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

May 4, 2022 23 min

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 li...

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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 t...

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April 6, 2022 15 min

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 ...

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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 recordi...

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March 9, 2022 22 min

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 putt...

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February 23, 2022 18 min

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’in...

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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 h...

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January 26, 2022 22 min

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 r...

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January 12, 2022 20 min

Joy Oladokun is a singer and songwriter from Arizona, now based in Nashville, who’s been releasing music since 2015. Last year, she was named an Artist to Watch by NPR, Spotify, and Amazon, and she was #1 on Vogue’s list of New LGBTQ Artists To Listen to Now. She put out her third album, In Defense of My Own Happiness, in June 2021. It includes the song “Look Up.” For that track, she worked with Grammy-nominated songwriter and prod...

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Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas came out in 1993. It’s a stop-motion animated musical, with music by legendary composer Danny Elfman. He’s won Emmys, a Grammy, and been nominated for four Oscars. His work includes the music for Tim Burton’s Batman films, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films, Good Will Hunting, and the theme to The Simpsons. From 1979 to 1995, he was the singer and songwriter in the band Oingo Boingo. 

The Nigh...

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December 1, 2021 17 min

Halsey is an award-winning singer and songwriter from New Jersey. She's been nominated for two Grammys, and sold over a million records. In August, she released her fourth album, If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power, which was produced by the Grammy and Oscar winning duo of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross from Nine Inch Nails. Halsey wrote one of the songs on the album, "You Asked for This," with Greg Kurstin, who’s won...

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November 17, 2021 29 min

The movie Dune was released on October 21. It's the most recent adaptation of Frank Herbert's epic science fiction novel from 1965. The film was directed by Denis Villeneuve, and the score was written by Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer. Hans Zimmer has scored over 200 films, been nominated for Oscars eleven times. He and Denis Villeneuve first worked together on the film Blade Runner 2049. Dune tells the story of the Atr...

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The War on Drugs is a band from Philadelphia who formed in 2005. They won the Grammy for Best Rock Album in 2018. This year, they put out their fifth album, I Don’t Live Here Anymore. Adam Granduciel is the singer and lead guitarist in the band, and I talked to him at his recording space here in Los Angeles. In this episode, Adam breaks down the title track from I Don’t Live Here Anymore, from the original demo to the version that ...

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Willow Smith is a singer and songwriter from Los Angeles. She’s also a member of one of the most famous families in the world. From a very young age, she followed in the musical footsteps of her parents, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith, and released her first single when she was just ten years old. Since then, she’s released four albums, and was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most influential people in the world. This year, on ...

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This summer, I gave a TED Talk at the TED Conference. My talk was about what you discover when you really listen. It was based on how making Song Exploder has changed the way I think about conversations and connecting with people. My talk came out today on the TED website and on the TED Talks Daily podcast, and the very nice folks at TED asked if I would also put the audio of the talk here, on Song Exploder. And I normally wouldn’t...

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October 6, 2021 26 min

Earlier this year, I got an amazing email—the estate of John Lennon said that they have a treasure trove of audio material from his life, and they were wondering if I would be interested in making an episode around the song “God,” from John Lennon’s first solo album. I’ve never tried making a posthumous episode before, because hearing directly from the artist is at the heart of Song Exploder. But with all the interview archives tha...

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September 22, 2021 23 min

Lucy Dacus is a singer and songwriter from Richmond, Virginia. She put out her first album in 2016, and in 2018 she formed the band boygenius with Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers. In June 2021, she released her third album, Home Video, which includes the song "Thumbs." The first time I heard it, I knew I wanted to ask Lucy about how and why she made it. After some COVID testing, we spoke in person here in Los Angeles. And ...

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September 8, 2021 20 min

Mustafa is a singer, songwriter, and poet from Toronto. He gained national recognition in Canada for his poetry. in 2016, he served on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Youth Advisory Council. Later, as a songwriter, he contributed to the Grammy award-winning album Starboy by The Weeknd, and he’s written songs for Usher, Camila Cabello, and others. In May 2021, he released his own debut album, called When Smoke Rises, inspired by his...

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August 25, 2021 17 min

Lykke Li is a singer and songwriter from Sweden. She started releasing music in 2007, and for much of her career, she’s worked with producer Björn Yttling, who’s also a member of the Swedish band Peter Bjorn and John. Her second album, Wounded Rhymes, came out 10 years ago. It was named one of the best albums of 2011 by the New York Times, Pitchfork, the Guardian, and more, and it won the Swedish Grammy for Best Album. The song ...

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August 11, 2021 20 min

Singer, songwriter, and producer James Mercer of The Shins wrote “New Slang” when he was living in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It came out as a single and then he re-recorded it for The Shins’ debut album Oh, Inverted World, which came out 20 years ago, in 2001. After Garden State came out, featuring the song "New Slang," that album went gold. And the soundtrack for the movie won a Grammy. Nowadays, James Mercer lives in Portl...

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