5 Years, 28 People, 1 Song: No One Writes Quite Like Bon Iver.

Justin Vernon, the man behind the ever-evolving band Bon Iver, broke out first as a one-man folk crooner, known for holing up in his father’s hunting cabin and coming back with the songs on “For Emma, Forever Ago,” an indie breakout in 2008. He went on to become an unlikely Grammy winner (best new artist, 2012) and a key Kanye West collaborator on “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” and “Yeezus,” two of the most acclaimed albums of the decade.

In the meantime, Bon Iver morphed into a collective, a community and an ebbing-and-flowing art project, with Vernon inviting his old friends from Eau Claire, Wis., and his new peers from across the music industry to contribute freely to his increasingly abstract music.

Perhaps no song represents what Bon Iver has become better than “iMi,” the first proper track, following a brief but connected intro, on the group’s acclaimed new album, “i,i.” It took five years, 11 songwriters and more than a dozen musicians to finish the song — the contributors swell toward 30 if you include studio hands — which began, fittingly, on a winter night in a barn with Trever Hagen, one of Vernon’s closest friends and collaborators.

Where some may have discerned only noise in the home recording — some sliding cardboard, a radio being turned on and off — Vernon heard the start of his next record. The journey that commenced, chronicled in the Diary of a Song video above, would include the work of five producers (Vernon, Chris Messina, Brad Cook, BJ Burton and Andrew Sarlo); multiple vocalists (Mike Noyce, Jeremy Nutzman, Camilla Staveley-Taylor, Channy Leaneagh); the rap producer Wheezy; and the electronic musician James Blake, each of whom added something indelible to the avant-folk track. (The enigmatic Frank Ocean may have also been present.)

And then there is Vernon’s voice, anchoring it all. After years of drenching his muscular falsetto in digital effects, Vernon, at the urging of those who know him best, has once again stripped back his sound, cutting through the busy track with some of his most personal lyrics in years. In this episode of Diary of a Song, Vernon and his collaborators discuss the difficult road to making this album; recording at the Mexican border; and why the band would not give up on “iMi.”

“Diary of a Song” provides an up-close, behind-the-scenes look at how pop music is made today, using archival material — voice memos, demo versions, text messages, emails, interviews and more — to tell the story behind the track. Subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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