Bon Iver is On a Roll

Published February 6, 2012

ABOVE: JUSTIN VERNON. PHOTO COURTESY OF DIANA LEVINE

2012 is turning out to be quite a year for Justin Vernon. Sure, 2010 introduced his band, Bon Iver, to a whole new audience when he collaborated with Kanye West on West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, with Vernon’s voice littered all over the album (plus his song sampled on the epic “Lost In The World”). Then, 2011 wasn’t half bad either, with Bon Iver receiving sweeping critical acclaim for his self-titled record, including Album of the Year from indie-cred-dealer Pitchfork—plus a duet with fellow man of the moment, James Blake.

So 2012 had some mighty big shoes to fill, but with the announcement of more collaborations—Flaming Lips, for sure; plus, Alicia Keys is on the docket—and a whopping four Grammy nominations. The collaborations appear to thrill Vernon; the Grammys do not. He’s been vocal about his displeasure about the machinations of the Grammys, but don’t worry. Speaking to him at a Bushmills “Since Way Back” event, Vernon assured us, Bon Iver has no intention of slowing down.

LEILA BRILLSON: So, right off the bat, are you ever referred to as Mr. Iver?

JUSTIN VERNON: Oh yeah. I get called Bon a lot. I just let it slide. I’m not that self important. I don’t correct them.

BRILLSON: This has been a big year for Wisconsin, with both you guys and Zola Jesus hailing from the state. Is it maybe the next cool spot?

BRIAN JOSEPH [producer]: That’s like the Grammys saying “Best New Artist.” Wisconsin is the “Cool New Place.”

BRILLSON: Well, you in particular are concerned with the meaning of place, and the memory of place. Both the writing process and topics are so concerned with location. What is so interesting to you about the North American experience? Why do you keep returning?

VERNON: When you ask it that way, I think I have to say that people discover places. We are still discovering shit. When you write a song about a place, you are writing a song about a place that might be in a hundred years, or a place that has been, or that was—in your imagination. I think that also embodies the American spirit. You are looking for what you can call “a place.” 

BRILLSON: You write beautifully about some rather unglamorous locations.

VERNON: I’m concerned with the lack of definition of those places. I think that, if you visit Janesville, WI, it’s a real place with real people who have real feelings come from. So it is about personal experience, and a thread and a fabric. 

BRILLSON: Do you find middle America beautiful, or tragic… or both?

VERNON: More beautiful than tragic. Well, everything is tragic. We are interesting. We are what makes up the human condition. To call New York or Janesville beautiful or tragic is to miss the point. 

BRILLSON: You are such a collaborator. I was wondering if you can give us a glimpse into who you are excited about working about?

VERNON: Wayne Coyne [of the Flaming Lips] texted me. And he was like, “Hey, [let’s] do something.” And I was like, “Wow, you are fucking awesome.” He’s positive, and he cares about music, and he doesn’t give a shit about anything stupid. We don’t slow down in situations like that. And we are just going to keep doing music, and we aren’t going to stop for any bullshit reason. Wayne is a great example of someone who cares about the community and worries about making the world a better place simply by being who he is.

BRILLSON: What is it going to sound like?

VERNON: It’s kind of like Wayne’s dream world mixed in with electronic…dreams? Of mine. Electronic dreams.

BRILLSON: Since you play with your brother, do you guys ever team up and create a familial voting bloc in the band? Do you guys ever have sibling fights on the road?

VERNON: Noogies. I mean, me and Nate [Vernon] grew up together, but when we’re on the phone, Nate’s not my brother. We all have to deal with a lot of shit from each other on a daily basis. 

BRILLSON: Going into this next period of activity, do you have any luck charms? Anything you keep with you?

VERNON: Nope! It’s bad luck to be superstitious. 

FOR MORE ON BON IVER, VISIT THE BAND’S WEBSITE.