Bon Iver is officially a band but it’s actually the recording project of Wisconsin musician Justin Vernon. Bon Iver plays a haunting and mesmerizing brand of lo-fi, indie folk rock. Rich, full vocals are layered over sparse but stimulating alternative music instrumentations. Bon Iver’s songs summon the feeling and atmosphere of winter, which is very appropriate.
Vernon recorded the first Bon Iver album, For Emma, Forever Ago, by himself at his father’s cabin in Medford, Wisconsin during the winter of 2006-2007. Also, “Bon Iver” is the bastardized spelling of the French phrase “bon hiver” which means “good winter.” Vernon became aware of the phrase while watching the 1990s television series Northern Exposure.
One of the most important things you must know about Bon Iver, and you’ve probably already guessed from the origins of the phrase, is how to pronounce their name. Bon Iver is not pronounced as you might think, “bone eye-ver.” Instead, it’s pronounced “bohn ee-vair.” Vernon opted for the “Bon Iver” spelling instead of “bon hiver” because “hiver” reminded him of “liver” and at the time he was suffering from mononucleosis hepatitis, a disease associated with the aforementioned organ.
The band’s second album, Bon Iver, Bon Iver, dropped in 2011. The album won the Grammy Award for best Alternative Music Album, and even though Bon Iver had been around for several years, they also picked up the trophy for Best New Artist. The album’s second single, “Holocene,” was nominated for Song and Record of the Year.
Just about everything Bon Iver does is beloved by critics. Both of their albums ended up on a bevy of “best of” year-end lists. For Emma, Forever Ago is widely considered as one of the greatest albums of the century’s first decade.
While Bon Iver relies heavy on overdubs, they are great in concert. Over the years, Bon Iver tickets have been collected at Lollapalooza, Coachella, Bonnaroo, Sasquatch!, and the Austin City Limits Music Festival.
Not all is perfect on the stage. Vernon once worried that he could not duplicate the voices for some of the songs from For Emma, Forever Ago. To make it work, he passed out lyrics to the audience so they could sing along. In an interview, Vernon said he doesn’t want to play the acoustic guitar and sing. He finds that boring.