Can you believe that Bon Iver released their Grammy-winning, self-titled sophomore album five years ago? Me neither. What’s equally as mindboggling is that it’s been half a decade since Rebecca Black’s “Friday” became a viral YouTube hit – accumulating over 97 million views, Spitzer’s space telescope discovered super-Earth Exoplanet Kepler-22b, Nyan Cat became everybody’s favourite pop tart GIF and Director Nicolas Winding Refn’s Neo Noir pulp thriller film Drive, became an instant cult-classic.
Since Bon Iver have returned from their long-awaited hiatus; Donald Trump has become a major Presidential Election candidate, Musician/Carpenter Frank Ocean has trolled fans with his mysterious Apple Music live stream (and yet another fake album release date has passed), NASA have discovered water on Mars and Niantic’s Pokémon Go has become a global phenomenon. Inevitably, the world has changed. Unfortunately, Bon Iver’s abiding obscurity hasn’t, as the Eau Claire composers are yet to announce the heart-rending sequel to their folk and soul infused magnum opus, Bon Iver. With growing scepticism surrounding the band’s future, and multi-instrumentalist and human mouthpiece Justin Vernon remaining clandestine about the release of upcoming material, many diehard fans have been left foaming at the mouth at the very thought of new music – treating enigmatic social media posts like cryptic crime scenes, dissecting speculative rumours like Key Stage 3 science experiments, and investigating details on unforeseen album collaborations like scrutinising games of Cluedo.
With the upcoming installation of Eaux Claire’s Music Festival – which Vernon co-curated alongside The National’s Aaron Dessner – being given the greenlight for August 12th and 13th 2016, and new material appearing imminent; here’s the complete chronology of Bon Iver’s activity since their second hiatus.
September 23, 2012: In an interview with The Local Show on Minnesota Public Radio, Justin Vernon was questioned about the future of Bon Iver – preluding rumours that the band was taking an indefinite hiatus: “Winding it down. I look at it like a faucet. I have to turn it off and walk away from it because so much of how that music comes together is subconscious or discovering. There’s so much attention on the band, it can be distracting at times. I really feel the need to walk away from it while I still care about it. And then if I come back to it – if at all – I’ll feel better about it and be renewed or something to do that”. Bon Iver’s label, Jagjaguwar, later clarified Vernon’s bemusing comments on the uncertainty of the band’s future, stating that “he meant he’s winding down promotional efforts for the band’s self-titled 2011 album. They are just going off cycle after two very busy years on the road”.
November 12, 2012: The band finishes their European Tour in Dublin, Ireland.
August 28, 2013: During an exclusive interview with Pitchfork, Vernon promotes Volcano Choir’s latest album, Repave and offers an update on the current status of Bon Iver, claiming “There’s a large opportunity for Bon Iver to be a special thing, even from a business standpoint– just trying to do cooler things. Every band sells t-shirts and plays certain auditoriums, but I’m sick of being like everyone else, because I’m not. I think I need to take a long time. In the last month or so, I started to get some musical thoughts that agree with the future of what that project can be. I don’t want the big flashing lights and red carpet, like, ‘Here comes another Bon Iver album!’ I just want it to be my bedroom-y thing. But that’ll take a while to figure out.” Positive news from the forlorn frontman.
September 03, 2013: While continuing the on-air promotion of Volcano Choir’s Repave, Justin Vernon briefly readdresses the status of Bon Iver’s next project during a radio interview with Australia’s Triple J, to which he replies “I don’t really write songs anymore. The last Bon Iver record was a very ‘sitting down with a guitar and writing’ kind of record… I really have to be in a specific headspace to even begin to illuminate an idea that would create another Bon Iver record, and I’m just not there. I’m really honoured that Bon Iver gives me a platform to do whatever I want, but there’s only so much time you can spend digging through yourself before you become insular. I’m not in a hurry to go back to that temperature. All of the music I’ve been making shifting away from Bon Iver feels really good … so if I ever do go back to Bon Iver it will be all the better for it.” A disappointing setback.
June 30, 2014: Bon Iver premier their electronically contemplative song Heavenly Father, for Zaff Braff’s Wish I Was Here soundtrack. Featuring a harmonious blend of rich Wisconsin croons with melodically cyclic Electronic Choir vocal coos, Bon Iver’s meditative sound feels progressive and renewed, indicating a new direction for the band both sonically and stylistically.
July 8, 2015: Vernon quickly dismisses speculation regarding new music or a tour in an interview with Grantland. Describing his current songwriting process and future plans, Vernon admits “I’ve been taking it really slow. I don’t mean to get all cerebral about my art, but I’ve been trying to collect improvisations and collect moments. I’m thinking more, I guess, like a painter or a sculptor, like Andy Goldsworthy or something, in the way I’m putting songs together”. Adding “As far as putting a record together, I don’t really know what’s happening. Our show (Eaux Claires Music Festival) is our main focus. We don’t have anything booked after this. We don’t have any plans. We’re not being secretive — we just don’t have any plans”.
July 18, 2015: Headlining alongside The National, Bon Iver performs their first live show in almost three years at the Eaux Claires Music Festival in Wisconsin, treating the audience to a spellbinding setlist of fan favourites with the surprising addition of two brand new songs. Vernon praises the festival, stating “it’s the perfect platform for us to be like, this is how we’re starting this new cycle, new life of the band.”
November 18, 2015: The band announces a tour in Asia starting at the beginning of 2016.
February 11, 2016: In a recent interview with Billboard, Vernon confirms that he’s working on new music and talks about his Eaux Claires Fest’s return: “I’m no longer winding down. I’m not exactly sure where I am with it. I’ve been winding down for a number of years for numerous reasons. For exhaustion, exposure. It’s never died or anything to me. It’s one of those things that needs to be protected in my own spirit. I’ve been working on music, you know, man. It takes a long time, and I’m not sure exactly what it is or what it means to me, and until that happens I won’t really know exactly what sharing it will look like or feel like or when. There’s sort of this internal pressure, not from anybody but myself, to come out with new music for the festival. But I’m not gonna make myself do anything. I really have to take it step by step and have patience and know that the music — if it comes out, it’s gotta be really true, it’s gotta really live with the other records and extend from them and be reborn and all that. There’s a lot that goes into it. I’ve definitely been working on music”.
May 06, 2016: Bon Iver appear as a feature on James Blake’s second album, The Colour in Anything.
July 7, 2016: Bon Iver collaborate with Kanye West on Francis and the Lights’ latest track, “Friends”.
July 22, 2016: Bon Iver tease a cryptic video post on Facebook entitled “22 Days” – a date which coincides with Vernon’s Eaux Claires Music Festival. The mysterious footage features a computer screen frantically flashing through a sequence of abstract images and a bombinating, gospel-inflected cut – reminiscence of Bon Iver’s Heavenly Father soundtrack. The band has also revamped their website, social media profiles and cover photos with screengrabs extracted from the video. Could this video signify the rebirth of Bon Iver? Or is Justin Vernon planning a larger scaled project? All we know is that “It might be over soon”.
Written and published by James Macdonald.