Interview: Talking with Justin Vernon
prior to a new Bon Iver LP and tour, Justin Vernon answers locals' questions
There are many amazing writers, photographers, and critics who’ve created work to cover Justin Vernon and the Bon Iver phenomenon over the last few years. It’s especially active right now, as just this week the second full-length release from Bon Iver hit the streets. Tens of thousands of words have been written about what quite literally has become the man, the myth, the legend. And while all this national press is a relatively new thing, this will mark the fifth time Volume One has interviewed Mr. Vernon in our 180 issues across nine years. All the worldwide buzz is of course a different scenario than the local musicians we usually cover. We don’t often have to follow articles in Rolling Stone, Spin, the New York Times and dozens of other international publications. But we do know we have a resource available to us that all of those publications do not – you. The people of this community have a unique perspective, and many of you have been following Justin’s career much longer than the millions of new fans around the world. To all of us, Justin and the rest of the local guys in the band are just normal people. We see them playing jazz at Shanghai Bistro, we see them walking their dogs through the neighborhoods, and we see them out at bars enjoying the company of friends. So with the wisdom of locals in mind, we decided to crowdsource the interview – we handed the reigns over to readers and asked you to write the questions. Dozens of them came in through VolumeOne.org, Facebook, and Twitter. We simply gathered them up and posed them to Justin. He speaks of his past and present in Eau Claire, the role of an artist in his hometown, and, of course, the possibility of a local Bon Iver show. Visit VolumeOne.org for a few more answers not printed here, and of course stay tuned in the coming months for that possible announcment of a hometown gig. – Nick Meyer, Publisher, Volume One
What advantages or disadvantages do you feel growing up in the Chippewa Valley were provided for you as an artist? – allisonleigh
The advantage and disadvantage are kind of the same. You’re ‘brutally’ disadvantaged because there is the ‘whole world’ out there, and you are advantaged by the fact that your whole world can be right here. For me, as an example, I believed so hard in this place that I stopped believing in myself and had to move to North Carolina for a fresh start. So there is a balance. You have to be a strong entity as one person – to help make stronger fabric of a larger community.
What do you think contributes to the musical talent in the Chippewa Valley as compared to other places similar in size? – thomfountain
This is the easiest answer: education. Dennis Luginbill, Bruce Herring, Steve Wells, Bob Baca. These and other educators dedicate their lives to enriching kids and young professionals with music. That’s why our talent grows here. Because there is a general feeling like it’s OK for music to be your religion. What you study in your sleep.
Can you just confirm the title of the album? I’m pretty sure it’s Bon Iver, Bon Iver by Bon Iver, but who can say for sure? And also, why did you name it the way you did? – Eric Christenson
Title of the album: Bon Iver, Bon Iver. That’s all I’ll say.
How has your view of the Chippewa Valley changed after traveling all over the world? – andrew
I see what it lacks more. I see a ‘no awning law’ as the biggest little thing wrong. I see Sysco food trucks. I see decisions that could be different decisions. I’d like to see John Mogensen make slightly different decisions here and there, but I’d also like to see more John Mogensens! He is motivated; he is rogue; he makes things happen; he makes some of our prettiest places. But we need like eight more people – or like 80 more people – that are that motivated to start doing things for this community. It’s why I can’t leave. Why I came back and have stayed, I guess. I believe that Eau Claire is such an opportunity. It represents ‘middle’ America in every way, and I want to think that isn’t a lost thing.
Do you still plan on moving forward with Chigliak [a proposed label imprint to re-release vintage local and other favorite records of Vernon]? If so, when could we expect to see an Amateur Love vinyl? – Zachary O.
Oh yes! I really hope by winter or spring. You’ll be hearing about it. There will be cool bonus material, songs never released, videos. But mostly that fantastic album on wax. As a whole.
I’ve heard a rumor that the track Towers is a nod to the infamous UWEC dorm. Confirm/Deny? – Daniel Bock
I loved every song on your DeYarmond Edison album Silent Signs. Will we ever hear any of those songs again, or are they gone with the band? – Jeff
The band might not be as gone as you think. But yeah, I think those songs are probably gone. Man, have you heard Dead Anchor? I hate that song! No, I don’t hate any of those songs, but there isn’t a lineage that I feel connected to there.
You’ve worked with a variety of genres so far in your career. What style would you really like to work with more? – andrew
Even though the first try didn’t work out, are you still considering moving forward with a venue in Eau Claire? – Jessi T.
Yes. I just don’t have the time to spearhead it. Can like 15 of us please meet once a month at Racy’s and start a board of directors for this project? Volume One, set it up! I will be there. I can help.
Does the ever-growing story/legend behind your first record ever get annoying to hear or be asked about? – thomfountain
There was some debate previously on VolumeOne.org about what responsibility, if any, a highly successful artist like yourself has to the community he came from (and still resides in). Having honed a lot of your chops in the clubs of Eau Claire, how do you see your relationship with this community now? What should and shouldn’t be expected of an artist in your position and why? – Jake
People who expect things from artists in general aren’t living for themselves. That being said, artists can be totally selfish and make stupid decisions based on evading those expectations. I don’t know. For me, I feel like I am an ambassador for this place everywhere I go. What more should/could I do? Play here every weekend? Bon Iver has grown to be my most busy project, and it has a traveling crew of 16 people. We aren’t a weekend band now. The Shouting Matches, however, we’ve played six shows in Eau Claire in the last four years. Considering how busy I am, I feel pretty awesome about that. I love Eau Claire very deeply. If anyone thinks there is something else I should be doing, you should come up to me and tell me. I’d love any advice!
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