Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and Astronautalis form band, record album
Not everyone can turn a whiskey-fueled weekend in Wisconsin into a conceptual piece of art, but that's exactly what Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon and Minneapolis rapper Astronautalis are shooting for. With assistance from Bon Iver drummer S. Carey, and the production mastery of Ryan Olson (Marijuana Death Squads, Gayngs, Polica), the guys holed up in Vernon's April Base studio near Eau Claire, Wisconsin, this past weekend to record an album unlike anything these collaborators have previously created.
Alerts and photographs started emerging on Astronautalis' Tumblr over the past couple days, and the rapper's giddiness is immediately palpable. "There were several times during those three days where I couldn't believe that a sound just fell perfectly into place," he tells Gimme Noise. "Often times you get one of those when you make a record, or two of those, over the course of weeks and weeks and weeks. This process was exhilarating, and it drove us further. We were originally going to be down there for a day."
Astro, AKA Andy Bothwell, says that he's known Olson for about five years, and the two are around-the-corner neighbors now. Vernon has been a friend for the past two years, and he was in Minneapolis just recently. A discussion about "studio nerd stuff," and the realization that both of them were hitting a creative break at the same time, evolved into plans to converge on April Base together, and by this past Wednesday, Vernon, Bothwell, Carey, and Olson were assembled there and feverishly working. As they worked, he says they polished two bottles of Redbreast Irish whiskey, and a bottle of Bushmills.
Judging by the photographs that appeared on Astro's Tumblr, he got some time out in the gorgeous natural setting surrounding the studio, and even took a spin on a moped.
"By the time I got there, they had about eight pieces of music done, or roughed out into song form," he recalls. "Then I just got down there and freestyled for eight hours over everything. When I work with Ryan, it's the exact opposite of how I work on my own records. I just give him tons and tons of material. He takes it back to his house, and dangles a cigarette out of his mouth, and works for hours on end."
For both Vernon and Bothwell, this was an opportunity to let go of the studio conventions that led to the heavily structured Bon Iver and This is Our Science, released a few months apart in 2011. "What sparked this was that he and I are obsessive and lose our minds working on albums," he says. "Stressing out over lyric choices, and getting one word right and worrying about it for weeks on end. Whereas, Ryan is this amazing personality who motivates people to enjoy the process of making music. You just do it, and if it doesn't work, it'll get cut out."
According to Astronautalis, the end product will only sound like a hip-hop record to a certain degree. He's confident that those eight hours of freestyling will likely be chopped and treated to find a new context. ("There may be tracks where I freestyle for hours and hours, and we may end up using four words.") And, all of the introspective storytelling of a track like "Secrets on Our Lips" has been supplanted with stuff that's intended to come correct sonically, first and foremost.
"A lot of my fans are like, 'Oh this is going to be amazing: Astronautalis rapping and Justin singing choruses.' It's not going to be that," Bothwell stresses. "I'm sure that all of Justin's fans are going to be like 'Oh, it's a new Bon Iver record and there's these other guys.' Everyone's fans respectively are going to expect certain things."
Is this filed under one of Ryan Olson's Gayngs or something separate?
Astronautalis: It's definitely totally separate. The thing Ryan enjoys the most is working with other people. Ryan is an incredible inspiration machine. He brings really interesting stuff out of people. The Gayngs record is the ultimate example of that, and the Marijuana Deathsquads record, as well. It's always going to have Ryan's fingerprints on it.
Have you discussed what to call this project?
Yeah, but we're going to keep it under wraps for now.
Does Ryan Olson smoke during his smoke breaks?
Is this a supergroup?
I think you should reserve supergroup qualifications for it until you decide if it's super or not. I think it's a band, a pretty cool band.
How long will it take before anybody hears the material?
I don't think it's going to be as long as you think. Ryan's goal is for it to be made faster than the Polica record, and that was made in just a few weeks. All of us are hell-bent on getting it out really quickly, and hopefully to find the time to play some shows for it as well. I think you'll hear it sooner than you think, and I kinda just wanna leave it at that. It's such a far stretch for a lot of us musically. I think everyone should abandon their expectations of what it's going to be, because it's probably going to be very far off.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.