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.

Episodes

December 7, 2022 23 min

Everything Everywhere All at Once is a sci-fi comedy independent film that came out in the spring of 2022. It’s a huge hit that made over $100 million at the box office. It’s already been named the best movie of the year by several publications and awards organizations.

The movie stars the legendary actress Michelle Yeoh, and was directed by the Daniels, the directing duo of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. The score for the film...

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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/om...

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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...

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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’...

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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 Sus...

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October 19, 2022 17 min

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 ...

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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 cl...

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October 5, 2022 19 min

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 m...

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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...

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September 21, 2022 18 min

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 Alterna...

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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 H...

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September 7, 2022 22 min

(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. S...

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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 O...

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August 24, 2022 22 min

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 Stua...

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August 17, 2022 19 min

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...

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August 10, 2022 17 min

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." Yo...

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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 ...

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July 27, 2022 16 min

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 ...

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July 13, 2022 14 min

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 co...

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June 29, 2022 25 min

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 g...

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