Bon Iver played his stripped back classic “Skinny Love” live on Later… with Jools Holland and there’s no denying the ballad stands the test of time.
Justin Vernon, born Justin DeYarmond Edison Vernon, is the songwriting genius behind US indie folk band Bon Iver. The BBC released his solo live rendition of “Skinny Love”, which you can listen to below.
“Skinny Love” was written by Vernon and was originally released as the lead single from Bon Iver’s 2007 debut album For Emma, Forever Ago.
The original recording is a melancholy and moving ballad that features a solo performance from Vernon. It does however feature some studio double tracking. Therefore the one-take live TV performance is even more stripped back than the stark original, and lays out Vernon’s emotional performance in a powerful way. You can hear another classic tune, “For Emma” from the same era below.
Vernon uses an open C tuning on a vintage resonator guitar for the performance, as well as tuning below the standard 440 hz tuning, giving the part an eerie timbre. The star of the performance of course is his raw and touching vocal as he recounts the tale of lost love.
The singer-songwriter said that the speculation that the song was about his ex-girlfriend Christy Smith is “not entirely accurate,” and added that the song is “about that time in a relationship that I was going through; you’re in a relationship because you need help, but that’s not necessarily why you should be in a relationship. And that’s skinny.”
“Skinny Love” went Platinum in both the US and UK, and has had a long life in the spotlight due to numerous appearances on television and film soundtracks, as well as being a popular choice for televised singing competitions.
English singer-songwriter Birdy covered “Skinny Love” in 2011 for her debut single. Her version became her international breakthrough and was an even bigger hit than the original. The single went Platinum in 10 countries, including a whopping x7 Platinum in Australia and x3 Platinum in Germany.
The song of course was also the commercial breakthrough for Justin Vernon and Bon Iver back in the day. Vernon, who is 42, was born on April 30, 1981 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where he still lives today. In the early 2000s Vernon had been living in Raleigh, North Carolina, and performing in DeYarmond Edison, an indie folk and Americana act. Around the time of that band’s dissolution, Vernon fell ill with glandular fever, left Raleigh and moved to a hunting cabin in his hometown Eau Claire.
During a period of isolation and living off the land in the remote cabin, Vernon wrote and recorded Bon Iver’s debut album, which included the hit “Skinny Love”. Justin Vernon’s parents are Gil Vernon and Justine Vernon, and the couple play a part in Bon Iver history as the aforementioned hunting lodge belonged to Gil.
The album that came out of the sessions, For Emma, Forever Ago, was on many best album lists in 2008 and gained universal critical acclaim and international chart success. The album was entirely written by Vernon and largely played by him as well. Vernon also dominated the song writing on Bon Iver’s self-titled second studio album, although by that point he’d opened up the creative process to include a full band, which featured performances from a number of musicians.