Bon Iver leader Justin Vernon has built his career on a foundation of pretty folk music, and later some more robust indie rock, so this begs the (perhaps no-so) obvious question: Where does ska fit into the equation?
In high school, Vernon was a member of a ska-influenced band called Mount Vernon, along with future members of psychedelic folk band Megafaun: Joe Westerlund, Brad Cook, and Phil Cook, the latter of whom also released a well-received solo album in 2015. In 1998, Mount Vernon released their first album, We Can Look Up, and on November 14 of that year, the band took to the auxiliary gym in Eau Claire, Wisconsin for a battle of the bands, footage of which has recently been posted on YouTube.
It’s definitely not the Justin Vernon we’ve gotten used to, although the ska horns do, in a way, precede the more grandiose sounds of Bon Iver’s 2011 album Bon Iver, Bon Iver. Their three-song set—”Today is Just a Day,” “We Can Look Up,” and “Thompson”—was good enough to win the contest for them (and $300 dollars, which sounds cool until you realize it was split nine ways for all the band members).
Following his time with Mount Vernon, its titular leader tried his hand at music under a few other monikers, including JD Vernon, Justin Vernon, DeYarmond Edison, The Shouting Matches, Volcano Choir, and, of course, Bon Iver.
Watch a high school Vernon give it his all above, and revel in his young, beardless face, which we didn’t think ever existed.