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.
Omah Lay - Never Forget
Omah Lay is a Nigerian singer, songwriter, and producer. He’s one of the young stars of Afrobeats, the West African genre that's become a global phenomenon. His new album Boy Alone features a collaboration with Justin Bieber. But for this episode, Omah talked to me about the song “Never Forget.” Boy Alone was Omah’s late father's nickname, and the song “Never Forget” was inspired by him.
For more, visit songexploder.net/omah-lay.
Book Exploder: James McBride - Deacon King Kong
The final episode of Book Exploder is with author James McBride. He was born in New York City and raised in Brooklyn’s Red Hook Houses housing projects until the age of seven. That housing project became the setting for his novel, Deacon King Kong. In 2015, President Obama awarded him with the National Humanities Medal, and in 2021, Deacon King Kong won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.
Deacon King Kong tells of the upending of a Brooklyn neighborhood, after a young drug dealer is shot in broad daylight by a deacon known to everyone as Sportcoat. In his conversation with Susan, James discusses a passage from the book’s opening, which takes place in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.
For more, visit bookexploder.com/episodes/james-mcbride.
Iron & Wine - Flightless Bird, American Mouth
In 2002, Sam Beam’s first album as Iron & Wine was released on Sub Pop Records. He’d given them a bunch of demos, and rather than have him re-record these songs, they released the demos themselves. Since then, he’s put out five more full-length albums and been nominated for multiple Grammys.
For this episode, Sam looked back at the making of his song "Flightless Bird, American Mouth," from his 2007 album The Shepherd’s Dog. A year after that album came out, the song was used prominently in a scene in the movie Twilight, and it’s been one of the most popular Iron & Wine songs ever since. I talked to Sam at Blue Rock Artist Ranch and Studio in Wimberley, Texas, in front of a small audience. You’ll hear the original demo he recorded, and how that transformed into the final version of the song.
For more, visit songexploder.net/iron-and-wine
Book Exploder: George Saunders - Victory Lap
George Saunders has won the Booker Prize, and he’s the recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant. He won the Folio Prize for his collection of short stories, Tenth of December, which includes the short story “Victory Lap.” In this episode, Susan and George talk about a passage from “Victory Lap.”
“Victory Lap” is about two teenagers, Alison and Kyle, and what happens when a stranger tries to abduct Alison. In his conversation with Susan, George discusses a passage from the light-hearted opening of the story, before it takes its darker turn.
For more, visit bookexploder.com/episodes/george-saunders.
Santigold - Ushers of the New World
Santigold is a singer, songwriter, and producer. She’s put out 4 albums since 2008, and she’s been featured as a collaborator on songs with Jay-Z, Beastie Boys, Diplo, and more.
In this episode, Santi takes apart her song "Ushers of the New World," from her 2022 album Spirituals. She made it with some other collaborators she’s worked with before, including Grammy-winning producer Rostam, and producer Ricky Blaze. She told me about how she tries to channel her gut instincts, and how she wanted to transform some of the darkest feelings of 2020 into something galvanizing.
For more, visit songexploder.net/santigold.
Book Exploder: Celeste Ng - Little Fires Everywhere
Celeste Ng is an American writer and author of three novels. Her second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, was published in 2017 and became a #1 New York Times bestseller. A television adaptation of the novel, starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington, premiered in 2020.
Little Fires Everywhere is set in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and centers around two families—the mothers of these families especially. One family is upper-middle class with a “typical” suburban structure: a mom, a dad, and four kids; the other is a single mom, Mia, and her daughter, who are newcomers to the town.
In her conversation with Susan, Celeste discusses a flashback to how a young Mia first became interested in photography as a medium.
For more, visit bookexploder.com/episodes/celeste-ng.
I love it as well as Rishikesh’s other podcast home cooking, and I’m not even interested in music
Great breakdown of creativity and songwriting
I’ve been listening to this podcast for years and find so many creative, inspiring, and poignant moments in it. I recommend it often to friends. It’s well-produced; it’s a good length; the stems and artist interviews are great to hear. One of my favorite podcasts.
I wish Book Exploder was its own podcast and didn’t appear on this feed; I’m not interested in Book Exploder.
Each episode is done so well and even when I’m not that into the artist/genre/song, I still find myself enjoying every bit of it and finding a new appreciation. Absolutely loved the Iron and Wine episode.