“I was actually the second person ever to hear 'For Emma, Forever Ago,'" remembers Moen.
Drummer Brian Moen and Justin Vernon -- the angelic voice behind Bon Iver – go way back: along with guitarist Phil Cook, Moen and Vernon formed the blues-rock trio Shouting Matches in Wisconsin on one June night in 2006. The old friends never took the group too seriously and played only one gig together as a trio – a tiny hometown show in Eau Claire, WI nearly seven years ago. Last weekend, however, Shouting Matches reunited for only their second show as a trio, this time at a slightly bigger venue – the 2013 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival.
The group’s revival has a lot to do with Vernon’s musical exploits during the seven-year interim. “I was actually the second person ever to hear ‘For Emma, Forever Ago,’” remembers Moen of Bon Iver's 2007 debut album. “I was out in the cabin where he recorded it, and we were having a Shouting Matches rehearsal.” Vernon’s reclusive sessions in the Wisconsin woods, which produced his heartbreakingly beautiful debut, have since become indie-rock folklore. But for Moen at the time, it was all rather commonplace – listening to an old friend’s many creative projects.
“I even did the original album art,” continues Moen. “We pressed 500 copies and hand screen-printed them all. The cursive writing that’s on the cover is my ex-girlfriend's mom’s handwriting. So, it’s pretty wild.”
Since Bon Iver’s unlikely breakout, which brought Vernon a pair of Grammys in 2012, Moen is quick to point out how remarkably grounded his friend has remained. Perhaps that’s why he chose to reform the old band once Bon Iver-related obligations, including a massive tour supporting 2011 sophomore album "Bon Iver, Bon Iver," died down.
Soon, an album formed: “Grownass Man,” the debut LP from Shouting Matches, was released on iTunes April 9 and physically April 16 via BDC/Middle West. “Making a record was just an excuse for us to play together because we have such a great time playing together, says Moen, reflecting on the sessions. Despite Vernon’s increased stature, Shouting Matches remained a democratic, highly collaborative effort.
“It started as us jamming then we wrote the songs together, “ remembers Moen. “Justin still sings lead most of the songs, but a lot of those songs he didn’t write the lyrics for and then Phil and me have really written the whole chord structures… I think there’s one song I wrote all the words for except Justin had some of the kind of chorus line as his scratch vocal, so I just wrote lyrics around that for the rest of the track.”
“Grownass Man” will surprise those who have grown accustomed to Vernon’s celestial falsetto. Throughout the scrappy 10-song album, Vernon alters his vocals to an earthy, guttural howl – one that does justice to the blues, gospel, and southern rock ‘n roll influences. And unlike Bon Iver, Vernon isn’t always front and center in the new-ish old project.
“I feel like we always have a really good energy together,” says Moen, thinking back to the Coachella gig. “The fact that Justin didn’t write some of the lyrics and stuff like that made that even harder to remember, so I feel like both he and Phil had lyrics that were new to them for the show. But I think that went pretty well as far as the lyrics go. And I think the rest of it went kind of as well as it always does.”