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Who Is Bon Iver?

Bon Iver's Justin Vernon
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

Bon Iver took home the Best New Artist and Best Alternative Album Grammys at the 2012 ceremony. This left a lot of people wondering: Who the heck is this guy?

Bon Iver is a folk band, of whom Justin Vernon is the face. Vernon, a native of Eau Claire, Wis., formed Bon Iver when his old band and life all but fell apart. At the time of the dissolution of his band DeYarmond Edison, Vernon also faced a breakup with his then-girlfriend and a battle with mono. The experience led him to leave his then-home of Raleigh, N.C. and head back to Wisconsin, where he stayed in his father’s remote cabin, closed off from the world.

It was there that Vernon’s new band name, Bon Iver, came to mind. While holed up, he passed the time watching ‘Northern Exposure’ DVDs, in which he heard the cast tell one another, “bon hiver,” French for “good winter.” He jotted it down and wound up spelling it incorrectly, but he didn’t want to fix it — “hiver” sounded too much like “liver,” the very organ ailing him at the time.

Vernon wound up recording what became his band’s debut album, ‘For Emma, Forever Ago,’ during his isolation, playing all the instruments and doing all the recording and mixing himself. While he later admitted he originally only intended for them to be demos, Vernon wound up releasing them as the actual album at the insistence of his buddies. The album generated buzz from blogs and received almost universal acclaim for all critics acquainted with it. Eventually, the positive reviews and the album’s popularity led to a deal with Jagjaguwar Records, from which it was released in February 2008.

Later that year, the band appeared on ‘The Late Show With David Letterman,’ with their track ‘Skinny Love’ licensed in ‘Chuck’ and ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘The Wolves (Act I and II)’ ep in ‘The United States of Tara.’ It was even covered on ‘X Factor!’ Other songs appeared in ‘House’ and ‘Skins.’ In 2009, Bon Iver contributed ‘Roslyn’ to the ‘Twilight: New Moon’ soundtrack.

In addition to hype for ‘Holocene’ and his debut, Justin Vernon and Bon Iver have friends in high places. Vernon collaborated with Kanye West on ‘Lost in the World’ and contributed vocals to West’s megahit, ‘Monster.’

Bon Iver’s self-titled sophomore record was released on June 21, 2011. In December, influential indie blog Pitchfork named it the No. 1 album of 2011. It was nominated for the Best Alternative Album on Nov. 30, as was the artist himself for Best New Artist. Considering the liberal definition of “new” in the Best New Artist category, we’d say it’s an award well deserved.

See List of 2012 Grammy Award Winners

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