Show cover of Song Exploder

Song Exploder

Song Exploder is a podcast where musicians take apart their songs, and piece by piece, tell the story of how they were made. Each episode features an artist discussing a song of theirs, breaking down the sounds and ideas that went into the writing and recording. Hosted and produced by Hrishikesh Hirway.

Tracks

Omah Lay - Never Forget
Omah Lay is a Nigerian singer, songwriter, and producer. He’s one of the young stars of Afrobeats, the West African genre that's become a global phenomenon. His new album Boy Alone features a collaboration with Justin Bieber. But for this episode, Omah talked to me about the song “Never Forget.” Boy Alone was Omah’s late father's nickname, and the song “Never Forget” was inspired by him. For more, visit songexploder.net/omah-lay.
15:09 16/11/22
Book Exploder: James McBride - Deacon King Kong
The final episode of Book Exploder is with author James McBride. He was born in New York City and raised in Brooklyn’s Red Hook Houses housing projects until the age of seven. That housing project became the setting for his novel, Deacon King Kong. In 2015, President Obama awarded him with the National Humanities Medal, and in 2021, Deacon King Kong won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. Deacon King Kong tells of the upending of a Brooklyn neighborhood, after a young drug dealer is shot in broad daylight by a deacon known to everyone as Sportcoat. In his conversation with Susan, James discusses a passage from the book’s opening, which takes place in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. For more, visit bookexploder.com/episodes/james-mcbride.
20:00 09/11/22
Iron & Wine - Flightless Bird, American Mouth
In 2002, Sam Beam’s first album as Iron & Wine was released on Sub Pop Records. He’d given them a bunch of demos, and rather than have him re-record these songs, they released the demos themselves. Since then, he’s put out five more full-length albums and been nominated for multiple Grammys. For this episode, Sam looked back at the making of his song "Flightless Bird, American Mouth," from his 2007 album The Shepherd’s Dog. A year after that album came out, the song was used prominently in a scene in the movie Twilight, and it’s been one of the most popular Iron & Wine songs ever since. I talked to Sam at Blue Rock Artist Ranch and Studio in Wimberley, Texas, in front of a small audience. You’ll hear the original demo he recorded, and how that transformed into the final version of the song. For more, visit songexploder.net/iron-and-wine
20:35 02/11/22
Book Exploder: George Saunders - Victory Lap
George Saunders has won the Booker Prize, and he’s the recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant. He won the Folio Prize for his collection of short stories, Tenth of December, which includes the short story “Victory Lap.” In this episode, Susan and George talk about a passage from “Victory Lap.” “Victory Lap” is about two teenagers, Alison and Kyle, and what happens when a stranger tries to abduct Alison. In his conversation with Susan, George discusses a passage from the light-hearted opening of the story, before it takes its darker turn. For more, visit bookexploder.com/episodes/george-saunders.
18:52 26/10/22
Santigold - Ushers of the New World
Santigold is a singer, songwriter, and producer. She’s put out 4 albums since 2008, and she’s been featured as a collaborator on songs with Jay-Z, Beastie Boys, Diplo, and more. In this episode, Santi takes apart her song "Ushers of the New World," from her 2022 album Spirituals. She made it with some other collaborators she’s worked with before, including Grammy-winning producer Rostam, and producer Ricky Blaze. She told me about how she tries to channel her gut instincts, and how she wanted to transform some of the darkest feelings of 2020 into something galvanizing. For more, visit songexploder.net/santigold.
17:41 19/10/22
Book Exploder: Celeste Ng - Little Fires Everywhere
Celeste Ng is an American writer and author of three novels. Her second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, was published in 2017 and became a #1 New York Times bestseller. A television adaptation of the novel, starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington, premiered in 2020. Little Fires Everywhere is set in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and centers around two families—the mothers of these families especially. One family is upper-middle class with a “typical” suburban structure: a mom, a dad, and four kids; the other is a single mom, Mia, and her daughter, who are newcomers to the town. In her conversation with Susan, Celeste discusses a flashback to how a young Mia first became interested in photography as a medium. For more, visit bookexploder.com/episodes/celeste-ng.
19:07 12/10/22
King Princess - Let Us Die
King Princess is the project of Mikaela Straus, a singer, songwriter, and producer from Brooklyn. She’s a platinum-selling artist, and she put out her second album in July, 2022. The last track on the album is the song "Let Us Die." Rolling Stone called it "the banger of the year." In this episode, Mikaela breaks down the song, along with two of her collaborators on it: co-producer and co-writer Ethan Gruska, and multi-Grammy winning producer Mark Ronson. You’ll hear the original voice memo that Mikaela recorded, and the demo she made with Ethan. And you’ll hear the drums recorded by the late Taylor Hawkins, the legendary drummer of Foo Fighters and Alanis Morissette, who passed away earlier this year. For more, visit songexploder.net/king-princess.
19:18 05/10/22
Book Exploder: Tayari Jones - An American Marriage
Tayari Jones is the author of four novels. She won the 2019 Women's Prize for Fiction, and received a Lifetime Achievement Award in Fine Arts from the Congressional Black Caucus. Her novel An American Marriage was an Oprah's Book Club Selection, and was longlisted for the National Book Award. She won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Fiction. An American Marriage tells the story of Celestial and Roy, a Black middle-class couple living in Atlanta. Their lives are torn apart after Roy is wrongfully convicted of a crime he did not commit, and the middle of the book takes the form of letters they send each other while he’s in prison. In her discussion with Susan, Tayari discusses the letter Celestial sends to Roy to tell him she is leaving him. For more, visit bookexploder.com/episodes/tayari-jones.
18:26 28/09/22
Panic! At the Disco - Viva Las Vengeance
Panic! at the Disco is the Grammy-nominated project of Brendon Urie, who originally started it as a band with his high school friends from Las Vegas in 2004. In the eighteen years since, Panic! at the Disco has won American Music Awards, MTV Video Music Awards, iHeartRadio Music awards, and more. In August 2022, Brendon released the seventh Panic! at the Disco album, Viva Las Vengeance. The title track hit #1 on Billboard’s Alternative Airplay chart. In this episode, Brendon tells the story of how he, Grammy-nominated producer Jake Sinclair and Oscar-nominated songwriter Mike Viola all got together to make the song "Viva Las Vengeance." For more, visit songexploder.net/panic-at-the-disco.
18:28 21/09/22
Book Exploder: Carmen Maria Machado - In the Dream House
Carmen Maria Machado is the award-winning author of In the Dream House, a memoir where each chapter has its own vivid style of storytelling. It won the Folio Prize in 2021, and was named one of the best books of the year by The New York Times, The New Yorker, and NPR. In the Dream House depicts Carmen’s experiences in an abusive relationship, and in this episode, she spoke to Susan about a pivotal passage from the chapter “Dream House as House in Florida.” 
18:49 14/09/22
Re-issue: Björk - Stonemilker
(This is a re-issue of Björk’s episode from December 2015.) In January 2015, Björk released Vulnicura. She described it as "a complete heartbreak album." And in November, she released Vulnicura Strings, a companion album that stripped away the electronics. In this episode, Bjork breaks down the making of both the original version of the song "Stonemilker," which you’re hearing now, as well as the strings version. She traces her writing and recording process for the track, her collaboration with the electronic producer Arca, and why she wanted to make a second version.  For more, visit songexploder.net/björk.
22:17 07/09/22
Book Exploder: Michael Cunningham - The Hours
Michael Cunningham is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hours. He’s the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship. The Hours was published in 1998, and in addition to the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, it won the PEN/Faulkner Award. The book was later adapted into an Oscar-winning film starring Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, and Julianne Moore. In this episode, Michael speaks to Susan Orlean about a passage concerning the suicide of Virginia Woolf, which comes at the end of the prologue. For more, visit bookexploder.com/episodes/michael-cunningham.
19:55 31/08/22
Madonna - Hung Up
Madonna is the best-selling female recording artist of all time. She has twelve albums that have gone multi-platinum. She’s won seven Grammys, and has had fifty songs reach number 1 on the Billboard Dance chart. That’s more number 1s than anyone in any category, ever. In this episode, she talks about one of those number 1s: “Hung Up,” from her 2005 album Confessions on a Dance Floor. The song and that album were co-produced by Stuart Price, an electronic musician, producer, and DJ from the UK. “Hung Up” began in part because Madonna was working on a film with director Luc Besson (whose films include The Fifth Element and Taken). But the song also grew out of Stuart’s DJ sets. Madonna has a new career-spanning album out, called Finally Enough Love: 50 Number Ones, and in honor of its release, Madonna and Stuart Price told me the story of how their collaboration and partnership led to one of Madonna’s biggest hits. For more, visit songexploder.net/madonna.
22:09 24/08/22
Book Exploder: Min Jin Lee - Pachinko
Min Jin Lee is the author of the best-selling novel Pachinko. She’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and the recipient of South Korea's Manhae Grand Prize for Literature. In Pachinko, she tells a sweeping, multi-generational story of a Korean family that moves to Japan. Pachinko is an international best-seller, named one of the best books of 2017 by the New York Times, the BBC, the New York Public Library, and more. In 2022, it was adapted into an Emmy-nominated television series on Apple TV+. In this episode, Min talks to Book Exploder host Susan Orlean about a passage from Chapter 4 of Pachinko: a pivotal scene that takes place in June 1932, in a small fishing village in Korea. For more, visit bookexploder.com/episodes/min-jin-lee.
19:48 17/08/22
Kae Tempest - Move
Kae Tempest is a songwriter, rapper, an award-winning poet, and best-selling novelist. They’ve been nominated for the UK’s Mercury Prize and Brit Award. Their most recent album is The Line is a Curve, which came out earlier this year. It was executive produced by legendary producer Rick Rubin. Kae made the album alongside their longtime collaborator, producer Dan Carey. I talked to Kae and Dan talk about the song "Move." You’ll hear the first demo they made, which sounds almost nothing like the final version. In this episode, they talk about how the track evolved over several sessions, months apart. Kae’s own life changed a lot during that period. They came out as trans and non-binary in 2020, and this song, in part, helps tell the story of what they were going through. https://songexploder.net/kae-tempest
17:24 10/08/22
Book Exploder: Susan Orlean - The Library Book
Introducing a new miniseries: Book Exploder, where authors break down a passage from one of their books, and discuss the creative process that went into writing it. Every other week, in between episodes of Song Exploder, you’ll hear from a new author, in conversation with host Susan Orlean. But for this first episode of the series, Susan is interviewed by Hrishikesh Hirway about her own book, The Library Book. Susan Orlean is the author of twelve books, including The Orchid Thief (which inspired the Oscar-award winning film Adaptation), a staff writer at The New Yorker . Published in 2018, The Library Book became a New York Times Best Seller and named a Washington Post Top 10 Book of the Year. The book tells the story of the 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Central Library. In this inaugural episode, Susan discusses a passage from her book, which details the blaze itself. For more, visit bookexploder.com/episodes/susan-orlean.
19:41 03/08/22
Sudan Archives - Selfish Soul
Sudan Archives is a singer, songwriter, producer, and violinist. She grew up in Cincinnati before moving to LA. Her music has been called "viscerally gorgeous" by The Guardian, and "stunning" by Pitchfork, who gave her in ‘Best New Music.’ This year, she’s releasing her second album, and one of the tracks on it is "Selfish Soul." She told me the idea for this song started when she asked her boyfriend, James (who is the rapper Nocando) to shave her head. Cutting off her hair made her reflect on her whole hair story, from experiences she had as a kid, to the cultural and racial issues that have historically surrounded Black women's hair. For more, visit songexploder.net/sudan-archives.
16:06 27/07/22
mxmtoon - Mona Lisa
Maia from mxmtoon released her first EP in 2018. She was 18 years old, recorded it in her bedroom, and self-released it. It went on to be streamed over 100 million times. This year, she put out her second album, Rising, and in this episode, she breaks down her song "Mona Lisa." She told me about how different it is from the songs she used to write when she was teenager. And how she found something authentic and honest by connecting with a part of herself from even earlier in her life. For more, visit songexploder.net/mxmtoon.
14:55 13/07/22
Monica Martin - Go Easy, Kid
Monica Martin is a singer and songwriter based in Los Angeles. Before that, she was based in Madison, Wisconsin, where she was part of the indie rock band Phox. She’s been a featured guest vocalist on songs by James Blake and Vulfpeck. In this episode, Monica breaks down her song “Go Easy, Kid,” along with the tracks’s producer, Khushi. She talks about making a song that’s in part about how hard it can be to make a song. And more generally, how hard it can be to let go of things we get hung up on. For more, visit songexploder.net/monica-martin
25:05 29/06/22
Maren Morris - Humble Quest
Maren Morris is a Grammy-winning, multi-platinum artist. She’s also won multiple country music awards, including CMAs for Female Vocalist of the Year, and Single of the Year in 2020, but her feelings about the country music industry are kind of complicated, as she discusses in this episode. She breaks down her song "Humble Quest," which is the title track from her third album. It was produced by Greg Kurstin, who’s won the Producer of the Year Grammy more than once. The album came out in March, and hit #2 on Billboard country chart. But before "Humble Quest" was a title, Maren had to figure out what the words meant to her, and that’s where the song began. To learn more, visit songexploder.net/maren-morris
17:24 15/06/22
Rick Astley - Never Gonna Give You Up
Rick Astley is a singer and songwriter from England, whose debut single, "Never Gonna Give You Up," became an international smash hit. The song came out in July 1987 and won the BRIT Award for “British Single of the Year.” It hit number one in 25 countries, and Rick Astley was nominated for a Grammy for Best New Artist. And then, 20 years after the song came out, it became a new kind of phenomenon, when the meme Rickrolling was born. Last year, the music video for "Never Gonna Give You Up" passed a billion streams on YouTube. The song was written and produced by the production team Stock Aitken Waterman, who became hitmakers for artists like Kylie Minogue, Dead or Alive, and others. For this episode, I spoke to Rick Astley, and songwriter and producer Mike Stock, and the two of them tell the story of how "Never Gonna Give You Up" was made. For more, visit songexploder.net/rick-astley.
24:12 01/06/22
Kevin Morby - This Is a Photograph
Kevin Morby is a singer and songwriter based in Kansas City. He’s put out seven albums since 2013, including his most recent one, This is a Photograph, which just came out last week. For this episode, I talked to Kevin about the title track from This is a Photograph. It’s a story about his family, the pandemic, and memories of times that have happened — and times that haven’t happened yet. To learn more, visit songexploder.net/kevin-morby
20:48 18/05/22
Arooj Aftab - Mohabbat
Arooj Aftab is a singer and composer based in Brooklyn. She grew up in Saudi Arabia, but her family is from Pakistan. And earlier this year, she made history by becoming the first Pakistani artist to win a Grammy. Her song, “Mohabbat" won the Best Global Music Performance Grammy, and she was nominated for Best New Artist. "Mohabbat" was first released on her 2021 album, Vulture Prince, but it’s been a part of Arooj’s life for a long time . In this episode, she tells the story of how the song was first born, and how it lived with her and evolved over the years before she finally recorded it. For more, visit songexploder.net/arooj-aftab
23:59 04/05/22
Partners: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
This week, I want to introduce you to another podcast that I make, called Partners. It’s a show about partnerships that was born out of Song Exploder. I’ve made a bunch of episodes with bandmates, or co-writers, or an artist and a producer who worked together, all these stories where the songs were the result of a really special collaboration. And I was always fascinated by the origins of the relationship, as part of the story of the origin of the song. When you hear those stories, it becomes clear that what these people made together is something that reflects not just each of them individually, but this other, unique entity that only exists where the two of them meet. And I wanted to make a podcast that was entirely about that idea. And I feel like all successful long-term partnerships could be thought of as love stories. It’s a matter of luck, and being in the right place at the right time, and also work and patience, plus some ineffable magic spark. So that’s what Partners is about. The first season came out in 2020, and the second season just began last week. You can subscribe to the show at partners.show, or wherever you get your podcasts, etc, but I also just want to play you this episode from season 2, with two music greats, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, who have made two incredible albums together. For more, visit songexploder.net/partners.
17:23 20/04/22
Peaches - Boys Wanna Be Her
Peaches is a musician, producer, and performance artist. She’s released six albums and in 2015, she won the Polaris Heritage Music Prize. Her fourth album, Impeach My Bush, came out in 2006, and features the song “Boys Wanna Be Her.” She produced the song with Mickey Petralia, whose other production credits include Beck, Ladytron, and Flight of the Conchords. “Boys Wanna Be Her” has become kind of an anthem since it came out. It’s been used in a lot of film and tv. To name just a couple examples, it was in the season 2 finale of ‘The Boys,’ and it’s the theme song for ‘Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.’ In this episode, Peaches tells the story of what inspired the song originally, and how she made it, with a few thoughts from Mickey Petralia. Peaches will be on tour throughout 2022. Visit teachesofpeaches.com for tickets. For more info, visit songexploder.net/peaches
15:24 06/04/22
Steve Reich - Different Trains: America, Before the War
Steve Reich is a legendary composer who was one of the pioneers of minimalism. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music, and the New York Times called him “America’s greatest living composer.” I had the incredible honor of getting to speak to Steve Reich about his piece Different Trains, written for string quartet and pre-recorded performance tape. It was first performed in 1988 by the Kronos Quartet, and they released a recording of it in 1989, which won the Grammy for Best Classical Contemporary Composition. Different Trains is a piece about World War II and the Holocaust. It’s made up of three movements: America – Before the War, Europe – During the War, and After the War. For this episode, Steve Reich breaks down the first movement, which was inspired by his own childhood experiences. For more, visit songexploder.net/steve-reich
30:22 23/03/22
Re-issue: Perfume Genius - Slip Away
This week, I want to revisit one of my favorite episodes of Song Exploder, with Perfume Genius telling the story of making Slip Away. This episode originally came out in May 2017. The album the song’s from, No Shape, went on to be nominated for a Grammy, and was named one of the year’s best in lots of places. And next week, on March 16, Perfume Genius will be playing at the Song Exploder Stage at SXSW. I’m really excited to be putting on a showcase at the festival, and the other artists playing will be Kimbra, Sarah Kinsley, Fly Anakin, and Jenny Owen Youngs. For more information about the show: songexploder.net/sxsw - Mike Hadreas has been making music under the name Perfume Genius since 2008. In May 2017, he put out his fourth album, No Shape to widespread critical acclaim. In this episode, Mike breaks down the song Slip Away. I also spoke with producer Blake Mills, who also plays on the track, and recording engineer Shawn Everett about the unusual way the song was recorded. For more, visit songexploder.net/perfume-genius
22:22 09/03/22
Sarah Kinsley - The King
Sarah Kinsley is a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. Her most recent release is an EP called The King, which came out in 2021. When she made it, she was in college  in New York— and actually, at the moment, she still is. But the title track on The King was written at a time when the pandemic had shut things down, and she was back in Connecticut, living with her parents. In this episode, Sarah tells the story of demo’ing the song in her childhood bedroom, then recording it in the studio with producer Jake Aron, before it went on to become a hit with over twenty millions streams online. Sarah’s performing at the Song Exploder show at SXSW on March 16, along with Perfume Genius, Kimbra, and more. Hope to see you there. For more visit, songexploder.net/sarah-kinsley
18:26 23/02/22
Brandi Carlile - You and Me On the Rock (feat. Lucius)
Brandi Carlile is a singer and songwriter from Washington State. She's  released seven albums and won six Grammys. Her most recent album is In These Silent Days, which debuted at number one on Billboard’s folk and rock album charts. It was named one of the best albums of 2021 by Rolling Stone, Stereogum, and more. It was produced by her longtime collaborators Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings. In this episode, Brandi breaks down her song "You and Me on the Rock," and how it was influenced by her wife, by their home, and by Joni Mitchell. To learn more, visit songexploder.net/brandi-carlile.
20:45 09/02/22
Franz Ferdinand - Take Me Out
The band Franz Ferdinand formed in 2002, in Glasgow, Scotland. They’ve won the Mercury Prize and two BRIT Awards, they have five Grammy nominations, and they’ve sold millions of albums. One of their first singles is this song, “Take Me Out,” and it’s also their biggest hit. In this episode, singer and guitarist Alex Kapranos tells the story of how he and his bandmates made the song, from the original home demo to the final studio recording. To learn more, visit songexploder.net/franz-ferdinand.
22:07 26/01/22