Justin Vernon doesn’t have time to be overwhelmed. Better known as Bon Iver, a variation on the French saying for “good winter,” the musician behind this winter’s hauntingly beautiful debut For Emma, Forever Ago has been on a non-stop course since the album was re-released in February on Jagjaguwar Records.
Originally independently released, the album gained momentum from a devoted following on the Internet, garnering praise from the likes of hype machine Pitchfork Media and National Public Radio.
“Of course I am happy about the success of the album. I’ve heard from people that they feel some pretty special things from my music and well… what more can you say about that?” Vernon said. While Vernon admits he was approached by several record labels concerning the album, the decision to sign with Jagjagwar was obvious from the start.
“[Jagjaguwar] felt like brothers. It was an easy choice and we’ve been in a great relationship since then,” Vernon said. For that matter, the creation and destruction of relationships is the reason that Bon Iver even exists. Following the disbanding of his former group DeYarmond Edison and several failed personal relationships, Vernon retreated to a remote cabin in the woods of Wisconsin near his father’s saw mill to “be quiet, embrace the solitude and relax.”
Initially, Vernon spent his time working on the land by chopping wood and cutting trees for the mill. He never intended the journey to be about making music, but he soon found himself picking up a guitar and recording his thoughts on his past experiences.
“The whole process was really backwards,” he explained. “I intended to spend time with myself and instead I came out with this collection of songs that felt like brothers and sisters to me.” The resulting For Emma, Forever Ago is the work of a man comfortable when left to his own vices.
“Of course I miss recording music with others, but there is something to be said for the places you can go on your own. Without the distraction of other creative voices, you are left to find out what is really important to you,” Vernon said.
Though Bon Iver is essentially the solo work of Justin Vernon, he is joined by anywhere from one to three musicians to provide a fuller sound in live aspects. Faced with the challenge of translating such an intimate record to a public setting, Vernon doesn’t intend to make any grand changes.
“I think of touring as simply a fun way to experience music in an extroverted sense. I don’t like to get too complicated about it,” he said.
Bon Iver will finish up a tour of the United States in mid-April following a stop in Urbana at the Canopy Club on Wednesday, April 10, with Collections of Colonies of Bees. Vernon hopes to record again this summer during a small break in touring before heading to Europe in the fall.
When asked of future plans outside of music, Vernon didn’t hesitate for a moment before remarking, “I’d love to move to the woods someday and live off the land; maybe sell a craft, live simply.”