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.
Here's the Latest Episode from Song Exploder:
Brittany Howard is the guitarist and lead singer of the four-time Grammy-winning band Alabama Shakes. This month, she’s releasing her first solo album, called Jaime. In this episode, Brittany breaks down the song “Stay High,” which was the album’s first single. She started working on it while staying at a house in Topanga Canyon, near LA.
Robyn is a Swedish singer and songwriter. Her first album came out in 1995, when she was 16 years old. It went platinum in the US, double-platinum in Sweden. Since then, she’s been nominated for five Grammys and started her own record label. But there was an eight-year gap between Robyn’s album Body Talk, which came out in 2010, and her most recent album, Honey, which came out last October. Time, Rolling Stone, and Pitchfork all named it one of the best albums of the year.
For Song Exploder, Robyn breaks down the song “Honey,” the title track from that album. The first time the public heard the song was in a 2017 episode of the HBO show Girls, but that’s not the final version that was released on the album. In this episode, Robyn traces the long history of how she made “Honey,” a song that The New York Times called “her masterpiece.”
Justin Vernon founded the band Bon Iver in 2006. Bon Iver’s released four albums, and won two Grammys, including Best New Artist.
The most recent album, i,i, came out in August 2019, and in this episode, Justin breaks down a song from it called “Holyfields,.” He’s joined by producers Chris Messina and Brad Cook. We spoke to him in July, from his studio in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where the song started. They finished it at Sonic Ranch studio, in Tornillo, Texas, on the border of the US and Mexico.
Sleater-Kinney was formed in 1994 by Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein. Drummer Janet Weiss was a member of the band from 1997 until 2019. In Time Magazine in 2001, author and critic Greil Marcus named Sleater-Kinney “America’s Best Band.” Over the years, they’ve made nine albums, including this year’s The Center Won’t Hold, which was produced by Annie Clark of St. Vincent. In this episode, Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein break down how the song “The Future Is Here” was made.
Denzel Curry is a rapper from Miami. He started his career at age 16 as part of the hip hop collective Raider Klan. He released his first solo album while still in high school.
In May 2019 Denzel released his fourth album, ZUU. He made it with the Australian production duo FnZ, who have been collaborating with him since 2016. The album was named Best New Music by Pitchfork, and Denzel made his TV debut on The Tonight Show.
Jamila Woods is a singer, songwriter, and poet from Chicago. She’s released two albums, and she’s collaborated with artists like Chance the Rapper, Noname, and Macklemore.
In May 2019, she put out her second album, LEGACY! LEGACY!, to critical acclaim. NME called it one of the albums of the year, Rolling Stone called it a “revelation,” and Pitchfork named it “Best New Music.”
In this episode, Jamila and her producer Slot-A break down a song from that album, called “BALDWIN,” named after the late author and civil rights activist James Baldwin.
Big Thief is a four piece folk-rock band from Brooklyn, New York. In May 2019, they released their third album, U.F.O.F., to critical acclaim. Pitchfork named it “Best New Music.”
In this episode, singer Adrianne Lenker and drummer James Krivchenia break down a song from that album called “Cattails.”
Sheryl Crow is a singer-songwriter from Missouri. She’s released ten studio albums, sold over 50 million records, and has won nine Grammys.
In April 2019, Sheryl Crow released a new version of her song “Redemption Day,” which was first released on her self-titled album in 1996. This new version features vocals from Johnny Cash, who recorded a cover of the song that was released posthumously in 2010. And in this episode, Sheryl Crow breaks down how it all came together.
Raleigh Ritchie is the musical alias of Jacob Anderson, a musician and actor who’s probably best known for playing the character Grey Worm on Game of Thrones.
Raleigh Ritchie released his first album in 2016, and he’s put out a handful of EPs. In September 2018, he put out the single, “Time in a Tree.” He made the song with Grammy-nominated producer Daniel Traynor, aka Grades. In this episode, the two of them take apart “Time in a Tree” to explain how it came together, and how it was influenced by classic Hollywood movies, Billy Joel, and overwhelming anxiety.
John Darnielle has been writing and recording songs as the Mountain Goats since 1991. He’s released 17 studio albums, and also written two books of fiction.
In April 2019, the Mountain Goats released the album In League with Dragons, and in this episode, John Darnielle breaks down a song from it, called Cadaver-Sniffing Dog. We’ll hear his original demo, and then, hear how the song evolved at Blackbird Studios in Nashville, with the help of John’s band, some incredible session musicians, and producer Owen Pallett.
The Cranberries formed in Limerick, Ireland in 1989. Singer Dolores O’Riordan joined a year later, and the group went on to become one of the defining bands on the ‘90s, eventually selling over 40 million records worldwide.
In January 2018, while the band was working on their eighth album, Dolores O’Riordan passed away unexpectedly. Later that year, remaining members Noel Hogan, Mike Hogan, and Fergal Lawler announced that they would end the band, and that this would be their final album. It's called In The End.
It was released in April 2019, and in this episode, guitarist and songwriter Noel Hogan breaks down a song from it called “All Over Now.” You’ll hear how Hogan and O’Riordan first started the song, and how the remaining members worked to finish it without her.
Panda Bear is musician Noah Lennox. He’s a founding member of the experimental, genre-defying band Animal Collective, and as a solo artists, he’s released six albums.
In February 2019, Panda Bear released the album Buoys, and in this episode, he and his co-producer Rusty Santos break down the opening song, “Dolphin.” You’ll hear the original demo, and how they drew inspiration from music from all over the world.
Sharon Van Etten is a singer and songwriter who’s put out five albums. She's also an actress—she’s in The OA and Twin Peaks. Her most recent album, Remind Me Tomorrow, came out in January 2019.
In this episode, Sharon breaks down a single from that album called “Seventeen.” She shares the original demo she made with the song’s co-writer Kate Davis, and we’ll hear from producer John Congleton, who helped craft Sharon’s new, more electronic sound.
Nakhane is a singer and songwriter from Johannesburg, South Africa. His first album, Brave Confusion, won the South African Music Award for best alternative album in 2014. He starred in the award-winning film “The Wound,” which was shortlisted for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film.
Nakhane’s second album, You Will Not Die, was originally released in 2018, and then released in the US in 2019, as a deluxe version. The deluxe version includes this song,“New Brighton,” featuring guest vocals from Anohni. In this episode, as Nakhane breaks the song down, he talks about his complicated relationship with Christianity, why the song wasn’t on the original version of the album, and what it was like to work with one of his musical heroes.
Mumford & Sons are a Grammy-winning band that formed in London in 2007. They’ve put out four albums, and sold millions of copies. Their last three albums have all debuted at number one on the Billboard charts. The most recent of those albums is Delta, which came out in November 2018. The band is made up of Marcus Mumford, Ben Lovett, Winston Marshall, and Ted Dwane, and in this episode, Marcus and Ben break down a song from Delta called “Beloved.” You’ll how the song went from Marcus’s original raw voice memo to the intricate finished track.
Phoebe Bridgers is a singer-songwriter from Los Angeles. In September 2017, she released her debut album, Stranger in the Alps. One of the breakout songs from that album was “Scott Street,” a song Phoebe cowrote with her drummer, Marshall Vore. In this episode, Phoebe and Marshall break down how the song went from an unfinished cassette recording, to an acoustic demo, to the finished album version.
The Daily is a hit podcast from The New York Times, hosted by Michael Barbaro. Every weekday, over 1.7 million people download the show. It launched in February 2017, and in honor of its two-year anniversary, we’re publishing a bonus episode about the show’s theme song, which was composed by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly. It was originally published on the New York Times website, in 2018.
Japanese Breakfast is the musical project of Michelle Zauner, who’s been making music under that name since 2013. In July 2017, she released her second album, Soft Sounds from Another Planet, to critical acclaim.
In this episode, Michelle breaks down a song from that album called “Boyish,” along with her co-producer and bandmate Craig Hendrix. We’ll hear the original demo, plus a version Michelle recorded with her old band. And she’ll talk about how her perspective on the song has changed over the years.
Andrew Hozier-Byrne is a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter from Ireland. His debut single from 2013, “Take Me to Church,” was a massive, multi-platinum hit.
In September 2018, Hozier released the song “Nina Cried Power,” which features the legendary gospel singer Mavis Staples. In this episode, Hozier breaks down how he made the song, and Mavis Staples tells the story of how she got involved.
Yo-Yo Ma is perhaps the most famous and well-loved cellist in the world. He was born in Paris in 1955; his family moved to the U.S. when he was seven. He played for President Kennedy that year. He played at Carnegie Hall for the first time when he was 16. He’s won 18 Grammys, and he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
For this special episode of Song Exploder, Yo-Yo Ma talks about the Prelude to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cello Suite No.1 in G Major. He discusses learning, performing, and recording the piece across 58 years of his life.
Thao Nguyen is taking over as the new host of Song Exploder in 2019. This is a reissue of an episode from 2016 in which she was the guest.
Thao & the Get Down Stay Down released the album A Man Alive in March 2016. In this episode, Thao Nguyen breaks down the song "Astonished Man." Thao talks about working with Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards, who produced the album, and she speaks candidly about her relationship with her estranged father, the subject of the song.
Lindsey Buckingham is a singer-songwriter, a guitarist, and a producer. In 1974, he joined the band Fleetwood Mac, along with Stevie Nicks, his girlfriend at the time. A few year later, in 1977, Fleetwood Mac released the album Rumours, which would go on to sell over 40 million copies and become the eighth highest-selling album in history. In this episode, Lindsey Buckingham breaks down “Go Your Own Way," a song he wrote for that album about his relationship with Stevie Nicks.
Four years ago, on November 24, 2014, the first episode of the podcast Reply All came out. It’s a podcast about the internet hosted by Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt. And since then, they’ve put out 131 episodes. The show has gotten over 100 million downloads so far. Robert Downey Jr. is going to star in a movie based on one of their episodes. And from the debut, it’s been one of my favorite podcasts. A while back, in 2015, I did a special edition of Song Exploder for Reply All, about their theme song by Breakmaster Cylinder. I’d hear the guys talk about the Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder in the show’s credits, but I didn’t really know who or what that was. And I wanted to find out more. So in honor of the four year anniversary of Reply All’s launch, I’m putting out this special crossover episode for the first time here on Song Exploder.
Lorely Rodriguez is a singer, songwriter, and producer who goes by the name Empress Of. She’s released two albums, and she’s sung on tracks with Khalid, Blood Orange, and Dirty Projectors. Her first album, Me, was made on her own. But her second album, Us, features a bunch of collaborators. In this episode, Lorely breaks down the Empress Of song “When I’m With Him.” She co-produced it with Jim-E Stack and Dan Nigro, and I spoke to Jim-E Stack for this episode, too. Lorely explained how collaborating with producers opened up her process. Plus, the song’s lyrics are in English and Spanish, and Lorely describes how she relies on both languages to write.
Big Boi is a rapper from Atlanta. When he was a teenager, he and Andre 3000 formed OutKast, and went on to sell over 25 million records and win six Grammys. He’s released three solo albums, including Boomiverse, which came out in 2017. In this episode, Big Boi breaks down a song from that album called “Order of Operations.”
In 1978, John Carpenter wrote, directed, and scored the film Halloween. It was made on a $300,000 budget, and ended up grossing over $70 million, making it one of the most successful independent movies ever released. The main theme to the film became one of the most iconic pieces of cinematic music ever made. *Halloween *became a franchise with ten more Halloween films since the original. In 2018 a new Halloween film was released, directed by David Gordon Green. And for the first time since the first film, John Carpenter composed the score. That included remaking his theme song for the new film, this time with the help of his son Cody Carpenter and his godson Daniel Davies. In this episode, the three of them break down how they did it.
Janelle Monáe is an award-winning musician and actress who released her first record in 2007. She’s been nominated for multiple Grammys, and starred in the Oscar films Moonlight and Hidden Figures. In April 2018, she released her third album, Dirty Computer, which includes the song “So Afraid.” In this episode, Janelle Monáe takes “So Afraid” apart, to explain how she built it, step by step—beginning with a trip to the dentist.
Chan Marshall is a singer-songwriter who’s been making records under the name Cat Power since 1995. In 2018, she put out her tenth album, Wanderer. It includes this song "Woman," which has Lana Del Rey on backing vocals. In this episode, Chan breaks down the song and what it means to her, as she tells the story of how she made "Woman" in Miami and Los Angeles over the course of a few years.
Blood Orange is the project of songwriter and producer Devonté Hynes. He’s produced and co-written songs for artists like Carly Rae Jepsen, Solange, HAIM, and ASAP Rocky, among others. He’s been releasing his own music as Blood Orange since 2011. In August 2018, he released his fourth Blood Orange album, Negro Swan. In this episode, Dev breaks down how he made the song “Saint.” You’ll hear the original version of the track from 2015, as well as the layers and voices that were added over years to create the final version that appears on the album.
Last week, Netflix released the fifth season of BoJack Horseman. I wanted to revisit this episode about the show’s Main Title Theme, which was written by Patrick Carney of The Black Keys, and his uncle, Ralph Carney, who passed away unexpectedly in December 2017.
BoJack Horseman is a Netflix original series, an animated comedy about a washed up 90s sitcom star who's trying to figure out his life and career without drowning in self-loathing and existential despair. It won the 2016 Critics Choice award for best animated series. The theme song for the show was created by Patrick Carney, who is one half of The Black Keys, and his uncle, Ralph Carney, a multi-instrumentalist who has worked artists like Tom Waits, St Vincent, The B-52s, Galaxie 500, and a lot more. But the track wasn't written for the show, originally; it was just something that Patrick and Ralph made without knowing what it was for. In this episode, the two break down how the song was created, and how it went from their long-distance collaboration to become a TV theme song.
The Decemberists are a Grammy-nominated five-piece band from Portland, Oregon. They released their first album in 2001, and since then they’ve put out seven more, including the 2018 album I’ll Be Your Girl. In this episode, singer and guitarist Colin Meloy breaks down The Decemberists’ song “Once In My Life," from his first demo, to the final tracks they recorded in the studio.
In honor of Mitski’s new album, “Be the Cowboy,” here’s the episode she did in 2016. — Mitski has been making records since 2012. Her third record, Puberty 2, came out in June 2016 and was critically acclaimed Pitchfork gave it Best New Music status. Her music has been featured in the tv show Adventure Time. In this episode, Mitski breaks down her song Your Best American Girl, along with her long-time collaborator Patrick Hyland.
Christine and the Queens is a singer, songwriter, and producer from France. Her debut album was first released in 2014 in French, and in 2015, she released an English version of it. It was critically acclaimed and she won the Victoire de le Musique—France’s equivalent of the Grammy—for Best Female Artist in 2015.In July 2018, she released the single “Doesn’t Matter” in advance of her second album,Chris. Like before, she made a French version and an English version, but this time she wrote both versions simultaneously. In this episode, she talks about what that translation process was like, and the possibilities it opened up, as she takes apart "Doesn’t Matter." The song and the story first began in Chris’s basement.
Neko Case is a singer and songwriter. She’s been nominated for multiple Grammys, and in addition to her own music, she’s a member of the band The New Pornographers. In June 2018, she put out her 7th album, Hell-On, which she also co-produced. In this episode, Neko Case breaks down the song “Last Lion of Albion.” Albion’s one of the oldest names for island of Great Britain, and it was while she was in England that this song first began. This episode is guest-hosted by Thao Nguyen (of Thao & The Get Down Stay Down).
Earlier this year, in May 2018, Courtney Barnett released her second album, Tell Me How You Really Feel. And last fall, she and Kurt Vile made an album together. So I thought this would be a good time to go back and listen to an episode she did in January 2016 about “Depreston,” my favorite song from her first album. Here it is.
Courtney Barnett released her debut album in March 2015. By the end of the year, she had been nominated for a Grammy for Best New Artist, Spin named her the Songwriter of the Year, and she won four ARIA Music Awards in her native Australia. In this episode, Courtney Barnett breaks down the song "Depreston," which began with a visit to an open house, on a house-hunting trip she took in the town of Preston.
Action Bronson is a rapper from Queens who’s been making records since 2011. He also stars as the host of two TV shows about food on Vice’s channel, Viceland. His third album, Blue Chips 7000, came out in 2017, and features this song – “The Chairman’s Intent.” It was produced by his longtime collaborator, producer Harry Fraud. In this episode, Action Bronson and Harry Fraud tell the story of how “The Chairman’s Intent” was made.
Jhené Aiko is a Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter. She’s released three albums so far. In addition to her own records, she’s been a featured guest vocalist on songs by Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Childish Gambino, and many, many others. In 2017, she released her third album, Trip, which debuted at #5 on the Billboard Charts, and includes the song "Sativa." The song features guest vocals from Swae Lee, who’s one half of the band Rae Sremmurd. In this episode, Jhené tells the story of how “Sativa” was made, and how it got stuck, and then, how it got unstuck. She’s joined by producer Brian Warfield of the production duo Fisticuffs, who made the beat.
I interviewed the Scottish band CHVRCHES back in March 2016, in Austin, Texas. A few weeks ago, in May 2018, they released a new album called Love is Dead. It features contributions from David Stewart of the Eurythmics, and another past Song Exploder guest, Matt Berninger of The National. So in honor of CHVRCHES new record, I wanted to go back and listen to their episode again. Here it is:
CHVRCHES is a trio from Glasgow, Scotland. In this episode, they break down the song “Clearest Blue,” from their sophomore album Every Open Eye. You’ll hear the band’s original demo as well as why they start songs with a set of rules, but then quickly abandon those rules.
This interview was recorded live at the Dropbox Podcast Studio at SXSW.
Yo La Tengo formed in 1984. The band is made up Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley, and James McNew. In March 2018, they released There’s a Riot Going On, their 15th album. They made the record themselves—they recorded it entirely in their rehearsal studio with James handling the engineering duties. The album came together slowly, over a few years. In this episode, Georgia, James, and Ira break down the experiments and accidents that led to the the closing track from the record, the song "Here You Are."
Wolf Alice is a band from North London. Their second album, Visions of a Life, was released in September 2017. In this episode, singer Ellie Rowsell and drummer Joel Amey tell the story of how they made the song “Don’t Delete the Kisses.” The album was produced by Justin Meldal-Johnsen, and coming up later, you’ll hear some of his thoughts, as well. The song went through a lot of versions. A home demo that Ellie made, another demo with the full band, plus studio versions they recorded in LA with Justin. There were a lot of ideas that were created and then scrapped. In this episode, they trace the path through those ideas, as well how the song was influenced by Father John Misty, PJ Harvey, and the film Frances Ha.
In November 2015, I interviewed Kelela about her song “Rewind,” from her debut EP, Hallucinogen. Since that EP was released, she's gone on to collaborate on songs with Gorillaz and Solange, and released her first full-length, Take Me Apart, which was named one of the Top 10 albums of 2017 by Vulture, Pitchfork, Cosmo, and a bunch of others. So I wanted to go back and revisit Kelela’s episode, which originally came out in January 2016. Here it is:
Kelela is a singer and songwriter based in Los Angeles. In 2015, she released Hallucinogen EP, and landed on critics lists in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Pitchfork, and more. In this episode, Kelela takes apart her song “Rewind.” To make the track, she worked with five different producers, picking and choosing each for what they could best contribute to her overall vision for the song. This interview was recorded live in San Francisco at Fusion’s Real Future Fair.
Jon Hopkins is an electronic music producer whose been nominated twice for the UK’s Mercury Prize. Along with his frequent collaborator, Brian Eno, he co-produced Coldplay’s Grammy-award winning album, Viva la Vida. In May 2018, Jon Hopkins released his fifth album, Singularity. It was named Best New Music by Pitchfork. In this episode, Jon Hopkins takes apart the song "Luminous Beings," which was inspired in part by the meditative and therapeutic effects of psilocybin, the psychedelic compound found in magic mushrooms. Jon talks about his own experience with drug, and how it shaped this song. He also details the less magical moments where he hated the music was he making, and had to destroy it as part of the creative process.
In 1993, Liz Phair released her debut album, Exile in Guyville. It was an instant hit, critically and commercially. It sold hundreds of thousands of copies. Spin and The Village Voice named it album of the year. Soon after, Rolling Stone put her on the cover of their magazine. Now, twenty-five years later, Exile in Guyville is being reissued as a deluxe boxset with photos, essays, and Liz Phair's original four-track cassette recordings. In this episode, Liz and Exile in Guyville's producer, Brad Wood, look back to tell the story of the creation of one of the songs on the album, "Divorce Song."
Arcade Fire is a Grammy-winning six-piece band originally from Montreal. They’ve released five albums, and the last three have all debuted at number one on the charts. In this episode, singer Win Butler takes apart "Put Your Money On Me," from their 2017 album Everything Now. He breaks down how the influence of Marvin Gaye, Harry Nilsson, and ABBA all helped shape how the song eventually turned out. You’ll hear the original demo, and an alternate version of the song that was never finished. The story begins when Win and his wife and bandmate Régine Chassagne moved to New Orleans.
Kimbra is a singer from New Zealand. Her first album came out in 2011, and in 2013 she won two Grammys for her collaboration with Gotye, the multiplatinum hit song "Somebody That I Used to Know." In this episode, Kimbra breaks down a song from 2018 called "Top of the World,” a song she also made in collaboration—this time with artists Skrillex and Diplo.
Jack Johnson is a grammy-nominated singer-songwriter from Hawaii. He's had four number one albums on the Billboard charts. In September 2017, he released his seventh album, All the Light Above It Too, and in this episode, Jack Johnson breaks down a song about parenting, politics, and the ocean. It’s called "You Can't Control It."
Marvel’s Black Panther was released in theaters on February 16, 2018, and in just a few weeks, it made over a billion dollars worldwide. It’s already broken some box office records and it looks like it’s going to break some more. The score for the film was created by Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson. His film and TV credits include Creed and New Girl. He’s also Grammy-nominated producer, who’s worked most often with rapper Childish Gambino. In this episode, Ludwig takes apart one of his pieces from Black Panther. The track is called “Killmonger,” and it’s the theme for Erik Killmonger, a character played by Michael B. Jordan. Black Panther is set in the fictional African nation of Wakanda, and coming up, Ludwig tells the story of doing research and making recordings in Africa, and how he incorporated that into the score for the film.
Natalie Prass released her debut album in 2015. That year, Time Magazine called her an Artist to Watch, Pitchfork gave the album Best New Music, and Stereogum named it one of the Top Albums of the Year. In this episode, Natalie Prass takes apart a new song form 2018, called "Short Court Style," her first track to come out since that debut album.
Moses Sumney is a singer-songwriter based in Los Angeles. His first album, Aromanticism, came out in September 2017, but before that, he’d already worked with an impressive and diverse list of collaborators, from Sufjan Stevens, to Solange, to Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, to Skrillex. That spirit continues with the song Moses takes apart in this episode, which has contributions from producer Cam O’bi, Paris Strother, and legendary bassist Thundercat.
Bleachers is the moniker of Jack Antonoff, a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer. He won two grammy awards as a member of the band fun., and another for his production work on Taylor Swift’s album 1989. He’s also co-written songs with St. Vincent, Carly Rae Jepsen, Lorde, Sia, and more.
In June 2017, Antonoff released his second album as Bleachers, Gone Now. In this episode, he breaks down a song from that album, called “I Miss Those Days" and traces the process of making it—from the original demo, to a version he discarded, to the final song.
Julien Baker is from Memphis, Tennessee. She released her second album, Turn Out The Lights, in October 2017, on Matador Records. The New York Times called her music "devastating" and Pitchfork gave the album Best New Music. In this episode, Julien tells the story of her song "Appointments," and how writing it helped her work through her thoughts around addiction, depression, and relationships. Julien also takes apart the track "Over," which was written as part of Appointments, but then split off as a separate track.
Drummer Ahmir Thompson, also known as Questlove, and rapper Tariq Trotter, aka Black Thought, started The Roots when they were in high school in Philadelphia in 1987. Over the last thirty years, the band has released 17 albums. They’ve received a bunch Grammy nominations including three wins. They’re also the house band for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. In this episode, Questlove tells the story of how they made the song "It Ain’t Fair." It was created for the film Detroit, directed by oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow, who also made the films The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. Detroit is about the 1967 Detroit riots, centered around the events at the Algiers Motel, where police killed three young black men and beat and tortured nine others. The Roots recruited the singer Bilal to contribute vocals to the song, and they worked with The Dap-Kings, the backing band for the late soul singer Sharon Jones, to create a sound that evoked the music of 1967.
R.E.M. was formed in Athens, Georgia, in 1980 by singer Michael Stipe, bassist Mike Mills, guitarist Peter Buck, and drummer Bill Berry. They’ve won three Grammys, and have sold over 85 million records. In 1992, the band released their eighth album, Automatic for the People. In honor of the 25th anniversary of its release, in this episode, Michael Stipe and Mike Mills take apart the song, “Try Not to Breathe.”
Trent Reznor started Nine Inch Nails in 1988. He released eight albums, sold over 20 million records, won two Grammys and was nominated for 11 more. Then, in 2010, Trent Reznor and his longtime collaborator Atticus Ross scored the film The Social Network, and they won an Oscar for it. A few years later, in 2016, Atticus Ross joined Nine Inch Nails as an official member. The duo’s most recent release is Add Violence, an EP, and in this episode, Trent and Atticus break down a song from it called “The Lovers.”
Rachel Platten is a singer and songwriter who’s released four albums, including her 2016 album Wildfire, which went Gold. The lead single from that album, “Fight Song,” was used prominently by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. For a normally apolitical artist, the sudden proximity to the election had profound effects, both positive and negative. In this episode, Rachel breaks down her song “Broken Glass," which was inspired by that experience, and written just days before the 2016 election.
The show Stranger Things is a Netflix original series. It was first released in July 2016. Season two’s release date: October 27, 2017. After the first season, the show was nominated for 18 Emmys, and won the Emmy for Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music. The theme music, along with the rest of the show’s score, was composed by Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon of the band SURVIVE. In this episode, they break down how they made the main title theme.
Los Angeles producer and beatmaker Jennifer Lee released her first album as TOKiMONSTA in 2010. She has released music on Flying Lotus's label Brainfeeder, and has collaborated with Kool Keith and Anderson .Paak, among others. Her newest album, Lune Rouge, was released in October 2017. In this episode, TOKiMONSTA breaks down her song "Bibimbap," which is named after a Korean dish.
Lorde is a Grammy-award winning singer, songwriter, and producer. Her second album, Melodrama, debuted at number one on the charts in June 2017 – five months before her 21st birthday. In this episode, Ella breaks down her song “Sober.” You’ll hear how it started, with the original demos she made with her co-producer Jack Antonoff, and how the song changed over the course of working on it for months and months.
Rostam Batmanglij is a songwriter, producer, and composer, who first rose to prominence in 2006 as one of the members of Vampire Weekend. He’s produced songs for Frank Ocean, Solange, Carly Rae Jepsen, and more. But his September 2017 album ‘Half-Light’ is his first as a solo artist. In this episode, Rostam breaks down his song “Bike Dream.” He explains how it was influenced in part by bands like T.Rex and Coldplay, but “Bike Dream” began very differently from how it ended up.
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The band Ibeyi is made up of twin sisters Naomi Diaz, and Lisa-Kaindé Diaz. When they were only teenagers, they were signed to a record deal by Richard Russell, who had previously signed artists like Adele and Vampire Weekend to his label, XL. He also co-produces their records. In this episode, Naomi and Lisa-Kaindé take apart their 2017 song Deathless, featuring saxophonist Kamasi Washington.
Maggie Rogers had a breakthrough moment when she was a student at NYU’s Clive Davis Institute. Pharrell Williams visited to her class, and when he heard her song "Alaska," his reaction was dramatic, and caught on video. The video of Pharrell listening to Maggie’s song went viral, and "Alaska" became a hit, with over 40 million streams on Spotify alone. Maggie Rogers is now playing sold out shows across the country, just a year after graduating. In this episode, Maggie tells the story of what came before that day in class—all the steps and missteps that eventually led to her writing the song "Alaska."
Annie Clark grew up in Texas, studied the guitar, and moved to New York in the mid-2000s. She started recording and performing under the name St Vincent in 2006. She’s released five albums, and won a Grammy for Best Alternative Album in 2014. Earlier this year, in 2017, St Vincent released this song, called “New York,” partly inspired by the city and neighborhood she calls home, although nowadays, Annie splits her time between coasts, with a studio in Los Angeles. She collaborated on this song with Grammy-winning producer Jack Antonoff.
Between 2004 and 2012, Grizzly Bear put out four critically-acclaimed albums. Their newest album is called Painted Ruins, and it features this song, Four Cypresses. In this episode, two members of the band, Chris Taylor and Daniel Rossen, tell the story of how the song came together.
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Phoenix is a Grammy-winning band from Versailles, France. They started putting out music in 1999, and in June 2017, they released their sixth album, Ti Amo. In this episode, singer Thomas Mars and guitarist Laurent Brancowitz break down the song "Ti Amo," the title track from that album.
Slowdive formed in 1989 in Reading, England. They put out 3 albums between 1991 and 1995, and their sound helped define the shoegaze genre. In 2017, the band released a critically-acclaimed self-titled album, their first in over twenty years. In this episode, singer and guitarist Neil Halstead takes apart the song “Sugar for the Pill.”
Goapele is a singer/songwriter from the Bay Area. She released her first album in 2001. Since then, she’s released five more albums and collaborated with Snoop Dogg. In 2017, on her album DreamSeeker, she put out the song "Stand." It was written in the wake of the shooting death of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old black man who was shot and killed while unarmed and handcuffed by a Bay Area Rapid Transit Police Officer. The shooting took place in 2009. Coming up, Goapele tells the story of why it took 8 years for her to finish the song.
Fleet Foxes formed in Seattle, Washington in 2006. In 2011, they put out their second record, which was nominated for a Grammy, and then, the band went on hiatus. The lead singer and songwriter, Robin Pecknold, moved to New York to go to Columbia University. After six years, in 2017, the band returned with their third album, Crack-Up. And in this episode, Robin breaks down a song from that record called “Mearcstapa.”
Alt-J formed in Leeds, England in 2007. Their debut album won a Mercury Prize and their second was nominated for a Grammy. Their third album, Relaxer, came out in June 2017. In this episode, they break down “In Cold Blood,” from their new album.
Michael Kiwanuka is a singer/songwriter from London. His second album, Love and Hate, came out in 2016, and was named one of the Best Albums of the Year from the BBC, NME, The Guardian, GQ, and more. One of the songs on the album was used as the theme for the hit HBO series Big Little Lies. In this episode, Michael breaks down the song "Black Man in a White World."
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.
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Little Dragon is a Grammy-nominated band from Gothenburg, Sweden. They formed in 1996, and they released their fifth album Season High in April 2017. In this episode, Yukimi Nagano and Erik Bodin from the band break down the song “Sweet.”
Aimee Mann is a Grammy- and Oscar-nominated singer-songwriter. In the 80s, she fronted the band Til Tuesday, and in 1993, she released her first solo album. In 2017, Aimee released her 9th album, Mental Illness, and in this episode, she tells the story of how the song "Patient Zero" was made. I talked to Aimee along with the song’s co-writer, Jonathan Coulton. The interview was recorded in front of a live audience, on board the JoCo Cruise, a music and comedy themed cruise organized by Jonathan Coulton.
Gorillaz is the creation of musician Damon Albarn and comic book artist Jamie Hewlett. They’re a virtual band made up four animated characters. Their songs are written by Damon Albarn and a roster of collaborators. Since the first album was released in 2001, Gorillaz have sold over 16 million records worldwide. In this episode, Damon breaks down the song "Andromeda" from the 2017 Gorillaz album Humanz. It’s a dance song, but also an elegy to people in his life who he’s lost, like legendary soul singer Bobby Womack, a former Gorillaz collaborator. Andromeda features guest vocals by the rapper and singer D.R.A.M., whose own hit single, "Broccoli," went quadruple platinum in 2016. Coming up later, D.R.A.M. tells the story of how he got involved with this track, and Damon shares an exclusive clip of a scrapped version of the song with D.R.A.M. on lead vocals.
(This episode contains explicit language.)
Since her debut in 2002, Norah Jones has sold over 50 million albums, and won 8 Grammys. She released Day Breaks, her sixth album, in 2016. In this episode, she takes apart the title track and details how all the pieces unexpectedly came together. You’ll hear her original demo for the song and how it was transformed in the studio, including a session with jazz saxophone legend Wayne Shorter. Plus, a few thoughts from Norah’s co-producer and longtime collaborator Sarah Oda.
Dave Longstreth started making music under the name Dirty Projectors in 2002, while he was in college. Since then, he’s released seven albums and collaborated with Bjork, Solange, and Kanye West, Paul McCartney, and Rihanna. And Dirty Projectors went from a solo project to a full-band, performing on TV, and at Carnegie Hall. Dave and one of his bandmates were in a relationship for much of that time, but then that relationship and the band broke up. In February 2017, with Dirty Projectors as solo project once again, Dave released a self-titled album, a breakup album, looking back on those years. In this episode, Dave breaks down the song "Up in Hudson," and the winding road he went down to create it.
Sleigh Bells formed in 2008. They released their fourth album, Jessica Rabbit, in 2016. In this episode, Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller break down their song "I Can Only Stare." I interviewed the two of them in front of a live audience at the Kaufman Music Center in New York, as part of the Ecstatic Music Festival.
Simon Green is a producer and DJ who’s been making music under the name Bonobo since 2000. In January 2017 he released his sixth studio album, Migration. For the song “Break Apart," he enlisted Rhye to add vocals, and in this episode, the two of them tell the story of how the track came together.
Sara Watkins began her music career when she was only 8 years old, as one of the founding members of the Grammy-award winning band Nickel Creek. In 2016, she released her third solo album, Young in all the Wrong Ways. In this episode, Sara breaks down her song "Without a Word." This interview was recorded in front of a live audience at the Chicago Podcast Festival.
The band Dropkick Murphys formed in Boston in 1996. For over twenty years, they’ve made music that’s reflected the culture and community they’ve come from, including their platinum single "Shipping Up to Boston." In January 2017, they released the album "11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory," which includes the song Blood. In this episode, guitarist Tim Brennan breaks down how the music for Blood was made, and the band founder Ken Casey explains the inspiration behind the lyrics.
The film Moonlight tells the story of its main character, Chiron, in three chapters: when Chiron is a young boy, nicknamed Little, when he's a teenager, and when he's an adult, nicknamed Black. For each chapter of the film, composer Nicholas Britell created a theme, and in this episode, Nicholas takes those themes apart. The score for Moonlight was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe, and the film itself won the Golden Globe for Best Drama.
Solange Knowles released her first album in 2002, at the age of 16. Her third album, A Seat at the Table, came out in September 2016, and debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts. It’s gotten widespread critical acclaim, including being named album of the year by Pitchfork and by Vibe. In this episode, Solange takes apart the song "Cranes in the Sky," which began back in 2008.
Metallica formed in 1981. They were teenagers. Since then, they’ve gone on to become one of the most successful bands of all time, selling over 110 million records worldwide. In November 2016, they released their tenth album, Hardwired…to Self-Destruct. In this episode, the song “Moth into Flame" gets taken apart by singer and guitarist James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich.
The film LA LA LAND tells the story of Mia, an aspiring actress played by Emma Stone, and Sebastian, a jazz pianist played by Ryan Gosling, both of them struggling artists in Los Angeles. The musical was written and directed by Damien Chazelle in collaboration with composer Justin Hurwitz. It’s the third film they’ve made together, the follow-up to the Oscar-winning film Whiplash. In this episode, Justin Hurwitz breaks down a song from the film sung by Emma Stone; it’s called Audition (The Fools Who Dream). Plus, some thoughts from Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who wrote the lyrics.
In 1996, Josh Davis, aka DJ Shadow, released his first album, Endtroducing. It’s been hailed pretty much universally as one of the best albums of the 90s, and Time Magazine included in its top 100 Albums of all time. It changed hip-hop and electronic music, and helped define the trip-hop genre. Now, for the 20th anniversary of the release, DJ Shadow breaks down the song "Mutual Slump."
Angel Olsen released her third album, My Woman, in September 2016. It’s been critically acclaimed, including Pitchfork’s Best New Music and NME’s best albums of the year. In this episode, Angel Olsen takes apart the song "Shut Up Kiss Me." She breaks down how she recorded it live in the studio with her band, and how she tried things with her voice that she’d never done before.
In the film Arrival, Amy Adams plays a linguist trying to decode an alien language. The score was composed by Johann Johannsson, his third film collaborating with director Denis Villeneuve. In this episode, Johann breaks down a piece from the score called Heptapod B, and how, like the film, it revolves around the concept of language.
Flatbush Zombies are a hip hop trio from Brooklyn. They formed in 2010. Their album 3001: A Laced Odyssey came out in 2016, and debuted in the top ten on the Billboard charts. Erick the Architect is one of the three MCs in the band (along with Meechy Darko and Zombie Juice) and he's also the group's producer. In this episode, Erick breaks down how the song Bounce was made.
The band Oathbreaker formed in 2008 in Belgium. In this episode, Caro and Gilles from the band break down the two-part song that opens their third album, Rheia. These two tracks, 10:56 and Second Son of R., were written and performed as one song. Coming up, they talk about how and why their sound transformed from a pure hardcore band to something more amalgamated, and Caro talks about her own evolution as a vocalist and a lyricist, writing candidly about her own past.
James Vincent McMorrow is a singer/songwriter whose first albums fell somewhere on the folk music side of things. But his sound has changed over the years, incorporating elements of R&B and electronic music. On the album We Move, James worked with the producer Nineteen85, whose credits include tracks by Drake and Nicki Minaj. In this episode, James breaks down the song "Get Low" from that record and how it was inspired by Clipse, minimalism, and Los Angeles.
Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter started Phantogram in 2007. They’ve worked on crafting a particular sound and they’ve had a particular way of making their dense productions since the beginning. But for their new record, Three, things changed. The song "You Don’t Get Me High Anymore" took the band outside of their comfort zone. And, in this episode, Sarah and Josh break down how they made the original demo, and how outsiders like The-Dream and co-producer Ricky Reed influenced the way the song ultimately turned out.
In 2006, Swedish trio Peter Bjorn and John released their third album, Writer’s Block. For months and months after that, it felt like you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing the first single from that album, "Young Folks." It was on top 10 lists for song of the year in places like Pitchfork and NME. It’s been covered by James Blunt, and remixed by Kanye West, along with countless other versions out there. Now, ten years later, Peter Bjorn and John break down the song and how it all came together, and how it almost didn’t come together at all.
Mitski has been making records since 2012. Her third record, Puberty 2, came out in June 2016 and was critically acclaimed Pitchfork gave it Best New Music status. Her music has been featured in the tv show Adventure Time. In this episode, Mitski breaks down her song Your Best American Girl, along with her long-time collaborator Patrick Hyland.
Tom Fec, aka Tobacco, has released four albums since 2008. He's also the frontman of the band Black Moth Super Rainbow, and he created the theme music for the HBO show Silicon Valley. In this episode, Tom breaks down his song "Gods in Heat" from his newest album, Sweatbox Dynasty, recorded entirely on cassette.
More at songexploder.net/tobacco.
Singer/songwriter Andra Day put out her first record in August 2015. Since then, she’s been invited by the Obamas to perform at the White House on multiple occasions, and the record was nominated for a Grammy for Best R&B album. In this episode, Andra breaks down her song Forever Mine along with the track’s producer, Rob Kleiner.
BoJack Horseman is a Netflix original series, an animated comedy about a washed up 90s sitcom star who's trying to figure out his life and career without drowning in self-loathing and existential despair. It won the 2016 Critics Choice award for best animated series. The theme song for the show was created by Patrick Carney, who is one half of The Black Keys, and his uncle, Ralph Carney, a multi-instrumentalist who has worked artists like Tom Waits, St Vincent, The B-52s, Galaxie 500, and a lot more. But the track wasn't written for the show, originally; it was just something that Patrick and Ralph made without knowing what it was for. In this episode, the two break down how the song was created, and how it went from their long-distance collaboration to become a TV theme song.
Band of Horses released their 5th album in June 2016. In this episode, the band’s frontman, Ben Bridwell breaks down the song Solemn Oath, and how in the process of writing it, he confronted writer’s block, and balancing his life in the band and at home as a husband and father.
Grimes is the project of Claire Boucher. In 2015, she released Art Angels, her 4th album. In this episode, she breaks down her song Kill V. Maim, her feelings about singing, and how the experience of writing songs for other artists opened up the way she writes for herself.
Andrew Bird is a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist, maybe known best for his violin playing and his whistling. In this episode, Andrew breaks down his song Roma Fade, from the 2016 album Are You Serious?
CHVRCHES is a trio from Glasgow, Scotland. In this episode, they break down the song "Clearest Blue," from their sophomore album Every Open Eye. You'll hear the band's original demo as well as why they start songs with a set of rules, but then quickly abandon those rules.
In September 2014, Odesza put out their album In Return. It debuted at #1 on Billboard's Dance/Electronic charts, and spent 13 weeks in the top 10. But the song Kusanagi isn't a dance track. It slows down the pace of the album, and in this episode, Clay and Harrison of Odesza explain why. They tell the story of how they made the track, along with their friend and collaborator who they named the song after, Sean Kusanagi. This episode was recorded live at Moogfest in Durham, North Carolina.
Old Crow Medicine Show is a six-piece band from Tennessee, who have been around since 1998. They were inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2013, and they won the Grammy for Best Folk Album in 2015, for their record Remedy. In this episode, bandleader Ketch Secor tells the story of how they made "Dearly Departed Friend," one of the songs from Remedy.
Busdriver is a rapper from Los Angeles, and since 2001, he's been releasing albums with a signature hyperliterate, intellectual style. But over a decade later, Busdriver has found himself reaching for something more intimate and personal. In this episode, he breaks down the 2015 song "Worlds to Run," along with the track's producer, Kenny Segal. It features guest vocals from Anderson Paak and Milo, and you'll hear how their contributions shaped Busdriver's vision for the song.
Carly Rae Jepsen released her third album, Emotion, in 2015. The closing track on the record is When I Needed You. In this episode, Carly tells the story of how the song was made. You'll hear the first demo for the song, a version she co-wrote with her longtime collaborator Tavish Crowe. And you'll hear how that led to the album version. Plus, producer Ariel Rechtshaid breaks down some of the parts that he created for the recording.
The Lumineers released their second album on April 8, 2016. Their first album went platinum, and they spent months touring relentlessly in support of it. That schedule took a toll on their relationship, but they ended up putting it into their songs. In this episode, Wes and Jeremiah break down their song “Ophelia." You’ll hear their demos and a version that didn’t make it to the album. They’ll explain how the final track is not just a product of what they put into it, but what they decided to leave out.
Weezer's 10th album, the self-titled "White" album, came out April 1, 2016. In this episode, Rivers Cuomo breaks down the meticulous process of making the song "Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori," through the different demo versions that the track went through, and the array of spreadsheets that he uses collect, analyze, and harvest his ideas.
Thao and the Get Down Stay Down released the album A Man Alive in March 2016. In this episode, Thao Nguyen breaks down the song "Astonished Man." Thao talks about working with Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards, who produced the album, and she speaks candidly about her relationship with her estranged father, the subject of the song.
Iggy Pop is a pioneer of punk rock, whose legendary career began over fifty years ago. In 2015, he began collaborating on music with Joshua Homme, of Queens of the Stone Age. The result was Iggy Pop’s 23rd album, Post Pop Depression. In this episode, Iggy and Josh break down the song "American Valhalla," and tell the story of how it was shaped by reverb, opera, and the military.
Daniel Lopatin has been making experimental electronic music as Oneohtrix Point Never since 2007. In this episode, he takes apart the song "Sticky Drama," from his 2015 album Garden of Delete. He breaks down how he created artificial voices using software for the vocals, and how he sees his songs as pieces of science fiction.
Singer/songwriter KT Tunstall released her debut album in 2004. It was nominated for a Mercury Prize. The song "Suddenly I See" from that record was a hit on the radio and it’s been used in the soundtracks of big movies and television shows. But the song was originally written back before KT Tunstall had a record deal, when she was a struggling street musician, living in a small apartment in North London. In this episode, which was recorded live at the Sundance Film Festival, KT breaks down how she made the song, with help from producer Steve Osborne.
Clipping is a trio made up of producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes, and rapper Daveed Diggs. You might be familiar with Daveed’s voice from his roles as Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette in the hit Broadway musical Hamilton. But in Clipping, the whole band takes on different roles, playing with different tropes and genres within hip-hop, but setting up these strict overarching rules for how they make their music. In this episode, the three of them break down how they made their song "Work Work," featuring guest vocals from rapper Cocc Pistol Cree.
The New Pornographers are kind of a supergroup, with seven members in the band, including Neko Case and Dan Bejar, who are both acclaimed songwriters with their own successful solo careers. But the band is led by Carl Newman, and in this episode, he breaks down the title song from their sixth album Brill Bruisers. Plus you'll hear some thoughts from bassist and co-producer John Collins. My interview with Carl Newman was recorded live at the Greene Space at WNYC.
Kelela is a singer and songwriter based in Los Angeles. In 2015, she released Hallucinogen, and landed on critics' lists in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Pitchfork, and more. In this episode, Kelela takes apart her song Rewind. To make the track, she worked with five different producers, picking and choosing each for what they could best contribute to her overall vision for the song. This interview was recorded live in San Francisco, at Fusion's Real Future Fair.
This episode is sponsored by Parachute (use code SONGEXPLODER for $25 off).
MGMT was formed by Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden in 2001. The song Time to Pretend was one they wrote early in their career. It first came out on their debut: the Time to Pretend EP in 2005. And three years after that, they put out a new version of the song, on their first full-length album, Oracular Spectactular, which was named album of the year by NME and was one of Rolling Stone's top 20 albums of the decade. It went on to sell over a million copies worldwide. In this episode, Ben and Andrew trace how the song Time to Pretend was made, from its dorm room origins, to its first recording, to re-envisioning it with Grammy-winning producer Dave Fridmann. They also uncover the hidden sounds and easter eggs within the recording.
Courtney Barnett released her debut album in March 2015. By the end of the year, she had been nominated for a Grammy for Best New Artist, Spin named her the Songwriter of the Year, and she won four ARIA Music Awards in her native Australia. In this episode, Courtney Barnett breaks down the song "Depreston," which began with a visit to an open house, on a househunting trip she took in the town of Preston.
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, Björk breaks down the making of both the original version of the song "Stonemilker," 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.
Transparent is an Amazon original series, created by Jill Soloway. The story centers on a family where the father, played by Jeffrey Tambor, comes out to his children and the to world at large as transgender. The first season was released in September 2014. It was critically acclaimed and won a lot of awards, including an Emmy for Outstanding Main Title Theme Music. In this episode, composer Dustin O’Halloran breaks down how he made the Transparent theme, using an 80-year old piano and channeling his own family nostalgia.
Wilco formed in 1994, and 21 years later, they released their 9th album, Star Wars. In this episode, Jeff Tweedy, the band’s singer and principal songwriter, breaks down the song Magnetized. In addition to collaborating with his five bandmates, John Stirrit, Pat Sansone, Mike Jorgensen, Nels Cline, and Glenn Kotche, it turns out Jeff Tweedy makes an active effort to remove his own ego from the process of songwriting.
Natalia Lafourcade has won eight Latin Grammys, including three for the song Hasta la Raíz, which won the 2015 Song of the Year and Record of the Year, as well as Best Alternative Song. In this episode, Natalia breaks down the writing and recording process for the track, which borrows from a traditional Mexican folk music called huapango, but also still includes a Juno synthesizer and a pop sensibility.
Youth Lagoon is the moniker of Trevor Powers, who has been releasing albums under the name since 2011. In this episode, Trevor breaks down “The Knower,” the lead single from his newest record, Savage Hills Ballroom. He talks about how the idea for the song started by manipulating sampled vocals, and how he flew to Bristol to record the album with producer Ali Chant.
The Arcs is a new project from Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. He started the band with some of the musicians and producers he's worked with over the years. For this episode, Dan and his bandmates Richard Swift and Leon Michels break down how they made the song Put a Flower in Your Pocket, and how its title was inspired by a three-year-old girl.
Plus: the story behind the Radiotopia logo, and the sounds that went into making it.
Chet Faker is the stage name of Australian singer and songwriter Nick Murphy. His debut album, Built on Glass, won five ARIA Awards, Australia’s version of the Grammys, including Best Male Artist, Producer of the Year, and Best Independent Album. In this episode, Nick breaks down the song Gold from that album, and traces the journey it took from a dream, to a cover, to a love song.
In the film "The Martian," astronaut Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) is stranded on Mars, forced to rely on science and his ingenuity in order to survive. The film opened at #1 at the box office, and has earned critical praise as well. In this episode, composer Harry Gregson-Williams breaks down his music from the film, where part of his job was to score the excitement of scientific discovery and the grandeur and mystery of Mars itself.
Angel Deradoorian has been a member of the bands Dirty Projectors and Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks, and has contributed to albums by Vampire Weekend, Flying Lotus, and Brandon Flowers. This year she released her first full-length album as Deradoorian, The Expanding Flower Planet. In this episode, Angel breaks down the album's lead single, "A Beautiful Woman." After leaving the Dirty Projectors, Angel moved from the east coast to Los Angeles to focus on her own solo music. She talks about how "A Beautiful Woman" was inspired by the loneliness of moving across the country, overcoming creative self-doubt, and transitioning from a secondary role in other bands to the main role of songwriter and producer for her debut album.
Stephin Merritt has fronted the band The Magnetic Fields for over twenty-five years. In this episode, he breaks down the song "Andrew in Drag" from the band’s latest album, Love at the Bottom of the Sea, even though he doesn't actually remember writing it. After releasing his triple-album 69 Love Songs to huge acclaim in 1999, Stephin stopped using synthesizers for the next three Magnetic Fields albums. He talks about why he stopped, and why started using them again, and why he doesn’t write down his melodies.
This episode is sponsored by Spire Recorder by iZotope; Merge Records (use code SONGEXPLODER at checkout for 20% off); and Audible.com (go to audiblepodcast.com/exploder for a free audiobook of your choice, and a 30-day free trial).
Joey Bada$$ released his debut album on January 20, 2015: his 20th birthday. It hit the Top 5 on the Billboard charts. For the track "Hazeus View," he worked with Kirk Knight, another member of the Pro Era hip-hop collective. In this episode, the two of them break down the process of making "Hazeus View," how the lyrics reflect Joey’s wide-angle take on religion, and how the beat was inspired by DJ Premier and a beat he made for the Biggie song "Ten Crack Commandments."
The band American Football formed in 1997, and released only one album and an EP before breaking up about three years later. Their critically acclaimed debut went on to achieve cult status as one of the most influential records of the '90s, and was reissued as a deluxe double-LP last year.
In this episode, Mike Kinsella, Steve Holmes, and Steve Lamos of American Football break down the first song they wrote together, "The One with the Tambourine," from their self-titled EP. They talk about being influenced by the Chicago music scene of the '90s, and how they combined alternative tunings, unconventional time signatures, and naiveté to craft their sound.
In this episode, Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno of the band Best Coast take apart their song "Feeling Ok," from the 2015 album California Nights. They trace their process and their influences, from the movie "10 Things I Hate About You" to the video game Rock Band. Plus, we'll hear from producer Wally Gagel.
The band HEALTH formed in Los Angeles in 2005. Their newest record, Death Magic, came out in 2015. They spent four years trying to make it. They describe themselves as a noise band, but for this record, they reinvented their palette and their process. In this episode, John and Jake from HEALTH take apart the song Stonefist, which they made with their bandmates, Jupiter Keyes and BJ Miller.
Multi-Love is the title track from the 2015 album by Unknown Mortal Orchestra. In this episode, Ruban Nielson tells the story of how he made the song with help from his brother Kody Nielson, and how it was influenced by Romeo and Juliet, Questlove, and a broken synthesizer.
Thundercat is the alter-ego of bassist and singer-songwriter Stephen Bruner. He’s played bass for both Suicidal Tendencies and Erykah Badu and went on to help shape Kendrick Lamar's 'To Pimp a Butterfly.' In this episode, Thundercat will break down the song "Them Changes" off his new mini-album. Thundercat co-produced the track with long-time collaborator Flying Lotus, with Kamasi Washington on saxophone.
Death Cab for Cutie released Kintsugi, their 8th album, on March 31, 2015. The song El Dorado, like other songs on the record, was written in the wake of the divorce between the band's lead singer Ben Gibbard and actress Zooey Deschanel. In this episode, Ben talks about the metaphor of the city of El Dorado and how it fit the story he wanted to tell, about separation, unrealized dreams, and Culver City. Plus, he explains how a few pieces of equipment - a Fender Mustang, a Rhythm Master drum machine, and the VoiceLive unit - ended up shaping the creative process.
Sylvan Esso has two members, Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn, who met while they were both working on other projects. Amelia asked Nick to do a remix of a song by the band she was in at the time, and when that remix was done, they both loved how it turned out. They emailed song ideas back and forth for a while, until they found a time to be in the same place. It was at that point that they first started working on the song, "Coffee." In this episode, Nick and Amelia talk about the origins of the sounds and lyrics within the song, from a Little Tikes xylophone to "Hanky Panky" by Tommy James and the Shondells.
10 Cedarwood Road is the address of Bono’s childhood home in Dublin. For the U2 song "Cedarwood Road," Bono looked back to his life there as a teenager, when skinhead culture seeped into his neighborhood via the Seven Towers, housing projects that were built around that time. In this episode, Bono traces the arc from those memories to the lyrics of "Cedarwood Road," and The Edge breaks down the process of how the music was written, with the original demo and the isolated tracks from the final recording.
Will Butler is a member of the band Arcade Fire, and he co-wrote the score for the film Her, which earned him an Oscar nomination. In March 2015, he put out his first solo album, Policy, and in this episode, he breaks down the song "Anna" from that record.
Game of Thrones premiered on HBO in April 2011 and became the most watched show in HBO's history. The main title theme was written by Emmy-nominated composer Ramin Djawadi. In this episode, he'll break down the different elements in the piece, and how themes within the show inspired his composition and choice of instruments.
The title card for Avengers: Age of Ultron comes up twelve minutes into the movie. Against a black background, the Avengers logo takes up almost the entire screen. You might expect a triumphant, heroic piece of music, but the film called for something more complicated. Coming up, you'll hear why, and how composer Brian Tyler tackled that piece of score, in his third feature for Marvel Studios. It was recorded at Abbey Road Studios with the London Philharmonic, with Brian himself conducting.
In this episode, Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs breaks down "Water Fountain." It's a song that draws inspiration from the politics of drought and dancehall reggae, and you'll hear how (and why) she tried to make this song less catchy. Despite that effort, in 2014 the tUnE-yArDs album Nikki Nack climbed the Billboard Charts and got widespread critical praise.
The British TV show Downton Abbey is the most popular drama in PBS history, with over 10 million viewers per episode, and more Emmy nominations than any non-US show ever. The theme music is one of its signatures, but it was originally written as a piece of score for the first episode, and then later condensed and turned into the version that appears in the opening credits. The music was recorded by a chamber orchestra, all at once, in the same room, so in order to isolate different pieces for Song Exploder, we went back to composer John Lunn’s original demo compositions, made with samples in the computer. In this episode, you'll get to hear how those two compare.
Jim James is the lead singer of the Grammy-nominated band My Morning Jacket. Since starting in 1998, they've put out six albums, and in this episode, Jim breaks down the song Spring (Among The Living), from their soon-to-be released seventh album, The Waterfall.
Over the past five years, Chaz Bundick, aka Toro y Moi, has made music that's spanned a range of genres and styles. On his newest album, What For?, he shifted styles again. In this episode, Chaz explains why. He'll break down the song Half Dome, named after a landmark in Yosemite National Park that's a popular hike, but also a difficult one.
RJD2 has been making music since 2002. His song "A Beautiful Mine" was turned into the opening credits music for Mad Men. He's a producer and beatmaker, but also a singer and songwriter. But for the vocals on the song "Games You Can Win," he tapped Kenna, a Grammy-nominee whom Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in Blink. In this episode, you’ll get to hear the parts that make up the track, as well as the unreleased demo vocals that RJ originally recorded himself.
In an interview with Belgian filmmakers the Dardenne brothers, talking about the kinds of stories they tell, Luc Dardenne says, "Human suffering; that interests us very much." It also interests Tom Krell, a songwriter and producer who goes by the name How to Dress Well. After seeing one of the Dardenne brothers films, The Kid with a Bike, he was inspired to make the song "Pour Cyril." In this episode, he'll dig deep into that where that inspiration led him, from transformations within the song, to within the film, and within himself.
Casey Dienel is a producer, singer, and songwriter who goes by the name White Hinterland. In this episode, she'll break down her song Ring the Bell. To make it, she had to break out of her comfort zone of working alone and reach to other people. She got a little unexpected help from Beyonce.
In 2013, Warpaint starting working on their sophomore album. They retreated away from their home in Los Angeles to the nearby desert oasis of Joshua Tree, California. There, they wrote the song "Love Is to Die," and it was decided that it would be the single from the record. Now, with over 6 million plays on Spotify and nearly 3 million more on YouTube, "Love Is to Die" is by some measures their most popular song. Designating it as the single was a decision that was easy to make early on, but it was also carried unforeseen consequences for the band. In this episode, three of the four members break down the sounds in the song, and weigh in on some of the difficulty they faced getting this track from the initial idea to the finished recording.
In 2005, Nickelodeon premiered an animated series called Avatar: The Last Airbender, about a young boy and his friends who have to keep peace and balance in the world. It combined fantasy and martial arts, and ran for four seasons, won an Emmy and a Peabody, and in 2012, spawned a sequel called The Legend of Korra. This time, the story was about a girl, Korra, a teenager, and just as the characters were older and the world they inhabited was older, the themes of the show matured as well. In December 2014, after 4 seasons of its own, the series and franchise aired its finale. It made headlines for the final shot of the very last scene, where Korra and her female companion Asami come together as a couple, romantically. Composer Jeremy Zuckerman used a mix of Chinese and western instruments for the series. In this episode, he deconstructs the music he wrote, reflects on the significance of that scene, and also what it felt like to close the curtain on a franchise he'd been working on over the course of twelve years of his life.
The Imitation Game is a biographical film about Alan Turing, a mathematician who pioneered computer science and helped the British government break Nazi codes, but was then later prosecuted by the British government for being gay. Composer Alexandre Desplat created the score, which was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Oscar — his eighth Oscar nomination. In this episode, he breaks down the orchestration of the main theme from the film, which plays during the title sequence.
On February 1, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart while reentering the earth's atmosphere. John Roderick, singer and songwriter of The Long Winters, wrote "The Commander Thinks Aloud" about that fateful moment. This episode was made from an interview I did with John Roderick in front of a live audience in Seattle, where we discussed how and why he made this song.
The band Blonde Redhead formed in 1993. Twenty-one years later, in 2014, the trio released their 9th album, and in this episode, they deconstruct Penultimo, a song from that record that caused some dissent between the band members. At the heart of the controversy was the Pitchfactor effect pedal by Eventide, a harmonizer that does a lot, or maybe too much. Coming up, you'll hear how tricky it was to begin this song, as well as finish it.
In November 2014, Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan released his 11th album, called 36 Seasons. A lot of people worked on it: soul band The Revelations served as a kind of house backing band for the whole thing. Lil' Fame from M.O.P. and engineer Daniel Schlett helped produce, and there's a host of guest vocalists, including the ones on this track: singer Tré Williams, and rappers AZ and Kool G Rap. But the person who put the whole thing together, came up with the idea, and corralled all of these contributors is someone who doesn't appear on the record. His name is Bob Perry, and his title is A&R, which stands for artist and repertoire. Nowadays, that usually means the person at a record label who acts as a talent scout for new artists, but back in the day, the A&R reps were often responsible for much more. In this episode, Bob Perry talks about how the Ghostface song "The Battlefield" came together, and Revelations guitarist Wes Mingus breaks down how the beat was assembled.
The National formed in 1999. They've released six albums, and have been nominated for a grammy. Their music is everywhere from Game of Thrones, to Bob's Burgers, to Barack Obama's presidential campaign. In 2013 they released their sixth album, Trouble Will Find Me, which debuted at #3 on the Billboard charts. The band is made up of singer Matt Berninger along with two sets of brothers: guitarists Bryce and Aaron Dessner, who are twins, and Brian and Scott Devendorf, who play drums and bass, respectively. In this episode, Matt Berninger and Aaron Dessner break down "Sea of Love," a song that they co-wrote. You'll hear how it went from Aaron's original guitar demo to a densely layered recording with contributions from their bandmates and others, and they'll talk about how collaboration is an intrinsic part of their process and their band identity.
Tycho is the project of designer-turned-musician Scott Hansen, along with guitarist Zac Brown and drummer Rory O'Connor. For this episode, which was recorded in front of a live audience in San Francisco, Scott breaks down the title track from the 2014 Tycho album Awake, including a note he misplayed, and a vocal part you aren't really supposed to know about.
Stars is a band from Toronto, who have been making music together since 2000. Their seventh album was released in October 2014. For this episode, I spoke to several members of the band: singer Amy Millan over the phone, and to Evan and Patty in their studio in Toronto along with their co-producer Liam O’Neil. In this episode, they talk about the inspiration for the phrase No One Is Lost, which is the title of this song as well as the album. And you’ll hear the original version of the chorus: one that they wrote, recorded, mixed, and finished but then, ended up changing completely.
Before The Books broke up, they released four albums that combined composed music and found sounds. In this episode, Nick Zammuto explains how he crafted the song Smells Like Content, off of their 2005 album Lost and Safe, out of unlikely sources, like geometry, chance encounters, and a corrugated PVC pipe.
Julia Holter studied composition, and in the song Horns Surrounding Me, she arranges not only acoustic and electronic instruments, but also layers of ambient field recordings and background noise. The song was released in 2013 on her acclaimed album Loud City Song. In this episode, Julia deconstructs the recording, and talks about what she did to evoke a feeling of fear in both the music and the way she sang, changing her voice on different parts of the song to create character and texture.
Dave Hill is a comedian and host of his own podcast which, like Song Exploder, is on the Maximum Fun network. He's also the frontman of the band Valley Lodge. In this episode, Dave will deconstruct the Valley Lodge song Go, which you might recognize as the opening credits of the HBO show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. This is a special episode produced for MaxFunWeek, seven days of celebrating the community of listeners and shows that make up the Maximum Fun podcast network.
Andre Allen Anjos is better known as RAC, a musician who first found success by remixing other people's songs. His remixes for artists like Lana Del Rey have gotten millions of plays online. In 2013, RAC released Strangers, his first album of original material, and in this episode, he breaks down the song Let Go from that record. It features guest vocals from Kele, best known as the frontman of the band Bloc Party, and singer MNDR, who also talks about her experience working on the track.
The Thermals originally began as Hutch Harris's solo recording project. He sang and played all the instruments on the 2003 Thermals record More Parts Per Million. In this episode, Hutch breaks down his lo-fi recording of the song No Culture Icons. The track was later mixed by Chris Walla, who's known best for his work with Death Cab for Cutie, and we’ll hear some thoughts from him as well. I spoke with Hutch in front of a live audience at the XOXO Festival in Portland, Oregon.
In addition to guitars, drums, and bass, the band Anamanaguchi makes their music with the 8-bit sounds that were built into Nintendo video game consoles made in the 1980s. They use software called a tracker to meticulously sequence and produce those sounds. Most of their music is instrumental, but in this episode, they break down one of the first times they’ve incorporated vocals, for the song Prom Night, which features singer Bianca Raquel. Prom Night is from their most recent album, Endless Fantasy, which debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart when it came out in 2013.
Spoon was formed in 1993 by singer Britt Daniel and drummer Jim Eno. They've released eight albums, including their most recent record, They Want My Soul, which came out in August 2014. In this episode, Jim Eno breaks down the song Inside Out, explaining how it went from the original demo to the finished album version, including what other music influenced the recording. Plus, we'll hear from their co-producer, Dave Fridmann, whose other credits include The Flaming Lips album The Soft Bulletin, and Oracular Spectacular by MGMT.
In May 2014, the video game company Ubisoft released Watch Dogs, about a vigilante hacker in Chicago in the near future. Here's how the game is described on their website: "You play as Aiden Pearce, a brilliant hacker and former thug, whose criminal past led to a violent family tragedy. While seeking justice for those events, you'll monitor and hack those around you." It sold over 4 million copies in its first week of release. The music for the game was made by Brian Reitzell, who played drums in the bands Air and Red Kross before becoming a composer and music supervisor for films like Lost In Translation and Beginners. He also creates the music for the NBC television show Hannibal. In this episode, Brian talks about the unique challenges posed by scoring video games, where players control what happens on screen and as a result, what happens in the music. He'll break down a piece called Donovan, which he wrote for a chase sequence within the game. He also describes the instrument he created from a hundred year old piano. This episode is presented in conjunction with Polygon.
In this episode, rapper Open Mike Eagle talks about making the song Dark Comedy Morning Show, along with the track's producer, Walker Ashby, aka Toy Light. Mike breaks down how Toy Light's original instrumental version of this song inspired him, and how his view of his own vocals on the track has changed since recording them.
In the fall of 2001, Phil Elverum released the album The Glow Pt 2 on K Records. Pitchfork named it the best album of the year. In this episode, Phil recounts how he created the first song on the record at Dub Narcotic Studio. He spoke with me from his home in Anacortes, Washington, about his love of being alone in the studio, evoking nature through music, and where the name The Microphones came from. Plus a few words from Calvin Johnson, the founder of K Records. This episode is presented in conjunction with The Creators Project.
The band Converge formed in 1990, when its members were teenagers. They've been making music that lives somewhere in the intersection of punk, hardcore, and metal for almost 25 years. Guitarist Kurt Ballou spoke to me from his studio GodCity, which is where Converge writes and records. I also spoke over the phone with singer Jake Bannon. Coming up, they'll talk about how the physical space of GodCity influenced their songwriting, how the Boston hardcore scene gave them a home, and how to get the classic Swedish death metal guitar tone.
In this episode, we'll get a deconstructed view of the song One Second of Love by Nite Jewel. I spoke to Ramona Gonzalez of Nite Jewel and her partner and producer Cole MGN in their home studio in Los Angeles as they took a break from making a new record. Coming up, they'll talk about the process they undertook, including recording to tape as a creative restriction, and collaborating with their friends and each other.
The band Garbage formed in 1994 when three guys from Madison Wisconsin — Butch Vig, Steve Marker, and Duke Erikson, met Scottish singer Shirley Manson. Twenty years later, they've sold over 17 million records worldwide. In this episode, we'll get a view inside their 2012 song "Felt" from the album "Not Your Kind of People." Butch Vig, who is also a legendary producer behind some of the most influential albums of all time like Nevermind by Nirvana, Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins, Dirty by Sonic Youth, and countless others, spoke to me from his home studio in Los Angeles. I also interviewed Shirley Manson separately to get her insight on how the song was made. Plus some thoughts from their longtime engineer and now co-producer Billy Bush.
Ryan Olson is a member of the band Polica. Though he doesn't perform with them live, he put the band together, produces the songs, and co-writes them. I interviewed Ryan in his bedroom studio in Minneapolis. In this episode, he breaks down the song Smug, from their 2013 album Shulamith. He also talks about two pieces of equipment that have helped shape the sound of Poliça, and how he was introduced to one of them by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, and the other by DJ Shadow.
Loren Bouchard is the creator of the animated television comedy Bob's Burgers, a series about a family and the restaurant they own and live above, currently in its fourth season on Fox. In addition to being the co-executive producer and showrunner, Loren also composed the show's opening theme. I interviewed Loren in his office, where his desk is surrounded by musical instruments. In this episode, he talks about which ones went into the theme, and the emotions he wanted to evoke with each of them. Plus a few thoughts from cast members Jon Benjamin and Eugene Mirman.
Composer Jeff Beal deconstructs the main title theme music to the Netflix original series House of Cards. The show has been nominated for multiple Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Original Main Title Theme and Outstanding Music Composition. The show was adapted from a British series of the same name by writer Beau Willimon, and director and executive producer David Fincher. Jeff talks about his collaborative process with Fincher, and how they found the mood and musical palette for the show and its theme, and how it changed from season one to season two. A word of warning: if you haven’t watched the first season, there are spoilers about how that season ends.
Alfred Darlington, better known as Daedelus, takes apart his song Experience. This early track of his is made with only acoustic sounds, but Alfred still considers it a piece of electronic music, and explains why. He also talks about the unexpected life the song has had since he recorded it, after being sampled by Madlib for his collaboration with MF Doom, Madvillain. Experience became the beat for Madvillain’s Accordion, the first song on their highly acclaimed album, and later referenced and resampled by artists like Drake and Kitty (aka Kitty Pryde). Daedelus deconstructs the song and discusses what its legacy means to him.
Alex Brown Church of Sea Wolf breaks down Kasper, a song from the album Old World Romance. He talks about his songwriting process, collaborating with his bandmates, and the evolution that comes with learning the difference between making something that's good, and making something that's perfect.
Will Wiesenfeld of Baths breaks down his song Miasma Sky, which came out last year on his highly-praised sophomore album Obsidian. Will talks about using the computer to intentionally destroy sounds, trying to find a balance in his music between simplicity and complexity, and what went into making his drum tracks.
Claire and Jona of the band YACHT deconstruct their brand new single Plastic Soul, a fun pop song about human suffering. They explain how technology inspired them musically as well as lyrically, and how they recycle bits of their old recordings to create new songs.
Jimmy LaValle of The Album Leaf takes apart The Outer Banks, a song he recorded in Iceland with members of Sigur Ros accompanying him. He reveals how the melody of the song was made from a glockenspiel, violin, and Moog synthesizer; and he talks about the importance of letting go of control during the recording process.
Our first guest on Song Exploder is Jimmy Tamborello, aka Dntel, aka one half of The Postal Service (the other half being Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie). Jimmy breaks down the song The District Sleeps Alone Tonight, and talks about his instruments, his influences, and accidentally making a loop out of Jenny Lewis's backing vocals.