It wasn’t planned. The goal was to hibernate.
Justin Vernon moved to a remote cabin in the woods of Northwestern Wisconsin at the onset of winter. Tailing from the swirling breakup of his long time band, he escaped to the property and surround himself with simple work, quiet and space. He lived there alone for three months, filling his days with wood splitting and other chores around the land. This special time slowly began feeding a bold, uninhibited new musical focus.
The days slowly evolved into days filled with twelve-hour recording blocks, breaking only for trips on the tractor into the pines to saw and haul firewood, or for frozen sunrises high up a deer stand. All of his personal trouble, lack of perspective, heartache, longing, love, loss and guilt that had been stock piled over the course of the past six years, was suddenly purged into the form of song. The end result is, For Emma, Forever Ago, a nine-song album comprised of what’s been dubbed by those most familiar with his music: Vernon’s best work to date.
Bon Iver (pronounced: bohn eevair; French for “good winter” and spelled wrong on purpose) is a greeting, a celebration and a sentiment. It is a new statement of an artist moving on and establishing the groundwork for a lasting career. For Emma, Forever Ago is the debut of this lineage of songs. As a whole, the record is entirely cohesive throughout and remains centered around a particular esthetic, prompted by the time and place for which it was recorded. Vernon seems to have tested his boundaries to the maximum, and in doing so has managed to break free form any pre-cursing or finished forms.
For Emma’s tracks consist of thick layers draped in lush choral walls, with rarely more than an ancient acoustic guitar or the occasional bass drum providing structure. Vernon sings the majority of the records in falsetto, which painfully expresses the meanings behind its overt, yet strangely entangled words. This newfound vocal path acts as each song’s main character and source of melody and immediately separates listeners from any of Vernon’s old material, where he lurked over the songs in a scratchy baritone.
Despite its complexity, the record was created entirely by Vernon with nothing more than a few microphones and some aged recording equipment. This homemade aspect shows itself slightly in sections as creaks and accidentals are exposed in the folds of the songs, but is hidden well by the highly impressive and almost orchestral sound that Vernon managed to produce by his lonesome, within the creaky skeleton of his father’s cabin.
The only other music applied to For Emma was recorded upon Vernon’s return to Eau Claire, Wisconsin where John Dehaven and Randy Pingrey, active-members of the Boston and Minneapolis jazz communities, played trumpet and trombone respectively on track eight, “For Emma.” Also contributing was guest vocalist and drummer, Christy Smith, of the much heralded, Nola, playing on the album’s first track, “Flume.”
Bon Iver will tour throughout the summer and fall, as little as a two-piece or as large as a four-piece, always featuring Vernon and Sean Carey on drums, guitar and vocals.
Justin Vernon is best known for his work in DeYarmond Edison, which left its home of Eau Claire, Wisconsin to move to Raleigh, North Carolina in 2005. His experiences in the band, as well as his many other musical endeavors, have gained him a well-respected reputation in both the musical communities of the upper-Midwest and in the triangle of North Carolina. In its five-years, the band released two full-length albums of which Vernon acted as both engineer and producer. His well-planted interest and insight in recording was derived from, and remains intact because of his inflated love for the process of creating records. He possesses a self-taught mentality that’s easy to find but truly rare to see developed so deeply. This has earned him his most recent position and well deserved prestige as touring guitarist for indie-pop duo, The Rosebuds. A job offered to him after producing and co-engineering the couples most recent full-length, Night of The Furies (Merge).
Vernon is also a member of Raleigh based, Ticonderoga (54-40 or Fight) and has worked with many other bands and musicians in and out of the studio. For all things Bon Iver, please visit www.virb.com/boniver.