I've been enamored by Justin Vernon's Bon Iver project since June 2007. When I found out that he was pulled into Mark Paulson and Phil Moore's Ticonderoga project at The Bowerbird's recent MOKB/SIRIUS Blog Radio session, I wanted to find out more...
LM: Hey Justin, I love For Emma, Forever Ago. Great album. The recording process of For Emma, Forever Ago sounded pretty rustic to say the least. Tell us just a little bit about it. Would you do it any differently looking back?
Justin Vernon of Bon Iver: Wow. I'm so excited you like it. Well, it wasn't exactly planned out. I moved up to the cabin to be isolated, and to enjoy myself. I split wood, did things with the tractor, got snowed in, ate venison and what not. I had a bit of gear there, because I pretty much moved my stuff back from Raleigh straight up there. I pulled it out one night when I had an idea for this choir-ish sounding thing, layers of vocals. I made it. And then, after that, I just started spliting my days between being in the barn and the wood shop, with making food and creating songs. I was by myself, no band, with a very limited set up that gave the whole thing a real 4-track vibe, for me, personally. I arranged stuff very meticulously, because I had nothing but time. So all that fed into the way stuff sounded.
LM: You've said you didn't go to the cabin in Wisconsin with the purpose of recording a record...How did those 4 months in the cabin change your outlook on life? It sounded like you had a lot of things on your mind when you decided to take it on.
Justin Vernon of Bon Iver: I was deep heavy into about a 5-year process of going in the tank. I wasn't that happy. I was in Eau Claire, my home, and then I was in Raleigh. I was hoping the move to Raleigh would move things in my internal life around, but it stayed the same, and I stayed in the tank. I got very, very sick last summer, and I broke up with my girlfriend, and then my bandmates of nearly 10 years. I was in bed, because I was sick and if I hadn't gotten sick, I might still be in Raleigh, and I might not have been prodded to have all of these new things happen. I was also producing a record with The Rosebuds then, which was the one positive thing that was happening. When we wrapped, I packed up my Honda and headed back to WI. Also, the story of the album, without getting so obvious, and internally personal, is about long gone, bruised, and pained love - about someone. The album was truly the one thing out of 100 things I tried to create peace around my... heart, for lack of a better word. It was actually more about me, then it was about this other person.
LM: Since you really didn't go to the cabin with the exact purpose of recording this album, how did it all emerge? Do you think you'll follow this formula for creation ever again?
Justin Vernon of Bon Iver: I liked the process. I also don't want to recreate it, or invest in it as itself. I want to just take my attitude at the time and try to extend it, which basically means to keep growing and changing - two things I forgot to do from about the ages of 19-25. To actually challenge myself, in a very specific way, not like games, or exercises, but challenge in the sense of really trying to navigate way down into my subconscious, to find where my real aesthetic shit is. My art. Not my gross EGO self-expression stuff; that's the Springsteen/Dylan in me. But, I have other stuff, folded down, and around in there, that I'll just try and excavate.
LM: The North Carolina scene is really interesting. It seems very tight-knit, eco-friendly and relaxed. You work with The Rosebuds and a couple of The Bowerbirds in the project Ticonderoga. Tell us a little bit about those relationships and projects.
Justin Vernon of Bon Iver: Man, we lucked out (me and my former bandmates) by moving there. Super bitching people. The Rosebuds have done so much for me. And, Phil and Beth have become seriously important to me, musically most certainly, but really as friends. Mark is honestly, maybe the best musical partner I've ever had; we've become really close, and musically, I just don't think I could be on a page more evenly with anyone as I am with him. The whole Raleigh thing is just awesome too. It's kind of this town, where it's not necessarily where everyone wants to be, but everyone stays, because everyone is there. Ticonderoga is still going. It was Phil and Mark's and Wes Phillip's band, and when that sort of dissipated, Mark approached me to join forces. So, it's been developing and developing. Now its kind of like Mark's the center of the band and the filter in which everything goes through. I've got a song or three that might end up on the record, but the deal is it's not the same after it gets rang out of the Mark sponge. The demos Mark's been sending me are truly unbelievable. I love them so much. He's in the process of stepping up to that role and he is doing it with serious ammo.
LM: One thing I've heard a few times now is that despite the talent coming out of Raleigh, there are very few good venues to play. What's the deal?
Justin Vernon of Bon Iver: The venues are in Chapel Hill, kind of. I don't know where people play; it's awesome though.
LM: You've received some solid blog/internet support. Has it helped you? Bloggers like to think they are making a difference for small, independent artists, but are they? What's your take on the path that the music industry is on? Digital music, the de-evolution of the CD and online marketing of music?
Justin Vernon of Bon Iver: They only help. I just hate blogs that tear shit down. If it's good, write about it, if it's not, don't. I like good critique, don't get me wrong. But, sometimes I just want someone to tell me if there is a piano on the album or not. But long story short, yes. I think the music industry is fine, it will change, we just have to change with it. No biggy. People like music and at least some people buy music and see shows. I don't think that will go out of style.
LM: What interests do you have outside of your music?
Justin Vernon of Bon Iver: Basketball. Having a family at some point. Mowing the lawn. Quiet lakes. Northern Exposure and Reno 911. Also, cats and dogs. You can stream the whole album over at Virb.com/boniver.
MP3 DOWNLOAD : Bon Iver - Skinny Love