In the latest episode of the podcast Tuesdays with Lazerbeak, the Doomtree producer and his co-host Jeyca Maldonado-Medina talk with Justin Vernon (Bon Iver, Big Red Machine, GAYNGS). Here are 14 things we learned from their wide-ranging hour-and-a-half conversation, recorded in January and posted this week.
Lazerbeak is an awesome wedding DJ
“It was probably the most fun I’ve probably ever had at a wedding,” Vernon told Lazerbeak about the latter’s performance filling the floor with unpretentious jams (think: Gloria Estefan conga line) at the December 2019 wedding of Kyle Frenette, Bon Iver’s longtime manager. Vernon rewarded Lazerbeak, the two reminisced, by bringing him tallboys of mango-flavored White Claw. “They were so tall and girthy,” remembered Vernon. “It was like a child’s leg.”
Justin Vernon’s closest friends call him “Vern”
“The super extra-close long-term friends” have gone back to “Justin” because they’ve heard “one too many people call me Vern.”
Drew Christopherson helped get Vernon into music
The Poliça drummer grew up with Vernon, and in third grade at summer camp, “he played me, I think, Frizzle Fry by Primus and, like, probably Dead Kennedys.” Vernon’s parents were also big music fans, but when he met Christopherson, “everything started to change” as he got into the burgeoning Eau Claire, Wisconsin music scene.
John Prine was a major inspiration for Vernon
This fact wasn’t exactly a secret, since Vernon invited Prine to play at Eaux Claires in 2017, but in the wake of Prine’s recent death it’s poignant to hear Vernon discuss the legendary singer-songwriter’s creativity and longevity. “I honestly think, without any bias because he’s such an important figure in writing and music to me, that his newest album is his best work. It’s just like, Jesus! That’s why you stick around, I guess,” as an artist.
One of Vernon’s first bands made a tape called Exotic Nazi
“I’m not sure what we were going for,” says Vernon about the tape by his early band Skillet — laughing and demurring at Lazerbeak’s suggestion that he send a cease-and-desist to Skillet, the popular Christian rock band from Memphis.
Justin Vernon was captain of his high school football team
One of the most famously sensitive singer-songwriters of his generation was a jock? Well, not exclusively. “I loved teamwork, sports, but I also got super into music. I was just really busy.”
The University of Minnesota at Duluth rejected Justin Vernon
“I tried to get into UMD,” remembers Vernon. “That was the college that we all wanted to go to, because we thought we should get out of Eau Claire…which is a good idea, to get out of your hometown.” The Bulldogs took a pass on Vernon’s application, though, so he ended up attending the University of Wisconsin at…Eau Claire.
Why North Carolina? Even Justin Vernon doesn’t know
Lazerbeak admits that he’s long been confused by the tight musical ties between Wisconsin and North Carolina, where Vernon and his band DeYarmond Edison moved in their 20s; some of his collaborators, perhaps most notably Phil Cook, remain there to this day. “We knew we needed to leave Eau Claire,” Vernon remembers, “because it was time to stop incubating.” They didn’t think they were ready for New York or L.A. or Nashville, though, so North Carolina occurred to the group as a next step that made sense. If nothing else, “it would be warmer.”
For Emma, Forever Ago made its debut on MySpace
Add Bon Iver to your list of classic-era MySpace bands. Vernon remembers that he posted his now-classic Bon Iver debut there, and Frenette reached out to offer help getting the album to a larger audience. The first blog to pick up on the album, Vernon remembers, was My Old Kentucky Blog.
S. Carey became Vernon’s first Bon Iver bandmate by volunteering for the job
After Sean Carey saw Vernon play in an Eau Claire coffee shop, he offered to join Vernon on drums and harmony vocals. “I was like, okay,” Vernon remembers, “and he’s been in the band ever since.”
It took a year and a half for the Bon Iver fame to get decisively “not fun”
“I am so drained,” Vernon remembers about his life circa 2009; “I don’t know why, but I am bawling. I can’t get rid of this feeling.” Later, he says, he recognized that feeling as “displacement from the original 12-year-old place,” that is, the feeling of youthful enthusiasm that fueled his musical career. “When suddenly there’s all these other questions that are forced on you…’So what’s your process?'” Vernon says he doesn’t have any regrets, “but it was very difficult.”
Anxiety relief strategies: Get your exercise and go easy on the sauce
Lazerbeak and Vernon talk about the anxiety they’ve both experienced, and share some simple strategies that help them get through tough times. Both agree, a little physical movement can help a lot. Also, Vernon adds, a little drinking and smoking can be great, but a lot is definitely not.
GAYNGS helped prepare Vernon to collaborate with Kanye West
Vernon recounts the process of working with Kanye West on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, an album that many critics would later peg as the best of the 2010s. He says that “the grandness” of the GAYNGS project, led by Ryan Olson, was a good lead-up to stepping into a studio with West. “Kanye’s just, sort of, like Ryan with a million-dollar budget.” Fun fact: during the sessions, Vernon was able to watch Nicki Minaj record her verse on “Monster,” one of the most celebrated guest spots in hip-hop history. (“Ye is good and scrappy,” Vernon recalls about the basketball games the album collaborators would play.)
The next Bon Iver album could be…anything
Lazerbeak cites Vernon’s allusions to the first four Bon Iver LPs as a seasonal cycle, and Vernon says of the band’s future work, “now I don’t have that four-seasons thing. Now we’re past nature, and we get to go into crazy space.”
Below, listen to the full episode and read a transcript.
[Lazerbeak] Hey there. Welcome to the Tuesdays with Lazerbeak Podcast. I am your host, Lazerbeak, and today we are thrilled to welcome Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, Volcano Choir, Shouting Matches, a billion other projects. This conversation actually took place back in January, just a heads up, but we got into everything, all the things, and then some. So huge shouts to Justin for coming through, talking with me and Jeyca. I hope you enjoy it. I hope you’re all staying safe, staying inside, staying healthy and just keep on hangin’ in there; sending everybody lots of love and light, and have a great day.
This episode of Tuesdays With Lazerbeak is sponsored by Twin City Tees. They are the greatest. They make all of the Doomtree merch and all of the stuff that all our artists use, anything from like screen printing, t-shirts, posters, hoodies, they do embroidery for your hats or whatever kind of crazy jacket you want. Basically anything you can dream of in the land of merch Twin City Tees has got you covered and I really cherish our relationship with them. They’ve gone above and beyond for us. I’ve seen them do it for a lot of other people and they’re always a phone call away. So make sure you check out twincitytees.com or @twincitytees on socials. If you have anything you’re looking to get made those are your people and they will ship it out to you and absolutely crush it. So lots of luck to them and thank them. I thank them. I’m thanking them for sponsoring this podcast.
[interview begins] We kinda just wing it, dude.
[Justin Vernon] If you had a plan I’d be worried.
[Lazerbeak] Anything’s – well, whatever – Jeyca edits this s–t down so if at any point something comes up that you’re like “absolutely not,” we’ll just take it out.
[Justin Vernon] Sure. No worries.
[Lazerbeak] Won’t get too intel on you, but anything we shouldn’t talk about at all?
[Justin Vernon] Not that I can—
[Lazerbeak] You let us know.
[Justin Vernon] Yeah, no problem. I’ve had to get really good at that.
[Lazerbeak] I bet.
[Justin Vernon] Way better than you’d want to have to be or something but you don’t – there’s not a class on that.
[Lazerbeak] I was gonna say, have you ever taken a PR training course at any point when you got bigger?
[Justin Vernon] Are there those?
[Lazerbeak] There definitely are. Dude, like—
[Jeyca Maldonado-Medina] They do it for child stars. They have – take a media training class.
[Justin Vernon] So what do they teach them?
[Lazerbeak] Well, you’d learn – the same way they do it for all professional athletes when they go into the pros. You have like a – from what I understand at least – like you meet and they teach you how to give interviews so that’s why everyone is like, “Well, it was a group effort and all the glory to God and coaches just really stepped up and everybody’s getting better.” Exactly.
[Justin Vernon] Always say that. Just get better.
[Lazerbeak] I think they just feed them lines. It’s a weird sitch.
[Justin Vernon] I wish I would have maybe had one of those. You know what it is? Is that being honest in interviews or like never considering that it’s like work, and that you can go in and just sort of just sit there. I mean it’s bizarre and I’m in a much better place, having volunteered just to come in and see what you guys…
[Lazerbeak] Which is shocking.
[Justin Vernon] Well, huge Lazerbeak fan. I’m just a huge you fan in general.
[Lazerbeak] God bless you. I need you around me a lot.
[Justin Vernon] I can go hourly.
[Lazerbeak] Yeah, right? Yeah, we could work a rate out. “Beak lives here. He’s killin’ it.” Well, yeah we met – well, not “we met,” but like the reason we’re doing this interview is because I was DJing Kyle Frenette, who’s been a part of Justin’s team – management team – since day one. His wedding right before the holidays. And then I was also kind of asked to fill in as the MC that would announce the shuttles to the hotels.
[Justin Vernon] And, like, speeches.
[Lazerbeak] Yeah, intro the speeches.
[Justin Vernon] You did such a good job. Not only was I just – when you’re in that position, sometimes you can be kind of too nervous, or it just doesn’t feel right, or you can be like “this isn’t my art” or something, and you just did none of that and you just crushed it and made it fun, funny, and also the most classic dance set at a wedding I’ve ever been to. There’s a lot of songs that a lot of people would play, but you really cared and it was really good and it was probably the most I’ve probably ever had at a wedding.
[Jeyca Maldonado-Medina] You threw yourself into it.
[Lazerbeak] What if this is my pivot – if I just go straight wedding DJ and like my one-sheet is just “you really care, with Justin Vernon”?
[Jeyca Maldonado-Medina] Which – so we should intro who we’re talking to.
[Lazerbeak] Yes. We’re talking to Justin Vernon. I think we have the thickest Wisconsin accent on the podcast we’ve ever had.
[Justin Vernon] Oh yeah.
[Lazerbeak] This is pretty good, which I’m thrilled.
[Justin Vernon] It gives you some kind of points or something?
[Lazerbeak] I think so. I feel like yeah.
[Justin Vernon] Just get Drew Christopherson on here next. I’ll go down the list very far.
[Lazerbeak] Way down. But yeah, it’s a – Justin was my favorite person at this wedding because he was constantly giving me like the tallboy White Claws, which I had never seen before.
[Justin Vernon] They were so tall and girthy.
[Lazerbeak] They were really big.
[Justin Vernon] It was like – it was like a child’s leg.
[Lazerbeak] It was a 20 – it was a double – it was a double stack. It was a 24-ounce mango White Claw.
[Justin Vernon] And I just thought you were doing such a good job that I was like, “Is Beak telling them to turn it up? What does he need?” And I kept cruising those tallboys up there.
[Lazerbeak] Oh, yeah. I felt very cared for. I actually was so cared for that I lost my drum machine that night because I had too many of those tallboy White Claws by the end.
[Justin Vernon] I don’t mind taking responsibility.
[Lazerbeak] I feel like Justin was maybe also partly responsible for starting the conga line during the Gloria Estefan song.
[Justin Vernon] Yeah.
[Lazerbeak] You were up in the mix.
[Justin Vernon] I won’t take all of the credit, but certainly, certainly a few of us – I’m pretty sure Amelia and Graham and Jim had something to do with it too, but I didn’t run away.
[Lazerbeak] It got going.
[Justin Vernon] Yeah.
[Lazerbeak] It made its way to the stage and I had to say – and then we won’t talk about Kyle’s wedding anymore – but I did – Kyle had like specific instructions. He was like no like gimmicky dance songs, like no “Macarena,” and so I had to approach him minutes before I went up there and was like “Yeah, but conga is cool, right? Like I can do the Gloria Estefan thing.” And he was like, oh yeah.
[Justin Vernon] Did he know what that was?
[Lazerbeak] I think he was just in a haze of wedding day stuff so he was just like yeah, that sounds perfect. So that’s a little tip to all you wedding DJs. Just throw it in at the last minute.
[Justin Vernon] Well, you air-quoted your DJing thing, and here’s the thing about DJing, is that no one knows if you’re doing anything or not. It’s about what comes out of the speakers and if you seem to be lying or not.
[Justin Vernon] Like one thing you were – I mean when I “DJ,” and I’m also gonna do the air-quotes, it’s just iTunes.
[Lazerbeak] Yeah, exactly. I Spotify it.
[Justin Vernon] You know there’s nothing wrong with that.
[Jeyca Maldonado-Medina] You can crossfade the songs too and people get impressed…like, I do that on Spotify when I DJ for like Trivia Mafia Spelling Bee. You can just do a crossfade. Crossfade three seconds and people are like, oh wow.
[Justin Vernon] I kinda take a teeny bit of pride, actually, in like the two seconds of silence so that nobody knows that I am trying. I don’t wanna try too hard.
[Lazerbeak] Totally. You’re not like fake twisting knob like [DJ drop voice] Justin Vernon. We need to get a DJ job for you that actually would be good.
[Justin Vernon] Oh good, yeah.
[Lazerbeak] It could be cool. We’ll work on that. Jeyca is very good at putting those things together. So you’d just be dropping like the “Bon Iver.” Is it Bon or Bone? I know that’s the last question —
[Justin Vernon] Bon, Bone, Bon.
[Lazerbeak] It’s fine.
[Justin Vernon] Oh, Jesus.
[Lazerbeak] You don’t care?
[Justin Vernon] No.
[Lazerbeak] Has anyone given your band a cool nickname that you liked more than that?
[Justin Vernon] Oh, “Bone Dogs.” Olson.
[Lazerbeak] That’s a good one. I got stuck with Beak, which I’m very happy about because I always wanted a nickname and never was able to convince anyone to give me a nickname.
[Justin Vernon] Where did it come from?
[Lazerbeak] It was a stupid – like in the year 2000 if you were in rap music you had to have a handle. You couldn’t just be like Aaron Mader, which I would now. Like in 2019/2020 I would definitely just be Aaron Mader. But then it was like, if you’re a producer, you have to f—in’ bring it, so then Lazerbeak happened somehow and then that got shortened to Beak and now I’m a 37-year-old man and people call me Lazerbeak.
[Justin Vernon] There’s no story between getting Beak?
[Lazerbeak] Me and Isaac got drunk in a parked car and I was tasked with: “I need a name by tomorrow morning, because the first CD I got a local CD credit on needed to put my credit in.”
[Justin Vernon] Which was what?
[Lazerbeak] God, I think it was actually the Carp D records. They were like a Northside clique that I worked with before they all moved to Las Vegas. They wanted to call me “maestro” and they were like “because you’re the maestro, like,” and I was like—
[Justin Vernon] Bringing the beats?
[Lazerbeak] Yeah. I am the maestro, but that feels a little heavy handed.
[Jeyca Maldonado-Medina] I can’t imagine life now if this was Tuesdays with Maestro.
[Lazerbeak] Tuesdays with Maestro.
[Justin Vernon] We certainly wouldn’t be sitting here.
[Lazerbeak] No, no we wouldn’t. We’d actually probably be sitting somewhere much nicer.
[Justin Vernon] Yeah, I was gonna say maybe the White House or something. You’d be the White House—
[Lazerbeak] I’d be the White House DJ and podcast guy. But yeah, so we put “lazer” and “beak” together and thought it was funny and then that was that. And then realized later subconsciously that that is a Transformers character.
[Justin Vernon] Really? Lazerbeak?
[Lazerbeak] Yeah, it’s like one of the cassette tapes that comes out like one of the bad guys. And so in the early 2000s that was super cool, like rappers would be like, “I get it, like you’re a Transformers head, I f–k with you,” and I was like I don’t actually really know about that, but I did use the hip-hop “Z” spelling, so I have not been – knock on all the wood – I’ve not been served with any sort of like papers from Michael Bay or anyone once the reboot came. So we’ll hope that that continues, but I could always pivot. I could pivot. Your nickname – I just call you Vern. Yeah, that seems pretty standard.
[Justin Vernon] All my closest friends call me Vern and then like there’s like the super extra close long-term friends that have heard one too many people call me Vern. Now it’s back to Justin.
[Lazerbeak] Got it. So everything always changes.
[Justin Vernon] So when you graduate, Aaron, you can start calling me Justin if you really…
[Lazerbeak] This is like the circle of life.
[Justin Vernon] It was meant to be a joke, but then you’re like, how is that funny.
[Lazerbeak] Wow. Yeah. We’ll work on that. We can brainstorm that one. We usually start out – we’re big into origin stories, because I think I’ve hit the age where I get really nostalgic about my youth and now that I have kids, too, that certainly doesn’t hurt. But like what – you came up in Wisconsin?
[Justin Vernon] Um-hm. Eau Claire.
[Lazerbeak] And what’s, like, the music? What’s your first tape? What’s the music that you gravitate towards? Did you get into music right away or are you like a lacrosse guy?
[Justin Vernon] La Crosse, Wisconsin; or the sport? No, it was actually – this is the second time I’ve said his name – Drew Christopherson, or Andy back then. In third grade, Andy was a drummer in Poliça. People started calling him Drew and sometimes I do, but I still like calling him Andy C. But I think it was probably third grade up at summer camp when we were in the same cabin and he played me I think Frizzle Fry by Primus and like probably like Dead Kennedys, like some pretty – Primus has gone through the decades as something to some people, but Primus was some pretty radical music.
[Lazerbeak] Wow. That’s really out there for a third-grader.
[Justin Vernon] And his brother was Joe Christopherson, who played with Ryan, who we’ll probably continue to talk about.
[Lazerbeak] Was that Sled Napkin?
[Justin Vernon] Yes, that was Sled Napkin, and they were like life-changing band from Eau Claire, and so—
[Lazerbeak] Still one of the best band names of all times.
[Justin Vernon] Yes.
[Lazerbeak] I always thought it was Slut Napkin when he would talk about it and I was like “Dude, not cool.” Not cool to have a band named Slut Napkin. He’s like “Sled, man, sled.” Anyways —
[Justin Vernon] Ryan’s actually probably the reason you and I know each other. In fact I know it is, and we can talk about that too, but my parents were great music fans like the standard kinda Dylan, Janis Joplin kind of house but also we had some Mingus records and some – John Prine was our biggest kind of favorite thing and definitely some weirder Waits – Tom Waits stuff – and Janis stuff in general. But when I met Andy – sorry, Drew – everything started to change and we still remain very close friends to this day. We were nine years old or something. And so from there whatever – for whatever reason we were bored enough and there was a lot in Eau Claire – there was a lot of people listening to a lot of different music and it was all records and tapes and CDs and our youth was sort of right around that time. You’re 37, I’m 38, so you know what I’m talking about. It’s like all the media was changing so often and there were so many conversations around what tape is out or this tape and that band and the CD is out. And then there was like where you’d write BMG and get a fake name so you could get the seven free CDs for one $18 payment and then you’d get a new name and get eight more weird Steely Dan CDs.
[Lazerbeak] Jeyca doesn’t know about this scam, because Jeyca is much younger than us, but the Columbia House/BMG scam was real. I was always too afraid to do it, because you remember hearing about like the 12 CDs for one cent, ever? Probably not.
[Jeyca Maldonado-Medina] No. Not even—
[Justin Vernon] Jesus. I hadn’t heard of CDs.
[Lazerbeak] It was like it had to have been a major-label scheme to offload excess inventory basically. But you would sign up for an account, you would get 12 CDs for like a penny and then if you forgot to tell them no they would send you a CD for like $25 every month.
[Justin Vernon] And the shipping was like $20 too.
[Lazerbeak] Yes, totally. But it was like the kids that were ballsy about it, like yourself apparently, would – there was any easy way to set up fake accounts.
[Justin Vernon] Oh, just – like my friend Kyle – he just made up a guy – Thor Jansen – would get his CDs and you could do it once a year too or something. So we were – once we got into high school we were in the jazz program. We had kind of a standout jazz education program in our high school, which was bizarre and amazing. And so I was – lot of listening to jazz, and the only way to really check it out other than like going to the library or something is just like get these free CDs and listen, listen, listen.
[Lazerbeak] Yeah, amazing. Okay, so BMG kind of raises you.
[Justin Vernon] Raises the CD collection up.
[Lazerbeak] But you have – you have – like because my parents – I grew up in a really Christian household so we basically listened to – we didn’t listen to secular music for the most part. And so I had a hard time kinda up until junior high getting into any music that wasn’t like Christian rap music. I came up on Christian rap.
[Justin Vernon] Friends showing you shit?
[Lazerbeak] Totally. And my parents were basically just like singing hymns after – it’s beautiful to think about, looking back on it, but at the time, I was like, I wanna listen to the radio. I don’t wanna play “Our God is an Awesome God” on the piano again, but now that’s kinda tight. But you had Prine and full circle I had only ever heard of John Prine as a songwriter. I don’t think I could’ve named you any of his songs until the most recent two albums because you had him at Eau Claire and everyone was talking about him. So I only know him as this grizzled vet. I forget that he’s been in this shit for like 60 years or something.
[Justin Vernon] Really long time. I mean I think his first records were definitely ‘60s – late ‘60s, early ‘70s and he was just a postman from Chicago and it’s interesting too – it goes to show you like 40 years into a career or 50 years into a career you’re still like gaining new fans. And I honestly think without any bias, because he’s such an important figure in writing and music to me, that his newest album is his best work, and it’s just like, Jesus. That’s why you stick around I guess sometimes. You’re like, what am I doing this for, and is it really that important to care this much about me and music and my relationship to it, but it’s like that’s what it is. You keep coming back around to it.
[Lazerbeak] Yeah, like you might not ever be done. Like your best work might – I think we’re all chasing that, right? Like even when we are maybe on the decline. Or maybe I’ll Prine it.
[Justin Vernon] I mean that’s the – I think the people that I’ve always looked up to the most in music were the people that seemed to last – not last the longest in like success or staying at the top of something. It’s also something I’ve never really believed it because it just seems to be such a vacuous nonexistent actual not real thing – the top.
[Lazerbeak] And to stay for more than a—
[Justin Vernon] But the people that just seem to not give a fuck and just to always follow the right path. You think about your Smogs or or just – you can name just – Q-Tip — quietly still a god and doing music at such a high level and just – when people care to be recognized for things, you can tell, and then you can tell when their music or their art changes, therefore.
[Lazerbeak] I’ve always really liked the kind of like working mentality or like day-to-day worker mentality of like I’m a songwriter, I clock in in the morning, this is my job and I clock out, and no matter what the response is or the fame or the money like this is what I do so I do it. And I always think that I’m – I’m so like – I think of that so romantically because I just think that’s so honorable.
[Jeyca Maldonado-Medina] That’s like when we were talking to Craig Finn. That’s like he like has a pretty like set routine of like things that he does and it’s just – it’s clocking in and clocking out.
[Lazerbeak] He’s like a nine-to-fiver. He’s like then I write a song and it may never see the light of day but then I go to the bar and get a beer, whatever, walk the dog. I think that’s the s–t to me. So you do the scam. We’ve implemented you now, I think, in the BMG scam and then at what point are you like, kinda forced to play an instrument, or when do you get into actually being like I wanna create music?
[Justin Vernon] I mean, musical household. Mom was definitely a musician, definitely studied music, French horn and even some composition, and good organ and piano player.
[Lazerbeak] Sweet. Did you play “Our God Is an Awesome God” ever?
[Justin Vernon] No. That was not—
[Lazerbeak] That’s fine. I’ll show you.
[Justin Vernon] I would love to hear like a black metal version of that tune. Maybe I would love to hear that.
[Justin Vernon] But Dad had a guitar, and Dad had been in Chicago and done very, very small kinda open mic nights and stuff like that, and he got the guitar out one day and showed me some chords, and I was basically hooked. I was 12, 13, and already started to kind of write little vignettes or something – very Prine-y. Really, Prine really was the caveat, because I started to understand some pretty deep ideas from these simple songs, songs about old people and remembering to love old people and that there’s loneliness in their eyes and all these things. You can really grow up pretty fast. And so I had the bug, man, like I was – and I got it so bad that my parents like got a Tascam four-track and I started to make weird tapes with Joe Westerlund and Bill…you’re just making stuff, and so I really have been doing it since I was 12.
[Lazerbeak] And the same – I’m almost identically the same as far as like my – I went to a new junior high, and all the new kids I met were like indie rockers so I was like okay, and my dad has an acoustic guitar stashed away from like youth group that he used to teach. I dug that out. My lyrics were much more angsty than your – you were very mature as a 13-year-old songwriter.
[Justin Vernon] We don’t know that. You haven’t heard any of that.
[Lazerbeak] But same deal. I somehow convinced my mom to front me some money for a used four-track and blah blah blah, and so I can remember [in] eighth grade still doing a version of what I do to this day, writing out the song titles and in the sequence and how I’m gonna go to Kinko’s and make the cassette paper and all that shit, like it really – the core thing has not really changed.
[Justin Vernon] Yeah. I’m the exact same way. It’s like – I mean now we work with our friend Eric Carlson as like our art director for Bon Iver stuff, which is really fun because I don’t think I have enough brain power to – it’s just fun to collaborate but I still have that sort of feeling of I just wanna make something that’s cool, that like sits on a record shelf someday and somebody listens to it one day. And I guess I’ve never lost that. There’s been some pretty confusing times with kinda how – meteor-like – what do you say when you get kind of well-known?
[Lazerbeak] Oh yeah. Massive. Massive. F—ing huge.
[Justin Vernon] Well, and then our friend Lizzo – that’s really, really massive.
[Lazerbeak] Yes, that’s another level. You hit – for the longest time, I would put you as like oh, that’s my friend that is f—ing crushing it, and then Lizzo has blown through that ceiling to a level —
[Justin Vernon] Space level. But it’s just – there’s some confusing s–t when it comes to that, because you actually – it disassembles some of things, like it disassociates yourself with that original person making stuff for like no reason, or you never really had to like talk about the reason a lot. You didn’t get on Beak’s podcast. You just did it. You didn’t have to answer questions about it that – and sometimes answering those questions can like diffuse the magic or like make it just go away. There’s just a lot of crazy adjustment to it. But in general, I feel like you said – same 12-year-old kid, just older and balder.
[Lazerbeak] Exactly. Well, I think I got you beat but it’s going, it’s going, and I wanna get – we’re gonna work our way up there because I’m fascinated with the kind of – not trappings of fame sounds really dramatic, but just like the meteoric rise or quick rise and what that does. I’ve been a musician and it’s been on like this kinda steady snail’s pace the whole way. I’ve never had anything that comes out of nowhere and skyrockets, for better or for worse. And so I’ve been lucky enough to kinda be chill the whole time, but I now know a lot of people that have had the exact opposite experience and it’s not all it’s cracked up to be in most cases. Anyways, we’ll get there. So you got the four-track and then you hit high school. When does the first band – is DeYar… – what the f–k is it called?
[Justin Vernon] Worse. I swear I’m not one of those people to have named bands after myself, but I was in two of them – Mount Vernon. Yikes.
[Lazerbeak] Why not?
[Justin Vernon] The name is quite embarrassing for me specifically. There was bands before that. There was Skillet, which is now I think a Christian rock band.
[Lazerbeak] It’s a huge Christian rock band.
[Justin Vernon] We had a tape called Exotic Nazi, which I’m not sure what we were going for in that.
[Lazerbeak] Have you ever considered sending a cease-and-desist to the Christian band Skillet?
[Justin Vernon] Maybe we should.
[Lazerbeak] It’d be worth a shot.
[Justin Vernon] There [were] probably 20 bands that I was starting and ending. Some of them, we’d make tape art before even got together for the first practice. Big Ed’s Gas Farm. That was one. A lot of them were with Andy and Squints and a lot of these same people that I still play music with, which is bizarre. But the first time it really kinda came together and I was part of an ensemble was this Mount Vernon group, and kind of the classic best friends in the world maturing [and] coming into your own, 17 years old, kinda loving each other, studying music together like outside of school and making music together on a pretty deep level to the point where we kinda like stayed together and went to college together and dedicated our lives to each other, really.
[Lazerbeak] Was that at the time because you were in this band and you were like, we wanna keep this band going, so we’re gonna go to school together and all that?
[Justin Vernon] Yeah, 100%. It was Brad and Phil and a lot of people that again, I still play music with.
[Lazerbeak] Interesting. So is Mount Vernon the first live show that you play?
[Justin Vernon] I think I played a few like – definitely every year since like sixth grade, we’d play in the variety show.
[Lazerbeak] The talent show.
[Justin Vernon] The talent show, right. And so there’s so classics. There’s a band that Andy was in called Wonder Mutt. I was in A Daisy Factor and then Skillet for two years.
[Lazerbeak] Who was the biggest out of those bands? Because I would always – I was the same thing and I was in a band called Plastic Constellations. P.O.S was in a band – a pop-punk band called Ohm. And so we meet each other – I know, right? Of course. But we meet each other in junior high and we – I f—ing hate him and his band because they’re the ones that are headlining the talent show. And we’re like the indie rock guys that are like that’s three-chord bulls–t, like we’re using screwdrivers and like Sonic Youth or whatever. And then he was a grade older, so he goes to high school and then ninth grade we headline the talent show and I was like, this is what I’m talking about.
[Justin Vernon] No, there were other friends – I don’t think anybody was better than anybody else. We were pretty like – it was a pretty compassionate – I was class of ’99 Eau Claire Memorial, and people that came up in our class – there’s just a hell of a lot of rad people. I think Andy – they tried to play the Nirvana song “Rape Me,” which is —
[Justin Vernon] And I understand why they asked him to change that. But they did it – “Save Me” – and Andy was just so little and his voice was so high and he had a Flying V Kramer guitar and – “Save Me” – and it was really bizarre. [We’re throwing] Drew under the bus like 50 times here.
[Lazerbeak] We have to. Well, I’d like to throw him under the bus quickly because I found out he had never eaten a strawberry until after high school.
[Justin Vernon] I’d never seen or heard of an avocado until way after high school.
[Lazerbeak] Was that a common practice in Eau Claire, Wisconsin in like the ‘90s, that children weren’t fed fruits and vegetables?
[Justin Vernon] I mean, I only remember vegetables that were like stewed from frozen, you know what I mean – and my parents were smart human beings. I mean we just weren’t getting avocados and guacamole.
[Lazerbeak] I mean, avocados – yeah, that’s kind of – I don’t really care about avocados, but strawberries are one of the greatest fruits of all time.
[Justin Vernon] I don’t know what his deal was there. I definitely had strawberries.
[Lazerbeak] Okay, good to know. We’ll have to get him on here at some point.
[Justin Vernon] Well, you just never know – you know – I mean they’re definitely like expensive fruits.
[Lazerbeak] They are, they are. So this is a more working class Eau Claire background. I like it.
[Jeyca Maldonado-Medina] Eau Claire was the first college to accept me. I almost went there instead of UMD.
[Lazerbeak] Oooh, a blue/gold, right?
[Jeyca Maldonado-Medina] Blue/gold, yeah.
[Justin Vernon] Interesting. I tried to get into UMD, and that was the college that we all wanted to go to, because we thought we should get out of Eau Claire, which is a good idea, to get out of your home town. But me and Joey – or maybe it was just me – didn’t get into UMD. So we all sort of had to like…
[Jeyca Maldonado-Medina] I didn’t get into the U [of M], because the U was my first choice; didn’t get into that. Got into Eau Claire and went and toured it and liked it, but like my tour guide didn’t know anything about the school. I was asking him questions and he just didn’t know anything, and then I was like, okay, I guess this is a good school. It looks cool.
[Justin Vernon] It is actually quite a beautiful campus.
[Jeyca Maldonado-Medina] It is a beautiful campus. Now – I didn’t stay at UMD, so that didn’t work out either, but maybe Eau Claire could’ve been it.
[Lazerbeak] School’s tough. Did you feel a lot of shame and guilt for being the one that held everyone back and made everyone stay?
[Justin Vernon] Yes…guilt and shame. You wanna talk about it?
[Lazerbeak] Let’s have the next hour be about guilt and shame?
[Justin Vernon] Yeah, totally. I mean in – there was often times where I would feel dumb, or I played sports too, like I was captain of the high school football team, but…
[Lazerbeak] Oh, I’d like to talk about that.
[Justin Vernon] Yeah. I loved teamwork, sports; I grew up in – but I also got super into music and so I was just really busy. I remember getting my band director and my high school basketball coach mad at each other, because I wouldn’t show up to one rehearsal, and I was at band practice. So I loved all that stuff, and I liked being that busy, and in many ways, like, I realize for most kids in America, just the upbringing process is just so difficult. Mine was not. I had all the support I needed; all the programs seemed to work for me; I matured enough. My problems came after that, when I wasn’t prepared to mature in any other environments, and I think I was really ready to probably leave Eau Claire, but this band was so important and it just sort of like kept us there for another four years.
[Lazerbeak] Got it. Okay, so then you go to school there. Mount Vernon continues.
[Justin Vernon] For about a year and a half.
[Lazerbeak] And then it’s on to the next.
[Justin Vernon] It’s on to the next. We all sort of like had like a best friend “end of the innocence” kind of breakup, and we all sort of floated. I went to Ireland to try to work there for a little bit. But I basically came back to Eau Claire and then the biggest move happened when I’m 25-ish. I finally graduate college with like – I didn’t study music. A lot of my friends did, but I studied religious studies and…some philosophy and stuff. I finally graduate, and we go to North Carolina, and this is still a few of the people from the original squads – all the friends are still very close but me, Phil, Brad and Joe are still making music together and we moved to North Carolina.
[Lazerbeak] And Joe is Squints, right, who drummed all over the GAYNGS record.
[Justin Vernon] Yes.
[Lazerbeak] Okay, so that’s the North Carolina connection because I was always confused. I didn’t know if Brad and Phil were always in North Carolina. So everyone goes out there and that becomes like the weird line between Wisconsin and North Carolina that took me years to figure out, once everyone from Eau Claire moved to Minneapolis. I was like, what is the f—ing deal with North Carolina.
[Jeyca Maldonado-Medina] Yeah. Why North Carolina?
[Justin Vernon] Great question. I’ve actually been talking about this quite a bit this week, because I was just down there visiting those guys. We have no idea why we went there. We knew we needed to leave Eau Claire because it was time to stop incubating, and like, we couldn’t even get a gig up here. I think we got like one gig at the Fine Line. It was like, oh my god, the Twin Cities, when really we were supposed to be playing a gig in a different city every weekend if you can, but we had no idea how to do this stuff. Anyway, so we knew we probably weren’t ready for Los Angeles or New York or Nashville, and also we had enough of – I don’t know if I’d say a punk aesthetic – but just this feeling like we wanted to make our own world. And we didn’t want to be beholden to – we didn’t wanna go from nothing to somebody else’s world and have them tell us how to do it. And we had this feeling, like, North Carolina is something – it’d be warmer, but it wouldn’t be this giant city. It’d be affordable and we could kinda go there and just try it. Again, it was about making our own world and being able to do what we wanna do in a different place.
[Lazerbeak] Did somebody have like, “Oh, my sister’s boyfriend will put us up in their house” or something?
[Justin Vernon] No.
[Lazerbeak] You just went out there with nobody.
[Justin Vernon] Nobody.
[Lazerbeak] New kids in town.
[Justin Vernon] New kids in town.
[Lazerbeak] Oh my God, that’s kinda badass actually.
[Justin Vernon] It was by far the most growth I’d ever gone through as a person, still to this day, in a year period. Because of the amount of growth, we ended up breaking up as a band within a year, but we all still point to that as such a giant year in all of our growth, and it’s right at that point that even while I was down there, I started making the first tracks for what would become Bon Iver. But they’re all down there still. There’s quite a community of people from Wisconsin have ended up down there and not just people that are our friends but quite a lot of transplants down in the triangle down there, and Durham especially is this extremely vibrant and exciting growing place.
[Lazerbeak] I’ve always loved North Carolina, but I was a Merge Records kid. I had the mail catalog in junior high, and that was how I got – it was like Merge and Matador, and I like went down the whole shit and so I just always thought of – the same way I thought of Philadelphia as I got into like the Roots and Tire Collective of like this hub of everybody doing awesome shit, [that’s how] I always looked at Chapel Hill. And then when I started touring and we actually got to check out Durham and shit like that, it was mind-blowing. It is really not only beautiful but like cool s–t happening.
[Justin Vernon] Yeah, there’s a lot of cool stuff happening, and actually what’s interesting about Merge is that you fast-forward – at the tail end of being in North Carolina, I end up getting this gig producing and playing in this band called the Rosebuds, which is the first people I’d ever met that had ever been on a label, and they were on Merge Records.
[Lazerbeak] And is this before Love Language, which was BJ [Burton]’s band on Merge?
[Justin Vernon] I think there’s some crossover, and they’re definitely on Merge, and I didn’t meet BJ until years later – and actually, he did some work with the Rosebuds after I did, I think, and then we did some together years later. But they were the first people that were good, and they were on a label and were like “Oh, yeah, touring’s not a big deal.” Like…this was a big deal, and the first – when I got to be in that band our first shows were opening for Yo La Tengo. My first job playing guitar for real, outside of like being in my band with my high school friends, was opening for Yo La Tengo.
[Lazerbeak] On tour or just like a one-off – like on tour?
[Justin Vernon] Four shows opening, to me that was big juice. But the drummer in the Rosebuds at that time is – who I met then – his name is Matt McCaughan and he still drums – we drummed together. That’s Mac who started Merge with Laura.
[Lazerbeak] That’s so fascinating; very strange. Before you got that job of playing guitar, what were you doing for money? Were you like working at record shops, restaurants?
[Justin Vernon] No. I wish I could’ve gotten—
[Lazerbeak] They never paid any money though.
[Justin Vernon] Brad got a job at the record store. I’m so jealous of that. I just worked in this awful place with really great people who paid me no money. I almost burned the place down and like —
[Lazerbeak] Were you a cook?
[Justin Vernon] Yeah.
[Lazerbeak] What kind of spot are we talking here? Like home cooking?
[Justin Vernon] Kind of fancy sandwich store/restaurant, and I worked a lot of double shifts. It’s like the first time you realize, people in the service industry drink their ass off because it is stressful.
[Lazerbeak] It’s grueling.
[Justin Vernon] I definitely did my first, like, drinking to forget ever in that scene; actually smoked cigs. “I need a cigarette.” And like you wake up in the morning with the sound of the ticket machine going.
[Lazerbeak] I still have anxiety dreams. I was a delivery driver and takeout manager for like eight or nine years, and as I was trying – same thing – trying to do the music thing, because I could get my shifts covered to go on like a two- or three-week tour and blah blah blah pick up extra when we would lose our ass on tour. And I still have this recurring anxiety dream where, for the entire night’s sleep, I’m trying to find a house to deliver this pizza, and I can’t f—ing find it, and I’m going to the gas station to ask for directions, and so like an entire night, eight hours, is just like – and I wake up in like a fucking sweat like it’s eight hours late.
[Justin Vernon] This is your Green Mill days.
[Lazerbeak] These are my Green Mill days, yeah. Those are very formative years for me. But okay, you get that job. And so what is it like? Is there a thing that goes off in you? You obviously had played plenty of shows at that point. But is that your first taste of like, “Oh this is a thing that I cold maybe turn into a life”?
[Justin Vernon] Yeah, I think so. I guess when the band broke up when I was in North Carolina, I came back to Wisconsin and like didn’t have a job, wasn’t trying to get one, but also I just didn’t know what to do and it was a very difficult time. So I went to my dad’s hunting cabin where I could just kinda be out of the way and not necessarily move right into the house I grew up in at 26.
[Lazerbeak] Sure. You had a buffer.
[Justin Vernon] And I really was out of cash, and [I] knew I was always gonna do music, but “maybe I’m gonna enroll this fall to go back and get a music education degree” because I knew my job had to be music. I was just wondering if I was holding on too tight or something. And I think – and yet I was really really working on this album.
[Lazerbeak] And this is the first – this is what becomes For Emma?
[Justin Vernon] Yeah. And so I worked on some of it in North Carolina. I went back for the winter and lived at Dad’s and then got the call in the spring to go on tour with the Rosebuds. And so I remember crashing on couches in between the Rosebud tours and also in the van, just kinda like finishing mixing that album. I mastered it down there with my friend Nick Peterson down in Chapel Hill that spring, and it was just like being on tour in the van. It was really exciting, because [I] had toured before, but really our tours were like, drive from North Carolina back to Wisconsin…so it was my first real experience and then you’re like oh. And then you just meet people and somebody does a blog post, and then you get signed.
[Lazerbeak] Totally. Well yeah, you were at the tail end of kinda of that – you know – Pitchfork obviously comes to mind, but like just the blog – because it happened for indie rock and then it happened a little bit later for rap music where we had like rap blogs, and all of a sudden every major label was just signing dudes off of whatever [a blog] would say. But I remember I was also in an indie band at that time and realizing how much weight was put into that blog culture. So you’re like, okay cool, this is your first solo thing that you make after years of being with your boys and…
[Justin Vernon] Yeah, I made some things on my own prior to that, that just weren’t mentionable. I’m not embarrassed or anything, but certainly like the first thing I’d gone in that hard after gaining the skillset that I’d been gaining over the years of recording people and mixing and playing and all that stuff.
[Lazerbeak] Was that – I talk about writing or inspiration “in waves” because I can’t think of a better f—ing analogy, but like I can now tell when I’m about to get on a wave and be like oh s— – I got like that Luther album. It was like, oh s–t I haven’t made a solo album in like ten years, but I’m feeling something, and I better give some time to it right now, because something weird is happening. And then four months later, it’s gone and you wait another ten years for that f—ing thing to come back or whatever. Were you getting so inspired by being on the road and all these new things? Was that being channeled into the making of that record or is it just kinda all happening?
[Justin Vernon] I think – well, really the album was basically finished by the time I got to go on these Rosebud tours. But what was interesting finishing them while I was sitting in the van on the laptop – what was interesting is that I was like, this is really good. And I remember knowing, because I always was proud of everything [I] ever did and I was certainly – wrote a lot growing up. But this was – this had felt like – it really felt like I was stepping into a new place. I didn’t think that it would do what it did by any stretch of the imagination, but I thought that maybe, after meeting a couple people, maybe it’s the first time I have an opportunity. Because you know how many times we had sent CDs to like every label and radio station.
[Lazerbeak] Well, you gotta remember by like 26 you’ve been doing this for half your life basically even though it’s whatever – dicking around – I remember feeling like once I got to 22, being like, I’m too old, man. I’ve missed my chance or whatever.
[Justin Vernon] I was in that spot, but I think probably the most valuable lesson out of it is that I had let go. Like I said, I was looking to maybe get into music school again and to get a teaching degree so I could at least be around music. And so I kinda gave myself just that three months at my dad’s hunting shack to work through this album and not do anything. He was like, “What are ya gonna do for money?” I was like, how about nothing. I sort of helped him build a closet and then he had to rebuild it, so I was just like you know what, Dad, I’m just gonna do nothing.
[Lazerbeak] Like if you just keep the canned corn stocked, we should be good here.
[Justin Vernon] I lived off of more venison – and like had him drop off Leinenkugel’s once a week or something.
[Lazerbeak] Amazing. I love it. Okay, so that – I mean I do think a lot about forcing it. I have a note right in front of me on my desk that just says, “Don’t force it,” because I’ve spent a long time trying to do that with music or with – when I got into management or trying to do that four other people to try to – as a label or whatever. And I have, time and time again, been humbled by like it is when you give up control that the cool shit kind of unfolds. So you experienced that.
[Justin Vernon] Definitely. But you can also tell there’s also something that I think maybe you and I both possess that has this sorta organizational sense where you – I was able to navigate how to do it in a somewhat positive way, like I remember talking to labels, and I’m like huh, “I know what I’m doing,” or like, “I have an idea of how it should go. Where does this come from?” And of course right around then Kyle, the wedding we were just talking about, he was 19 years old and he was like Phil’s ex-piano student and he was like, “Do you want help?” and I was like, yes.
[Lazerbeak] Dude, amazing. Let’s redeem Kyle, not just talk about his wedding dances. But he was going – from what I understand at least – he was going to McNally Smith, which was a music school here in the Twin Cities. And so had you known him? He was younger than you.
[Justin Vernon] I knew him because his band would open for DeYarmond Edison in college. DeYarmond Edison is the band that we went to North Carolina as when we were in Eau Claire post-Mount Vernon. But they would open up for us at the Stone’s Throw in Eau Claire. And so I knew of him, and I also knew that he was Phil’s kinda cranky piano student, who whenever Phil would say “Oh, no, like this,” Kyle would say “I know.”
[Lazerbeak] Oh yeah, I can see that.
[Justin Vernon] I know.
[Lazerbeak] Is that why he likes George Winston so much?
[Justin Vernon] I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know, I think he was just really into Saddle Creek. That was his thing, his Merge.
[Lazerbeak] So he’s like hey – had you played him the album?
[Justin Vernon] I think I had just put it on like MySpace.
[Lazerbeak] Oh f–k. Okay, because you just self – I remember you just self-released it and it was kinda just existed as a digital thing.
[Justin Vernon] It was just on MySpace probably around May that year and he wrote right away and I knew who he was and he was like do you want help and I was like whoa, this is the first time anybody said that to me. I was like, you’re hired. And like he had had some music law experience and I was like, yes. Since that day, almost anybody that I worked with was like, who is this guy, you should get somebody legit. And I was like, I don’t think so. I think I like doing it like this. I like growing with this guy. I like that he’s not impressed with any of these people who are in the business. I like that he’s 19 years old. I like that he’s from Chippewa Falls, and I like that we’re in it together. And we did this shit for ten years before he decided he wanted to run for Congress.
[Lazerbeak] Totally. But like he – it was on MySpace, but then is that you guys mailing out CDRs of this thing, or it just kinda catches fire?
[Justin Vernon] It just caught fire. I sent out five CDRs to like five important friends. One was a mentor/author friend of mine who’s still my neighbor – Michael Perry. And I remember also – this is also a good sign of when you know you’ve made something good – is when somebody you really like and care about says that they don’t really get it or they don’t really love it, and it doesn’t hurt. And you’re like oh, it doesn’t matter if they don’t like it. I know it’s f—ing crushing.
[Lazerbeak] You believe in it, yeah yeah yeah. Oh, that’s a good point. I have to remember that one.
[Justin Vernon] I have to remember it too. It gets more and more difficult. But yeah, that’s sort of that – My Old Kentucky Blog did the post and then —
[Lazerbeak] It was My Old Kentucky Blog. Amazing. Jeyca, these are blogs that as a musician at the time you’re like, that’s what you’re killing for. Those were like the Faders and the f—ing things back then and you’re like, oh my god if we could just get somebody to write it up or review the record, then maybe someone else would see it and it would blah blah blah. Okay, so My Old Kentucky Blog and then what is the time period before – it wasn’t long. It caught fire on the internet.
[Justin Vernon] It was May – My Old Kentucky Blog – and then by September there were some Rosebuds tours in there where I would do like sometimes I would open up solo before those shows. Somebody would cancel or something. But by the fall I had gotten asked to do CMJ and I was accepting [an] offer from [Jagjaguwar].
[Lazerbeak] That’s when you signed with Jag. And was there a – I’m always so again very romantic about – because I dream of coming up in the ‘90s, where there was just billions of dollars of cocaine everywhere in the music industry, and just how ridiculous that scene was. But was there like a crazy bidding war? Was it more like there’s a couple indies and we’re gonna go with Jag? Or were you like getting taken out to lobster dinners and shit?
[Justin Vernon] There was some lobster. There was Columbia Records, and I don’t remember the figure of money. It was a lot to me at the time, but I don’t think it was – it was also where majors were already starting to – I don’t know. It was like hmm, $7,500 or $8,500? Which one should we go with? And I remember talking to Mac, actually. We almost signed with Merge…and for whatever reason the Indiana Jagjaguwar thing and also, like, I think if I’m being honest, I think Merge had Arcade Fire at that point. And not that I thought we were gonna be big, but I thought it would be kinda cool to be able to be on a label I didn’t even really know that well. I don’t know. And it’s turned out to be a really excellent thing and they’ve built so many cool things.
[Lazerbeak] Oh my God. Yeah, the journey for both – for Bon and for that label is wild because then yeah – so at this point you signed at Jag. Have you played an actual “band show” as Bon Iver at that point?
[Justin Vernon] I think I had played a couple solo, and there was this one in Eau Claire at this coffee shop [that] we all grew up kinda smoking in, and I just decided in needed to do a show while I was at home for the summer or something. And Sean Carey, who was a guy I kinda knew in town – young, handsome, good drummer guy – and he’s probably 20 and he’s like “Hey, I know the tunes. I know you’re playing solo. I can harmonize on most of the lines.” And I was like you just came to the show? I was like, okay.
[Lazerbeak] Oh, you got to just say okay to a couple people. Pretty nice.
[Justin Vernon] Exactly, and Sean’s been in the band since.
[Lazerbeak] Did Mike Noyce was the same thing with him too?
[Justin Vernon] Mike Noyce was my guitar student for three years in high school, and he went away for one year of college while I was in North Carolina and then kind of immediately, I was like, “Do you wanna leave college and be in a band with me?” And he did it.
[Lazerbeak] Because I think that was the first time I saw you guys, and I remember just being like oh, this is Mike Noyce’s band. No disrespect, but being like oh my god, who is that tiny little angel that’s like fucking crushing it or whatever. Because I do remember – I don’t know if it was relatively soon after you signed with Jag, but you came and played the Turf Club in St. Paul, and it was a sell-out, and I would always check the listing and be like, oh wow, I haven’t really checked this band out, and they f—ing sold out the Turf. That’s awesome. And a lot of the Doomtree guys had gotten put up on For Emma. I remember Sims, that was like his winter album, and I’m sure a lot of people’s winter album. But like, I remember hearing him and being like, “Wait, you guys kind of know this guy?” or — you know – then I was meeting Ryan and all that s–t. It was just a weird time and then like my friend…Isaac Gale, who starts working with you on the video stuff – it’s kind of just this weird Eau Claire/Minneapolis culmination of, like, paths crossing that I thought was just such an interesting energy in the city.
[Justin Vernon] Well, I felt really cool too, because Drew and Ryan and my homies growing up, so many of them came up here; some of them stayed, and I’ll be seeing Ryan tonight. And Ryan introduced me to you, and Ryan’s done such an amazing job at extending his own community and knowing – continuing to meet the most far-out freaks there are and the greatest people that seem to care about music for all the exact right reasons. That’s why I’m always friends with Ryan. But he kinda made me feel like this could be partly my home too, up here in Minneapolis.
[Lazerbeak] I know you have a couple places or whatever, but, like, you’re up here quite a bit.
[Justin Vernon] Yeah, man. It’s so cool to f–k with it.
[Jeyca Maldonado-Medina] So—
[Lazerbeak] Oh yeah. Stop us, Jeyca. Sorry.
[Jeyca Maldonado-Medina] No, but is this the time – around the time that you two meet or is that later? Is that further down?
[Lazerbeak] I remember really meeting you – when the GAYNGS record came out, there was kind of like a Doomtree/GAYNGS camaraderie because Doomtree was putting out No Kings, and that was the first time Doomtree was getting bigger out of the Midwest, and we had done the big SXSW showcase together – and this was right before No Kings came out and we were f—ing feeling ourselves. I’ll never – no matter what success I ever get, the feeling I had right before No Kings came out, where I felt like, oh my god we own this city and it might only last for three months but right now it’s ours. That is a feeling that no amount of money or write-up or review has ever come close to touching, where you’re just on one, and it’s fleeting. But that was around that time – and the GAYNGS record, I was with Ryan through a lot of the making of that and just having my mind blown by this insane collaboration, like what the f–k is happening, and then to be able to play right before you guys, I just remember at the end of that night, going up to you and just being like whatever you need, man, I got you, like this is f–king happening.
[Justin Vernon] Was that the one at the Mohawk?
[Justin Vernon] Oh yeah. That was a fun one.
[Lazerbeak] Of course I remember that.
[Justin Vernon] But then as I continued being close – so like – Emma comes out and almost immediately – and I’m not embarrassed or anything, but almost immediately, “What else can I do” because I don’t wanna be singer-songwriter guy. And Ryan was working on GAYNGS, and it was also the first time that I got to do any music with Phil, Brad, and Joe…my guys that I broke up with in North Carolina, so he like got us back together, and that’s where I met Mike Lewis, who’s in my band now, and Ryan made him play soprano saxophone under a streetlight at the actual gig. I just met so many people because of GAYNGS – you know – Stef and you and – after that GAYNGS thing and having these people [be] my friends and Stef and Dessa and meeting Sims and all these – Cecil, and just like feeling like I was part of a larger community was really important to me at that time, because it was like totally – like we’re all in this together. It’s the same feeling – seeing Lizzo go stratospheric is more just like, hope she’s doing good. But I met at Ryan’s f—ing dungeon with Lauren – with Sophia [Eris] – and Jeremy Nutzman and like all these people that I’ve met through Ryan, and it just makes me always feel the best I can feel about being a musician, known or otherwise. It just always equalizes it all to the best degree.
[Lazerbeak] Well, because I know like certain levels of like, you get a little bit big or a little notoriety even just locally and what that can do to your psyche, even when you go out in public or whatever. You kinda like are having an out-of-body experience where you’re aware of more things than you should be, kind of. Did that – we don’t have to talk about this forever by any means, but did that f–k you up super hard? Like you had a really fast rise, and did that – did you get in your own head like a maniac?
[Justin Vernon] Yeah. Certainly developed anxiety and new bouts of depression. I remember I was actually going through, just the other day, it was just fresh in my mind…I looked at 2008, and I kind of can’t believe it just Jag actually finally put that record out first thing in 2008. We played the entire year and then went to Australia and Europe and did all this stuff and I remember – I’ve always remembered – it was only a year and a half into it when it was already not fun. And we played a show at Bonaroo or something, and I was like that was a really good show, and I hate it. I’m so drained. I don’t know why but I’m bawling. I can’t get rid of this feeling. And it’s just a tension, man, and I’m still – I still deal with the – what it is is displacement from the original 12-year-old place when suddenly there’s all these other questions that really don’t ever need to be there but that are forced on you. And like, “So what’s your process?” I was like, “What do you mean. Just play?” And then all of a sudden, you start having to make up lore about yourself – and all I ever wanted to do was play music, and it kinda went past that, and I don’t regret anything but it was very difficult and it makes you want to reach out to just about anybody at any level and just say, “I’m here if you wanna talk,” because it’s – emotional exhaustion too. You’re having a good time, but it is work. You’re in the van, you’re – it’s all difficult even when you’re not in the van, and you’re in the super posh – we’re all fully aware of how posh our touring is now, you know what I mean? Like playing – we did an arena tour and we have a video game set up and coffee cart and it’s a shitload easier. It’s pretty much vacation now.
[Lazerbeak] But it is still—
[Justin Vernon] Still, you gotta get up there and do the thing fully, and none of the people that I f–k with or are friends with know how to fake it, and I’ll never fake it and that’s why we can’t play 100 shows a year even, because there’s only so much in the tank.
[Lazerbeak] Well, to me it’s the isolation, or what I can imagine the isolation being because I’m so – just the way my life has been, I can get through a lot of the depression and anxiety by just talking to my friends or family or just being – just talking about shit the same way we’re talking about struggle and everything right now. And the second – I have to imagine that you got to a point where if you really had those honest conversations with other people they would not be able to relate to that, necessarily, of what you were going through, and it might – you might feel like a dick because it sounds like you’re showing off or whatever – like, that seems the scariest to me, is just that feeling of, “Oh s—, I can’t actually really relate to other people in some of this stuff.”
[Justin Vernon] That’s still really hard, man – and I started to try to talk to some of my friends about this, but also like when money comes your way and like – you know – I don’t think it’s ever changed me inherently, but suddenly you got something that you don’t relate to your friends about, like we aren’t all in the same zone, and like I don’t feel – that’s a really hard one. Because pretty much all I’ve figured out how to do – what to do with any money that’s come my way [is] I build a studio that friends can use, and I would imagine that any of my friends being in my position, they’d do the same thing. And so it just makes you think about how much capital and all that stuff drives us more than we want it to, more than we imagine it to, and it just – it sucks. When people have more than they need, you do weird s–t and there’s a whole isolation. You can just look at the billionaires – I’m not a billionaire yet.
[Lazerbeak] Not yet, baby. 2020 let’s go.
[Justin Vernon] First indie rock billionaire. Let’s get it, Justin, come on.
[Lazerbeak] But you just see this—
[Justin Vernon] You see just stupid behavior. It’s not like I haven’t bought some dumb things, but in general – and I don’t think that I’ve gotten away scot-free without making any mistakes or anything, but you don’t wanna be in that spot, and I’ve made it as much so that I don’t feel like that as possible. But it’s not being able to relate to the people closest in your life that is certainly a way for people to get lost.
[Jeyca Maldonado-Medina] Well, and so – you guys both talk about anxiety pretty openly. By this point, do you have sort of – is the lineup or the band of Bon Iver kind of set, or is it still changing? Because you have Doomtree and that’s pretty set, like that’s a set crew. You’ve got your people, you’ve got your community. Is Bon Iver set by that point?
[Justin Vernon] No. It kinda changed a lot. Sean’s been there the whole time, but then we added – we had a nine-piece band for a while, and then we were doing like a profit-sharing thing, because I was staunchly trying to make sure we were sharing all the money, but then we’d try to like book a production rehearsal, and we’d have no cash. But yeah, after the nine-piece band, after 2012, after the second record, then we shrunk the band back down to sort of its core, which it is today. And I think now I’m feeling that sensation of like s–t is the squat. We got this. We’re playing at a high level. We’re able to challenge ourselves but there’s a really long-term language musically going on, and it’s the people that you know you can be around, and we don’t fight. There’s no such thing as a fight.
[Lazerbeak] That sounds crazy. Well, yeah, it was the second record for me where I actually got onboard as a fan, where I was like, oh shit. I think that was the culmination of all this stuff happening and then that record had such a band sound to it and it had the Hornsby-esque song that got me with the drums like right away. It’s like, okay, I fuck with this super heavy. And then Isaac had made all the videos and stuff for it, and I felt even more invested, like that’s my homie and that f—ing CD comes with a DVD with all his videos. And that was where I was like, okay, this is wild to watch this kind of musical journey, let alone the rise. And then I think it was right before the third record, 22, A Million, where we really bro down. I remember me and Ryan picked you up – I don’t know if it was from the airport or from the Middle West office, but you had just gotten back from London and we had a rager.
[Justin Vernon] Oh yes. Oh yes. There was a couple years there. Well, Ryan was there to pick me up to finish 22, A Million. At that time, I was not about titles, but Ryan produced 22, A Million with me, you know what I mean? And it was – in between 2012 and ’16 there was – I looked at the calendar. We didn’t play shows for almost a year and a half or two years.
[Lazerbeak] Yeah, there was a break.
[Justin Vernon] And it wasn’t necessarily good. It was necessary, but it wasn’t – I was just like – really tight and everything.
[Lazerbeak] But yeah, it seemed like that third one took time, and I remember just talking with him when he came on towards the second half or whatever, to just kinda like be a set of fresh ears, and he was going out to [April] Base a lot and just kinda chilling and offering advice. And I vividly remember, after showing you guys the Luther Vandross NAACP Dionne Warwick video, being very f—ed up and being like, you guys have to f—ing watch this video; it’s the greatest song of all time – “House is Not a Home.” But then we were listening to the early versions of 22, A Million and I remember one you hadn’t even tracked the vocals to, and we’re like okay man, well, you’re gonna sing it while we listen to the track right now and just being like wow, this is all like being able to see it come together. I don’t think it was much longer after that that it really kinda gelled and happened.
[Justin Vernon] Well Ryan, he just lit the fire. Some of this stuff was just sitting there sounding the exact same for over a year, and that’s I think – that’s a really weird feeling when you’re used to like – you just finish things. You grow up and you just like “Oh, you have a song? Just finish it,” and all of a sudden there’s all these other things in the way and you’re – every time like – I remember for many years – still to this day, sometimes, I don’t know what to listen to. I’m just anxious or I’m just like, I don’t know; what if that makes me feel bad? And you just stare at your screen, and Ryan’s so good at being like, “Uh, sing. Are you a singer? You should probably sing.”
[Lazerbeak] He is really good at kinda being a dickhead and forcing you to just kinda snap out of it.
[Justin Vernon] But also, he always makes it fun. He’s not like a fun-loving guy. He’ll mostly yell at you for having a poor choice or not believing in yourself or something.
[Lazerbeak] But he’s so good at turning things into games, in a way that becomes playful and kinda forces you out of your thing. Do you have stuff with – I know we were talking about anxiety but like with – that you’ve gone through over the years where you’ve kinda found systems that you can place into your life daily to help you through? Because I’ve now learned – I’ve gone through my own four-year journey through this mental health stuff and wellness. But I’ve learned, like, you don’t eliminate these things. You don’t fix anxiety or whatever. But you learn to implement – it’s like a tool belt, and you’re like, okay, I’ve put new things in this belt [so] that every day I can like be a little more clear. Are there any specific things that you’ve found that have helped you in that path?
[Justin Vernon] I mean, exercising. And drinking less. I think there’s so many close homies that get that thing with the bottle and they just physically can’t drink at all. I think that I seem that I can and enjoy myself, but even with something that you like – like anything you like or love; or weed too. Just slowing down, and like weed was like a daily all-day – if I was in the studio there’s no way that I’m not smoking trees.
[Lazerbeak] You’re blazing one.
[Justin Vernon] Yeah. And like – and then after a while it’s just like anything that’s good. It just isn’t anymore. And to me like drugs can be so valuable, like who doesn’t remember a good memory when they’re getting drunk with their young friends? This feeling of freedom, this feeling of exploration, this feeling of letting inhibitions leave. But just like any sort of balance in the universe, it will – if you go to that well too much, that well’s gonna run dry. And if you keep going, it’s gonna get really ugly.
[Jeyca Maldonado-Medina] But I think what’s interesting is having anxiety, but then having to still go out and perform. Is there things for each of you that like if you have a show that day and you’re just not feeling it, what’s your thing? How do you get?
[Lazerbeak] Man, tough. I’ve been lucky that I haven’t ever really experienced performance anxiety as far as like being anxious about playing a show. I still get butterflies and freak out and black out throughout the set basically and then I’m like high fives, cool. We did it. But I don’t have that the way I know a lot of people and close people to me have struggled with that. That’s a demon that I have been fortunate not to encounter yet. But, man, when I’m in the throes of some shit like – so I don’t know. I should let you answer that question because I actually don’t know.
[Justin Vernon] No, I mean I just have to walk. I remember playing a show with our friend [Andrew] Broder in New York a couple years ago and I was literally laying on the bathroom, wondering if I had to puke or what. It was just an anxiety attack. Because you get butterflies and you can misname the butterflies for an anxiety attack sometimes, if you’re just really stoked and just really wanna go. And these are these tools you’re talking about. You start to realize like oh, you’re just excited; just tap the brakes. You know what I mean? Like little things like that – and the only way to figure that stuff out is to be honest with yourself and talk about it with yourself and others and to not let it just go in. But I generally have to just pace for like an hour and a half.
[Lazerbeak] Yeah, physically just kind of get it out.
[Justin Vernon] Just move and not be still. But it’s where it gets so dangerous is when you’re – especially if you’re a singer. If you have to like emote with your mouth and throat and you’re feeling anxious, you always get there. Like I said, I can’t lie and I’m always honest. You always get there and you always do the thing as best to your ability, but it’s like running. The metaphor I always use is like running a fuel on no oil. You’re just ruining the engine and it’s doing long-term damage that might not ever be repaired.
[Lazerbeak] Yeah, it’s dicey. I’ve found like the things that I try to do daily that just help me in general not get to those like super attack-y places – like you said, exercise. I never really believed that that could be more of a mental health than a physical health. But I’ll do 30 minutes on an elliptical in the morning and it’s the only thing that will rock me out of my stress loops.
[Justin Vernon] Spider webs are gone.
[Lazerbeak] Because I can’t breathe very well, so I’m like okay, I guess I have to focus on breathing for a half hour now and like – and then I’m a little more clear. I do the 10-minute headspace app meditation s–t. That’s worked really well for me. I know meditation is different for everybody, but like gratitudes at night have been huge – just three things that you’re thankful for at the end of the night.
[Justin Vernon] It’s funny, man. You’re like – you know – your talking about growing up in a Christian household is like, I got confirmed but shortly after that, my family was like, “Actually, not feeling it.” And then I studied religion, and so I was definitely secular if not somewhat antireligious, or like definitely pro-not-going-to-church, because I thought that there was so many more questions you could answer on earth or something like this. However when you leave some of these routines, and you’re not praying or something, then you sometimes don’t have these reflective moments. And for a long time, I was like, I don’t need those.
[Lazerbeak] Totally. I’m just praying to myself, man.
[Justin Vernon] Yeah, it’s just like music is my prayer and it’s true, but – you get to be in such bad places sometimes, and I think it really is like our age and literally our bodies kinda like being done changing, at least – kinda tapping out almost. Hair falls out but it grows in other places.
[Lazerbeak] Oh yeah, it’ll grow. It will flow, actually.
[Justin Vernon] But yeah. You have to keep it going like you never had to before.
[Lazerbeak] I remember – and we weren’t super tight but – you know – all the Kanye stuff, and then hearing through friends of friends like, “And then Vern is just in a room with Rick Ross making songs for a couple days for the Kanye album” and things like that, and just having my mind blown as someone who’s been such a fan of like mainstream rap music his whole life, just being like, my friend is out here in these rooms like just fucking experiencing these things.
[Justin Vernon] What’s cool is that loving all music, like I certainly went through my rap stuff. In Eau Claire there was kind of a specific kind of brand that everyone kinda went for, like the [MF] Doom, the – there was some early Busta stuff, and obviously then Q-Tip and the Fugees and everything. But by the time – I guess Kanye would’ve started [while I was in] late high school or early college, and what I liked about him so clearly is that it was like a – he was using Jon Brion, and there was all these people, and he was so clearly on something else beyond just rapping. We had not really seen that before – maybe since, either – in the same way. But to have gotten a call from him amongst all this was kinda mind-blowing and really exciting, but then I also sort of felt like I was ready, like in this really weird way like I wasn’t cocky or anything, but I was like, I’ll go out there.
[Lazerbeak] You weren’t scared or – I would freak the f–k out with excitement and then I would be like what if I fuck it up. You know what I mean? Like this is the biggest whatever. But you were like strangely calm about it.
[Justin Vernon] I was, and I fit in and everyone was really nice, including Kanye himself. This was the Twisted Fantasy sessions, the first time I ever met any of those guys.
[Lazerbeak] And this is when you went out to Hawaii. Those sessions were in Hawaii.
[Justin Vernon] Yeah. And actually Andrew Dawson from Minneapolis was the main engineer who had just made a record with Stef recently, so I felt like there was this connection and enough familiarity there, and honestly having done the GAYNGS records with how insane it was and how much hash was smoked and like how many billions of bottles of Redbreast were drank, and like not just because of the party thing, but because of like the grandness and the sort of vibe – Ryan’s vibe of like, “Alright, you guys go down to that part of the house and do this.” It was just like well, Kanye is just sort of like Ryan with like a million-dollar budget.
[Lazerbeak] More money – yeah, exactly.
[Justin Vernon] Which – thank god Ryan never had a million dollars.
[Lazerbeak] Oh god. It’d be over. We’d all be in the grave.
[Justin Vernon] There’d be a lot of water balloons, like it would be all spent on water balloons.
[Lazerbeak] Yeah, exactly. Did the Blood Bank song – did “Lost in the Woods” – was that a beat before you got the call? Like did you know that was already gonna be a track on there?
[Justin Vernon] I did, because I actually sketched that “Woods” song when I was in North Carolina. So it was old and sort of experimenting with Auto-Tune and stuff like that, but sort of held on to it and it sort of made sense, once I was like, I should follow this first album up with something and have it be an EP. I just went on there and—
[Lazerbeak] Because the original is like six minutes. It’s just you kinda riffing on that, right?
[Justin Vernon] Yeah, it’s just like a bunch of my voice – they kinda called and like, they wanna use that track as like a sample or something. I was like cool, which is interesting, [because] I love that album and for some reason that song sort of kicks me out and I don’t know why. I think I don’t know why.
[Lazerbeak] You’re too close to it maybe?
[Justin Vernon] Maybe, but it’s—
[Lazerbeak] Because that’s one of my favorites on the record.
[Justin Vernon] Maybe it’s because of the being too close to it thing, however the greatest part about it – that was in and of itself. I was like well also, if nothing happens here, it sounds like they’re using this track anyways, and that’s gotta be good for something. But I just got to work, and I was so – my own little room was half the size of this room, and that’s where Ross would hang out. But sometimes they would just smoke weed, and I would just be like “Is it okay if I just work on this?” You know what I mean? And I did so many things. Like the whole intro with Nicki [Minaj], that’s just me screwing around with my voice and like I got to watch Nicki do her “Monster” verse and saw Pete Rock – there’s a song that didn’t make it called “The Joy” – Curtis Mayfield sample –
[Lazerbeak] Oh, yeah, I remember hearing that after – yup.
[Justin Vernon] And I saw him chop the entire thing on an MPC, just like all these amazing experiences with really big-deal folks that were just – they were just all people in a studio. There was not, like, cameras. There was no nothing, and I don’t know, it did a lot for my natural confidence. And also again, it kinda came back to just, this is just homies working on music.
[Lazerbeak] I was gonna say, did it make you maybe a little less cynical of the big major label world or artists?
[Justin Vernon] Yeah, certainly. Certainly, and no matter what, I’ve stayed friends with Kanye on and off, and not like we’re like the tightest, but we’ve definitely gone there. And it’s difficult now, but at the very least he certainly never just went along with things. And he just didn’t give in or try to be – I don’t know. It boosted my confidence and was a – what’s the word? It made me relate or it made me wanna relate that way to the world more, because it was so inspiring and it got all the people that would show up so hyped.
[Lazerbeak] Did you partake in any of the legendary stories of like the basketball games?
[Justin Vernon] Yeah, we played a lot of – we’d just go to the Y in like Honolulu and just like play.
[Lazerbeak] I love that so much. We’re both big basketball guys, but that is the s–t. Who was like the secret weapon? Tell me that Rick Ross could shoot like a—
[Justin Vernon] Oh, he didn’t play.
[Lazerbeak] I didn’t know if he was like a 60-foot jump shot.
[Justin Vernon] This is over ten years ago now and I’m – Virgil [Abloh] was definitely around too. That’s when I met Virgil, because he was art directing, but – I found out Virgil went to school in Madison, Wisconsin for architecture and I remember it was like – these are just high school buddies. I remember loving Virgil. He was probably the best actually – Virgil – yeah, he’s good and scrappy.
[Lazerbeak] I can see that, absolutely.
[Justin Vernon] And then of course I was the best.
[Lazerbeak] No question about it.
[Justin Vernon] What’s it like for you now? Like, how do you feel? Because you’ve done so many things. You make music; you help others also make music, and you also had to change, and you’ve also had people come in and out of your life, and friends and partners and collaborators creatively. Like does your confidence wax and wane, or is it like now that you’re at a certain spot – I don’t know. What does it feel like being Lazerbeak in 2020 in Minneapolis?
[Lazerbeak] This is good. This is Tuesdays with Justin Vernon. No, I mean I’ll stick to the confidence thing. My – for anyone who’s listening who doesn’t know this story – like I started as a musician first, like always artist first, definitely in seventh period thinking I was gonna play like Lollapalooza or whatever – be a rock star. And then you work really hard and you get some levels of success, or I’ve been lucky enough to say that I do music for a job for probably coming up on eight years, which blows my mind – the 13-year-old in me is shocked and excited. But that has been more of a job than like a musician’s job, and I slowly stepped up in running the independent label, Doomtree Records, and then got into management after I had kids because I couldn’t tour. So the amount of time I’ve had to actually – I talk about that year where I got to make five beats a week – like I now have to physically go in – not physically – I just go into my calendar and I have to carve out three hours a week to make music or I will not do it. And when I don’t do it I’m a real s—head, like I’m really pissy and it affects like my relationship with my children and my wife and everyone around me, because I can’t get that creative – I’m meant to do that. It hasn’t turned out that that’s gonna easily pay all my bills, but if you really boil me down, that’s what I’m meant to do, I think. And so it’s been a little challenging, trying to navigate just finding the time to really do the creative stuff and not just be on conference calls and emails constantly. So my confidence has gone up and down, kinda depending on how much time I’ve been able to give to that. Like, when I made the Luther album I was able to step and take three months. I was still doing all my other shit, but like hone in on that, and I was like, I’m the best that has ever lived. You know, like you have those weird little pockets, and I’ve had that. I remember vividly somewhere around 2012 – I’ve always been like kind of a humble person, but I remember like even just my rap friends being like, “You’re the s–t” and I was like I think I’m the best producer ever right now. Like I am hip-hop. But like having those – again, it’s a wave, and I still – every once in a while I get on one and there’s nothing like just feeling yourself, and it shouldn’t last forever, right? Because that is problematic, but the little pockets of feeling yourself are the things that I think sustain me through the real doubt and the, “I should give this up.” Because I still meet with a lot of younger people and try to [do] a little free consultation s–t, like here’s how you put out a record, here’s how you promote yourself. And I’m often met personally with the debate of like, “Old man, it might be time to just stop so that you can let others in.” Like when is it your time to check out? As a producer, it’s a little easier, because you can still collaborate without being the front person. But – so I don’t know.
So that right now, I just finished a second solo album, and my confidence is high because I’m like – the same thing that you were talking about where you just kinda know sometimes that it’s good. I’m like, I think I cracked a new little code, and that feels really good. I’m sure in a month, I’ll be like in the throes of a f—ing crying…but I have come to the same thing that we talked about with the tool belt. Through the meditation, it’s helped me get into the whole idea of like, okay, everything is changing, and good or bad it’s gonna change. So just f—ing be here, and on the days I remember to really keep that to heart, I’m better for it, and it’s a lot easier. But otherwise, it feels pretty tight to be in Minneapolis in 2020 as Lazerbeak. I got three like s—head kids that keep me on my toes, and I get to like – I talked about being super nostalgic in my late 30s but I really geek out on like – I kind for the first time have gotten a chance to stop and look back and recognize the – I’m not gonna say legacy, but just recognize like I’ve gotten to do some cool s–t and I’ve gotten to know some cool people and —
[Justin Vernon] You represented yourself accurately and with positive ramifications.
[Lazerbeak] Yes, and I’ve built some things, and I hope to have like been – yeah – to be positive, and I’m starting to feel like that is bigger than any of the other shit I’m trying to pull off.
[Jeyca Maldonado-Medina] Yeah, well, and I think also in the last two years there were a few shows that were sort of like nostalgic in nature. There was Doomtree Forest, which was like really like every – it was Doomtree and then all the sub groups of Doomtree.
[Lazerbeak] Yeah, we did some – we took over a skate park and threw a rager.
[Jeyca Maldonado-Medina] It was like six hours long. It was so long, but it was really fun.
[Lazerbeak] It was very sweaty.
[Jeyca Maldonado-Medina] And then there was the Luther album release show, which was also like hey, Lazerbeak, this is your life. Here’s everybody you’ve collaborated with.
[Lazerbeak] Yeah. That was a “this is your life” thing.
[Jeyca Maldonado-Medina] That was like a room of people just being like, look at like everything that you’ve been a part of and everything that you’ve helped build in this city, and that was cool to witness.
[Lazerbeak] I like being an OG, I gotta say. Like I said, I always wanna be older, but there’s nothing I love more than when a 19-year-old kid will text me and just be like, “What up, OG, like let’s – what do you think about this?” and I’m like, “That’s f—ing right,” like that is like a badge I love to wear.
[Justin Vernon] Well, that something I admire about you, because you are always meeting these younger folks and there’s – you don’t carry yourself like, “Well I know how it goes, I know how to do it.” It’s just about, like, light support, and to have a person – to be a 19-year-old in this town that does get the chance to speak with you, to talk to you, to ask you questions, just to be in your presence, it’s – you know – they probably don’t have the, “Oooh, it’s Lazerbeak.”
[Lazerbeak] Right. They definitely don’t.
[Justin Vernon] But that’s exactly what they don’t need. That’s exactly what they – you know what I mean? They need this feeling of like – just to be supported, and like you’re not some – you’re not on Columbia and you’re not at a booking agent, and like booking agency, and you’re just there like to support. And I can just see you doing this for just more decades. It’s exciting.
[Lazerbeak] Oh man, I love you. I appreciate you and I’m gonna like text you next time I’m in the throes of doubt and be like, will you remind me again what – why I’m important.
[Jeyca Maldonado-Medina] I’ll cut out little one-minute snippets and send them to you.
[Lazerbeak] Yes, that’s right. We’ve got this.
[Justin Vernon] Maybe next time we can get like a drop, like a drop deck in here, which like…beepbeepbeep.
[Lazerbeak] Oh my god, that’s gonna be like my alarm clock every morning, just Justin being like “You’re good man, you’re gonna be cool, you’re gonna be cool.”
[Justin Vernon] You’re the best.
[Lazerbeak] Dude, I can’t thank you enough, like I truly – I texted Jeyca after the wedding because I was like, pretty sure this was not happening, like, if I know Justin he f—ing hates interviews and he – I think I might have wowed him with a couple songs on the dancefloor, but I don’t think this is gonna happen, and to actually have you be the one to be down, like to approach me, has been a – it’s really cool, dude.
[Justin Vernon] I mean, I’ve been looking forward to it and I’m so glad I did it. I’ve had so much fun, you guys.
[Lazerbeak] Oh man.
[Jeyca Maldonado-Medina] I’m like – this is incredible. This is huge.
[Lazerbeak] So before we go, I know we talked a lot about the past, but what is – okay, I’m gonna mirror you. What is 2020 for Justin. I feel like we’ve gotten to that point in our relationship now, I can call you that. But what does that look like? You had a successful arena tour, which we didn’t even get into this new shit but everyone already knows – and it seems like you’ve earned – I was talking to Josh, who is current management for you – and where it’s like, you’ve gotten to a sweet spot where you don’t have to let the release dictate the touring. You can kinda just pick your spots and do your things as you want. At least, as an outsider, it appears that way. Does that feel cool?
[Justin Vernon] Yes. And even with this record, I don’t know, I’m a sacred math kind of thing. It feels like this first four – like this last one definitely is the best, the easiest, and most in-tune and the least amount of stress, and I mean stress with a capital S, like it breaks you and it can really – you can be not excited [on] record release day, when you’re just tired already, you haven’t even been on that tour. But I think it feels very much like the first – the youth of this band is behind us, and we get to grow. I’m not worried about anything, but I just don’t know if I’ll be able to write the same way. I don’t need to. I’m just basically as open as it gets and I’d like to – like “collaborate” is maybe such a word that gets used too much or something, but I’m just waiting – I’m gonna wait until things really surprise me. I look back and I see myself as a driven individual. That’s cool. But I also wanna feel like what it’s – I wanna go back a little bit so that there is – you’re not just playing music about music or being a musician. I wanna live a little bit. I love music more than anything, and if I don’t play it – like you said, if I don’t play it, or if I’ve been on a hiatus because I’ve been overexposed playing too much, I’m a shitty person. I’m meant to do this. But I don’t wanna need it too hard, and I certainly wanna be able to live a life and be a good person more than I am gonna worry about accolades or whether or not everyone likes the music I make. It’s just important to stay humble and to be – to serve music rather than have it serve you.
[Lazerbeak] And do you feel a little bit – I mean yeah, and I know that this most recent album got kind of – if it was true or not, it’s an incredible story about the seasons, like I love the – I’ve written a lot of press releases, so I’m always like “oh, four-album seasonal cycle, I’d f–k with that.” But like does it feel like that – you’ve crossed that hurdle and it gets a little bit easier?
[Justin Vernon] Yeah, like I don’t know if it will automatically be easy, but I’m not – now I don’t have that four-seasons thing. Now we’re past nature, and we get to go into crazy space.
[Lazerbeak] Yeah, yeah. There’s rabbit holes out there.
[Justin Vernon] And – you know – put out the weird stuff. I don’t wanna have a plan, but I feel like we get to go to space now and never come back.
[Lazerbeak] And you have the luxury of a little bit of time. You don’t feel pressured right now to crank out, and that’s another thing about being on a label like Jag where you don’t have 50 execs coming down with a hammer being like, “We need the next record right now.”
[Justin Vernon] No, man. No, man. No way. I’ve got that freedom for sure and that’s the beautiful thing.
[Lazerbeak] So what are you gonna do? Are you gonna go on vacation or something? What are we gonna do, guys?
[Justin Vernon] I don’t know. I’m gonna go to the National Parks, but I mean, generally, I have to kind of – I almost have to work to not go into the studio almost, because you can go in and be like not ready, and because you don’t have another job, it’s like well, what else am I gonna do. You kind have to remember to go to visit your folks or something, to see a friend or to go look at a mountain or – I don’t really like traveling, so when I’m not on tour sometimes, it’s just good to like – I literally do a lot more just sitting and staring at the woods now, where it’s just like, I’m not filling this time with something because I need to just actively stare at this squirrel for like an hour and a half.
[Lazerbeak] And are you – so I struggle. I’m a busybody, and I’m driven too, to a fault, and like I can’t sit still. I can only watch a movie at the very end of the night as like a reward for the hard work I did that day. And I wanna get to a place where I can actually just take some time for myself. But – so when I’m sitting not doing anything, just writing emails or something during the day, I’m freaked out. Have you gotten past that freak-out where you can sit and look at a squirrel and be like, I don’t have to work necessarily? It’s all connected, right?
[Justin Vernon] Yes. Yeah, I think I have. I mean I love watching movies all day long, so I think I have a bit of the driven thing and also almost an insane ability to relax. Even yesterday I was having an anxious day. I didn’t know what I should be doing. Should. Like someone’s telling me.
[Lazerbeak] Right, like there’s a right answer.
[Justin Vernon] And I was like, well, I sort of feel like playing music, but I’m kinda anxious, so maybe I should chill out, and you just never get it right. And you just have those days, and you’re just like, let’s hang it up. We didn’t get it today.
[Lazerbeak] Just go to sleep and reset it.
[Justin Vernon] But stillness is actually harder now than it has been, because I think you do your self-balancing, and I think I was able to relax a lot when I was just overworked. But now that like the pace is better, I’m actually finding time and the desire to do new things or like sit in the woods and look at the trees.
[Lazerbeak] Anything else we missed or you wanna plug, like – we’re looking for an endorsement deal by blah blah blah, but I have a feeling that you’re all right. Is there any endorsement deal you need right now?
[Justin Vernon] Yeah. Like a weed one.
[Lazerbeak] A weed one. All right, let’s put that out there.
[Jeyca Maldonado-Medina] A weed one.
[Lazerbeak] It’s not legal here yet.
[Justin Vernon] I just want somebody to send it to somewhere I can get it.
[Lazerbeak] We could send it to the Doomtree Records PO box at the office, and you could just pop through every like once a week. We could set it up. We’ll put some feelers out.
[Justin Vernon] Thanks, USPS. Thank you guys a lot.
[Lazerbeak] Dude – thank you Justin. Justin Vernon, indie rock’s first billionaire. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
[Justin Vernon] Thank you all.