When his former band DeYarmond Edison called it quits in 2006, Justin Vernon moved from North Carolina to his home state of Wisconsin, in order to clear his head and be near family. Vernon settled in a hunting cabin located on his father's property, where he spent three wintry months tending to the land, hunting, and writing and recording the music that would become Bon Iver's debut, For Emma, Forever Ago.
What he accomplished there in a few short months was nothing short of extraordinary. With soulful vocal arrangements that call to mind a folksy TV On the Radio and delicate acoustic strums that capture a feeling of forlorn snowy solitude (in a way not seen since Mark Kozelek's early work with Red House Painters), Emma shows that by being alone, an artist can sometimes conjure some of his most universally relatable ideas. B-Sides spoke with Vernon over the phone while his band was on tour.
B-Sides: Did you decide to move back to Wisconsin with the intention of making the Bon Iver record?
Justin Vernon: I just wanted to go. I didn't want to live with my parents, and I didn't have a place in Eau Claire, so I decided to move up north. It was cheap and easy and I needed the space. There wasn't really any grand illusion of making a record or anything. I mean, I figured I'd work on music or something, but I didn't have any idea what Bon Iver was or anything like that.
That's surprising, considering the short period of time between the move and the completion of the record. What inspired that creative burst?
Well, yeah, it's not even inspiration. When you have time and space you get a lot of room to go through your mind and pull out different things, and it's just amazing when you give yourself that much space what you're able to come up with.
A lot of artists would find it hard to give themselves that much time and space to channel their creativity.
Well, I didn't have a record label and was really on my own. So it was pretty easy to be like, "All right, I'm fucking off now," and to leave and know that no one was going to talk to me — and nobody even wanted to talk to me. So it was pretty easy just to go there and turn off.
After that experience what do you think you had to say that you didn't have to say before?
I don't know exactly. I definitely think that I gained or regained the ability to really examine myself and I find now that I'm out in the real world again, I've even lost a bit of that. And it's not like when I was up there I was, like, this simple-minded Zen person or something. When I really noticed myself feeling better and more on top of things was after I left and I realized how clear my head was.
After recording this album so quickly after moving back to your home state, are you surprised by where you've ended up now?
Oh my God, yes. This is just astronomical, the amount of daily, slap in the face, "Wow, this is where we're headed?" kind of thing. My manager, who was this kid from Chippewa Falls I had a met a couple times, he e-mailed me out of the blue and said, "Look I think you're going to need help because I think this is going to be a big deal and I'm a huge fan of the record." So we met up in St. Paul for coffee. That was probably ten months ago, and we've been working together every day since. Between the two of us we've somehow been able to get this thing off the ground.
— Shae Moseley
9 p.m. Tuesday, April 8. The Billiken Club, 20 North Grand Boulevard. Free. 314-977-2020.
Certain People I Know
Girl in a Coma is an all-female trio from San Antonio whose 2007 album Both Before I'm Gone is pleasingly versatile. "Their Cell" resembles the swirling pop of Cocteau Twins, while "Clumsy Sky" begins like a Cat Power lullaby before morphing into a My Chemical Romance-esque rocker — which makes sense, considering that Joan Jett personally asked them to be on her record label, Blackheart.
Jett's not Girl In a Coma's only famous fan, though. The band was hand-picked by Morrissey himself to open some shows — so he obviously approves that its name comes from the Smiths' "Girlfriend in a Coma." But what would Moz think of other bands borrowing his words for their monikers? An examination:
Refers to: Vauxhall & I, Morrissey's 1994 solo album
Sound: A gnarled, interesting amalgamation of electro-prog and supersonic screamo. Think Blood Brothers and other erudite metallic outfits.
Would Morrissey approve? No. Too loud and nonlinear for Moz's hook-loving pop sensibilities.
Refers to: Morrissey's solo hit "Suedehead"
Sound: A mix of androgynous glam, fey romantic longing and crunchy glitter-riffs; cf. David Bowie, T. Rex, Roxy Music.
Would Morrissey approve? Duh. He even covered Suede's "My Insatiable One," the highest honor one can receive from the King of Mope.
Panic at the Disco
Refers to: A conflation of the title and lyrics ("Burn down the disco!") taken from the Smiths song "Panic" (apparently; other sources claim the band's name comes from a song by Name Taken).
Sound: Over-the-top emo rock that's influenced by Fall Out Boy's grandiosity and whirligig riffs (and, lately, the Beatles).
Would Morrissey approve? Probably not, as Mozzer always needs to be the most dramatic person in the room — and Panic at the Disco's collective angst is blinding.
Refers to: Smiths' "Shakespeare's Sister"
Sounds Like: After leaving kicky new-wave girl-group Bananarama, Siobhan Fahey embraced her inner goth with this poppy dramatic duo, whose hits ranged from orchestral glamour ("Stay") to Cure-lite ("I Don't Care").
Would Morrissey approve? Totally. Shakespears Sister nails the velvet-swathed dark-vamp aesthetic and owes quite a debt to Siouxsie Sioux — Moz's duet partner on the '90s rarity "Interlude."
Pretty Girls Make Graves
Refers to: A song of the same name found on the Smiths' 1984 self-titled debut LP
Sound: Post-hardcore throttling and melodic pop driven by Andrea Zollo's siren-like vocal bittersweets.
Would Morrissey approve? Yes. Closest in sound to Girl in a Coma, PGMG's calls-to-arms were urgent without being histrionic.— Annie Zaleski
9 p.m. Wednesday, April 9. The Bluebird, 2706 Olive Street. $8. No phone. www.bluebirdstl.com.
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.