Bon Iver

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Mar 8

Andrea Cheong peeks into the quiet world of Justin Vernon, before his Grammy Award-Winning band, Bon Iver, hit Hong Kong for a one-night-only gig

If cocooning himself in a woodshed in the middle of the Wisconsin wilderness just to write heart-on-sleeve songs about a lost relationship was any indication of Justin Vernon’s proclivity to solitude, then his self-imposed exile from the music industry in 2012 shouldn’t have come as a surprise. But then it’s not everyday that a band of increasing popularity and in possession of the Grammy’s for Best New Artist and Best Alternative Music Album decides to take a hiatus. Four years later though, and Vernon and Bon Iver are back.

The indie folk band is launching into an Asian tour this year – and Hong Kong is one of their stops (we should be so lucky). Before he takes to the stage at a sold-out MacPherson Stadium, we speak to Vernon about his hiatus, winning those awards and getting the band back together.

This is your first time playing in Asia. What do you expect Hong Kong to be like?
I expect it to be very busy. I’m really excited about architecture and the culture in general. I don’t think I can pinpoint one thing specifically. I’m not pawning off the questions, I’m just excited about literally every little bit of everything, from arriving in the airport to getting in to town.

Why did you take a break and what did you take away from it?
I haven’t taken away too much from it, to be honest. It turns out I’d rather be busy. I needed to take a break because I’m not so keen on all the attention. I really like my music but it started to build up on me. I needed a break from that in general, but I’ve been really hungry to play again.

Your last release was five years ago – when’s the next one?
No plans right now. I’ve been in a non-planning zone for a couple years, [I’m] just putting the planning shoes back on. 

How do you split your time between your other projects, namely Volcano Choir, The Shouting Matches and Gayngs?
All my bandmates, my bands, my labels and my managers, they’re all very flexible. Everyone knows each other and works together really well. Everybody takes care of everything and the scheduling is pretty easy. Like, “Do you guys want to spend a few weeks together here? Great, do that.” It’s very organic. 

Do you consider Bon Iver winning a Grammy for Best New Artist in 2012 a win for indie music in general?
Yeah, I think it’s cool, but [music doesn’t] necessarily have to appear on the radio and come up through the big companies to be successful. In general, I think that the Grammys is a disconcerting effort altogether at vanity. It’s a little bit self-important, but I was very honoured because people have to vote for those things. My friends have told me that I should be proud of that and I understand that. 

How did things change for you after winning the Grammy, and is that why you went on a hiatus?
Nothing really changed. We were steadily growing as a band in terms of how many people were checking us out, nothing really blew up. Maybe it’s because for the past seven years, things had been steadily blowing up for me, and then all of a sudden, I realised what had happened. The Grammys was at the end of it when I was like, I don’t know what’s going on here, I never thought this would happen.

You’ve said that the attention around Bon Iver can be distracting. What about the attention surrounding you as a person – does that ever affect your music or your performances?
It’s 100 percent hard when you’re working on music. It definitely affects me when you’re not sure – you love music, you love people, you even love playing music for people, but the whole thing can get really... Have you ever been at a party for you and there are too many people talking to you and they all love you and are important to you? But they are all talking to you about you the whole time. It feels out of balance.

You launched Chigliak Records in 2012, and said you wanted to put out albums that ‘were never commercially released’ or ‘locally released and never put out on vinyl’. Why?
I don’t know how to run a record label, [but] one of my favourite things about records is that it can be the biggest in the world and it can be something shared between friends. Or it can be, like, no one has heard this record. Maybe 50 people have heard it and it changed their lives.

What kind of state are you usually in at the end of your tours?
I can never really put into words how weird it is to be on tour. It’s like time travel. For me, I get kind of sad because I play the shows and meet all these people and they’re there to see the thing that you care about, but you don’t get to hang out with them, and then you’re on to the next city. I feel like the connection to that place is very small. The saddest part of it is that you can’t be everywhere for everyone. You want to just hang out with people, y’know?

Bon Iver Tue Mar 8, 7pm, MacPherson Stadium. Tickets: sold out.


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