Good Bison On The Music He Was Always Meant to Make [Feature + Watch & Listen]

Scattered Storms, out January 29, might only be a four song EP, but it’s Good Bison’s most enthralling, emotive, and well-rounded collection of music to date.

With influences ranging from Brian Wilson to Eminem, Pablo Alvarez is well on his way to defying genres, building a robust catalog of songs, and coming to terms with where he fits within the music industry. His new EP, Scattered Storms, comes from a place of little to no professional pressure, an immense amount of freedom, and the perfect balance of knowing his strengths, but experimenting with his weaknesses. Known as Good Bison professionally, Alvarez is an intriguing and humble musician whose rap career started in Miami, but transformed over time into one of organic alternative rock and newfound California roots. Having a chat with him is comfortable and personal, so (remotely) sitting down with him led to some wonderful, grand realizations about where he’s at musically and where he plans on going. 

While the EP Scattered Storms has a cohesive tone, each song still brings an air of surprise and a new kind of style. What was your approach in choosing these specific four songs for the record?

So there were two songs that I knew for sure I wanted on there, which are “Since I Left Miami” and “Lunatic.” Those are just two songs that are very personal to me and I think were the driving force behind the EP. “Can’t Predict the Weather” and “Black Garlic” were then born out of that. There were a few other songs that I was considering, but these felt like they had a thematic unity and kind of covered a bunch of different aspects that were important to me. Like you said, they’re different songs, but they just fit really well together for me and I feel like they tell an overarching story.

I think that they absolutely do! Especially “Since I Left Miami,” which I noted, as well, was very personal. It has such a storytelling quality to it, so tell me a bit about that song and how it came together, because it gives me kind of a sixties singer-songwriter vibe, but still very modern.

I cannot tell you how flattered I am by the sixties comparison, because to be honest, I have been massively inspired by Brian Wilson. The past couple of years, I have been obsessed with Brian Wilson. I’ve listened to Pet Sounds more times than I can even imagine. I listen to the Smile Sessions. “Since I Left Miami” was really born out of that, as well. It was this idea that I could be really personal with my music. It was also the first time I wrote a song on guitar, so I was communicating my feelings not only with words, which is how I’ve always done it, but with music. The chords are simple, but they felt really emotive to me. I was able to pull out words that may have not been there. I didn’t write them down, either. I didn’t have to use my notebook. I just played guitar and the words came to me. I remember feeling very vulnerable when I wrote that chorus, because I wasn’t in a great place at the time. I always worried that I was being too honest saying that “my clothes are all on the floor,” because that was all real. That was all speaking to a very honest moment in my own life. It wasn’t forced and it just came really, really easily. Before I knew it, the song was done.

You could feel that listening to it because it’s just so organic. You can tell that the song came from a natural, personal place. I think that with an acoustic basis too, like much of your music, you create a sound that is timeless, but very uniquely yours. Do you set out to write songs that have a certain sound? Or does this really authentic, original tone just come out of you this way?

I can honestly say that with this music, I wasn’t trying to do anything. It’s very different from the music that I have made since I started Good Bison, because at those points, I definitely did set out to make something specific. I had a very clear vision and I wanted it to fit within the contemporary landscape. When I started working on these songs, I kind of abandoned all that. I was like, “Whatever comes out, comes out.” That’s how the music came about, but I wasn’t consciously trying to do anything different. My main goal was just to get out what I felt was building up inside me. 

Music is a very strong form of expression. From what I’ve gathered, though, much of your style is a combination of surf rock, math rock, and early days of alternative. What do you listen to? Whether it be to look for influence or just jam out on your own?

My music taste is totally all over the place. At one moment I can be listening to Kanye West and the next I’m jamming out to Taylor Swift. I consider myself just a fan of music and I think that there’s music for every occasion. The music that has inspired me the most recently has been the music from the sixties, like Brian Wilson, in particular. Like I said, the past few years I was completely obsessed with him. I listened to everything Brian Wilson made, not just with The Beach Boys, but on his own. I was lucky enough to see him live at the Greek Theater, which was absolutely amazing. Paul Simon has been a huge influence for me. I would say that’s the music that has really inspired me lately, but I also love everything. I know a lot of people say, “Oh, I’m so embarrassed by what I listened to when I was a teenager,” but I go back and listen to everything I listened to when I was a teenager and I’m like, “All of this is awesome. I love all this music!” My Chemical Romance, Taking Back Sunday, Green Day; I was so into all of that music. I still think it informs who I am and what my music sounds like, but I’m not necessarily listening to it for inspiration. 

Along those same lines, Eminem has been a huge influence on everything that I write because he was the first artist that I became a fan of. When I started making music, I first and foremost considered myself a rapper. I tried to hold myself to that standard of excellence that I felt Eminem put forward in his music. It’s really varied. I love all music and that’s why I say it changes from any given moment. Maybe in the morning I’m listening to The Beach Boys, but then later on I’m dancing to Dua Lipa. [Laughs]

I more than understand that! I love your perspective that every moment can have a different soundtrack, essentially.

Yes, exactly. It’s like scoring your own movie.

Absolutely. I was even thinking that when I was listening to “Lunatic” as the outro is so ominous in the most suspenseful way. It’s not long and drawn out, but I think it’s the perfect song to kind of lead into the closing track… in my opinion. 

That was something that was a mix of how I played it on guitar. Because when I played it on guitar, I would kind of stutter at the end there to give it the feel of a vinyl skipping. Then the producer, George Spits, took it to the next level when he was mixing it because he actually made the song itself do that. The first version he sent me…. Well, we actually went back and forth on it a couple of times. He moved out of Los Angeles, so I was sending him voice notes and I was like, “No, it should be like this,” and then eventually we got it right. That was what it felt like, a breakdown, but it also doesn’t really end, because it immediately goes into “Since I Left Miami.”

That’s exactly how I felt listening to it! That is so interesting and very innovative.

Yeah. The song goes “I’m a lunatic trapped inside these record skips,” and so the record is literally skipping.

I hope that this comes out on vinyl so I can hear that “vinyl skipping” on actual vinyl!

Oh, I would love to! I think that’s definitely in the cards.

You know, Pablo, I wanted to ask you about the timing of this release, because obviously 2020 was a weird year and we’re clearly still feeling the weight of it, but why was now a good time to embark on this project and bring this personal, albeit lighthearted, music to the masses?

I think it helped me find some sort of meaning in all of the chaos this year and it gave me a sense of purpose and direction. I was unable to perform live. I was unable to see friends or go to concerts. I had so many plans lined up for this year, not just for Good Bison, but for myself personally, and all of that fell apart. I haven’t released music since 2017, so it came about naturally. I released a song in May called “Nowhere To Go,” which sounds like it was written during the pandemic, but was actually written in January. After I released that, I felt like that was the first step towards this sound. I really felt like I was discovering my voice and I wanted to capitalize on that momentum. I got this bug in my head that I wanted to make an EP. I wanted to make an EP and, given the circumstances, I wanted to do it with only the things I had available to me. I was no longer relying on big production. I basically was thinking, “Well, I have a guitar, I have a microphone, so I could just put out something that’s guitar and my voice,” and this project grew from that. It felt necessary for me to get something out, especially now.

During such an uncomfortable period of time, it would probably be cathartic to dabble in music with no pressure.

Exactly. Yeah, there was absolutely no pressure. No one knew that I was working on this. No one knew that I had plans to release any EP. And so I was able to work at it at my own pace and get it sounding exactly how I wanted and then really plan the release, which was something that was super important to me because I feel like I’ve always neglected the release aspect of my music. This time, I tried to hit it on all fronts. I wasn’t just putting the effort into the music, but I was also putting effort into the visuals and the presentation, which is such an important part of it. I really do feel like now the images, the videos, and the visuals, they all are aligned with the message of the music. They’re all at that set level that I was hoping to achieve. That’s really thanks to my visual director Krölhaus who knocked it out of the park when it comes to all of the visuals.

That’s really wonderful to hear, I was actually going to ask you how much of a say do you have in the artistry outside of the music, because like I said, with this album, everything is very cohesive. With these different visual aspects and through listening to the music, fans can then immerse themselves in just these four songs. 

I definitely think that’s true and it was exactly what we were going for. I have a pretty big say in what we’re doing, but at the same time, I found someone that I trust and that I think has an amazing creative vision and really understands what I was going for. From them listening to the music, speaking with me, and working together, they were able to help me translate a lot of these concepts into visuals in a way that resonate with me in an incredible way, but might not have come to me naturally – or it’s just not necessarily how I think of things first. I’m so immersed in the writing process, the lyrics, and how the music sounds that a lot of times the visuals have been an afterthought for me, but going into this project, they were at the forefront just as much as the music. We really thought about everything and how it’s presented. While I do have a big say in that, I tip my hat to my visual director Krölhaus, who not only understood what I was trying to do, but was able to elevate it and bring it to life in an amazing way.

That is so special. I’m glad you have this team of people to work with and I think everything for this EP was done phenomenally. I’m so glad to hear that you think that as well, because it’s important for an artist to be proud of what they are releasing, and it seems completely that you are, so I’m so happy to hear that.

I’m super happy that that’s coming through, honestly, and that you enjoyed the music and that you also saw the worth in the visual component. I’ve always had hesitations and doubts when it comes to the things that I’m putting out. That’s not to say that I think everything is perfect right now, but this is the most confident and proud of a body of work that I’ve ever been. It just feels like this is what I was meant to make – not the only thing I was meant to make, but it’s all these years of experimenting and trying out different genres and making music videos that I wasn’t fully happy with. That was all building to something. That was me finding out what I wanted to actually do and where I wanted to fit. This is that.