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Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon Talks Collaborating With Kanye West, Anxiety, and Crying to TV Commercials

With Bon Iver’s excellent new album i,i now out, Justin Vernon sat down for an interview with Zane Lowe on Apple Music’s Beats 1 Radio. Clad in Discwoman T-shirt and silly Mu-Tron hat, Vernon discussed the process of recording the new music, bringing musicians and dancers to Sonic Ranch in El Paso, and channeling that collective energy into his most collaborative project yet.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have some set of skills to choose really trustworthy individuals to be around me, as they’ve chosen me as well, how we’ve found each other,” the musician explained to Lowe of how he choose people to collaborate with. “But when you’re ready to do something, you don’t want somebody to be doubting you or to have some body language that’s weird. You just want chill people, chill people that are, like, their only goal in life is to make this song better. Nobody’s in there trying to, like, gain something, or, like, get songwriting credit, or like—everyone’s just there for the same reason I am. And when you have the power of others around you, and they share that energy, you can get a lot done.”

Asked about what he learned from his work with Kanye West, Vernon said he “definitely witnessed how … you can have music be cooking on a stove, like over here, and you can respond to it. If you’re like Kanye, you can wait and there’s going to be cooks in all sorts of kitchens and they’re going to show you all sorts of stuff, and you get to react to a lot of things. You get to say no to a lot of things until you’re very sure you like something.”

Vernon also talked about his struggle with anxiety, which had been plaguing him since the 2012 Grammy Awards. “It was rough personally in the years leading up to 22, A Million. And it was still rough a year into it, and it bottomed out,” he recalled. “I had to cancel a tour because—I don’t know if other people have this. I know of other people who have anxiety and stuff, but it’s just something I feel it’s so important to talk about, because I couldn’t move, I couldn’t leave the house. It’s so strange. I was sick. You know what I mean? It’s not helpful unless, like I was saying before, you have to be vulnerable to show or to share that you’re feeling an extreme discomfort and you don’t know why.

“That’s a pretty weird place to start a conversation, but holy hell, is super important. I did therapy. I did the SSRI meds,” he continued. “I’ve gotten away from those now, which I’m happy about. Which, it can be dangerous to go on and off of those things. But, the one-on-one therapy was insanely helpful, just to unload with somebody that doesn’t necessarily love you or something. They are professionals at helping you sort out what’s wrong. When you look back, I can’t actually feel the pain I felt. And I’m just like, “Wow, I must’ve felt really bad,” where I had to lay down on the bathroom floor.

“But I’m so glad that things do feel sweeter on this side,” Vernon added. “I’ve just been crying to cotton commercials again. ‘The touch, the feel of cotton.’ That’s when you know you’re a happy person, when you’re crying at commercials.”

On the subject of his Wisconsin hometown of Eau Claire, Vernon touched on his particularly Taurean sensibilities: “You start to have intimacy with the place you’re from. You’re like, I’ve been on this road 5,000 times, I’ve driven by this old house that I used to live in 3,000 times, or whatever. And that familiarity helps me, personally, that comfort … I guess there’s something about being a Taurus, maybe, that you have to be rooted to the ground, or you are rooted to the ground, and that’s definitely me.”

Watch his interview above, and revisit our review of i,i here.