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When Justin Vernon describes the summer of 2006 as a “dim time,” he’s not overstating his case.When Justin Vernon describes the summer of 2006 as a “dim time,” he’s not overstating his case. Vernon was living in North Carolina, struggling to recover from breakups with his band and his girlfriend, not to mention a nasty bout of mononucleosis. When he was well enough to hit the road, Vernon decided to head up north to his father’s cabin in Wisconsin, with a goal of leaving everything behind, clearing out the cobwebs, and starting fresh.
He didn’t intend to spend the time making a record, but the floodgates opened when he retreated to the woods and the result is the stunning “For Emma, Forever Ago.”
Released under the moniker Bon Iver, the record first came out in a limited run of 500 copies last summer before catching the attention of blogs and garnering a rave review in Pitchfork. On February 19, Jagjaguwar will re-release the album to a wider audience.
First off, who is Emma?
Vernon: The name refers to someone in my past, and it’s not her real name. The dedication is not just to her, it’s about the end of an entire era. The entire context of my life at that time was tied to this person, and this record is a way for me to flee from this thing.
Why was the initial release of the record so limited?
Vernon: I had never released a record by myself before. I made four or five records with my bands and none of them ever sold more than 800 copies. I also never had a big solo career. I figured I’d send 100 out to press, and then My Old Kentucky Blog picked up on it. Everything went from there.
Why did you decide to sign to Jagjaguwar to re-release the album?
Vernon: I met with a whole bunch of labels after things took off. The majors were the most desperate. They told me things like “you create the deal, and we’ll sign it.” But I’d been talking to [Jagjaguwar president] Chris Swanson since the summer, and I kept thinking about him. Finally, as I was driving out of Brooklyn after taking tons of meetings at CMJ, I called Chris and said, “I want to sign with you.”
Talk a bit about the video you just shot for the song “Flume.”
Vernon: It is the first video I’ve ever done, and it was pretty intense. The director came up to the cabin and soon after he arrived, he got a call telling him that a good friend of his had passed away. He had to stay and work on the video, and I think it helped him take his mind off everything. All the initial concepts for the video went out the door, and most of the footage is just of me chopping wood and building a bonfire in the freezing cold.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Vernon: I’m going on tour, but I’m also ready to do another record, so I’ll need at least eight to ten weeks to make that. I want to make sure I have the time and isolation I need to make the record I want. I have songs spilling out of me pretty much intact and I want to make sure I don’t lose them.