Over the decade-plus since he arrived seemingly fully formed as the platonic ideal of indie DIY made good, Justin Vernon has pushed back against the notion that he and Bon Iver are synonymous. He is quick to deflect credit to core longtime collaborators like Chris Messina and Brad Cook, while April Base, the studio and headquarters he built just outside his native Eau Claire, Wisconsin, has become a cultural hub playing host to a variety of experimental projects. The fourth Bon Iver full-length album shines a brighter light on Bon Iver as a unit with many moving parts: Renovations to April Base sent operations to Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, Texas, for much of the production, but the spirit of improvisation and tinkering and revolving-door personnel that marked 2016’s out-there 22, A Million remained intact. “This record in particular felt like a very outward record; Justin felt outward to me,” says Cook, who grew up with Vernon and has played with him through much of his career. “He felt like he was in a new place, and he was reaching out for new input in a different way. We're just more in the foreground inevitably because the process became just a little bit more transparent.” Vernon, Cook, and Messina talk through that process on each of i,i's 13 tracks. “Yi” Justin Vernon: “That was a phone recording of me and my friend Trevor screwing around in a barn, turning a radio on and off. We chopped it up for about five years, just a hundred times. There’s something in that ‘Are you recording? Are you recording?’ that felt like the spirit that flows into the next song.” “iMi” Brad Cook: “It was like an old friend that you didn't know what to do with for a long time. When we got to Texas, a lot of different people took a crack at trying to make something out of that song. And then Andrew Sarlo, who works with Big Thief and is just a badass young producer, he took the whack that broke through the wall. Once the band got their hands on it, Justin added some of the acoustic stuff to it, and it just totally blew it wide open.” “We” Vernon: “I was working on this idea one morning with this engineer, Josh Berg, who happened to be out with us. And this guy Bobby Raps from Minneapolis was also at my studio just kind of hanging around, and he brought this dude named Wheezy who does some Young Thug beats, some Future beats. So I had this little baritone-guitar bass loop thing, and Wheezy put his beat on there. All these songs had a life, or had a birth, before Texas, but Texas was like graduation for every single one. That's why we went for so long and allowed for so much perspective to sink into all the tunes. It's a fucking banger; I love that one.” “Holyfields,” Vernon: “The whole song is an improvised moment with barely any editing, and we just improv'd moves. I sang some scratch vocals that day when we made it up, and they were weirdly close to what ended up being on the album. We didn't really chop away at that one—it kind of just was born with all its hair and everything.” “Hey, Ma” Vernon: “It just felt like a good strong song; we knew people would get it in their head. A couple of these tunes, and some of the tunes from the last album, I sort of peck around the studio with BJ Burton from time to time, and 90 percent of the stuff we make is death techno or something. So, there's another one that sort of just hung around with a stake in the ground, so to speak. And then our team—the three of us and the rest of everyone—just kept etching away at it, and it ended up becoming the song that felt emblematic of the record.” "U (Man Like)" Cook: “We had Bruce [Hornsby] come out to Justin's studio for a session for his Absolute Zero record. Bruce was playing a bunch of musical ideas that he had just sort of done at his house, and that piano figure in that song—I feel like we were tracking 15 seconds later. It was like, 'Wait, can we listen to this again?'” Vernon: “I'm not so good at coming up with full songs on the spot, but I can kind of map them out with my voice, or inflection. Then it takes a long time to chip away at them. Messina might have an idea for what that line should be, or Brad, or me. The melody that I sang that first day probably sounds remarkably like the melody that's on the album.” “Naeem” Vernon: “We did a collaboration with a dance group called TU Dance, and that was one of the songs. So we've been performing 'Naeem' as a part of this thing for a while. It's in a different state, but it's the finale of this big collaboration. And it just seemed very anthemic, and a very important part of whatever this record was going to be. It feels really nice to have a little bit more straightforward—not always bombastic, not always sonically trying to flip your lid or something.” “Jelmore” Vernon: “Basically an improvisation with me and this guy Buddy Ross. Again I probably didn't sing any final lyrics, but it's based on an improvisation, much like the song '____45_____' from [22, A Million]. And when we were down outside El Paso, me and Chris were over on one part of this studio and Brad was with the band in a big studio across the property, and they sort of took 'Jelmore' upon themselves and filled it in with all the lovely live-ness that's there. As the record goes on, it feels like there's a lot of these things that are sort of bare but have a lot of live energy to them.” “Faith” Vernon: “A basement improv that sat around for many years; maybe could have been on the last album, was for a while. I don't know, man—it's a song about having faith.” “Marion” Chris Messina: “I think that's one that Justin's been noodling around with for a while; for a few years, he would pick up that guitar and you would just kind of hear that riff. And we didn't really know what was going to happen to it. It's another one that exists in the TU Dance show. But what's cool about the version that's on the record is we did that as a live take with a six-piece ensemble that Rob Moose wrote for and conducted, and it was saxophone, trombone, trumpet, French horn, harmonica, and I think that's it that we did live. And then Justin was singing live and playing guitar live.” “Salem” Vernon: “OP-1 loop, weird Indigo Girls/Rickie Lee Jones vibes. I got really into acid and the Grateful Dead this year, so there's definitely some early psych vibes in there. The record really is supposed to be thought of as the fall record for this band, if you think of the other ones as seasons. Salem and burning leaves—these longings and these deaths, it's very much in there in that song, so it's a really autumn-y song.” “Sh’Diah” Vernon: “It stands for Shittiest Day in American History—the day after Trump got elected. It's another that sort of hung around as an improvised idea, and we finally got to figure out where we're going to land Mike Lewis, our favorite instrumentalist alive today in music. He gets to play over it, and the band got to do all this crazy layering over it. It's just one of my favorite moods on the album.” “RABi” Messina: “Justin's singing a cool thing on it, the guitar vibe is comforting and persistent, but we just weren't really sure where it needed to go. And then Brad and the rest of the dudes got their hands on it and it came back as just a dream sequence; it was so sick. We all kind of heard it and it was like, whoa, how can this not close out the record? This is definitely 'see you later.'” Vernon: “Just some ‘life feels good now, don't it?' There's a lot to be sad about, there's a lot to be confused about, there's a lot to be thankful for. And leaning on gratitude and appreciation of the people around you that make you who you are, make you feel safe, and provide that shelter so you can be who you want to be, there's still that impetus in life. We need that. It's a nice way to close the record, we all thought.”

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