GREATEST HITS: 7 Interesting Facts About Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon


This post originally appeared on July 20th, but we’re reposting it as part of a series of our Greatest Hits here at List Off. It should also be noted fact six has been replaced by a new one.

DAN: I decided to use this piece as my favorite list not only because Justin Vernon is one of my favorite people, but also in wake of Bon Iver’s multiple Grammy nominations and peak or near peak position on many magazines Best Albums and Best Songs of 2011 lists. To me, Vernon’s story never gets old or wears in novelty. I have heard and told it countless times by now, and every time it still fascinates me–the idea that some one so musically gifted was reclusively writing and recording to save his creative life just a few years ago. And how since then, that musical creativity has grown and transformed with every project he’s taken on, and has Vernon seemingly transcending any possible expectation. 


Justin Vernon, the mastermind behind Bon Iver, has garnered universal acclaim by critics the same way most musicians catch breaks and become successful. The story, as it goes, is quite commonplace. Man struggles in a new city with band and girlfriend. Man breaks up with band and girlfriend, develops a serious illness, loses all of his earnings, and moves into dad’s hunting cabin alone in the barren woods of Wisconsin. Man hunts, cooks venison, drinks beer, picks up guitar, writes songs about longing and heartbreak, and creates one of the most haunting and introspective debut albums in recent memory.

Ok, so maybe it’s entirely unordinary how Vernon and his 2008 release, For Emma, Forever Ago, led him to collaborating with Kanye West and to the top of the Billboard charts with Bon Iver’s sophomore album Bon Iver. But it seems that’s exactly how Vernon is. His enigmatic songwriting has created such a large cloud of mystique through listeners constantly deciphering his lyrics. Yet, he remains almost bashful, saying, “I’m just an emotional country kid.” To add to the bewilderment, here are some more compelling details about the broad and bearded man from Bon Iver.

7. Vernon named his studio April Base, after an Air Force compound from the show, The X-Files. It’s flooring is of basketball court material that he bought off of Craigslist. He would end up recording all of Bon Iver in its confines.

6. After the release of For Emma, Vernon’s first concert as Bon Iver was in his hometown of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Before the show, a drummer named Sean Carey from the opening act approached Vernon. Carey told him he listened to the entire album on MySpace until he learned all the lyrics and percussion parts, and wanted to play with him. Vernon took Carey backstage to play a few songs with him, and later that night, they took the stage together. Afterwards, Vernon signed Carey to the group. They’ve been bandmates ever since.

5. Depending on how big a fan of Vernon’s you are, you may know that DeYarmond Edison was the band he parted ways with before leaving Raleigh, North Carolina for his home state of Wisconsin. You may not know, however, that those are Vernon’s middle names. When Vernon and Bon Iver appeared on The Colbert Report in June, this prompted Colbert to say, “Your given name is Justin DeYarmond Edison Vernon. You’re the only person I know whose stage name is less pretentious than their real name.”

4. When Kanye West came a calling in 2010 to fly Vernon out to Hawaii and work on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy with him, Vernon asked if West could come to Wisconsin instead. Yes, that’s right. Imagine Mr. West decked out in his most flamboyant outfit walking the streets of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Believe it or not, West agreed, until his flight was canceled due to heavy snow. Vernon ended up in Hawaii, worked on the album and played ball with West. He also hung out with Nicki Minaj…and perhaps the best combination? Smoked the most exceptional marijuana with Rick Ross. Allow that mental image to sink in.

3. Vernon discovered he could sing in falsetto while playfully singing a Mahalia Jackson song as a member of the aforementioned DeYarmond Edison. The upper-register has not only defined Vernon as a singer, but his falsetto is the reason he’s become one of the most beautiful voices in music today.

2. The opening song, “Perth,” from Bon Iver is named after a city in Australia. But the creation of the song is what’s most astonishing. In January of 2008, Vernon and director, Matt Amato, were filming the video for “Wolves” from For Emma at Vernon’s parent’s house. After shooting, Amato came back inside and received horrific news that his best friend had died. His name was Heath Ledger. Michelle Williams, Ledger’s former wife, was calling the house. For two days Vernon consoled Amato, who sobbed and told stories of his friend, one in particular about Ledger riding horses in his hometown of Perth. Vernon began to write the song the next day.

1. Aside from all of the reasons Vernon escaped North Carolina for Wisconsin—the fallout with DeYarmond Edison, the break up with a girlfriend, and the bad case of mononucleosis—the most decisive moment came at a bad hand playing Texas hold ‘em. “I lost $220 online, which at that point was all my money,” Vernon says. He was a frequent online gambler in Raleigh, because his sandwich shop gig could only cover so much of his rent. Vernon has alluded to poker  a couple of times in concert before playing the stunning closing track from For Emma, “re: Stacks.” He said on one occasion, “This is for anyone who has ever seen their own reflection on the poker table.”

I keep throwing it down two-hundred at a time. It’s hard to find it when you knew it. When your money’s gone and you’re drunk as hell.

 

Vernon finds symbolic ways to make everything seem poignant and oblique, even if it’s a bad beat playing cards.

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Categories: Greatest Hits

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