interview by Jim Beckmann
photos by Chad Syme
Bon Iver, French for
good winter, is the primary creative vehicle for singer/songwriter Justin Vernon. Vernon self-released the Bon Iver debut, For Emma, Forever Ago, in the middle of ’07 and after catching a breeze on the internet, it spread like wildfire, quickly depleting the 500-copy pressing. The band was immediately snagged by the Jagjaguwar label and the album rereleased last month. The recordings themselves, put to tape in Vernon’s father’s secluded cabin in Wisconsin, are fairly skeletal, consisting primarily of guitar and the highly affecting and poetic stamp of his recently discovered falsetto. Vernon left the woods thinking he had good demos but was convinced by members of the Rosebuds — whose recent album he produced — that he was in fact sitting on a completed album. Bon Iver is now in full tour mode, which will include a stop at Nectar in Seattle along with Dead Ocean’s Phosphorescent. This is what Justin Vernon had to say following his performance at the Parish:
KEXP: That album… it’s beautiful. Cheryl Waters and the other DJs were all over it, but at first we were asked to wait to play tracks from it.
Bon Iver: Thank you. Yeah, I’m glad I don’t have to wait anymore because it was a long waiting period. Not super-terrible, but now that it’s out there, I’m so happy that I don’t have to tell people, “Oh, just wait two more months,” because if people like something, they want to hear it right away. But, whatever. Now I’m just happy.
KEXP: So, you released that yourself as a demo and just gave it to people?
Bon Iver: I did 500 hand-screened copies. I just thought I’d sell those over the course of a couple of years, ’cause that’s all I’d ever done. And I don’t even know how, but a guy from My Old Kentucky Blog put something up about it, and I don’t even know how he got a copy because I had only given ten copies to ten close friends, with no degree of separation from him and uh, he wrote something about it. It’s crazy.
KEXP: Is that how you planned it?
Bon Iver: I thought maybe it was a demo, maybe it’d be a record, but I definitely knew that it was something that I had done that was maybe going to be my stepping stone to maybe getting out there more. But I never in a million years imagined that it would sell this much at all. I’m happy that it resonated with more thus far, and that it started to resonate out there. It’s a very good feeling.
KEXP: So you went back into the studio in January?
Bon Iver: I tried. Uh, I got hired last year to do a random record, the Land of Talk record, and it took a long time, and we basically finished it in January. And we were mixing it. So basically I’ve sworn off working with anyone else for the next two years. Because I’m going to take June and August off to work on the new record, and thinking Spring, next Spring. I don’t want to wait too long.
KEXP: Are you going to go some place to isolate yourself as you did with the last one?
Bon Iver: I don’t know if I want to do the crazy doing it by myself. That was the first thing in my life that was super-necessary. But I definitely need the alone time and actually, where I was alone, my Dad has a barn, and later this April I’m going to take two weeks off and I’ll have like a place to go. There’s too much distraction — I need longer periods of time.
KEXP: I heard that you moved to Raleigh and then you moved back to Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
Bon Iver: I went to Raleigh and basically, it really did chew me up and spit me out.
KEXP: In what sense?
Bon Iver: Well, I think we had risen to the top of the pile or whatever, which isn’t huge, but we were sort of there. We had no reason to play and just needed to get a change of scenery.
KEXP: So the next record will also be with Jagjaguwar?
Bon Iver: Yeah, oh yeah. I’ll be with them for life. I’ve talked to a lot of people and everyone was telling me to go with this label and they have just hit every nail on every head.
KEXP: Excellent. Do you have more gigs going on this week and beyond?
Bon Iver: So we’ve got this, and then tonight we’re playing the Jagjaguwar thing. Tomorrow’s a party for Pitchfork, and then we’re done, which is awesome.
KEXP: You’re going on the road or something?
Bon Iver: Two day drive to Tucson. We’re spending nine days on the west coast.
KEXP: And you’re going to be in Seattle?
Bon Iver: Yup, I’m really excited about that. I’m really excited about Seattle and San Francisco. And then Midwest states for a few days, and then Europe.