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He creates music that stirs the coldest of hearts. He has collaborated with Kanye West. His albums have been chart-toppers. Now, Bon Iver has been awarded the title of Best New Artist at the 54th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. It is no secret that this indie artist is making waves on the international music circuit. His success did not come easy, however. The story of Bon Iver is one of hardship, isolation, and overcoming every obstacle.
Bon Iver is the moniker of Justin Vernon, a young man from Wisconsin. Vernon grew up in Eu Claire, Wisconsin. He played in a band called DeYarmond Edison while in college, where he majored in World Religions. In 2005, he moved to North Carolina with his band. It is here that Vernon’s life entered a dark stage.
After living in North Carolina for little more than a year, Vernon broke up with his band, broke up with his then-girlfriend, and moved back to his hometown. Breaking all ties with the life he once knew, Vernon ran back home, seeking something his life in North Carolina could not give him.
Vernon did not run to the safety of his home, however. He found solace in the isolation of a log cabin. This cabin, found just outside Wisconsin, was built by his own father.
One could argue that the indie artist within Vernon was born here, in this alternative lifestyle and search for inner peace. It is also here that Vernon’s, or Bon Iver’s, beautiful, melancholy album, “For Emma, Forever Ago,” was born. Its title seems to refer to past loves, broken hearts, and nostalgia – a theme that runs through the entire album.
Following this album, Bon Iver released the Blood Bank EP, which was featured on the Billboard Charts of 2009. This EP is less heart-wrenching, with a more peaceful, serene tone to it. It tells stories of comfort and the discovery of new love.
It closes with the song, “Woods,” which features a constant repetition of the lyrics: “I’m up in the woods; I’m down on my mind; I’m building a sill to slow down the time.” The constant pauses and focus on his unaccompanied voice in this song does indeed create the effect of time slowing down.
In 2011, Bon Iver released his latest self-titled album, “Bon Iver.” Apart from Bon Iver, this album features the talents of the likes of Colin Stetson, C. J. Camerieri, and Mike Lewis. He also brought in the sounds of contributors to his previous albums, such as Rob Moose’s arranging talents and Sean Carey, Mike Noyce, and Matt McCaughan’s vocal, drumming, and production contributions.
The songs on this album are written about and named after different places in the world, such as Hinnon, TX and Minnesota, WI. The sound of his music here seems to have brightened considerably from his previous music. Woodwinds and added effects are dominant in this album, as are the influences of some of the brilliant musicians with whom he collaborated on this album.
Bon Iver‘s official website is an inspiration in itself. “Bon Iver, Bon Iver is the frozen beast pressing upward from a loosening earth; one ear cocked to the echo of the ghost choir still singing, the other craving the martial call of drums tumbling, of thrum and wheeze.” This quote, taken from Bon Iver’s website, embodies the other-worldliness and inspiration behind all that is Bon Iver.