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.
Noah Kahan - Stick Season
Noah Kahan is a singer and songwriter from Strafford, Vermont. Last year, in 2022, he released Stick Season, his third record. The title track from that record went viral on TikTok when Noah was first writing it, and posting pieces of it. One of those videos has over 10 million plays. And as of this recording, on Spotify, the full song has almost 100 million streams.
For this episode, Noah talked to me about the process of making that song: What led him to first post half a song on TikTok, and what happened after that. You’ll hear the raw recordings off of his phone; the different drafts he made as he worked; you'll hear the different versions he first shared on social media; and you’ll hear his bracingly honest appraisal of the winding path he took — in his life, and in his music – to get to where he is now.
For more, visit songexploder.net/noah-kahan.
Sampa the Great - Let Me Be Great (feat. Angélique Kidjo)
Sampa The Great is a songwriter, rapper, and singer from Zambia. She was based in Australia for years, but came back to Zambia in 2020, shortly before the pandemic hit. When she couldn’t travel, she decided to make her next album there in Lusaka. The album is called As Above, So Below, and it was produced by Mag44.
In this episode, Sampa the Great and Mag44 break down the closing song "Let Me Be Great," which features vocals from legendary West African singer Angélique Kidjo, winner of 5 Grammys and one of TIME’s Most Influential People. I got to speak to Angélique Kidjo in her studio in Paris, and I spoke to Sampa the Great and Mag44 in Lusaka. Together, the three of them tell the story of how they made "Let Me Be Great."
For more, visit songexploder.net/sampa-the-great.
Son Lux - This is a Life (from 'Everything Everywhere All at Once')
Everything Everywhere All at Once is a sci-fi comedy independent film that came out in the spring of 2022. It’s a huge hit that made over $100 million at the box office. It’s already been named the best movie of the year by several publications and awards organizations.
The movie stars the legendary actress Michelle Yeoh, and was directed by the Daniels, the directing duo of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. The score for the film is by the band Son Lux. In addition to the score, Son Lux also made the original song for the film’s end credits: "This is a Life," featuring two prestigious guest vocalists: Mitski and David Byrne of the Talking Heads.
For this episode, I spoke to Ryan Lott from Son Lux, as well as the Daniels. Ryan tells the story of how the song was created, with his bandmates and Mitski and David Byrne and Daniels all adding to it and shaping it.
For more, visit songexploder.net/son-lux.
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
This podcast makes me feel things and that’s the pinnacle, isn’t it? You feel like the artist is talking directly to you, you get exposed to cool new artists, and it’s just a joy to listen to
I love this podcast although I prefer it when it features someone I’ve heard of
I love it as well as Rishikesh’s other podcast home cooking, and I’m not even interested in music