The album was principally self-recorded by Bon Iver during a three-month retreat alone in a log cabin in Northeast Wisconsin, living off the land, splitting wood, and hunting for food. On this track and "For Emma," other instruments were later added in a studio. In the instance of this song Christy Smith of the band Nola added drums and a layered flute.
Bon Iver (Justin Vernon) believes the certain instruments contain songs. "Flume" he found in a Silvertone acoustic guitar he bought on eBay for $179. The day he got it, he wrote the song on it; he kept the guitar, but felt it was out of songs.
"Lean On" was originally sent by Major Lazer to both Rihanna and Nicki Minaj's camps as a slower reggae track. After both parties rejected the tune, Major Lazer recruited Danish singer MØ to supply vocals and recorded it themselves.