Before Bon Iver and Megafaun, there was DeYarmond Edison (2023)

This article is adapted from the first chapter of Grayson Haver Currin's 114-page biography of DeYarmond Edison, which will accompany the definitive 5LP/4CD box set.Eras- tells the story of how childhood friends Brad Cook, Phil Cook, Justin Vernon and Joe Westerlund formed the band that later became Bon Iver and Megafaun. Used with permission from Jagjaguwar and Shore Fire Media, © 2023.

Phil Cook couldn't sleep. He was ready to go, although he still didn't know where.

In December 2004, Phil and his new girlfriend, Heather Williams, drove the 11 hours from Eau Claire to Nashville, stopping only when necessary for gas and food. They had known each other for years, they were college friends, but as Heather says, this trip was their first real date.

Phil had just bought his first beautiful banjo, a Deering, with his tax return, and he was excited about traditional Appalachian music: bluegrass, vintage, and country, things he'd picked up in Wisconsin mostly through records and books. When a mutual friend gave the couple a CD-R from an appearance on The Old Crow Medicine Show, they fell in love with the song. His energy summoned the jam bands of his youth, only in an exciting and exotic language. When they found out that the group would be playing a three-day booth at Nashville's legendary Station Inn as a way to cap off their successful year, Phil and Heather decided to go for it.

Nashville electrified her. It was unlikely that they would get tickets for each night by waiting in line. Heather ate cake backstage with Gillian Welch. Phil laughed when he heard her name pronounced in a thick Southern accent in a pizzeria. You wouldn't get that in Wisconsin.

“I felt the pulse of a city that really has a lot to offer in music,” says Phil 15 years later, smiling at the dinner table he shared with his wife Heather Williams Cook at the time. “The thrill of being at the Station Inn and feeling this living thing happening right there, but it was so ingrained in that lore that it felt alive.”

For weeks, Phil spoke at home about the experience and adventure. A recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, he worked as a consultant in a pre-college program. He liked the job, but at 25 he wondered if this was what he wanted for the rest of his life.

Finally there was music. Phil was a piano genius growing up and currently plays in two bands with his younger brother Brad. Amateur Love was a brilliant electro-pop quartet fronted by a Dynamo songwriter who was relatively new to town. The other, DeYarmond Edison, was a no-nonsense folk-rock group led by Justin Vernon, one of Phil's closest friends and someone he'd been making music with for over half a decade. For years, the band's leaders were friendly rivals, the brooding guy and the melodic musician, but things started to go downhill. Justin made it clear to the brothers that he no longer wanted to break up their band.

“They were so much nicer, better,” recalls Justin. “I was definitely against the wall, very jealous and insecure. I said things like, 'You guys leave the band or I'm done with this'."

Suddenly inspired by Nashville and constantly unsettled by conflict, Phil devised a plan. Long after midnight in early 2005, he burst through the doors of his band and roommates Justin and Brad. He had to move. He wanted DeYarmond Edison to go too.

Justin and Brad wiped the sleep out of their eyes and agreed to talk about it that night. They drove a few miles to Country Kitchen, an all-night greasy spoon mixing the smell of cigarette smoke and deep fryers like hangover medicine. Brad ordered a country steak. Justin ordered chicken or maybe fried steak. Phil ordered Eggs Benedict. And then he asked his bandmates to write down the names of the places where they would like to form a band. They agreed that Minneapolis was too close to get the result they wanted. San Francisco and Austin were on one list or another, as were Nashville and Denver. But there was only one location in all three: Raleigh, North Carolina.

No one at this table had made it.stateto North Carolina. But they knew Merge Records and Phil liked Whiskeytown. They knew the song "Oh My Sweet Carolina" by Ryan Adams, but they didn't necessarily know that he was once a notorious star in Raleigh. It felt like a place with great people and great bands.

“I think I wrote Raleigh for the Old Crow Medicine Show, 'If I die in Raleigh, at least I'll die free,'” Phil says, leaning in with a laugh. "Oh,BOM.“

Whatever the reasons, everything was settled: they would move to North Carolina as soon as they could leave Eau Claire. The next day, his childhood friend, Keil Jansen, stopped by and saw a series of online searches for Raleigh real estate on a laptop screen. They told him about the plan. He answered, as did Heather. When Brad pitched the idea to his new girlfriend, Kati Johnson, on a subsequent cross-country trip, she didn't think it was a viable option. But as their relationship developed and she was on the verge of graduating from Madison, she realized she had nothing to lose either.

“We weren't committed to this forever,” says Heather. “We've all had clear breaks with our careers and our past, so why not?”

The next day, Brad called Joe Westerlund, the drummer in his high school band, who had left Eau Claire to study 20th-century improvisation and songwriting at Bennington College in Vermont. Joe is out of school and is thinking about his next step, perhaps as a free jazz musician in New York. When Brad invited him to join DeYarmond Edison in North Carolina, he offered him the safety net of old friends, even if it meant playing folk rock. And his girlfriend, Carson Efird, was from there anyway.

“There was promise that they wanted to go further,” says Joe. “And they said, ‘We know we can do this with you.

They knew the move would not be smooth or easy; They even saved news for weeks, allowing them to choose how and when to notify their old friends of their departure. All of their families lived within a 20-minute drive, and always have. Over the last decade, the Cook brothers and Justin have become mainstays of an active local music scene, whether it's booking clubs, recording albums or just playing lots of shows. They would have to break up and release their second album,silent signals, before going.

And his departure meant the effective dissolution of Amateur Love, the Eau Claire band that seemed most willing to leave town. They would leave behind Brian Moen, the drummer of both bands, and Chris Porterfield, his pedal steel. Shortly after finding out, he punched Brad after attending one of the last DeYarmond Edison concerts in town.

Again, it didn't have to be forever.

“For our band, that means we'll be playing six fewer shows a year in Eau Claire. It's not going to change much," Justin one, the town's weekly magazine, about moving to Raleigh days before his three-day layoff. “We have an annual lease. If it sucks, maybe we can go back."

He was right, at least in part.

Erasit is available everywhere today. Pre-Order the Box and Stream DeYarmond Edison's Entire Career CompilationHere.


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