Justin Vernon's 'subdued Midwestern thing' 

Bon Iver frontman on his hometown, working with Kanye West and being just a dude. By Robert Bell

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The Times recently spoke with Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, whose 2011 album "Bon Iver, Bon Iver" was a critical favorite and won Grammys for Best Alternative Music Album and Best New Artist. Bon Iver plays Riverfest Amphitheatre at 7 p.m. June 3, with opening act The Staves.

How would you describe Eau Claire and the surrounding area to someone who's never been to Wisconsin?

I think the longer you live in a place, the less equipped you are to accurately describe it. There's 65,000 people, there's a university, there's a lot of music education, and it's not big enough to have a continuing thriving music scene, but it pops up and down. It's just a lot of hills and lakes and rivers. I don't know, it's home for me.

How has that place informed your art?

In every way imaginable I'd say. I grew up in the country and my studio is only two miles from the house I grew up in. I think there's a general stillness out there. There's no mountains or oceans, it's just lakes and hills and small features, and I think there's a sort of subdued Midwestern thing that perhaps my entire life has been engaged in.

You live there now, correct?

Yes sir.

Are people cool about it or does it ever get weird? Do you get recognized around town?

I've been there long enough that it's mostly cool. There might be some college kids that move into town that aren't used to seeing me at the coffee shop or something, but it's almost never weird, it's pretty chill, and everyone doesn't give a shit, kind of. They're excited, but they know that it's not some celebrity thing.

What was the first song you remember hearing that gave you goose bumps?

"Hello in There," by John Prine.

You covered "Bruised Orange" right?

Yeah, yeah.

Big Prine fan?

Humongous. He's the beginning of songwriting for me.

What was a song you heard recently that floored you?

Good question. All I've been listening to is like metal and shit lately. I've been listening to this band Liturgy, which I think is a really creative and emotive band. They're probably my most listened-to band of late. And then a lot of strange Minneapolis bands, you know, Albert [Elmore], Moonstone Continuum and a lot of Minneapolis stuff I'm into. Poliça is probably the most listened-to of other bands.

They were here recently. I dug their tunes quite a bit.

Yeah, they're fuckin' awesome.

This is a variation on a question that a friend of mine asked when he was interviewing the chef Anthony Bourdain. He asked him if he would rather cook a great meal or eat a great meal. Would you rather play a great show or see a great show, and why?

Wow, that's almost an impossible question. I would say that, being a musician, and now that I've realized that my life is sort of destined to create, I get that gift, to create. So I'd have to say that for the most part I'd rather be creating. But they go hand-in-hand. You don't get to create if you don't get to be taken aback by something or inspired by something. But if I had to inch out, I'd answer that I'd inch that way.

Does an artist owe anything to his fans?

I'm not sure. What do you mean?

It could be anything. Do you owe them another album? Do you owe them access? Honesty? Artists now can be more readily available and accessible by their fans than ever before, so maybe we could look at it from that angle.


Speaking of Bon Iver, Justin Vernon


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