Jourdan Wallace, left, and Tyler Grehan lead Backyard Bison in a band practice last week. Photo by Daniel Warn/Whidbey News-Times

Backyard Bison: Oak Harbor band shreds at battle, venues around town

The band names, “Not the Cops” and “Literary Cemetery,” have one thing in common.

They’re both names rejected by a group of teenagers that won Oak Harbor High School’s Battle of the Bands last month.

The members of Backyard Bison chose their name with careful consideration, says rhythm guitarist Kenyon Sirak, a junior Running Start student who is also a backup vocalist for the band.

“We met in a barn that we broke into and while we were making our own music in the barn, we opened the back door and there was just a bunch of bison,” said Sirak, who also plays the maracas. “And that was how we named the band, but that never happened.”

In truth, Sirak revealed that the band’s name came about from endless brainstorming, Google searches, and a fair amount of wordsmithing. There was not, however, a humorous or illegal anecdote that went with the christening.

“People ask us what Backyard Bison means and we’ve kind of come up with insane stories to tell them,” he said. “It means nothing.”

All jokes aside, the band has found a level of success that not all teenaged musicians can claim.

In addition to performances at festivals or competitions, Backyard Bison has done paid gigs at places such as the Oak Harbor Yacht Club and The Loakal Public House.

But the band wasn’t always rocking through two-hour sets or playing for tourists at events like Holland Happening. Backyard Bison was born in much the same way as many collaborations; with time, talent and a shared goal.

Bass player Ryan Evans, a junior at Oak Harbor High School, and pianist Elijah Marth, a junior Running Start student and backup vocalist, took an interest in the Oak Harbor Music Festival at about this time last year.

Yet they weren’t interested in attending the festival.

They wanted to be in it.

To that end, they pitched the idea to a few of their friends from youth group — Sirak, Tyler Grehan and Jourdan Wallace. It wasn’t a hard sell. Once the others bought in, the teens set to work on recording a demo.

“We decided that we wanted to do the music festival, so we got together a few days later and had two practices before we turned in a video recording of ourselves performing “Mountain Sound” by Of Monsters and Men to the musical festival people, and then we got in,” said lead vocalist Grehan, a junior Running Start student who also plays acoustic guitar for the band.

While the five friends had secured a spot in Oak Harbor Music Festival, Grehan said Backyard Bison was incomplete.

When they realized the band would benefit from a drum kit, they added Oak Harbor High School freshman Samuel Gibbon on drums.

With the music festival under its belt, and its sixth and final member added, Backyard Bison set out to define itself.

Wallace, a senior Running Start student and lead guitarist for the band, said Backyard Bison has developed into an indie rock band — with Walk the Moon, Young the Giant and Colony House being the main musical influences on the group.

“You could also call us alternative rock, but generally indie rock is what I would say describes us,” Wallace said.

When it came time to choose songs for the Battle of the Bands, Backyard Bison wanted to find three entries that truly showcased what they were all about, Marth said.

“At this point we don’t have any original songs, we just do covers, so we chose three that were probably the best representation of what we wanted to do more of,” Marth said. “We also really wanted to engage the audience so we chose the three most upbeat songs that fit into that category.”

They must have chosen correctly, because with “Tightrope” by Walk the Moon, “Around the World” by Kings of Leon and “Dying Young” by Vampire Weekend, Backyard Bison won the day Friday, April 14.

By all accounts, the band members have gelled together — with friendships deepening and abilities strengthening — but they each know the inevitable truth: High school will end for each of them.

As a senior, Wallace will be the first to go, but the band, including Wallace, seem optimistic about the transition.

“I think I’ll probably switch to electric guitar, and we’ll see who will do mostly lead stuff for that,” Grehan said of Wallace’s impending departure. “We’re gonna try to stay together and then, whenever Jourdan comes home, we’ll have a reunion.

“We’re gonna shred.”

From left, Backyard Bison members Tyler Grehan, Ryan Evans, Kenyon Sirak, Samuel Gibbon, Elijah Marth and Jourdan Wallace enjoy each other’s company during a break from band practice last week. Backyard Bison recently won Oak Harbor High School’s Battle of the Bands. Photo by Daniel Warn/Whidbey News-Times

Samuel Gibbon plays drums for Backyard Bison at a band practice last week. Photo by Daniel Warn/Whidbey News-Times

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