Interview: Justin Vernon
the frontman reflects on the Bon Iver tour, being home, and what’s ahead
With the first hometown show in three years just days away, we chatted with Justin Vernon while he was home around Thanksgiving, gearing up for the last leg of Bon Iver’s national tour. We not only touched on their amazing year and two sold-out shows in Zorn Arena (Dec. 12-13), but also what’s on the horizon and how he fits in the Eau Claire community. Let’s just say this dude doesn’t sit still very long.
Now that your several months of touring is almost over, what memories do you think will stand out most from this tour?
I think for me, personally, it’s hard to not differentiate this tour from many of the things I’ve done musically before because it feels, for the first time of my life, kind of like all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed, musically. The band that we’ve become as a nine piece – and the crew traveling that we put together – feels like a unit. There’s twentysomething of us out there, and it kind of feels like we’ve arrived. I’m really proud of everything I’ve done before and what Bon Iver has done before, but this really feels a lot easier to walk into a place feeling confident that you’re gonna do what you’ve always wanted to do. And that can be a challenge, even for good bands. When you’ve got to show up to a new place every night and make all that happen. We’ve felt pretty happy and satisfied with all we’ve been able to accomplish musically.
Any weird things happen?
There’s plenty of weird stories. In LA I remember there was a whole slew of famous people. I can’t even list all the names. It was weird because they’re just as nervous to meet you as you are to meet them. It’s bizarre. We got to hang out with Bonnie Raitt. That was a big highlight. Every night, honestly, it feels like there’s a different highlight, which is why touring is a weird lifestyle. You could have an amazing night, and then it’s put in the backseat of you memory by the next night.
“I just want to be able to start being more of a part of my community, because for the last four years I haven’t had time, and the 26 years before that I was just trying to become a musician and make a living at it.”
Since this whole thing exploded in 08, has your perception of “home” changed?
It has in the sense that I’m not here as much, and I maybe appreciate it even more. But nothing chemically or centrally has changed about it. I just sort of personally really like it. I’m 30 years old now, and I’ve got kind of my career, for the first time ever, in a place of stasis, where it’s comfortable to be there and the band getting bigger isn’t feeling as catastrophic (laughs) as it once did. Now I’m entering a zone where I really like doing these Eau Claire shows and doing the tickets the way we did them. I just want to be able to start being more of a part of my community, because for the last four years I haven’t had time, and the 26 years before that I was just trying to become a musician and make a living at it. So now it’s a new chapter of, ‘alright, so what do you do with this?’ You can do what you love 365 days a year, so how can I be more involved in my community?
Do you have concrete ideas as to how you’d want to do that, or are you still wrapping your brain around it?
Well I’m still really busy. We’re traveling a lot, and I’m still really excited to just be able to do music. So, I don’t have any real concrete thoughts. I still want to be able to see a venue happen in Eau Claire. Me and Nick [Meyer, V1 editor/publsiher] are always pretending that we have time to do lunch together and talk about what we could do together. But – I don’t know – there’s a lot of things. I don’t know exactly where to plug in.
With your brother living in Minneapolis, your parents just moving to Hudson, and the tour t-shirt with both Wisconsin and Minnesota on it, it appears as though the place you call “home” is much larger.
It’s an interesting question because my partner and I, it’s getting to be where we’re starting to become a family, where we need each other and want to be near each other. It may look like we might find a place to call home in St. Paul, or something like that, but what’s cool about my situation is that the studio is in Eau Claire and everyone knows Eau Claire is really important to me and I’m not ever going to be leaving. I might find a place that makes it easier to walk down the road to my parents or my sister’s kids or fly from the airport without having to drive an hour-and-a-half each time. But my heart really lies in Eau Claire, even though Minneapolis is such a great epicenter for art and culture and an exciting place to feel a part of. … It does all feel like this corridor. It’s my turf in my life.
So during this break, what’s ahead for you personally and creatively?
We’re looking to do a Shouting Matches record.
Yeah Brian (Moen, of Laarks and Peter Wolf Crier) just stopped in to visit yesterday and he mentioned that. Sounds like Phil (Cook, of Megafaun) will be on board this time? You plan to record in January?
Yeah. Well, originally the Shouting Matches was me, Phil, and Brian – Phil playing guitar and harmonica. And I really like playing with just Brian, but having Phil in it will really be more accurate. Last time it was really healthy for me to do other music while I was meddling in the making of the Bon Iver record, which all aided – not necessarily in making the record what it was, but – in allowing my brain just to float and to not stop being creative. With all the touring, you’re playing the same music every night – granted, you’re changing it a little and the themes change – but it can kill creativity in the sense that you’re not really creating, you’re reproducing. So I’m really looking forward to a Shouting Matches thing – just to f*** it up, basically. And there’s some other things in the pipeline that I want to be open for. Ryan Olson (Eau Claire native and GAYNGS originator) is constantly asking me to do things that I want to do, which is awesome. So, yeah, just tons of stuff.