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Watch Justin Vernon of Bon Iver interviewed with his high school band in 1999


When we think of our favourite musicians as teenagers, we imagine social outcasts, jock-dodgers in oversized duffle coats wandering high school corridors with their eyes fixed firmly on the ground. While it’s easy to think of Justin Vernon as being exactly this kind of frumpy loser, nothing could be further from the truth. Judging by this footage of his high-school band being interviewed on local news, it looks to me like the Bon Iver musician absolutely nailed high school.

Before Vernon retreated to an isolated cabin in his native Wisconsin to record For Emma, Forever Ago as Bon Iver, he released music as JD Vernon and his early 2000s group DeYarmond Edison. A songwriter from the age of 12, Vernon formed his first band, Mount Vernon, after meeting fellow musicians at a high school jazz camp in Wisconsin. As if in an attempt to disprove high school stereotypes, he also captained the football team. Vernon’s a tall guy, let’s not forget.

In 1998, Mount Vernon released their debut record We Can Look Up Their Name? Mount Vernon. This footage was taken the year after that album was released, shortly before Vernon and his bandmates graduated from Memorial High School in Eau Claire.

Comprised of nine players, Mount Vernon featured several musicians who would go on to collaborate with Vernon in future projects, including Phil Cook (DeYarmond Edison, Megafaun, Gayngs), his brother Brad Cook (DeYarmond Edison, Megafaun), and Joe Westerlund (Megafaun, Grandma Sparrow). Trumpeter and close friend Trever Hagen can also be seen bobbing his head as the band rehearse new material.

From the interview segments, it’s obvious that Mount Vernon meant a great deal to all of those involved. While the group’s joyful blend of reggae, soul, jazz and afrobeat might sound a world away from the blissful folk music of Bon Iver, it’s clear that Vernon’s collaborative approach stems from his time with Mount Vernon. The band would later take a break from performing, with many going separate ways. But, as one band member points out, the music of Mount Vernon is “something that we take with us no matter what we end up doing in the next couple of years.”

This footage is an intriguing insight into Vernon’s musical life before Bon Iver. More intriguing still is the suggestion that the girl with the short hair singing at 1:42 is Emma, the Emma to who Vernon dedicated his mournful debut in 2008. If you’d like to see Mount Vernon performing live at a battle of The Bands competition in 1998, you can find that here.