Bon Iver - Lone justice
Disillusioned and frustrated by the disintegration of DeYarmond Edison, the band with whom he had performed for four years, Justin Vernon retreated to his father’s remote hunting cabin in North West Wisconsin, where he spent the winter of 2006. By the time he re-emerged from self-imposed exile the following spring Vernon had recorded the songs that would become For Emma, Forever Ago, which was released globally earlier this year under the name Bon Iver, to rapturous critical acclaim.
For Emma … is a contemplative album of quite astonishing intimacy and beauty. Vernon’s oblique, allusive lyrics are sung in a haunting falsetto over sparse instrumentation and curious, atmospheric textures. The album’s rickety minimalism the result, Vernon says, of the limited means of recording he had at his disposal in the wilds of Wisconsin. While For Emma … is unarguably a record of extraordinary richness and depth, it is the palpable sense that the album not only documents a turbulent period in the life of its creator, but that it has also formed an essential part of a healing process that makes it so compelling.
‘I didn’t know I was making a record like that,’ says Vernon, ‘I wasn’t even aware. The process of creating it was very cathartic and it was very hard, and it was a very personal journey, going through this part of my life, this weird time when I was living alone in the cabin. It wasn’t me making a record; it was me taking a snapshot of what was going on in my life. It was absolutely necessary. It was the only thing I could have done with my life at that point.’
There is a strikingly confessional quality to Vernon’s songs, his earnest and impassioned delivery lending emotional directness and coherence even to the most abstract lyrics. For Emma, Forever Ago is an utterly beguiling album, and while Vernon is evidently very proud of it, he is apparently mystified by the extent of the critical fervour with which its release was greeted: ‘It’s been crazy. I haven’t even had time to think about it. I’ve just been catching up with the fact that the record is actually out in the world, being listened to by multiple people. That’s where I’m at, I haven’t caught up with the record being this or being that, I’m still caught up with the fact that I’m a person from Wisconsin that has a record out.’
Vernon has been touring almost constantly since For Emma, Forever Ago was released, and has now performed the songs from the album to audiences all over the world. It is approaching two years since he set off alone to his Fathers’ cabin. When asked whether the significance of these songs, which seem so inextricably connected to the context in which they were first written and recorded has altered over time Vernon says: ‘Well, they haven’t diminished at all, but they have changed. They’ve gathered their own energy and the songs have their own life now. Each night we play them we’re releasing them as their own thing and they are challenging enough, and hard enough that we reinvent them every time we play them and they haven’t lost anything – in fact they assumed a more mysterious quality for us.’
Bon Iver play the Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Wed 17 Sep.