We all face difficult times in our lives. No matter who you are, or what you do, there will come a time when it seems as though everything is going against you: it’s as though you have suddenly become the unluckiest person in the world. Everything seems to be falling down around you, and everyone has a distinct and different reaction to such circumstances. Some people appear angry, breaking everything in sight; some people show their sadness through tears; and others seek solitude, and take time away from the world. Justin Vernon is one such person.
Following the breakup of his band, DeYarmond Edison, the disintegration of his relationship, and his contraction of Mononucleosis hepatitis (Glandular Fever) in 2007, Vernon left his North Carolina home and retreated to his father’s cabin in the snowy woods of Wisconsin. A few “Northern Exposure” DVD’s, his own thoughts, his brother’s wire-strung guitar and the most basic of recording equipment were all that kept him company during the winter months. During his time of solitude, Vernon began writing and recording one of the most heartbreaking albums of all time, “For Emma, Forever Ago”. The sparseness, the flow of the melody and the often nonsensical lyrics combined to create an album of such raw emotion and power that, when originally released, without the help of any label, created such a big buzz that it was reviewed on Pitchfork & was named its album of the week. Vernon played every instrument on the album but did not want to put his own name to it, instead lending it the moniker ‘Bon Iver’ (derived from a greeting used in the “Northern Exposure” TV series).
Success came quick, and fast after the album was released. Within weeks Vernon was signed to the indie record label Jagjaguwar records. Singles from the album were used in shows such as One Tree Hill, Chuck, Grey’s Anatomy, House, and many more since. The lead single, ‘Skinny Love’, garnered a large amount of attention and eventually lead to the rise of Birdy’s career. ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ made numerous “Best Albums” list for 2008, and was also ranked number 98 in Rolling Stone’s “100 Best Albums of The 00’s”. He featured as a musical guest on all of the major American talk shows, and was contacted and has contributed to music by the likes of St. Vincent, James Blake and Kanye West. Vernon played a big part in the writing and production of Kanye’s 2010 masterpiece “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”, featuring in the songs ‘Monster’ and the song ‘Lost in The Woods’, which sampled Bon Iver’s song ‘Woods’(Featured on the 2009 EP ‘Blood Bank’) . Vernon, however, was not always at peace with his newfound fame, and has spoken out about his hatred of the traditional music industry cycle of Album, Press, Tour and repeat. Vernon always sought escape and experimentation, and in this frame of mind his self-titled second album ‘Bon Iver’ was released to the waiting public.
‘Bon Iver’ was officially released in June 2011, despite Apple accidentally releasing the album earlier that May. It was critically acclaimed and the difference between this new album and ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ is clear. The use of wider instrumentation, more horns, a little bit more electronics and a wider emotional connection gave the album the feel of a bigger, more expansive project, and with 3 years in the making, it lived up to – and over-exceeded – expectations. The second album carried Bon Iver to another level of the celebrity pyramid and lead to one of the most surprising Grammy victories of all time, with the band winning the awards for Best New Artist and Best Alternative Music Album, as well as being nominated for Record of the Year for Holocene.
Following the release of the album a world tour followed, and as the tour concluded it was clear the band were getting tired. On the final night of the final leg of their world tour (Dublin, in November 2012), the band announced an indefinite hiatus from music and promptly disappeared from the public eye. Traces of music were heard in the proceeding years, with Vernon recording a new song, ‘Heavenly Father’, for the soundtrack of the Zac Braff film Wish I Was Here in 2014. However, towards the end of 2015 and the start of 2016, Bon Iver began to creak back into life. They announced an Asian tour for February of 2016, and soon after, tracks began to leak out. A European tour was announced and eventually, almost as all hope had faded, a new album was unveiled and has just been released – ‘22, A Million’. This album takes a much more electronic feel, but from the early singles it is clearly a very Bon Iver-esque album, minus the guitars. Bon Iver are back to take over late-night listening, and there seems to be very little that can stop them now.