You don’t return home often when you’re on the road touring with a band, especially not when that band is Grammy-winning Bon Iver.
But when Bon Iver comes to PNC Arena Oct. 19, it will be a homecoming for two of its members. Percussionist Matt McCaughan and vocalist/guitarist Jenn Wasner both live in Durham.
Saturday’s concert, with Feist as the opening act, is the last one of the fall tour and the ninth show since the second leg started Oct. 3 in Saint Paul, Minn.
McCaughan and Wasner say they’re excited to play in front of their hometown fans, friends and family. But they add it can be unexpectedly daunting to perform in front of people they know.
“I imagine it’s what it would be like to get married,” Wasner told The News & Observer in an interview. “It’s like, I’m really glad that I did that, but the entire event was exhausting and overwhelming from start to finish.”
Bon Iver is touring in support of their new album, “i,i,” which was released Aug. 9. It’s a continuation of the sound change that the band made in 2016 with their album, “22, A Million,” featuring loud walls of sound, delicately plucked strings and synth notes, and frontman Justin Vernon’s signature switches from deep baritone to raw falsetto.
In a phone interview from Columbus, Ohio, McCaughan and Wasner talked to The N&O about their roots with the band, the new album and how the Triangle continues to produce new musicians.
Joining the band
McCaughan has been a part of Bon Iver since the first album, “For Emma, Forever Ago,” in 2007, and usually plays drums. But he also has contributed bass, vocals and synth throughout all four of the band’s albums.
Wasner has been in the band for just a few months, singing and playing guitar and keys during their live shows.
Wasner said she received a cold call to go to Sonic Ranch in late May, the world’s largest recording studio complex located in Tornillo, Texas, where the band had been working on “i,i.”
“I came in really late to the party,” said Wasner.
She was friends with members in the band, but wasn’t expecting much more than an opportunity to contribute something meaningful to the album.
“About a week in, Justin and Sean [Carey, Bon Iver percussionist and vocalist] took me aside. And I was like, ‘Uh oh, I think I’m in trouble,’” Wasner recalled. “And they ended up asking me if I wanted to join the band in a more permanent capacity.”
The answer was an immediate “yes.”
Both Wasner and McCaughan praised Vernon’s process. In addition to working with Bon Iver, he has helped produce and sung on albums like Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.”
“He creates a situation of openness and is willing to take chances,” McCaughan said. “It’s very free.”
Picking specific musicians to work with is important for Vernon, because he wants their personalities in the studio, not just their talents.
“He wants to capture us on the recording, not just telling us what to play,” McCaughan said.
The result is “i,i,” 13 songs that Vernon says “complete a cycle.”
“From the winter of ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ came the frenetic spring of ‘Bon Iver, Bon Iver,’ and the unhinged summer of ‘22, A Million.’ Now, fall arrives early with ‘i,i,’” Vernon said in a release about the new album.
Neither Wasner or McCaughan have a favorite song off the album, but they talked about the fun and weirdness of playing songs like “Faith” “Jelmore” and “RABi.”
Home in Durham
McCaughan and Wasner both call Durham home, when they are at home, that is. McCaughan moved to Durham when he was about 5 years old and has lived there since. Wasner moved from Baltimore in 2015. They say it’s a great city for musicians.
“I find it very refreshing — for a lot of people who are working musicians, there’s a lot to recommend about the small American city,” said Wasner, on living in Durham. “There’s a beautiful community in the Triangle, but you can also afford to live far more easily than you could in L.A.”
McCaughan said the area’s colleges are constantly producing young musicians, keeping the music scene fresh.
“It’s always been a vibrant community, which is one of the draws of staying here,” McCaughan said.
“I love the community and the people, but also the unpretentiousness of it,” adds Wasner, who also sings in the band Wye Oak, whose album “Civilian” was named the best album of 2011 by The A.V. Club.
After their tour wraps up, they’ll practice with fellow Durham musicians, Sylvan Esso, whose own tour starts in November. (Sylvan Esso will play at the Durham Performing Arts Center Nov. 22 and 23.)
“It’ll be nice to be able to still be home but working on that,” McCaughan said.
When they’re home, they frequent shows at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro and the Pinhook in Durham.
“There’s everything you could want [in the Triangle] from the small, rock venues up to the biggest spaces like PNC,” Wasner said.
And that arena is the big space they’ll occupy this weekend, with Wasner and McCaughan on stage among the the bright lights and triangular set pieces that surround each of the six members of the band. She stands directly in front of him behind a set of keyboards, on the far left side of the stage.
“Especially for us to be ending the tour in the place that we live,” Wasner said. “It makes it a special and magical evening.”
What: Bon Iver with Feist
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 19
Where: PNC Arena, 1400 Edwards Mill Road, Raleigh
Tickets: Starting at $25.50.