By now, many students have heard the rumors about a former Lawrentian who played guitar with a guy named Justin Vernon. That Lawrentian is Mike Noyce, and he does in fact play guitar with the now-Grammy-award-winning band Bon Iver. Noyce joined Vernon and company in 2007, midway through his sophomore year here at Lawrence.
This fall, during the London Centre’s midterm break, I was given the opportunity to meet Noyce while Bon Iver was on their European tour. We had exchanged emails and Facebook messages and decided to meet up after their show in Hamburg.
The concert itself was incredible. Vernon’s girlfriend Kathleen Edwards opened, and Noyce sang on stage with her during her last song. Bon Iver played every song from their new album and a few favorites from “For Emma, Forever Ago.”
Listening to the new album prior to the show, I’d wondered if there would be a lack of energy on stage. But after the opening seconds of “Perth,” I knew the band would give an electrifying performance. Standing in the front row, I could really feel the energy of each player and it seemed like everyone in the audience had the same feeling.
The night concluded in a fashion true to Bon Iver’s roots here in Wisconsin: the band huddled around a laptop streaming the Green Bay Packers game in the backstage green room. The band cheered as Clay Matthews destroyed the San Diego Chargers’ offensive line; in regard to a Matthew’s sack, Vernon exclaimed, “He is a Nordic god!”
During our interview later in the evening, Noyce confirmed the rumor that as a kid growing up in Eau Claire, Vernon taught him to play guitar and said that from there everything just seemed to happen naturally.
He couldn’t say enough about his band mates and their musicianship, assuring me that all of the recent line-up changes were for the best and that the bigger band feels great as it embodies the qualities of a big, loving family. The success of Bon Iver’s latest self-titled record — it recently picked up a Grammy for Best Alternative Album of the Year — seems to confirm Noyce’s sentiment.
Noyce himself has many musical influences, including many artists from the American pop scene such as Minnesota’s Prince. When asked how influences affect his style, Noyce stated, “I do not want to be a reflection. In an ideal scenario, a creative person can absorb a large and diverse amount of information but still be himself while creating. In other words, an artist should be more than just the sum of his/her parts.”
During our interview, Noyce gave a shoutouts to his experience at Lawrence. He went into great detail about how hard conservatory students work and their passion for what they do. Noyce says his time here changed his approach to music and that he became a more professional musician due to his interactions with and observations of conservatory students.
As I reflect on one of the most memorable nights of my life, I feel as though I failed somewhat in my quest for ultimate knowledge of all things Bon Iver, as I never really figured out what Vernon meant by, “Only love is all maroon/gluey feathers on a flume.”
At the same time, my post-show experience taught me a lot about this small-town Wisconsin band that’s really made a name for itself all over the world. If you haven’t checked out Bon Iver yet, do it. And if you’re already a fan, I strongly suggest going to see them live. You won’t regret it!