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.
Joy Oladokun - Look Up
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 producer Dave Bassett, and while they were working and talking, they recorded a couple long voice memos. Joy sent me those voice memos, and in this episode, in addition to the stems of the recording, and Joy’s story about how it was made, you’ll hear the actual moments in late 2019 when the song was first coming together. Joy explains how the song was inspired by the different, and maybe opposite ways that she and her partner see the world.
For more, visit songexploder.net/joy-oladokun.
Danny Elfman - What’s This? (from “The Nightmare Before Christmas”)
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 Nightmare Before Christmas takes place in a world where different holidays all have their own realm. And the story is about Jack Skellington, the leader of Halloweentown, a place where it’s always Halloween, and Halloween is all they know, and Jack has grown a little tired of it. But then, Jack discovers a portal to Christmastown, with snow and Santa and all things Christmas inhabiting it. He's never seen anything like it, and the discovery changes everything. The song "What’s This?" takes place in that moment of discovery. In this episode, Danny Elfman tells the story of how it all came together, and how writing and singing this song for Jack Skellington ended up profoundly connecting to his own life.
For more, visit songexploder.net/danny-elfman.
Halsey - You Asked for This
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 8 Grammys himself, including Producer of the Year. In this episode, Halsey tells the story of making this song while pregnant with her son, and how that shaped the lyrics and the music.
For more, visit songexploder.net/halsey.
Hans Zimmer - Dune
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 Atreides family as they relocate from their home world to the desert planet Arrakis. When Hans Zimmer first started working on the music, he made what he calls a "sketchbook" – creating motifs and themes that might occur in the film. And in this episode, he takes us through the first sketch he did for Dune. It’s called "Paul's Dream."
For more, visit songexploder.net/dune.
The War On Drugs - I Don't Live Here Anymore (feat. Lucius)
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 was hammered out after months of work. And he explains how the song was influenced by Bob Dylan and his own newborn son.
To learn more, visit songexploder.net/the-war-on-drugs.
Willow - Transparent Soul feat. Travis Barker
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 her most recent album, she put out this song, "Transparent Soul," which was co-written with her longtime collaborator Tyler Cole, and features Travis Barker from Blink-182 on drums. I talked to her about how her upbringing and her musical evolution from her early pop star days influenced the way she made this song.
For more, visit songexploder.net/willow