Bon Iver Just Hosted a Secret Worldwide Press Event in Eau Claire

local, national, and overseas journalists converge inside forthcoming Oxbow Hotel to discuss the new 22, A Million record

Eric Christenson, photos by Nick Meyer, Graham Tolbert

Bon Iver's Justin Vernon fielded questions from reporters around the world on Friday night (Sept. 2) at a secret press conference in the soon to be opened Oxbow Hotel & Lakely Restaurant in downtown Eau Claire, offering insight on and a listen to the band's new album, 22, A million. Photo: Nick Meyer
Bon Iver's Justin Vernon fielded questions from reporters around the world on Friday night (Sept. 2) at a secret press conference in the soon to be opened Oxbow Hotel & Lakely Restaurant in downtown Eau Claire, offering insight on and a listen to the band's new album, 22, A million. Photo: Nick Meyer

It was almost 10 years ago now when the Bon Iver rocket ship took off. In the last decade, Justin Vernon and his friends have won Grammies, endlessly toured the globe, collaborated with music royalty, made worldwide fans, started a recording studio, a music festival, and soon a hotel … it’s been a busy bunch of years.

But 10 years is a long time; a lot changes over a decade. And with the release of the forthcoming Bon Iver album 22, A Million, they’re starting to do things a little differently.

For press, it used be Vernon shacked up by himself taking phone call after phone call, talking to music journalists, answering the same types of questions dozens and dozens of times, fraught with exhaustion. This time around, the Bon Iver crew chose to instead bring music writers from around the world right here to Eau Claire on Friday, Sept 2 for a one-of-a-kind press conference and listening party hosted in The Oxbow Hotel and The Lakely, which officially opens later this fall.

Journalists from places like the U.K., Scandinavia, Japan, Australia, Germany, Mexico, New York, Los Angeles, the Twin Cities, La Crosse, Chippewa Falls, Menomonie, Eau Claire – and even Chetek – all converged in downtown Eau Claire.

Journalists from places like the U.K., Scandinavia, Japan, Australia, Germany, Mexico, New York, Los Angeles, the Twin Cities, La Crosse, Chippewa Falls, Menomonie, Eau Claire – and even Chetek – all converged in downtown Eau Claire to give the album a proper listen, but also stay for the weekend and check out the city where the album was made.

“Why not just invite people to our backyard, to our hometown, and share the good news with them?” said author Michael Perry in his intro to the night.

During the day some of the writers took bikes from the Oxbow out on the trails, hung out around downtown, and checked out our breweries – all of them were encouraged to have a good time in Eau Claire before the press event.

Once in The Lakely, writers were given liner notes from the 22, A Million vinyl to follow along as the 40-minute album with all its electronic experimentation, maximalist production, orchestral flourishes, auto-tuned harmonies, jazz-like improvisation, falsetto, and crashing percussion played out in full, before Vernon came out to answer questions. The 90-minute Q&A ranged from talking about the album, to the artwork, to Vernon’s influences, his friends, the production process, the Chippewa Valley, the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival, the music industry, all of it. It was informative and funny, a rare and intimate evening with an artist at his peak.

Discussing 22, A Million

Vernon at the press conference. Photo by Graham Tolbert
Vernon at the press conference. Photo by Graham Tolbert

Without him directly telling you, you’d probably never catch some of the Easter eggs on 22, A Million. Sounds were made by scraping together samples, looping saxophones through processors, toying around with synthesizers, and making some truly unique arrangements. There’s an uncredited Stevie Nicks sample from an obscure YouTube video of her singing while getting her hair done on “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⊠ ⊠.” Hell, Vernon and Chris Messina over at April Base invented an electronic contraption simply called “The Messina,” to make some of the production on this record. It’s equal parts swift calculation and mad science. 

“Technologically, we made some discoveries, which felt good. “I was wanting to bash things apart and break through some stuff. I needed it to sound a little radical for me to feel good about putting something out into the world.” – Justin Vernon

“Technologically, we made some discoveries, which felt good,” Vernon said. “I was wanting to bash things apart and break through some stuff. I needed it to sound a little radical for me to feel good about putting something out into the world.”

There are lots of mysteries to be discovered on 22, A Million, and I recommend reading the lyrics while listening, at least once. It’s kind of a strange trip through cascading words and phrases. Vernon’s lyrics have always left a lot to your interpretation, and they still do, but on the new record it feels more than ever like he’s wanting to be heard. The third track, “715 CREEKS,” is one of the record’s best and also its simplest. It’s just Vernon, a cappella with his own auto-tuned harmonies singing “Turn around / You’re my A team.” It’s a hushed triumph of a tune.

“The best stories are always the ones where you can suspend your disbelief. I felt like it was important to make it sound new,” Vernon said. “This time we just went looking for different kinds of sparks.”

Vernon’s making sure to do things his way now, and this press event is only one example of that. He doesn’t want to tour just to tour. He wants shows to be meaningful. He wants to collaborate more. He wants the Eaux Claires festival to thrive. All in all, he wants to be his own person. So with Bon Iver’s next steps, everything is deliberately chill. 

“We’re going out west to play a little smattering of shows out there. I’m gonna try and stay out there and make some music with people I’ve never got to make music with,” he said. “I want to make sure things are balanced out.”

22, A Million is out Sept. 30 via Jagjaguwar. You can pre-order the album at boniver.org and The Local Store.


Listen to some tracks from 22, A Million

33 “GOD”

22 (OVER S∞∞N) [Bob Moose Extended Cab Version]

Bon Iver - 10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄ (Extended Version)

 

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