Long before his breathy vocals graced Bon Iver’s quiet, understated “Skinny Love,” a 17-year-old Justin Vernon played in a sizeable outfit called Mount Vernon, with a sound comparable to Dave Matthews Band.
A video has been uploaded to YouTube, presumably by one of the eight-plus band members, chronicling one of their early gigs in Memorial High School’s Battle of the Bands. Recorded in 1998, the footage is not exactly hi-def, but if you look closely, you can see that Vernon is the second (beardless!) fellow from the left with the electric guitar. The video is 33 minutes long, but watching the whole thing, you’ll see a total of five original Mount Vernon songs, and that they won the competition. That’s not terribly surprising, though—along with Bon Iver/Volcano Choir’s’ Vernon, the band also boasted Phil Cook, Brad Cook and Joe Westerlund. Pigeons and Planes reports that Mount Vernon went on to produce a full album that year, and we dug through YouTube for the evidence, which you can find here.
Vernon, the Cooks and Westerlund went on to form DeYarmond Edison after Mount Vernon dissolved, and when Vernon left that group to do Bon Iver, the three became Megafun. Phil has done some notable solo work, and joined Vernon in 2013 to make an album under the name The Shouting Matches.
It’s obvious that Vernon has come a long way since the jubilant horn-infused Mount Vernon, but it’s fascinating to see his performance persona and taste in the early, early days. Watch the video above to witness ‘98 DMB-ish Mount Vernon, and skip to about the 6:09 mark if you want to really hear Vernon’s vocals.