4 Things From the New York Times Profile of Bon Iver

Eric Christenson

“For me from a very early age, music has been my religion. It’s been my way of understanding, it’s been my way of celebration, it’s been my way of contemplation.” – Justin Vernon

On Wednesday, The New York Times published an expansive profile on Bon Iver and Justin Vernon – The Blessed, Cursed Life of Bon Iver – talking with Vernon about his struggles with the music industry, his unique path to notoriety, and the experimental production techniques that birthed his band’s stunning new album 22, A Million. The story covers a lot of ground, from Bon Iver’s humble beginnings to the present, on the brink of their most ambitious and wondrous effort to date.

1. On Kanye West and learning to be humble

“I got in a friendly argument with Kanye West about the word humble once. He said, ‘Have you ever looked up the word humble?’ I was like, ‘Actually I don’t know if I have.’ And he showed me the definition of it, and it’s far more self-demeaning, kind of the problematic Midwestern ‘Sorry!’ mentality, than I realized. I took a lot out of that conversation. Ultimately, I think it’s great to serve others and everything, but I think there’s a certain point where it’s diminishing returns for the people around you if you’re not showing up and being who you are.”

2. On Vernon’s fascination with the number 22, his old basketball jersey number

Each song title on “22, a Million” begins with a number that holds a private significance for Mr. Vernon. He has always been drawn to the number 22. While growing up and playing sports, he chose it as his jersey number; he also, he said, sets wake-up alarms to 22 minutes after the hour. As he chopped up the phrase “It might be over soon” in the sampler, “soon” began to turn into “two, two”: 22.

The album opens with “22 Over Soon” and concludes with the hymnlike “1000000, a Million.” “Being 22 is me,” he said, “and then the last song being a million, which is this great elusive thing: like, what’s a million? The album deals a lot with duality in general and how that works into the math. I was big into Taoism in college, and the paradox of duality, and how it’s always one thing and the other — you can never have one thing without the other. So it’s 22 being me and a million being the Other. That was a way to look at it as a circle.”

3. On experimenting in the studio to find new, unheard of sounds

“A big thing for me on the album was, how do we get something to sound accidental or new or fresh,” he said. When he was dissatisfied with the overly digital sound of “22 Over Soon,” he and his engineer took a cassette (Neil Young’s “Unplugged”), pulled out the tape and crumpled it and wrote on it with a marker. Then they recorded the track onto it, creating distortion and dropouts. Other songs toy with recording speed, ending up between standard pitches.

4. On music as religion and healing

“For me from a very early age, music has been my religion. It’s been my way of understanding, it’s been my way of celebration, it’s been my way of contemplation.”

As Bon Iver re-emerges, Mr. Vernon is thinking hard about self-preservation. “When I made the last record, actually both records, I very much felt like I’d healed myself,” he said. “Oh, I got done, and oh! now I’m better. And this one, I’m smarter than that. Now that this album’s done, as much as I healed a lot of things by making it, I know that it’s an ongoing thing. The river does not end.”

Listen: New Bon Iver Tracks

33 “GOD”

22 (OVER S∞∞N) [Bob Moose Extended Cab Version]

Bon Iver - 10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄ (Extended Version)