Most people will probably say they’ve never heard of the band name Bon Iver (and are almost guaranteed to mispronounce it at first glance), however, it is more than likely that you’ve heard their music through either movie soundtracks, radio, or the dozens of collaborations they’ve been apart of. Bon Iver (Bone-ee-VARE) is primarily established as an indie folk band on most platforms of media, but are almost overwhelmingly diverse and experimental as one group could possibly be. Multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, and producer, Justin Vernon, stands as the face of Bon Iver which began in 2009 with the self-released album, For Emma, Forever Ago.
Following the breakup of long time band and girlfriend, Vernon travelled alone to an isolated cabin in the dead of winter where he poured himself into creating the sentimental folk album. Appearing almost out of nowhere, For Emma, Forever Ago received immediate positive acclaim and ¨became one of the landmark albums of the late 2000s indie folk sound¨ (Apple Music). The song “Skinny Love” became a particular fan favorite and remains their most recognizable song to this day.
Three years later with the release of Kanye West’s arguably greatest album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010), Bon Iver shares a strong collaboration on the track “Lost in the World.” He’s also featured along with Nicki Minaj, Jay-Z, and Rick Ross, on “Monster”. Back in an interview in 2016, West hailed Vernon to be his favorite living artist. “’I love Justin the way Kanye loves Kanye,’ he told BBC Radio 1’s Annie Mac.” Vernon and West have since worked on multiple collaborations together including another fan favorite with Francis and the Lights on the song “Friends” (2016). The three of them later created a music video for the track.
A year after the release of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Vernon followed up For Emma with a second self titled experimental/indie/folk album proving his talents were far from beginners luck. The album was nominated and won the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album in 2012 along with Vernon also winning best New Artist. Their music has since been included on multiple film soundtracks throughout the years including The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009) which features “Roslyn”, The Place Beyond the Pines (2012): “The Wolves (Act I and II)”, Rust and Bones (2012): “Wash” and “The Wolves (Act I and II)”, Paper Towns (2015): “Re: Stacks”, and more.
Vernon is an artist who creates music for the pure enjoyment and emotional impact of sound. He’s one of the most humble musicians I’ve ever followed in the industry. For instance, although he was extremely honored for the recognition, he almost didn’t attend the Grammy’s because he doesn’t particularly believe in being rewarded for making music. “…this publicity tornado that seems to follow people around… there’s certain things that you’re asked to do that just don’t feel very good… I think it’s more independent and feeling to be doing what I’m doing and be free from any of the pathways that seem to be the only way you can be successful in this industry” (QTV 2011).
Despite a long five year break, Bon Iver finally released their third official album, 22, A Million. Vernon needed five years, three of them intensely focused on the writing, production and perfection of of the album. 22, A Million is so musically distant from past albums but is consistent with the use of experimental sounds from all mediums. It focuses predominantly on the use of electronic vocals and instrumental ranges, once again proving Vernon’s immense talents. 22, A Million was nominated for Best Alternative Music Album at the 2017 Grammys.
Bon Iver has since not released any big project productions and it is unknown whether they’ve been working on anything new. Vernon, however, was part of an American experimental indie folk rock band, Big Red Machine, that released their first album in 2018. In more recent months, Vernon has been seen entering the hip-hop realm. Though he’s had past collaborations with rappers over the years including other big names not mentioned earlier, Travis Scott and Joyner Lucas, Bon Iver can be found on Eminem’s 2018 album, Kamikaze, on the track “Fall” and in Creed II: The Album on “Do You Need Power.”
As hidden as Vernon may keep himself in the world of publicity, his reputation and credits in the industry are profound. Between their consistent tours and sudden features, Bon Iver will continue to stick around and spread their influence, as subtle as it may be.