Justin Vernon is living proof of the arguable adage that there’s always a silver lining.
Vernon -- who released the album "For Emma, Forever Ago" under the name Bon Iver -- moved from Raleigh, N.C., to his father’s cabin in northwestern Wisconsin after struggling with the break-up of a band, the end of a relationship and mononucleosis.
He did not plan to make music at the cabin, he just wanted time to recuperate physically and emotionally, but the album evolved anyway. Little did he know at the time that this period of isolation and recovery would result in a life-changing body of work that launched his career into the music industry's limelight.
After three months in the cabin, Vernon returned to the Eau Claire area -- where he grew up and where his family still lives -- with a clearer mind and a collection of new songs. He self-released the music but indie music label Jagjaguwar later signed him.
Rolling Stone ranked "For Emma" No. 29 on its list of Top 50 albums for 2008, and songs later appeared in "One Tree Hill," "The Street," "Chuck," "House" and "Grey’s Anatomy."
Despite his success, Vernon continues to live in Eau Claire with his brother, near his parents. He teamed up with fellow Wisconsinites from the Milwaukee-based band Collections Of Colonies Of Bees and formed a new project called Volcano Choir. The band will release its first album on Sept. 22.
On Sunday, Oct. 11, Vernon will close out his two-year tour as Bon Iver with a performance at The Riverside Theater. Earlier that day, he will perform and address more than 5,000 walkers at the opening ceremony of AIDS Walk Wisconsin. Vernon is the honorary chair of this year’s annual walk.
Recently, OnMilwaukee.com chatted with Vernon about the time he spent in the cabin, his new project and his upcoming performance at The Riverside.
OnMilwaukee.com: What do you like about living in Wisconsin?
Justin Vernon: It’s home. I know it here. It’s like everywhere else I go, I don’t feel right, but here, it feels right. My entire family lives within an hour of here. And I get to travel a lot, so that makes it a perfect situation.
OMC: Do people in your town treat you like a celebrity?
JV: No. But people know about my music. When I had my oil changed the other day the guy said, "How’s the band going?" and I said, "Great." And that was that. I don’t feel like an extra big person here. I just feel normal.
OMC: You are working with a Milwaukee band right now, right?
JV: Yeah. I am in a band with a bunch of guys from Collections of Colonies of Bees and we’re doing a record together. We’re called Volcano Choir and we’re releasing "Unmap" on Sept. 22.
OMC: How did you meet this band?
JV: Through music channels in Wisconsin.
OMC: Will there be another Bon Iver album?
JV: Yes, but it’s going to take a lot of time. It’s pretty complex and going to be much different. I want it to sink in and not just be a reaction to the craziness of the past couple of years. I just need time to settle into it and make sure it’s cool.
OMC: Did you grow up playing music?
JV: Yeah, I played piano and guitar as a kid. Music has always been a central part of my life. My whole family is into music. If they don’t play, they listen to a lot of music. My younger brother is my tour manager, and we live together, and have a studio together.
OMC: Is it true you got the idea for the name "Bon Iver" from a rerun of "Northern Exposure?"
JV: Yes, it’s true.
OMC: How many months did you spend in the cabin? Did you feel "healed" when you left?
JV: I stayed there three months. The month that led up to me living in the cabin and the month after I left were equally as import. It was an important five- or six-month period for me.
OMC: So what led you to the cabin?
JV: I was living in North Carolina and it just didn’t feel right. I would wake up and think, "What am I doing here?" And I didn’t have any money, and I didn’t want to live with my parents because I didn’t think I could get any work done. I wanted to be alone.
OMC: Did a break-up and illness have to do with your decision to move into reclusion, too?
JV: Those were two of 100 things that contributed to my decision. Those things are easy to note, easy for people to understand, but it was more complicated than that. It was a combination of years and years of build-up that didn’t go away and I needed to take the time to be completely honest with myself. I felt like I had drifted and I need to reattach.
OMC: Would you say you were depressed during the time spent in cabin?
JV: No. I was lonely and sad, yes, but I was happy to have changed my life. Depression, I think, comes from being in a place that you don’t want to be, and I was happy to be away from where I had been. I was happy to be home.
OMC: The album is called "For Emma, Forever Ago." Who’s Emma?
JV: The name of album is a play on words. It’s a dedication, referring to a time and place in one’s life. It’s as if "Emma" was a period of time. Everything keeps bringing me back to this place.
OMC: How old are you? Are you dating anyone right now?
JV: I’m 28 and nah, I’m trying not to (date) right now. It’s hard being on the road.
OMC: What is your touring schedule like these days?
JV: Last year I toured 40 out of 52 weeks. This year, it’s more like 25 weeks, but still pretty intense.
OMC: What musician inspired you the most?
JV: Probably John Prine. He was, for me, the one who stepped up the art of song. He taught me what you can do complexly with guitar and voice. It was the beginning for me.
OMC:What are you listening to these days?
JV: It changes all the time. I’ve been into some pretty weird stuff lately, like ‘70s Don Williams and this band called Dirty Projectors from New York. They are just fantastic.
OMC: Did you take guitar or piano or voice lessons?
JV: I took a few guitar lessons. I was in the music program at school, and that had a big influence on me.
OMC: What can people expect to see and hear at your upcoming show at The Riverside?
JV: It’s our last show after almost two years of touring. If you’ve seen us before, you have a good idea of what’s coming. We haven’t changed it a whole lot -- we’ve gotten better -- but we want to keep it pretty intimate and down-to-earth.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.