The Story of Bon Iver

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Max Joseph - March 2, 2012

The release of Bon Iver's new album led to four Grammy nominations.

Folk band Bon Iver was nominated for three Grammys this year, surprisingly he walked away with two awards: Best New Artist and also Best Alternative Album. This was only made possible by the release of the band’s self titled second album.

The album attracted a great amount of mainstream media attention and now Bon Iver is praised as one of the best bands out today. With all this success Bon Iver’s story has a humble beginning.

The story begins in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Musician Justin Vernon had just experienced two crushing break-ups: a relationship and a band that seemed like a brotherhood. This caused Vernon’s mind to go into a deep depression. He decided to reside at his father’s cabin for three months in the cold winter to think about life philosophically, and where his path was headed.

This winter of thinking is why the band is named “Bon Iver.” In French, “bon hiver” means “good winter.” Justin Vernon dropped the “h” for aesthetic and stylistic reasons.

The matters seemed to get even worse when Vernon got mononucleosis and his health seemed to be shattering, This led to even greater isolation. During this time period Vernon found an old analog tape recording set-up. He decided to record himself and his resonator guitar.

Vernon produced ten songs all by himself, he decided to title the album For Emma, Forever Ago. Vernon did not release any of the songs for a couple months, though the songs gave him motivation to move on with his life and do something good.

In 2008 the album floated around for months and Vernon was performing as a one man band. A record label by the name of Jagjaguwar came across the album and immediately signed Bon Iver to the label. The label gave the album the exposure that the band needed and within no time Vernon has leaked his way into the mainstream culture.

In late 2011 Vernon announced that the band was releasing its second album, self-titled Bon Iver. The album was released in late June 2011 on the same indie label Jagjaguwar.

The songs on the latest record do not require one to be depressed, Jimmy Fallon stated it precisely when Vernon was a guest on his show to get media attention for the album. “It seems that your newest album is the blossoming of the spring season of For Emma, For Ever Ago,” said Fallon. Fallon was indicating that the newest album’s spirits were much higher than the previous.

In late 2011 a shocking announcement was made. Bon Iver would be nominated for four Grammys. The nominations included Best New Artist, Song of the Year, Album of the Year and Alternative Album of the Year.

The Grammys asked Vernon to play during the live performance, and asked Vernon to do one simple thing. They told Vernon to not play any of his songs and collaborate with a mainstream artist. Vernon found this proposal insulting and decided to cancel the on air performance, but he did attend the awards. Over time Vernon lashed out tweets about how deranged he was from the whole thing.

Pitchfork.com had praised the album and gave it much acknowledgement and respect. Some people were really proud about the nominations and gave high praise to Vernon for rejecting the Grammys request.

The same situation occurred in last years Grammy Awards. Arcade Fire was nominated for Best New Artist after the release of their hit album The Suburbs. They were asked to collaborate with another artist, but the band refused. Though in the end the Grammys let the band perform by themselves, and the band walked away with heads held up high and, surprisingly, the Best New Artist Award.

In the end Bon Iver walked away with two Grammys, Vernon’s acceptance speech was short and utterly humble and melancholy. Vernon said, “This award belongs to all the artists that really deserve to be here but they are not.” Though this may seem insulting the crowd seemed to agree.

Bon Iver’s story is frankly a story that should be told of how an artist rises up from nothing and ultimately has true success. The newest album is still selling well and hopefully will for a very long time, until he releases his next album which may not be for quite awhile. Bon Iver is the ultimate underdog story.

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