Plenty of attention has been paid to the "cabin in the woods" component of Bon Iver's success. "Musician down on his luck heads to secluded cabin and makes album!" But you might say the real inspiration for Justin Vernon's first release, "For Emma Forever Ago" -- and the inspiration for his melodies and his falsetto singing style -- came after he left North Carolina and headed back to his hometown of Eau Claire, Wis., where he is now permanently based.
People knew so little about Eau Claire when Vernon first appeared on the scene that he often had to explain it in interviews. "It's a town, like the fourth biggest in Wisconsin," he told Treble back in 2008. "There's some stuff going on here; there's some stuff not going on here."
But people know now. Last year, Eau Claire even got its own shout-out at the Grammys, after Vernon won for Best New Artist. And as Bon Iver has garnered international acclaim, Vernon has managed to make a small town in Wisconsin cool, giving it a star on the indie map. He has also unintentionally paved the way for a new generation of indie musicians who can bathe in their own, personal Thoreau-esque haunts, living and working outside of major music meccas, while still making a splash online and in the industry at large.
Though scenes in musician-friendly cities like Brooklyn and Portland and Austin -- and even in smaller ones like Athens, Ga. or Omaha, Neb. -- continue to thrive, more and more artists are choosing to stay put or seclude themselves, rather than join the fray in established locales. At a time when the internet acts as the great equalizer, the place has come to be as important as the product, at least to the artists themselves.
Phil Elverum, a critically acclaimed musician who first made music under the name "The Microphones," has since re-branded himself as "Mount Eerie," in honor of the mountain right down the street from his home in Anacortes, Wash. (population: just under 15,000).
Elverum has had a similar hold on a town which, at least by indie standards, is decidedly unknown. His newest album, "Clear Moon," recently got the coveted "Best New Music" stamp from Pitchfork, and his Microphones album from 2001, "The Glow Part 2," has been named to multiple Best-Albums-of-the-2000s lists.
Elverum explained that touring around the world and living life out of a suitcase for large chunks of the year makes having an isolated home base that much more appealing. He likes the "emptiness" of where he's from, he said, and he enjoys creating music in seclusion.
"I go on describing this place," he sings on "Clear Moon's" opening track, Through The Trees, Pt. 2. "And the way it feels to live and die."
His lyrics mention ghosts and streams and car headlights, going to the grocery store, clouds and rock formations. The blog Consequence of Sound noted that for Elverum "it’s always been the same: him, Anacortes, Washington, the yawning sky above, and the spinning ground below."
Elverum once left home for a few years, just as Vernon did, heading to nearby Olympia to record albums for The Microphones and hang with the thriving K Records scene. But he missed his hometown and soon returned to Anacortes, where he's now based.
With the internet able to do as much (or more) for an artist as 2 years of local shows once did, there isn't as much of a necessity to move to the bigger cities. Although, as Elverum noted, "in [Brooklyn] it's much easier to find an upright bass player if you need one."
Down south, Phil Moore and Beth Tacular -- who recorded their first album as the acclaimed duo Bowerbirds while Moore was tagging birds in a South Carolina hunting village -- built their music around their own wilderness.
The duo have spent years adding logs and units to their homemade cabin outside Raleigh, N.C. Like Vernon, they've created a sound and a following specifically around isolation, writing songs about their bucolic surroundings and letting the place itself take over.
"You're not alone. The valley is flushed and warm and breathes a lazy mist," Moore writes in Now We Hurry On, which appears on the newest Bowerbirds album, "The Clearing." "Take your time with it, all of it. What we miss we miss, and what we see is what we get."
Moore and Tacular have been dating for years. Their home has been integral to their own personal and relationship turmoil, for better or worse, and has given their sound its quiet, reflective quality. While the road has been bumpy, Moore told HuffPost, their house is nothing if not reliable.
"There's always a moment at the end of a tour when I step outside at night," he said. "We've been thinking all the time, problem solving, all this traveling, and then I come home and just stand there and look out. It's just beautiful and it grounds us."
As much as an internet connection has perhaps allowed for this kind of lifestyle, the constant connectivity also has its drawbacks.
"Everything is more available, so people in Wyoming or somewhere have access to whatever weird music they can find," Elverum said. "But at the same time its harder to make money because everything is available."
Still, more and more bands are following suit, moving out of the cities and into the trees. Kim Krans, of the Brooklyn-based group Family Band, recently relocated the band to a house that she and her husband/bandmate Jonny Ollsin built in the Catskills, where they record music and will be spending most of the summer.
Krans said the house has given her something she always wanted -- a "real relationship to a place."
"It helps the music have a place that it belongs, a place that it comes from, instead of being in a jam space in Bushwick, sharing this shitty area where it's like, someone's using my amp, and there's beer everywhere," she explained. "Now we just have to mow our lawn."
Seclusion was always a form of romance. But as bands like Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes -- who have made a fine living singing songs about snow and strawberries and red squirrels in the morning -- continue to proliferate, there's something to be said for the fact that The Middle of Nowhere has become its own indie scene.
"If I was from a place that was less beautiful physically, I might not be as enthusiastic about it -- like Scottsdale, Arizona or something," Elverum said. "But my friends around here also have this element in their music projects about celebrating this place. Maybe it's a form of patriotism."
Watch a video of Bowerbirds showing off their home and talking about their newest album:
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