

How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry?

All five of us have learned to collaborate more efficiently which has helped us with our own individual music endeavours. Working together has taught us not to get caught up in specific details during the writing process and to let ideas flow naturally. It can be very easy to waste time on small (sometimes pointless) things when you’re working alone but when with 4 other people in the space you’ve got to keep things moving. 

What’s on your current playlist?

Toumani Diabaté, Sidiki Diabaté – Toumani & Sidiki

Loopsy Dazy – Estuary

Aldous Harding – Designer

Boards of Canada – Campfire Headphase

Trippin Jaguar – Night Over Eridu

Breakdown the news for us: what can we expect from you this year?

We’re super excited about 2020. Of course, we will release our debut record Hover on Feb 7th. We’ll be touring Canada and then Europe later in the year. We’ve been working extremely hard trying to get a live show together so we can’t wait to finally bring it to the stage. We’ll also be spending as much time as we can writing our next album, which is already underway!

Famous last words?

“Record it!”

Follow BisonBison:

Facebook | SoundCloud | Spotify | Instagram | Bandcamp | Website