Interview: Bon Iver
Fri, 22 Feb 2008 15:14:53
A change of scenery can do wonders for an artist; just look at Justin Vernon, the singer-songwriter behind Bon Iver. After severing ties with his pervious band, DeYarmond Edison, the downtrodden musician decided to take a break from modern life all together by packing his belongings into his car and sequestering himself in a remote cabin in Wisconsin. Under this new backdrop, Vernon recorded one of the most brutally beautiful and under-heard albums of 2007, For Emma, Forever Ago. A folksy meditation on loss and indifference, it's filled with frigid tales kept warm in the cloak of Vernon's soulful vocals.
From this rustic provenance, his independently released recordings found their way around the music industry and became an instant blogger hit, eventually garnering attention from a number of labels. After some contemplation, Bon Iver found the perfect fit in indie label Jagjaguawar, and his debut album is now set to get the attention it deserves. We caught up with Vernon in his new home in Wisconsin to discuss his unexpected rise to popularity, the darkness of mediocrity and the difficulties of killing and cleaning a deer by yourself.
Your album, For Emma, Forever Ago, has a pretty interesting backstory. What prompted the initial move out to the cabin in Wisconsin?
Basically, it's a pretty simple answer. I had sort of reached my threshold of, I guess, what I saw as mediocrity in my life, and I was just so sick of not doing what I wanted to do. I had become really sick, I had a liver infection and pneumonia, and I broke up with my band. Then I broke up with this girlfriend, and I just basically bolted. But it was a very slow bolt; it was over a course of three months. I left North Carolina, and I went right up there.
And it was your dad's cabin that you went to?
Yep, it was just like a hunting lodge.
So you had spent a bunch of time up there before, obviously?
Yeah, growing up. He had it before he even met my mom. He bought 80 acres in '79. He built a little cabin up there, and met my mom shortly after.
Your dad sounds like a guy who gets his hands dirty and gets stuff done. It seems like that's probably where you picked up on a lot of that right?
I think so, yeah. His dad was a carpenter, and my dad is sort of. He's not a carpenter by trade, but he's always worked out there, and he's always built things, and taken after his dad in that way. I guess attitude-wise, I'm sort of the same bloodline.
How rustic are we talking about in this cabin? Running water? Any electricity? What's the scenario?
Yeah, there's totally running water. Until about a year ago, there was no running water and just a generator, but now we have running water up there. It's not too bad. Basically, the isolation and the rusticness of it came from the fact that I was 40 miles from anything in all directions. It wasn't a completely uncomfortable living situation. There wasn't any heat up there other than the wood stove, but it wasn't incredibly difficult living, other than just having to do more chores daily just to stay warm and all of that.
Did you build a recording studio? Even if it did have running water, I'm sure it didn't have a recording studio.
And it never really did. The sonic aptitude of the room was never really up-to-snuff. I had microphones set up, and I would have to walk across a bunch of wood to press record. I wasn't really a great recording situation at all. I had to sort of make do.
Did you bring everything with you knowing that you wanted to really immerse yourself in recording while you were out there?
Well, I sort of had it all with me. I've recorded other bands, and have been asked to mix other band's records or produce other band's records. So I have my portable, little mini-studio; not super high-end by any means. I had it in my car. I basically had my whole life in the car. I just never really unpacked when I went up there. But, the goal really wasn't to go up there and make a record. I didn't even know what Bon Iver was. I was just going up there as a personal thing, and after a couple weeks of just doing nothing, and sort of clearing the cobwebs, and really having nothing but silence to go by, that's when I started to work on the songs.
How cut off were you? Was there cell phone contact? Were you going into town to pick up supplies?
I would go into town to pick up milk and eggs, like, once a week. I went back into town for Christmas and New Years for five or six days. But I mean, there's plenty of venison up there. We had a good deer-hunting season, but there wasn't a ton that I needed.
How tough is it for one man to kill and clean a whole deer by himself? It sounds like a task.
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