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.
Kae Tempest - Move
Kae Tempest is a songwriter, rapper, an award-winning poet, and best-selling novelist. They’ve been nominated for the UK’s Mercury Prize and Brit Award. Their most recent album is The Line is a Curve, which came out earlier this year. It was executive produced by legendary producer Rick Rubin. Kae made the album alongside their longtime collaborator, producer Dan Carey. I talked to Kae and Dan talk about the song "Move." You’ll hear the first demo they made, which sounds almost nothing like the final version. In this episode, they talk about how the track evolved over several sessions, months apart. Kae’s own life changed a lot during that period. They came out as trans and non-binary in 2020, and this song, in part, helps tell the story of what they were going through.
Book Exploder: Susan Orlean - The Library Book
Introducing a new miniseries: Book Exploder, where authors break down a passage from one of their books, and discuss the creative process that went into writing it. Every other week, in between episodes of Song Exploder, you’ll hear from a new author, in conversation with host Susan Orlean. But for this first episode of the series, Susan is interviewed by Hrishikesh Hirway about her own book, The Library Book.
Susan Orlean is the author of twelve books, including The Orchid Thief (which inspired the Oscar-award winning film Adaptation), a staff writer at The New Yorker . Published in 2018, The Library Book became a New York Times Best Seller and named a Washington Post Top 10 Book of the Year. The book tells the story of the 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Central Library. In this inaugural episode, Susan discusses a passage from her book, which details the blaze itself.
For more, visit bookexploder.com/episodes/susan-orlean.
Sudan Archives - Selfish Soul
Sudan Archives is a singer, songwriter, producer, and violinist. She grew up in Cincinnati before moving to LA. Her music has been called "viscerally gorgeous" by The Guardian, and "stunning" by Pitchfork, who gave her in ‘Best New Music.’ This year, she’s releasing her second album, and one of the tracks on it is "Selfish Soul." She told me the idea for this song started when she asked her boyfriend, James (who is the rapper Nocando) to shave her head. Cutting off her hair made her reflect on her whole hair story, from experiences she had as a kid, to the cultural and racial issues that have historically surrounded Black women's hair.
For more, visit songexploder.net/sudan-archives.
mxmtoon - Mona Lisa
Maia from mxmtoon released her first EP in 2018. She was 18 years old, recorded it in her bedroom, and self-released it. It went on to be streamed over 100 million times. This year, she put out her second album, Rising, and in this episode, she breaks down her song "Mona Lisa." She told me about how different it is from the songs she used to write when she was teenager. And how she found something authentic and honest by connecting with a part of herself from even earlier in her life.
For more, visit songexploder.net/mxmtoon.
Monica Martin - Go Easy, Kid
Monica Martin is a singer and songwriter based in Los Angeles. Before that, she was based in Madison, Wisconsin, where she was part of the indie rock band Phox. She’s been a featured guest vocalist on songs by James Blake and Vulfpeck. In this episode, Monica breaks down her song “Go Easy, Kid,” along with the tracks’s producer, Khushi. She talks about making a song that’s in part about how hard it can be to make a song. And more generally, how hard it can be to let go of things we get hung up on.
For more, visit songexploder.net/monica-martin
Maren Morris - Humble Quest
Maren Morris is a Grammy-winning, multi-platinum artist. She’s also won multiple country music awards, including CMAs for Female Vocalist of the Year, and Single of the Year in 2020, but her feelings about the country music industry are kind of complicated, as she discusses in this episode. She breaks down her song "Humble Quest," which is the title track from her third album. It was produced by Greg Kurstin, who’s won the Producer of the Year Grammy more than once. The album came out in March, and hit #2 on Billboard country chart. But before "Humble Quest" was a title, Maren had to figure out what the words meant to her, and that’s where the song began.
To learn more, visit songexploder.net/maren-morris
Ophelia “The Lumineers” podcast is great!!!
I love The Lumineers so much and can’t believe how they made all their music so great! This podcast is so interesting and helps you to learn more about your favorite artists. I love that in this podcast you can listen to how they make their stuff and what techniques they have to make it so well.
A long-running favorite
This podcast is one of a half-dozen where I have listened to every episode. It continues to delight. Sometimes I learn more about an artist I love, and other times I discover new artists to explore more deeply. I love how it almost always focuses around a single song. It’s a great length for a walk.
Pop music isn’t that interesting
But this podcast is beautifully designed and executed. I’m not sure that the producers see pop music as an industrial commodity, but that’s my takeaway nonetheless. Very entertaining!