LOS ANGELES - Justin Vernon felt out of place at the Grammy Awards, and not just because of the brown, slightly oversized suit.
The Bon Iver frontman himself expressed different versions of discomfort, confusion and nervousness about the 54th annual ceremony, despite a very hospitable bounty of two top-tier wins, for Best New Artist and Best Alternative Album. His apprehension didn't emanate from the glut of industry heavy-hitters attending the show, but rather from those who were absent.
"When I started to make songs I did it for the inherant reward of making songs, so im a little bit uncomfortable up here. But with that discomfort I do have a sense of gratitude," he said during his acceptance speech for Best New Artist, a top-tier, telecasted honor. He indicated thanks to his fellow nominees and "all the non-nominees that have never been here and never will be here."
As Vernon held his two statues backstage at the ceremony, he mentioned similar notions. I had the chance to ask him if he was ever considered actually skipping the Grammys.
"I was like, 'I dont know if I can go.' I was pretty nervous, there was a lot of emotions, feeling like maybe i didnt deserve to go or i wasn't ready to be in front of y'all, in front of all those people or something," he replied. "It's also just a slice of the industry. It's such a big slice, it's the biggest night in music, but there's so much music out there that can't be represented in this one night. I had a lot of confusion going in, but im glad i came and i feel really honored and stuff."
Vernon also further explained the circumstances around the performance invite, hinting that the band's collaboration could have been with the newly reunited Beach Boys. "It turned out with the Beach Boys coming back, it's kind of a big deal," he said, purposefully understating. "I decided I wanted to do something with my band and play our song, but there wasn't really time for that tonight."
As previously reported, the Jagjaguwar artist revealed that Bon Iver had been offered to perform at the Grammys ceremony and declined on principle. They wanted to play one of their own compositions and, were they required to collaborate with other artists on the show as so many artists do, that they wanted collaborate with friends or artists of their choosing.
Despite his concerns, Vernon couldn't shake at least some positive feeling, telling attendees during his Best Alternative Album acceptance that it "feels pretty special."
And it is pretty unique for an independent label artist to even be nominated at the Grammys -- let alone win -- Vernon's uneasiness was in part a reflection of the slim chances other indie artists have at getting wide-scale recognition. As Jagjag label head Chris Swanson told me in January, Bon Iver's appeal naturally unfurled into the larger landscape.
"It was great to participate in a record as far-reaching as “Bon Iver.” It was a nice shock but it still feels like a really natural sequence of events. He’s reaching so many people."
Perhaps when you're is so deeply committed to songcraft, nothing feels natural.