Bon Iver's Manager on Decision to Enter Wisconsin Congressional Campaign

Justin Vernon's "Wisconsin" will soundtrack Kyle Frenette's first campaign ad in race to flip Republican-held seat

Bon Iver's manager, Kyle Frenette, spoke about his new congressional campaign to flip a Republican seat in Wisconsin. Credit: J. Scott Kunkel

Bon Iver's longtime manager, Kyle Frenette, discussed his recently-announced congressional campaign, how his background in the music industry prepares him for Washington in an interview with Pitchfork. Frenette joins a growing list of Democrats vying to defeat Republican incumbent, Sean Duffy, who's represented Wisconsin's Seventh since 2011. The Democratic primary will take place August 14th.

"I grew up in a time when those resources and opportunities were available to me, like the internet providing a window to the outside world beyond my small town of 14,000 people in Chippewa Falls," Frenette said. "We're finding that the majority in control right now are in favor of suppressing all of that [in reference to Net Neutrality being rolled back], making it harder and harder for your everyday American to achieve what we grew up learning."

Wisconsin's Seventh District has been solidly Republican for several years. Duffy won 61 percent of the vote during his 2016 re-election bid. In the Presidential race, President Donald Trump carried the district with 58 percent. Still, Frenette said, recent political swings made him believe the seat could be flipped. 

He pointed to the wave of Democratic victories across Virginia last November, Doug Jones' shocking Senate upset in Alabama and, most notably, a special Wisconsin State Senate election in January that saw Democrat Patty Schachtner winning a long-held Republican seat in a State Senate district that's situated within Wisconsin's Seventh. "It was a complete underdog race," Frenette said. "And it was a surprise to me and a lot of folks ... We're seeing this all across the country – the pendulum has swung all the way to the right and now it's centering." 

As for jumping from the music industry to politics, Frenette said there were some similarities between the two arenas. "I'm going from a lake full of piranhas to an ocean full of sharks." Still, he said he believed that the principles that guided his work with Bon Iver and his management company, Middle West Management, would serve him in politics and benefit his constituents.

"Justin [Vernon] and I have been so fortunate in building something and having the support of so many to do things that we wanted: Maintaining our integrity, staying true to who we are, staying in this place and reinvesting back into our communities, and pushing the envelope a bit," Frenette said. "All of those elements factor into the leadership that I’ve brought to Bon Iver and to my management company. If I can do an ounce of that in Washington and bring some of my Wisconsin values, then I'll feel good."


While Bon Iver's song "Wisconsin" soundtracks Frenette's first campaign ad, the candidate said he wasn't sure yet how involved Vernon would be going forward, though the musician did proudly proclaim his support for Frenette on Twitter. Even if Vernon doesn't play a major role in the campaign, Frenette said his work with the Grammy-winning artist could be a boon in an age where politics and celebrity are appear to be more entwined.

"We elected a celebrity president," Frenette said. "My opponent Sean Duffy, he's a former Real World cast member. So if celebrity is what it's going to take to get people's attention these days in the age of reality television then I'm going to use the success that Justin and I have had to amplify a better voice."