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Bon Iver’s choices

The song was written by Sam Cooke. It’s only two and a half minute long, but I think it’s one of the best songs for her voice: she wails, and it makes me kinda cry every time, even though it’s an incredibly joyful song. It’s her voice and her background singers, the way her voice is recorded, it’s just absolutely perfectly well.

The voices I like the most are the ones that just are pushed, maybe untrained, sometimes trained voices can push, but when the whole body is being used in a voice, it’s bruising something when you’re using it, it’s one of my favourites usually.

I think the thing is just to sing for you, sing what’s gonna bring you sort of healing, don’t worry about the people out there, they’re gonna understand what you’re doing as a performer. But you’re doing it for them, so it’s a weird circuit.

I do push my voice, but it’s a new thing, I usually sang in a lower voice, but in the last year and a half only I’ve really just started to explore different kinds of voices. I think I used to push too often, I sort of wait for my moment more. Now, with Bon Iver, I just like better to wait.

Watch the Bowerbirds’ Take away show

They’ve become very very dear friends of mines but before I got to be friends with them, the song really changed my life. It was definitely a moment in time when I first watched them play, and the way that the song (starts doing the drums) , there are just these kind of tempos, slow downs and speed ups, the melody and Phil’s voice, the strange and beautiful places he takes you with his lyrics…

It was when I was living in North Carolina so it must have been in early 2006. I’d never met them before, all the songs blew my mind. But that song, I went home, and that was the first time i thought about quitting music. Yeah, it really was, I really wasn’t sure I could do it anymore, because that song was so good. I thought what I saw that night just may be better than anything I could ever do.

It’s a perfect linking with the previous song, because this one sort of caused me to have writer’s block for four years, in my early twenties. Jackson Browne is a very simple writer, and the aesthetics maybe aren’t super interesting, but it’s very representative of all these records from the 70s, which are so poignant, the most poignant love songs, or just songs about normal pain, people everyday pain, but so poignant, more poignant than any other writer ever.

It’s a longer song, the entire song is this loose vague reference to someone falling out of love with each other. It’s really very central for my developing kind of emotional mind. I was so inspired and so touched that I couldn’t write my own songs because what he was saying was what I wanted to say so so much.

The lyrics are something very important for me, despite the vague lyrics from me sometimes, and the way they’re brought out of me was very succint, particular and specific. I left them vague because for me, sometimes, to see this tree like everybody in the world looks at it from this angle, and they get a meaning from it, but it’s the same tree. But if you just take a walk around and stand from a different point of view, you get a new perspective and a new meaning on the same kind of context or the same phenomenon.

I also have that experience when I listen to other artists who may be singing in English, Mark Kozelek is an example, it’s the version that only appeared on the Vanilla Sky soundtrack. I don’t remember watching the movie, all I know is I’ve listened to that song maybe a thousand times. He says things and you hear “christmas tree” but the rest of the words you don’t understand, he sings in perfect English, but the way he uses his mouth is very deliberate, you don’t know if it’s conscious, but it’s an emotional thing, the sound of his words are just as important as the words he sings, the inflexions, the pronunciation.

I have actually been contacted for two movies, the scripts are really interesting, kind of funny and dark, but I really want to meet with the directors because that’s something I love. Like touring and making records, I always will, but scoring films is something that I think I want to become, I wanna be part of the film. I’m glad I’ve started to get offers already because i really want to score a film with maybe a little orchestra or a group or just me, whatever.

He’s kind of a forgotten soul singer, but this song really defines him as an artist, and I think it might be the only song he wrote. It’s just the arrangement of it, and his voice, so incredible, and the lyrics… It’s just wrenching. Usually I enjoy a song with a major kind of chords, supplemented with minor sadness, but this song is very minor, very dark, and I don’t even know what’s happening in the song, but he’s explaining that years and years and years from now, he’ll be singing that song to her again. I don’t even know if it’s the lyrics or the music, but you just have to sit by yourself, make sure you have some privacy and listen to it loud. I don’t know how it couldn’t affect you.

There’s no singing in the song, but it reminds me of Duke Ellington’s later works, when he was doing more thematic composing rather than just jazz band and I think he sort of summed up American music, maybe even just worldly culture for the first half of the 20th century. And this Bill Frisell song, they made a record of it. The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis commissionned Bill Frisell to write a piece called « Blues Dream » and it’s a record now, with Bill Frisell and his septet: trumpet, trombone, saxophone, pedal steel guitar, double bass, drums and he played electric guitar.

What I think Bill Frisell did is sum up the second half of that century, and Western music in general. When I saw him play – that was maybe the best concert I’ve ever seen – I was transported to New Orleans in the 60s, to Nebraska in the 90s, I was just everywhere. This song is probably my favourite and the record as well. The different selection of instruments felt like somehow Duke Ellington passed the torch to Bill, though they never met or anything. I just feel like it really is the combination of a lot of music.

(We then asked Justin about the following album to For Emma)

Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it. The second one will just be its own thing, I don’t feel nervous, or pressured at all, though I think I could. But the only important thing when you boil this whole story and this enigmatic thing down, is that you can’t get away from the fact that it was me being honest with myself, and I think that’s what translates, I think it’s easy and appropriate to say the story or whatever. To me, it wasn’t this grand myth, I was just there, living in the cabin.

At that time, I just broke up with my band, so a little bit I was naked. I was basically doing one thing for so long that I was almost trapped, I was still with the band and everything, going down, down, down. And I just think I had to travel backwards a bit, or at least just know that that was there, and do something with honour.

I was making it with no expectation, I wasn’t thinking how I would fit into the world of commercial music and getting it out there. But yet, here I am.

So, you’re talking about the next record or something, I think all I need to do is travel to a place where nothing matters but the circuit between my honesty and what comes out in the music.

I probably won’t go to the cabin, maybe I’ll build a studio or something, it doesn’t matter, what matters is that I have an opportunity to be distraction-free. I don’t want to write my lyrics on tour, that won’t happen, as much as I have this sort of Scandinavian American Lutheran guilt work complex, I’ll say no because I know that the most important thing is not promos days and tour, it’s for me to be able to have the right situation to write and to create.

I want to strike a balance, because I know there are people helping me get the music out there, and so I want to help them and do as they ask. But if you’re just honest with them and have foresight and forthcoming, and be like “No, it’s not a good idea”, they’ll understand, if only would you explain it to them.