Bon Iver

  • Indie folk rock band formed in 2006 from Eau Claire Wisconsin. Bon Iver really is Justin Vernon (vocals, all instruments, songwriting). For tours and albums after the debut album, additional musicians have been part of Bon Iver. In addition to Vernon, 2 artists have been in the group from the early tours Sean Carey (drums, keyboards, vocals) and Matthew McCaughan (drums, vocals).
  • Vernon grew up (and still lives) in Eau Claire Wisconsin. He formed his first band in 1997 when he was 16 years old after meeting other musicians at a summer jazz camp. While in college, he formed the band DeYarmond Edison. The band existed for 5 years, first in Wisconsin and later in Raleigh North Carolina. They released 2 independent albums. In 2006, Vernon broke up with both his girlfriend and his band, and he returned to Wisconsin.
  • He stayed at his father’s cabin in Northern Wisconsin, depressed and fighting mononucleosis hepatitis. Sick and stuck in bed, he watched old reruns of the television show Northern Exposure. In one episode, a group of characters wish each other “bon hiver”, French for “good winter.” Vernon liked the sound, but he didn’t like the spelling – “hiver” reminded him too much of “liver” which was the source of his illness at the time.
  • While originally he hadn’t intended to write or record music during his recuperation, he began to get creative during his isolation. He had some basic recording gear and instruments at the cabin, and he began to write, playing and recording all of the instruments himself. The songs were complex – first he wrote the melodies, then he wrote jibberish lyrics, which eventually transformed into stories. When it was complete, he gave it the title For Emma, Forever Ago, intending to send the recording to labels as a demo. After he received encouragement from friends, he self-released it, producing 500 CDs in July 2007. Seventeen of them were sent to the music press – mostly online blogs. Soon he was getting rave reviews, and in October that year, he was invited to perform at an indie showcase festival. By the end of the month, he signed a recording contract.
  • For Emma, Forever Ago was released nationally in February 2008. It slowly gained momentum in sales, eventually reaching #64 on the Billboard 200 album chart, and by 2017 it was certified platinum. Interestingly, it is one of the most successful albums sold on vinyl when vinyl records began to comeback in the early 10s. The single Skinny Love did not chart on the Hot 100 (nothing by Bon Iver is pop music), but it was streamed so many times that it has been certified 2x platinum as a single. Critics loved the album, and Rolling Stone listed it at #92 on the list of the Best Albums of the 00s Decade.
  • The group’s second album, the self titled Bon Iver, was released in 2011. Vernon continued to be the pulse, but he hired other musicians to bring a different level of quality to the product. By now, Bon Iver was known – the album debuted at #2 on the album chart and it was certified platinum. The single Holocene reached #19 on the Rock Digital Songs chart, and eventually it was certified platinum as a single. Holocene was nominated for 2 Grammy awards – Record of the Year and Song of the Year – losing out to Adele on both. However, Bon Iver did win Grammy awards for Best New Artist and Best Alternative Music Album.
  • After a 3 year break, Bon Iver returned to touring and recording, and in 2016 they released their third album, 22, A Million. It was a stylistic change for the band, incorporating samples, electronic programming and hip-hop elements – it is borderline bizarre. It debuted at #2 on the album chart, and was highly acclaimed, receiving 2 Grammy nominations. Three songs charted on the Hot Rock Songs chart – get these titles – 22 (OVER S∞∞N), 10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄, and 33 “GOD”.
  • Bon Iver’s most recent album – i,i – was released in 2019. It continued to feature experimental sounds, with nearly 50 musicians and vocalists contributing to the music. It was nominated for 3 Grammy awards, including Album of the Year, and Record of the Year for the song Hey, Ma.
  • Justin Vernon/Bon Iver is another example of an artist toiling in obscurity, and then finally getting discovered without really even trying. You won’t be hearing Bon Iver on Top 40 radio anytime soon, but as indie/art rock goes, they are near the top of the hill today. Watch the beautiful video to the beautiful song Holocene.

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