Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon Explains His Deal With The Number 22

Bon Iver mastermind Justin Vernon named his new album 22, A Million, and he introduced it with a single called “22 (OVER S??N).” On this, his most abstract and experimental album, he seems fascinated with the concept of infinity and, for whatever reason, the number 22. In a new profile in the New York Times, the writer Jon Pareles asked him about the meaning of the number 22 in his new work, and his answer was not especially illuminating.

Talking to Pareles, Vernon says that he’s always been drawn to the number 22. When he played sports as a kid, he chose it as his jersey number. When he sets wakeup alarms, he sets them for 22 minutes after whatever hour. The new album’s booklet cites the Bible’s Psalm 22. And about the song “22 (OVER S??N),” he had this to say:

Being 22 is me. 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.

Sure! But also: Huh? In the same profile, Vernon talks about the painstaking way he put together the new album; one song has 150 saxophones in its mix, and he recorded another song over a cassette copy of Neil Young’s Unplugged so that it would sound more murky and distorted. And he tells a story about the time that he and his friend and collaborator Kanye West argued over the concept of humility:

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.

The whole thing is well worth a read; you can check it out here.