Justin Vernon Tells Aaron Rodgers What “Holocene” Is About

Justin Vernon, as most music-blog readers know, is an Eau Claire-based musician at the center of Bon Iver and a bass boat full of other projects. Aaron Rodgers, as most sports fans know, is the quarterback for the Green Bay Packers and star of many State Farm commercials. Just before Bon Iver won the Grammy for Best New Artist, Rodgers led the Packers to a Super Bowl win and was named the NFL’s MVP in consecutive seasons. Both are among the most prominent Wisconsin residents in the world; they’re also apparently mutual admirers. And in a stroke of genius, someone at GQ got them to interview each other on camera.

Rodgers and Vernon recently got together at Lambeau Field in Green Bay for a lengthy chat. Over the course of 42 minutes of footage, they discuss their pregame and pre-show rituals, their favorite football movies, the first song Rodgers learned on guitar, the famous GIFs of Rodgers wearing a Bon Iver T-shirt, and much more. At one point, Rodgers asks Vernon for the story behind “Holocene,” perhaps the most iconic Bon Iver song, which inspires a story about Vernon and his brother walking around stoned on Christmas after watching Inglourious Basterds. Here’s that story typed out:

It was Christmas night and my brother and I watched Inglourious Basterds, of all films. It’s not like it was subject matter that was going to birth a song like that, exactly. I like watching Tarantino’s films because they’re so complete. There’s just complete creative ideas executed at such a high level. We had a little smokey-smoke and took a walk down our road, and it was so quiet. It was a really icy night. And it was already quiet ’cause there’s not a lot of people traveling. It was really a kind of spooky night. The air was just hanging.

And we went and walked to this bridge over I-94, and there just wasn’t a single car. There was nothing for miles and miles. And the air was hanging in such a way, with the ice storm going on, and it looked like this sheet of ice on the road and this glow of the distant lights of Eau Claire. And it was just — it really just came out, like, “at once I knew that I was not magnificent” in the highway aisles of ice and all that. It was one of those moments where you’re not sure if you’re really the creator of something or not, of if you’ve just been handed something to share. It’s easy to stay humble sometimes when it’s like, you know, I’ve worked hard and everything, but sometimes you just feel like you really are a conduit for describing an idea or something like that.

That’s really where that all came from. And the different verses are really about Eau Claire and about my people from there. And you know, there’s a lot of humble people around. Growing up in Wisconsin I never felt like anybody was really trying to prove too much. The winter slows us down enough that, you know, we’re not Hollywood. We don’t seem to think achievement is the biggest thing. It’s like family and togetherness and having a beer at The Joynt or whatever. It’s more like that. And I’ve always resonated with it. It’s another one of the reasons I can’t seem to leave. Yeah, that’s the story with that.

Watch the full interview below. You can watch the “Holocene” exchange beginning at the 27:43 mark.