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.
Hrishikesh Hirway TED Talk - What You Learn When You Listen Closely
This summer, I gave a TED Talk at the TED Conference. My talk was about what you discover when you really listen. It was based on how making Song Exploder has changed the way I think about conversations and connecting with people. My talk came out today on the TED website and on the TED Talks Daily podcast, and the very nice folks at TED asked if I would also put the audio of the talk here, on Song Exploder. And I normally wouldn’t put this much of myself on here, but they asked, and like I said, they were very nice. I hope this isn’t too meta, to talk about the show, and what I get out of making it. But it also features some music, including beautiful cello played by Yo-Yo Ma, so there’s that to look forward to. Here it is, my TED Talk on what you learn when you listen closely.
To listen to my song with Yo-Yo Ma, visit https://ffm.to/betweenthereandhere.
For more, visit songexploder.net/ted.
John Lennon - God
Earlier this year, I got an amazing email—the estate of John Lennon said that they have a treasure trove of audio material from his life, and they were wondering if I would be interested in making an episode around the song “God,” from John Lennon’s first solo album. I’ve never tried making a posthumous episode before, because hearing directly from the artist is at the heart of Song Exploder. But with all the interview archives that they have of him speaking, plus all the isolated tracks from the recordings, and the original demo, it actually seemed possible. So this is a very different and special episode of the show.
In September 1969, John Lennon told the rest of the Beatles that he was leaving the group. Their breakup was announced publicly in April 1970, and that December, John Lennon released his first solo album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. The Plastic Ono band was the name for a rotating group of musicians that John and his wife, the artist Yoko Ono, had put together. For the making of “God,” the band included Ringo Starr on drums, Billy Preston on piano, and Klaus Voormann on bass. I got to interview Klaus Voormann about his experiences making this track, and in this episode, you’ll hear from him along with the archival interviews with John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and Billy Preston. You’ll also hear the original demo for “God,” and outtakes from the recording sessions at Abbey Road studios. They recorded the final version of this song on October 9, 1970—John Lennon’s 30th birthday.
Archival audio sources:
- John Lennon's audio was excerpted from an interview with Rolling Stone's Jann S. Wenner, recorded on December 8, 1970. The full interview can be found here. With grateful thanks to Jann S. Wenner for his permission and collaboration.
- Arthur Janov and Billy Preston's quotes came from interviews conducted in 2005 owned by Yoko Ono Lennon. With grateful thanks to Yoko Ono Lennon for her permission and collaboration.
- Ringo Starr's audio came from the 2008 Classic Albums documentary on John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band, directed by Matthew Longfellow. With grateful thanks to Ringo Starr for his permission and collaboration.
For more, visit sonexploder.net/john-lennon.
Lucy Dacus - Thumbs
Lucy Dacus is a singer and songwriter from Richmond, Virginia. She put out her first album in 2016, and in 2018 she formed the band boygenius with Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers. In June 2021, she released her third album, Home Video, which includes the song "Thumbs." The first time I heard it, I knew I wanted to ask Lucy about how and why she made it. After some COVID testing, we spoke in person here in Los Angeles. And she told me the story of how "Thumbs" took months and months to get right.
For more, visit songexploder.net/lucy-dacus.
Mustafa - Air Forces
Mustafa is a singer, songwriter, and poet from Toronto. He gained national recognition in Canada for his poetry. in 2016, he served on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Youth Advisory Council. Later, as a songwriter, he contributed to the Grammy award-winning album Starboy by The Weeknd, and he’s written songs for Usher, Camila Cabello, and others. In May 2021, he released his own debut album, called When Smoke Rises, inspired by his experiences losing friends to inner-city violence. His album’s been critically acclaimed, and it was shortlisted for the Polaris Prize. I spoke to Mustafa about his song "Air Forces," a track he made with his longtime collaborator, Grammy-winning producer Frank Dukes, plus Swedish artist Simon on the Moon, and Jamie xx.
For more visit, songexploder.net/mustafa.
Lykke Li - I Follow Rivers
Lykke Li is a singer and songwriter from Sweden. She started releasing music in 2007, and for much of her career, she’s worked with producer Björn Yttling, who’s also a member of the Swedish band Peter Bjorn and John. Her second album, Wounded Rhymes, came out 10 years ago. It was named one of the best albums of 2011 by the New York Times, Pitchfork, the Guardian, and more, and it won the Swedish Grammy for Best Album. The song "I Follow Rivers" was the breakout hit from that album, and for this episode, Lykke and Bjorn break down how they made it, with help from co-writer Rick Nowels. I spoke to the two of them while they were at Björn’s studio, Ingrid Studios in Stockholm.
For more, visit songexploder.net/lykke-li.
The Shins - New Slang
Singer, songwriter, and producer James Mercer of The Shins wrote “New Slang” when he was living in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It came out as a single and then he re-recorded it for The Shins’ debut album Oh, Inverted World, which came out 20 years ago, in 2001. After Garden State came out, featuring the song "New Slang," that album went gold. And the soundtrack for the movie won a Grammy. Nowadays, James Mercer lives in Portland. I spoke to him from his home studio, and he told me how The Shins actually first started as a recording project, a side project, while he was in another band called Flake Music. In this episode, James breaks down "New Slang" and looks back at how his songwriting and his early home recording skills came together to make this iconic song.
For more, visit songexploder.net/the-shins.
An incredible podcast
Hrishikesh is a beautiful soul. His passion for music, coupled with the dive into musical creativity and production, makes for a wonderful listening experience. I am filled with awe and inspiration after every episode.
I love this podcast, I’m obsessed with it. I was wondering if maybe you could do another Billie eilish on about her new song happier than ever.
This show offers something unique in the music podcast genre. Hirway does an amazing job of allowing the voices of the musicians to come through in an intimate and revealing way as they describe their creative processes.