Love Letter To A Record: BOLEYN On Bon Iver’s ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’

Many of us can link a certain album to pivotal moments in our lives. Whether it’s the first record you bought with your own money, the chord you first learnt to play on guitar, the song that soundtracked your first kiss, the album that got you those awkward and painful pubescent years or the one that set off light bulbs in your brain and inspired you to take a big leap of faith into the unknown – music is often the catalyst for change in our lives and can even help shape who we become.

In this series, Music Feeds asks artists to reflect on their relationship with music and share with us stories about the effect music has had on their lives.

Boleyn – Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago

Dear For Emma, Forever Ago,

Congratulations, you’re the first recipient of a BOLEYN love letter. Ever. Which isn’t strange really, when you consider how deeply and profoundly you made me feel. My love for you is anything but skinny. Sure, sometimes I cheat on you with your younger siblings, but I always return.

I was 12, and though my world extended no farther than home, school and my friend’s houses, whenever I listened to you I was immediately transported to the remote icy Wisconsin cabin where you were born. The themes I recognised in you when I was 12, isolation, loneliness, heartbreak, were ripe fodder for the kid I was back then.

You felt like home. Perfect for the cold walks I used to take around the neighbourhood as I grew up, I’d throw you on and chain-smoke cigarettes as I wandered the streets until late, singing along – though my falsetto was never as enchanting.

It’s the quiet intricacies that captured my imagination and drew me in, as though I were sitting there in that cabin, as you were being crafted – the scratching of nails strings in ‘Flume’, the footsteps, and the dial tone on ‘re: stacks’ (thanks for the title inspiration). More than instrumentation and haunting vocals, a huge source of your narrative-building is silence. The emptiness that resonates between the spaces in each song serves as a constant reminder of the solitude that permeates the record. A constant reminder of isolation, it creeps through the interludes and sits among the sparse instrumentation.

At times you were, quite literally, my only friend. I found comfort in ‘The Wolves (Act I and II)’ “What mind have been lost?” And solace when singing along to “Go find another lover / … to string along / With all your lies / you’re still very lovable,” from the title track. I poured over entries on songmeanings.com (this is before the time of genius.com) to parse the meaning in your lyrics, which sometimes hinge on being unintelligible. In this way, you taught me the craft of songwriting, how to weave complex stories in a few short lines, making every syllable count, and to make words up if the English language was too restrictive. Like the lyrical approach you use in dealing with anxiety on ‘Creature Fear’, “Don’t let it form us, don’t let it form us / the creature fear,” before words give way as you whittle down to a single repeated syllable.

You celebrated your 11th birthday earlier this year. I celebrated my 23rd. I celebrated by playing my first solo original on the mainstage of my first ever festival show – a thousand miles away from the boy smoking cigarettes in the streets, singing along to your songs for no one to hear. Sometimes people have a habit of losing touch with seminal albums, they grow up, perspectives change – but they never stray too far. Even now the first scratches on ‘Flume’ sound like putting the key in my front door and feeling the bolt unlock. Nostalgia is a funny thing though. The things I thought were written in stone at 12, are now just memories. Things I once thought world-shattering, have long-since revealed themselves to be meaningless. Now when I listen to you, I hear something different. Yes, there is still isolation and loneliness – but now I hear hope. For all the struggles I went through as an over-emotional hormonal adolescent, I’m reminded “This is not the sound of a new man or a crispy realisation / it’s the sound of the unlocking and the lift away / your love will be safe with me.”

It’s almost ironic to think you were born out of pure isolation and solitude, as you connect us in a myriad of ways. Where once I heard loneliness and anxiety, now I find comfort (and confidence) in the appreciation that everyone feels a little lost sometimes. It’s the same confidence that’s allowed me to be as honest and open as I am on my new single- without you I wouldn’t have the guts sing about the things I do.

We don’t keep in touch as often as we used to, but I find myself returning to you, like clockwork, every winter – like the seasons, I too have changed. But you serve as a reminder of the boy I was, and the man I hope to god I’m becoming.

Your love will be safe with me, as I hope mine is with you.

Sydney-based queer-pop artist Boleyn has just unveiled his new single ‘re: 21’, produced and mixed by Clockwork Odyssey and mastered by Peter Holz (Vance Joy, Gang of Youths, Peking Duk).

It’s a stunning piece of angsty pop storytelling, and you can give it a listen below.

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