Song Exploder

A podcast where musicians take apart their songs, and piece by piece, tell the story of how they were made.


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May 22, 2017

Michael Kiwanuka is a singer/songwriter from London. His second album, Love and Hate, came out in 2016, and was named one of the Best Albums of the Year from the BBC, NME, The Guardian, GQ, and more. One of the songs on the album was used as the theme for the hit HBO series Big Little Lies. In this episode, Michael breaks down the song “Black Man in a White World.”

songexploder.net/michael-kiwanuka

May 11, 2017

Mike Hadreas has been making music under the name Perfume Genius since 2008. In May 2017, he put out his fourth album, No Shape to widespread critical acclaim. In this episode, Mike breaks down the song Slip Away. I also spoke with producer Blake Mills, who also plays on the track, and recording engineer Shawn Everett about the unusual way the song was recorded.

For more, visit songexploder.net/perfume-genius

May 2, 2017

Little Dragon is a Grammy-nominated band from Gothenburg, Sweden. They formed in 1996, and they released their fifth album Season High in April 2017. In this episode, Yukimi Nagano and Erik Bodin from the band break down the song “Sweet.”

songexploder.net/little-dragon

April 21, 2017

Aimee Mann is a Grammy- and Oscar-nominated singer-songwriter. In the 80s, she fronted the band Til Tuesday, and in 1993, she released her first solo album. In 2017, Aimee released her 9th album, Mental Illness, and in this episode, she tells the story of how the song “Patient Zero” was made. I talked to Aimee along with the song’s co-writer, Jonathan Coulton. The interview was recorded in front of a live audience, on board the JoCo Cruise, a music and comedy themed cruise organized by Jonathan Coulton.

songexploder.net/aimee-mann

April 11, 2017

Gorillaz is the creation of musician Damon Albarn and comic book artist Jamie Hewlett. They’re a virtual band made up four animated characters. Their songs are written by Damon Albarn and a roster of collaborators. Since the first album was released in 2001, Gorillaz have sold over 16 million records worldwide. In this episode, Damon breaks down the song “Andromeda” from the 2017 Gorillaz album Humanz. It’s a dance song, but also an elegy to people in his life who he’s lost, like legendary soul singer Bobby Womack, a former Gorillaz collaborator. Andromeda features guest vocals by the rapper and singer D.R.A.M., whose own hit single, “Broccoli,” went quadruple platinum in 2016. Coming up later, D.R.A.M. tells the story of how he got involved with this track, and Damon shares an exclusive clip of a scrapped version of the song with D.R.A.M. on lead vocals.

(This episode contains explicit language.)

songexploder.net/gorillaz

March 30, 2017

Since her debut in 2002, Norah Jones has sold over 50 million albums, and won 8 Grammys. She released Day Breaks, her sixth album, in 2016. In this episode, she takes apart the title track and details how all the pieces unexpectedly came together. You’ll hear her original demo for the song and how it was transformed in the studio, including a session with jazz saxophone legend Wayne Shorter. Plus, a few thoughts from Norah’s co-producer and longtime collaborator Sarah Oda.

songexploder.net/norah-jones

March 22, 2017

Dave Longstreth started making music under the name Dirty Projectors in 2002, while he was in college. Since then, he’s released seven albums and collaborated with Bjork, Solange, and Kanye West, Paul McCartney, and Rihanna. And Dirty Projectors went from a solo project to a full-band, performing on TV, and at Carnegie Hall. Dave and one of his bandmates were in a relationship for much of that time, but then that relationship and the band broke up. In February 2017, with Dirty Projectors as solo project once again, Dave released a self-titled album, a breakup album, looking back on those years. In this episode, Dave breaks down the song “Up in Hudson,” and the winding road he went down to create it.

songexploder.net/dirty-projectors

March 14, 2017

Sleigh Bells formed in 2008. They released their fourth album, Jessica Rabbit, in 2016. In this episode, Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller break down their song “I Can Only Stare.” I interviewed the two of them in front of a live audience at the Kaufman Music Center in New York, as part of the Ecstatic Music Festival.

songexploder.net/sleigh-bells

February 28, 2017

Simon Green is a producer and DJ who’s been making music under the name Bonobo since 2000. In January 2017 he released his sixth studio album, Migration. For the song “Break Apart,” he enlisted Rhye to add vocals, and in this episode, the two of them tell the story of how the track came together.

songexploder.net/bonobo

February 17, 2017

Sara Watkins began her music career when she was only 8 years old, as one of the founding members of the Grammy-award winning band Nickel Creek. In 2016, she released her third solo album, Young in all the Wrong Ways. In this episode, Sara breaks down her song “Without a Word.” This interview was recorded in front of a live audience at the Chicago Podcast Festival.

songexploder.net/sara-watkins

February 7, 2017

The band Dropkick Murphys formed in Boston in 1996. For over twenty years, they’ve made music that’s reflected the culture and community they’ve come from, including their platinum single “Shipping Up to Boston.” In January 2017, they released the album “11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory,” which includes the song Blood. In this episode, guitarist Tim Brennan breaks down how the music for Blood was made, and the band founder Ken Casey explains the inspiration behind the lyrics.

songexploder.net/dropkick-murphys

January 30, 2017

The film Moonlight tells the story of its main character, Chiron, in three chapters: when Chiron is a young boy, nicknamed Little, when he’s a teenager, and when he’s an adult, nicknamed Black. For each chapter of the film, composer Nicholas Britell created a theme, and in this episode, Nicholas takes those themes apart. The score for Moonlight was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe, and the film itself won the Golden Globe for Best Drama.

songexploder.net/moonlight

January 16, 2017

Solange Knowles released her first album in 2002, at the age of 16. Her third album, A Seat at the Table, came out in September 2016, and debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts. It’s gotten widespread critical acclaim, including being named album of the year by Pitchfork and by Vibe. In this episode, Solange takes apart the song “Cranes in the Sky,” which began back in 2008.

songexploder.net/solange

January 6, 2017

Metallica formed in 1981. They were teenagers. Since then, they’ve gone on to become one of the most successful bands of all time, selling over 110 million records worldwide. In November 2016, they released their tenth album, Hardwired…to Self-Destruct. In this episode, the song “Moth into Flame” gets taken apart by singer and guitarist James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich.

songexploder.net/metallica

December 21, 2016

The film LA LA LAND tells the story of Mia, an aspiring actress played by Emma Stone, and Sebastian, a jazz pianist played by Ryan Gosling, both of them struggling artists in Los Angeles. The musical was written and directed by Damien Chazelle in collaboration with composer Justin Hurwitz. It’s the third film they’ve made together, the follow-up to the Oscar-winning film Whiplash. In this episode, Justin Hurwitz breaks down a song from the film sung by Emma Stone; it’s called Audition (The Fools Who Dream). Plus, some thoughts from Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who wrote the lyrics.

songexploder.net/la-la-land

December 8, 2016

In 1996, Josh Davis, aka DJ Shadow, released his first album, Endtroducing. It’s been hailed pretty much universally as one of the best albums of the 90s, and Time Magazine included in its top 100 Albums of all time. It changed hip-hop and electronic music, and helped define the trip-hop genre. Now, for the 20th anniversary of the release, DJ Shadow breaks down the song “Mutual Slump.”

songexploder.net/dj-shadow

November 30, 2016

Angel Olsen released her third album, My Woman, in September 2016. It’s been critically acclaimed, including Pitchfork’s Best New Music and NME’s best albums of the year. In this episode, Angel Olsen takes apart the song “Shut Up Kiss Me.” She breaks down how she recorded it live in the studio with her band, and how she tried things with her voice that she’d never done before.

songexploder.net/angel-olsen

November 17, 2016

In the film Arrival, Amy Adams plays a linguist trying to decode an alien language. The score was composed by Johann Johannsson, his third film collaborating with director Denis Villeneuve. In this episode, Johann breaks down a piece from the score called Heptapod B, and how, like the film, it revolves around the concept of language.

songexploder.net/arrival

November 8, 2016

Flatbush Zombies are a hip hop trio from Brooklyn. They formed in 2010. Their album 3001: A Laced Odyssey came out in 2016, and debuted in the top ten on the Billboard charts. Erick the Architect is one of the three MCs in the band (along with Meechy Darko and Zombie Juice) and he’s also the group’s producer. In this episode, Erick breaks down how the song Bounce was made.

 

October 28, 2016

The band Oathbreaker formed in 2008 in Belgium. In this episode, Caro and Gilles from the band break down the two-part song that opens their third album, Rheia. These two tracks, 10:56 and Second Son of R., were written and performed as one song. Coming up, they talk about how and why their sound transformed from a pure hardcore band to something more amalgamated, and Caro talks about her own evolution as a vocalist and a lyricist, writing candidly about her own past.

songexploder.net/oathbreaker

October 19, 2016

James Vincent McMorrow is a singer/songwriter whose first albums fell somewhere on the folk music side of things. But his sound has changed over the years, incorporating elements of R&B and electronic music. On the album We Move, James worked with the producer Nineteen85, whose credits include tracks by Drake and Nicki Minaj. In this episode, James breaks down the song “Get Low” from that record and how it was inspired by Clipse, minimalism, and Los Angeles.

songexploder.net/james-vincent-mcmorrow

 

October 6, 2016

Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter started Phantogram in 2007. They’ve worked on crafting a particular sound and they’ve had a particular way of making their dense productions since the beginning. But for their new record, Three, things changed. The song “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore” took the band outside of their comfort zone. And, in this episode, Sarah and Josh break down how they made the original demo, and how outsiders like The-Dream and co-producer Ricky Reed influenced the way the song ultimately turned out.

songexploder.net/phantogram

September 21, 2016

In 2006, Swedish trio Peter Bjorn and John released their third album, Writer’s Block. For months and months after that, it felt like you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing the first single from that album, “Young Folks.” It was on top 10 lists for song of the year in places like Pitchfork and NME. It’s been covered by James Blunt, and remixed by Kanye West, along with countless other versions out there. Now, ten years later, Peter Bjorn and John break down the song and how it all came together, and how it almost didn’t come together at all.

songexploder.net/peter-bjorn-and-john

 

September 7, 2016

Mitski has been making records since 2012. Her third record, Puberty 2, came out in June 2016 and was critically acclaimed Pitchfork gave it Best New Music status. Her music has been featured in the tv show Adventure Time. In this episode, Mitski breaks down her song Your Best American Girl, along with her long-time collaborator Patrick Hyland.

songexploder.net/mitski

August 25, 2016

Tom Fec, aka Tobacco, has released four albums since 2008. He’s also the frontman of the band Black Moth Super Rainbow, and he created the theme music for the HBO show Silicon Valley. In this episode, Tom breaks down his song “Gods in Heat” from his newest album, Sweatbox Dynasty, recorded entirely on cassette.

August 15, 2016

Singer/songwriter Andra Day put out her first record in August 2015. Since then, she’s been invited by the Obamas to perform at the White House on multiple occasions, and the record was nominated for a Grammy for Best R&B album. In this episode, Andra breaks down her song Forever Mine along with the track’s producer, Rob Kleiner.

August 4, 2016

BoJack Horseman is a Netflix original series, an animated comedy about a washed up 90s sitcom star who’s trying to figure out his life and career without drowning in self-loathing and existential despair. It won the 2016 Critics Choice award for best animated series. The theme song for the show was created by Patrick Carney, who is one half of The Black Keys, and his uncle, Ralph Carney, a multi-instrumentalist who has worked artists like Tom Waits, St Vincent, The B-52s, Galaxie 500, and a lot more. But the track wasn’t written for the show, originally; it was just something that Patrick and Ralph made without knowing what it was for. In this episode, the two break down how the song was created, and how it went from their long-distance collaboration to become a TV theme song.

July 25, 2016

Band of Horses released their 5th album in June 2016. In this episode, the band’s frontman, Ben Bridwell breaks down the song Solemn Oath, and how in the process of writing it, he confronted writer’s block, and balancing his life in the band and at home as a husband and father.

July 14, 2016

Grimes is the project of Claire Boucher. In 2015, she released Art Angels, her 4th  album. In this episode, she breaks down her song Kill V. Maim, her feelings about singing, and how the experience of writing songs for other artists opened up the way she writes for herself.

July 5, 2016

Andrew Bird is a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist, maybe known best for his violin playing and his whistling. In this episode, Andrew breaks down his song Roma Fade, from the 2016 album Are You Serious?

June 23, 2016

CHVRCHES is a trio from Glasgow, Scotland. In this episode, they break down the song “Clearest Blue,” from their sophomore album Every Open Eye. You’ll hear the band’s original demo as well as why they start songs with a set of rules, but then quickly abandon those rules.

June 14, 2016

In September 2014, Odesza put out their album In Return. It debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic charts, and spent 13 weeks in the top 10. But the song Kusanagi isn’t a dance track. It slows down the pace of the album, and in this episode, Clay and Harrison of Odesza explain why. They tell the story of how they made the track, along with their friend and collaborator who they named the song after, Sean Kusanagi. This episode was recorded live at Moogfest in Durham, North Carolina.

May 29, 2016

Old Crow Medicine Show is a six-piece band from Tennessee, who have been around since 1998. They were inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2013, and they won the Grammy for Best Folk Album in 2015, for their record Remedy. In this episode, bandleader Ketch Secor tells the story of how they made “Dearly Departed Friend,” one of the songs from Remedy.

May 24, 2016

Busdriver is a rapper from Los Angeles, and since 2001, he’s been releasing albums with a signature hyperliterate, intellectual style. But over a decade later, Busdriver has found himself reaching for something more intimate and personal. In this episode, he breaks down the 2015 song “Worlds to Run,” along with the track’s producer, Kenny Segal. It features guest vocals from Anderson Paak and Milo, and you’ll hear how their contributions shaped Busdriver’s vision for the song.

May 9, 2016

Carly Rae Jepsen released her third album, Emotion, in 2015. The closing track on the record is When I Needed You. In this episode, Carly tells the story of how the song was made. You’ll hear the first demo for the song, a version she co-wrote with her longtime collaborator Tavish Crow. And you’ll hear how that led to the album version. Plus, producer Ariel Rechtshaid breaks down some of the parts that he created for the recording.

April 28, 2016

The Lumineers released their second album on April 8,
2016. Their first album went platinum, and they spent months
touring relentlessly in support of it. That schedule took a toll on
their relationship, but they ended up putting it into their songs.
In this episode, Wes and Jeremiah break down their song “Ophelia.”
You’ll hear their demos and a version that didn’t make it to the
album. They’ll explain how the final track is not just a product of
what they put into it, but what they decided to leave out.

This episode is sponsored by SeatGeek and Lagunitas Brewing Company.

April 18, 2016

Weezer’s 10th album, the self-titled “White” album, came out April 1, 2016. In this episode, Rivers Cuomo breaks down the meticulous process of making the song “Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori,” through the different demo versions that the track went through, and the array of spreadsheets that he uses collect, analyze, and harvest his ideas.

April 5, 2016

Thao and the Get Down Stay Down released the album A Man Alive in March 2016. In this episode, Thao Nguyen breaks down the song “Astonished Man.” Thao talks about working with Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards, who produced the album, and she speaks candidly about her relationship with her estranged father, the subject of the song.

March 22, 2016

Iggy Pop is a pioneer of punk rock, whose legendary career began over fifty years ago. In 2015, he began collaborating on music with Joshua Homme, of Queens of the Stone Age. The result was Iggy Pop’s 23rd album, Post Pop Depression. In this episode, Iggy and Josh break down the song “American Valhalla,” and tell the story of how it was shaped by reverb, opera, and the military.

March 10, 2016

Daniel Lopatin has been making experimental electronic music as Oneohtrix Point Never since 2007. In this episode, he takes apart the song “Sticky Drama,” from his 2015 album Garden of Delete. He breaks down how he created artificial voices using software for the vocals, and how he sees his songs as pieces of science fiction.

This episode is sponsored by Loma Vista Recordings, Slack, and Moogfest. To win a pair of tickets to Moogfest, enter here.

March 1, 2016

Singer/songwriter KT Tunstall released her debut album in 2004. It was nominated for a Mercury Prize. The song “Suddenly I See” from that record was a hit on the radio and it’s been used in the soundtracks of big movies and television shows. But the song was originally written back before KT Tunstall had a record deal, when she was a struggling street musician, living in a small apartment in North London. In this episode, which was recorded live at the Sundance Film Festival, KT breaks down how she made the song, with help from producer Steve Osborne.

This episode is sponsored by Squarespace, MeUndies, and Lagunitas Brewing Company.

February 18, 2016

Clipping is a trio made up of producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes, and rapper Daveed Diggs. You might be familiar with Daveed’s voice from his roles as Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette in the hit Broadway musical Hamilton. But in Clipping, the whole band takes on different roles, playing with different tropes and genres within hip-hop, but setting up these strict overarching rules for how they make their music. In this episode, the three of them break down how they made their song “Work Work,” featuring guest vocals from rapper Cocc Pistol Cree.

This episode is sponsored by Slack and MeUndies.

February 8, 2016

The New Pornographers are kind of a supergroup, with seven members in the band, including Neko Case and Dan Bejar, who are both acclaimed songwriters with their own successful solo careers. But the band is led by Carl Newman, and in this episode, he breaks down the title song from their sixth album Brill Bruisers. Plus you’ll hear some thoughts from bassist and co-producer John Collins. My interview with Carl Newman was recorded live at the Greene Space at WNYC.

January 28, 2016

Kelela is a singer and songwriter based in Los Angeles. In 2015, she released Hallucinogen, and landed on critics’ lists in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Pitchfork, and more. In this episode, Kelela takes apart her song Rewind. To make the track, she worked with five different producers, picking and choosing each for what they could best contribute to her overall vision for the song. This interview was recorded live in San Francisco, at Fusion’s Real Future Fair.

This episode is sponsored by Parachute (use code SONGEXPLODER for $25 off).

January 19, 2016

MGMT was formed by Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden in 2001. The song Time to Pretend was one they wrote early in their career. It first came out on their debut: the Time to Pretend EP in 2005. And three years after that, they put out a new version of the song, on their first full-length album, Oracular Spectactular, which was named album of the year by NME and was one of Rolling Stone’s top 20 albums of the decade. It went on to sell over a million copies worldwide. In this episode, Ben and Andrew trace how the song Time to Pretend was made, from its dorm room origins, to its first recording, to re-envisioning it with Grammy-winning producer Dave Fridmann. They also uncover the hidden sounds and easter eggs within the recording.

January 7, 2016

Courtney Barnett released her debut album in March 2015. By the end of the year, she had been nominated for a Grammy for Best New Artist, Spin named her the Songwriter of the Year, and she won four ARIA Music Awards in her native Australia. In this episode, Courtney Barnett breaks down the song “Depreston,” which began with a visit to an open house, on a househunting trip she took in the town of Preston.

December 17, 2015

In January 2015, Björk released Vulnicura. She described it as “a complete heartbreak album.” And in November, she released Vulnicura Strings, a companion album that stripped away the electronics. In this episode, Björk breaks down the making of both the original version of the song “Stonemilker,” as well as the strings version. She traces her writing and recording process for the track, her collaboration with the electronic producer Arca, and why she wanted to make a second version.

This episode is sponsored by Hover, Lagunitas Brewing Company, and Turntable Lab.

December 11, 2015

Transparent is an Amazon original series, created by Jill Soloway. The story centers on a family where the father, played by Jeffrey Tambor, comes out to his children and the to world at large as transgender. The first season was released in September 2014. It was critically acclaimed and won a lot of awards, including an Emmy for Outstanding Main Title Theme Music. In this episode, composer Dustin O’Halloran breaks down how he made the Transparent theme, using an 80-year old piano and channeling his own family nostalgia.

This episode is sponsored by Hover, Lagunitas Brewing Company, and MeUndies.

December 2, 2015

Wilco formed in 1994, and 21 years later, they released their 9th album, Star Wars. In this episode, Jeff Tweedy, the band’s singer and principal songwriter, breaks down the song Magnetized. In addition to collaborating with his five bandmates, John Stirrit, Pat Sansone, Mike Jorgensen, Nels Cline, and Glenn Kotche, it turns out Jeff Tweedy makes an active effort to remove his own ego from the process of songwriting.

This episode is sponsored by Vinyl Me Please, Turntable Lab, and lynda.com.

November 23, 2015

Natalia Lafourcade has won eight Latin Grammys, including three for the song Hasta la Raíz, which won the 2015 Song of the Year and Record of the Year, as well as Best Alternative Song. In this episode, Natalia breaks down the writing and recording process for the track, which borrows from a traditional Mexican folk music called huapango, but also still includes a Juno synthesizer and a pop sensibility.

This episode is sponsored by Lagunitas Brewing Company, Larsen & Lund, and MeUndies.

November 16, 2015

Youth Lagoon is the moniker of Trevor Powers, who has been releasing albums under the name since 2011. In this episode, Trevor breaks down “The Knower,” the lead single from his newest record, Savage Hills Ballroom. He talks about how the idea for the song started by manipulating sampled vocals, and how he flew to Bristol to record the album with producer Ali Chant.

This episode is sponsored by Hover (use offer code LAGOON), Sony Legacy Recordings presenting the new Bob Dylan Box set, andMeUndies.

November 5, 2015

The Arcs is a new project from Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. He started the band with some of the musicians and producers he’s worked with over the years. For this episode, Dan and his bandmates Richard Swift and Leon Michels break down how they made the song Put a Flower in Your Pocket, and how its title was inspired by a three-year-old girl.

Plus: the story behind the Radiotopia logo, and the sounds that went into making it.

This episode is sponsored by Hover (use promo code POCKET), MeUndies, and lynda.com.

October 26, 2015

Chet Faker is the stage name of Australian singer and songwriter Nick Murphy. His debut album, Built on Glass, won five ARIA Awards, Australia’s version of the Grammys, including Best Male Artist, Producer of the Year, and Best Independent Album. In this episode, Nick breaks down the song Gold from that album, and traces the journey it took from a dream, to a cover, to a love song.

This episode is sponsored by iZotope Spire, Dropbox for Business, and Lagunitas Brewing Company.

October 15, 2015

In the film “The Martian,” astronaut Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) is stranded on Mars, forced to rely on science and his ingenuity in order to survive. The film opened at #1 at the box office, and has earned critical praise as well. In this episode, composer Harry Gregson-Williams breaks down his music from the film, where part of his job was to score the excitement of scientific discovery and the grandeur and mystery of Mars itself.

This episode is sponsored by Hover (use the offer code MARTIAN for 10% off your first purchase), Dropbox, and MeUndies.

October 5, 2015

Angel Deradoorian has been a member of the bands Dirty Projectors and Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks, and has contributed to albums by Vampire Weekend, Flying Lotus, and Brandon Flowers. This year she released her first full-length album as Deradoorian, The Expanding Flower Planet. In this episode, Angel breaks down the album’s lead single, “A Beautiful Woman.” After leaving the Dirty Projectors, Angel moved from the east coast to Los Angeles to focus on her own solo music. She talks about how “A Beautiful Woman” was inspired by the loneliness of moving across the country, overcoming creative self-doubt, and transitioning from a secondary role in other bands to the main role of songwriter and producer for her debut album.

This episode is sponsored by Hover (use offer code ANGEL), Lynda.com, and Lagunitas Brewing Company.

September 24, 2015

Stephin Merritt has fronted the band The Magnetic Fields for over twenty-five years. In this episode, he breaks down the song “Andrew in Drag” from the band’s latest album, Love at the Bottom of the Sea, even though he doesn’t actually remember writing it. After releasing his triple-album 69 Love Songs to huge acclaim in 1999, Stephin stopped using synthesizers for the next three Magnetic Fields albums. He talks about why he stopped, and why started using them again, and why he doesn’t write down his melodies.

This episode is sponsored by Spire Recorder by iZotope; Merge Records (use code SONGEXPLODER at checkout for 20% off); and Audible.com (go to audiblepodcast.com/exploder for a free audiobook of your choice, and a 30-day free trial).

September 15, 2015

Joey Bada$$ released his debut album on January 20, 2015: his 20th birthday. It hit the Top 5 on the Billboard charts. For the track “Hazeus View,” he worked with Kirk Knight, another member of the Pro Era hip-hop collective. In this episode, the two of them break down the process of making “Hazeus View,” how the lyrics reflect Joey’s wide-angle take on religion, and how the beat was inspired by DJ Premier and a beat he made for the Biggie song “Ten Crack Commandments.”

September 3, 2015

The band American Football formed in 1997, and released only one album and an EP before breaking up about three years later. Their critically acclaimed debut went on to achieve cult status as one of the most influential records of the ’90s, and was reissued as a deluxe double-LP last year.

In this episode, Mike Kinsella, Steve Holmes, and Steve Lamos of American Football break down the first song they wrote together, “The One with the Tambourine,” from their self-titled EP. They talk about being influenced by the Chicago music scene of the ’90s, and how they combined alternative tunings, unconventional time signatures, and naiveté to craft their sound.

This episode is sponsored by Hover, Lynda.com, and Lagunitas Brewing Company.

August 27, 2015

In this episode, Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno of the band Best Coast take apart their song “Feeling Ok,” from the 2015 album California Nights. They trace their process and their influences, from the movie “10 Things I Hate About You” to the video game Rock Band. Plus, we’ll hear from producer Wally Gagel.

This episode is sponsored by Hover (use the offer code BESTCOAST), Simple, and Lagunitas Brewing Company.

August 18, 2015

The band HEALTH formed in Los Angeles in 2005. Their newest record, Death Magic, came out in 2015. They spent four years trying to make it. They describe themselves as a noise band, but for this record, they reinvented their palette and their process. In this episode, John and Jake from HEALTH take apart the song Stonefist, which they made with their bandmates, Jupiter Keyes and BJ Miller.

This episode is sponsored by Hover, Lagunitas Brewing Company, and Simple.

August 10, 2015

Multi-Love is the title track from the 2015 album by Unknown Mortal Orchestra. In this episode, Ruban Nielson tells the story of how he made the song with help from his brother Kody Nielson, and how it was influenced by Romeo and Juliet, Questlove, and a broken synthesizer.

This episode is sponsored by Hover, Lagunitas Brewing Company, and Simple.

July 30, 2015

Thundercat is the alter-ego of bassist and singer-songwriter Stephen Bruner. He’s played bass for both Suicidal Tendencies and Erykah Badu and went on to help shape Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly.’ In this episode, Thundercat will break down the song “Them Changes” off his new mini-album. Thundercat co-produced the track with long-time collaborator Flying Lotus, with Kamasi Washington on saxophone.

This episode is sponsored by Hover, Lagunitas Brewing Company, and Simple.

July 20, 2015

Death Cab for Cutie released Kintsugi, their 8th album, on March 31, 2015. The song El Dorado, like other songs on the record, was written in the wake of the divorce between the band’s lead singer Ben Gibbard and actress Zooey Deschanel. In this episode, Ben talks about the metaphor of the city of El Dorado and how it fit the story he wanted to tell, about separation, unrealized dreams, and Culver City. Plus, he explains how a few pieces of equipment – a Fender Mustang, a Rhythm Master drum machine, and the VoiceLive unit – ended up shaping the creative process.

This episode is sponsored by Hover, Frank and Oak, and Lagunitas Brewing Company.

July 8, 2015

Sylvan Esso has two members, Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn, who met while they were both working on other projects. Amelia asked Nick to do a remix of a song by the band she was in at the time, and when that remix was done, they both loved how it turned out. They emailed song ideas back and forth for a while, until they found a time to be in the same place. It was at that point that they first started working on the song, “Coffee.” In this episode, Nick and Amelia talk about the origins of the sounds and lyrics within the song, from a Little Tikes xylophone to “Hanky Panky” by Tommy James and the Shondells.

June 29, 2015

10 Cedarwood Road is the address of Bono’s childhood home in Dublin. For the U2 song “Cedarwood Road,” Bono looked back to his life there as a teenager, when skinhead culture seeped into his neighborhood via the Seven Towers, housing projects that were built around that time. In this episode, Bono traces the arc from those memories to the lyrics of “Cedarwood Road,” and The Edge breaks down the process of how the music was written, with the original demo and the isolated tracks from the final recording.

June 22, 2015

Will Butler is a member of the band Arcade Fire, and he co-wrote the score for the film Her, which earned him an Oscar nomination. In March 2015, he put out his first solo album, Policy, and in this episode, he breaks down the song “Anna” from that record.

June 11, 2015

Game of Thrones premiered on HBO in April 2011 and became the most watched show in HBO’s history. The main title theme was written by Emmy-nominated composer Ramin Djawadi. In this episode, he’ll break down the different elements in the piece, and how themes within the show inspired his composition and choice of instruments.

May 29, 2015

The title card for Avengers: Age of Ultron comes up twelve minutes into the movie. Against a black background, the Avengers logo takes up almost the entire screen. You might expect a triumphant, heroic piece of music, but the film called for something more complicated. Coming up, you’ll hear why, and how composer Brian Tyler tackled that piece of score, in his third feature for Marvel Studios. It was recorded at Abbey Road Studios with the London Philharmonic, with Brian himself conducting.

May 18, 2015

In this episode, Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs breaks down “Water Fountain.” It’s a song that draws inspiration from the politics of drought and dancehall reggae, and you’ll hear how (and why) she tried to make this song less catchy. Despite that effort, in 2014 the tUnE-yArDs album Nikki Nack climbed the Billboard Charts and got widespread critical praise.

May 5, 2015

The British TV show Downton Abbey is the most popular drama in PBS history, with over 10 million viewers per episode, and more Emmy nominations than any non-US show ever. The theme music is one of its signatures, but it was originally written as a piece of score for the first episode, and then later condensed and turned into the version that appears in the opening credits. The music was recorded by a chamber orchestra, all at once, in the same room, so in order to isolate different pieces for Song Exploder, we went back to composer John Lunn’s original demo compositions, made with samples in the computer. In this episode, you’ll get to hear how those two compare.

April 23, 2015

Jim James is the lead singer of the Grammy-nominated band My Morning Jacket. Since starting in 1998, they’ve put out six albums, and in this episode, Jim breaks down the song Spring (Among The Living), from their soon-to-be released seventh album, The Waterfall.

April 14, 2015

Over the past five years, Chaz Bundick, aka Toro y Moi, has made music that’s spanned a range of genres and styles. On his newest album, What For?, he shifted styles again. In this episode, Chaz explains why. He’ll break down the song Half Dome, named after a landmark in Yosemite National Park that’s a popular hike, but also a difficult one.

April 1, 2015

RJD2 has been making music since 2002. His song “A Beautiful Mine” was turned into the opening credits music for Mad Men. He’s a producer and beatmaker, but also a singer and songwriter. But for the vocals on the song “Games You Can Win,” he tapped Kenna, a Grammy-nominee whom Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in Blink. In this episode, you’ll get to hear the parts that make up the track, as well as the unreleased demo vocals that RJ originally recorded himself.

March 25, 2015

In an interview with Belgian filmmakers the Dardenne brothers, talking about the kinds of stories they tell, Luc Dardenne says, “Human suffering; that interests us very much.” It also interests Tom Krell, a songwriter and producer who goes by the name How to Dress Well. After seeing one of the Dardenne brothers films, The Kid with a Bike, he was inspired to make the song “Pour Cyril.” In this episode, he’ll dig deep into that where that inspiration led him, from transformations within the song, to within the film, and within himself.

March 13, 2015

Casey Dienel is a producer, singer, and songwriter who goes by the name White Hinterland. In this episode, she’ll break down her song Ring the Bell. To make it, she had to break out of her comfort zone of working alone and reach to other people. She got a little unexpected help from Beyonce.

March 3, 2015

In 2013, Warpaint starting working on their sophomore album. They retreated away from their home in Los Angeles to the nearby desert oasis of Joshua Tree, California. There, they wrote the song “Love Is to Die,” and it was decided that it would be the single from the record. Now, with over 6 million plays on Spotify and nearly 3 million more on YouTube, “Love Is to Die” is by some measures their most popular song. Designating it as the single was a decision that was easy to make early on, but it was also carried unforeseen consequences for the band. In this episode, three of the four members break down the sounds in the song, and weigh in on some of the difficulty they faced getting this track from the initial idea to the finished recording.

February 20, 2015

In 2005, Nickelodeon premiered an animated series called Avatar: The Last Airbender, about a young boy and his friends who have to keep peace and balance in the world. It combined fantasy and martial arts, and ran for four seasons, won an Emmy and a Peabody, and in 2012, spawned a sequel called The Legend of Korra. This time, the story was about a girl, Korra, a teenager, and just as the characters were older and the world they inhabited was older, the themes of the show matured as well. In December 2014, after 4 seasons of its own, the series and franchise aired its finale. It made headlines for the final shot of the very last scene, where Korra and her female companion Asami come together as a couple, romantically. Composer Jeremy Zuckerman used a mix of Chinese and western instruments for the series. In this episode, he deconstructs the music he wrote, reflects on the significance of that scene, and also what it felt like to close the curtain on a franchise he’d been working on over the course of twelve years of his life.

February 9, 2015

The Imitation Game is a biographical film about Alan Turing, a mathematician who pioneered computer science and helped the British government break Nazi codes, but was then later prosecuted by the British government for being gay. Composer Alexandre Desplat created the score, which was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Oscar — his eighth Oscar nomination. In this episode, he breaks down the orchestration of the main theme from the film, which plays during the title sequence.

January 30, 2015

On February 1, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart while reentering the earth’s atmosphere. John Roderick, singer and songwriter of The Long Winters, wrote “The Commander Thinks Aloud” about that fateful moment. This episode was made from an interview I did with John Roderick in front of a live audience in Seattle, where we discussed how and why he made this song.

January 19, 2015

The band Blonde Redhead formed in 1993. Twenty-one years later, in 2014, the trio released their 9th album, and in this episode, they deconstruct Penultimo, a song from that record that caused some dissent between the band members. At the heart of the controversy was the Pitchfactor effect pedal by Eventide, a harmonizer that does a lot, or maybe too much. Coming up, you’ll hear how tricky it was to begin this song, as well as finish it.

January 6, 2015

In November 2014, Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan released his 11th album, called 36 Seasons. A lot of people worked on it: soul band The Revelations served as a kind of house backing band for the whole thing. Lil’ Fame from M.O.P. and engineer Daniel Schlett helped produce, and there’s a host of guest vocalists, including the ones on this track: singer Tré Williams, and rappers AZ and Kool G Rap. But the person who put the whole thing together, came up with the idea, and corralled all of these contributors is someone who doesn’t appear on the record. His name is Bob Perry, and his title is A&R, which stands for artist and repertoire. Nowadays, that usually means the person at a record label who acts as a talent scout for new artists, but back in the day, the A&R reps were often responsible for much more. In this episode, Bob Perry talks about how the Ghostface song “The Battlefield” came together, and Revelations guitarist Wes Mingus breaks down how the beat was assembled.

December 22, 2014

The National formed in 1999. They’ve released six albums, and have been nominated for a grammy. Their music is everywhere from Game of Thrones, to Bob’s Burgers, to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. In 2013 they released their sixth album, Trouble Will Find Me, which debuted at #3 on the Billboard charts. The band is made up of singer Matt Berninger along with two sets of brothers: guitarists Bryce and Aaron Dessner, who are twins, and Brian and Scott Devendorf, who play drums and bass, respectively. In this episode, Matt Berninger and Aaron Dessner break down “Sea of Love,” a song that they co-wrote. You’ll hear how it went from Aaron’s original guitar demo to a densely layered recording with contributions from their bandmates and others, and they’ll talk about how collaboration is an intrinsic part of their process and their band identity.

December 9, 2014

Tycho is the project of designer-turned-musician Scott Hansen, along with guitarist Zac Brown and drummer Rory O’Connor. For this episode, which was recorded in front of a live audience in San Francisco, Scott breaks down the title track from the 2014 Tycho album Awake, including a note he misplayed, and a vocal part you aren’t really supposed to know about.

November 26, 2014

Stars is a band from Toronto, who have been making music together since 2000. Their seventh album was released in October 2014. For this episode, I spoke to several members of the band: singer Amy Millan over the phone, and to Evan and Patty in their studio in Toronto along with their co-producer Liam O’Neil. In this episode, they talk about the inspiration for the phrase No One Is Lost, which is the title of this song as well as the album. And you’ll hear the original version of the chorus: one that they wrote, recorded, mixed, and finished but then, ended up changing completely.

November 12, 2014

Before The Books broke up, they released four albums that combined composed music and found sounds. In this episode, Nick Zammuto explains how he crafted the song Smells Like Content, off of their 2005 album Lost and Safe, out of unlikely sources, like geometry, chance encounters, and a corrugated PVC pipe.

October 29, 2014

Julia Holter studied composition, and in the song Horns Surrounding Me, she arranges not only acoustic and electronic instruments, but also layers of ambient field recordings and background noise. The song was released in 2013 on her acclaimed album Loud City Song. In this episode, Julia deconstructs the recording, and talks about what she did to evoke a feeling of fear in both the music and the way she sang, changing her voice on different parts of the song to create character and texture.

October 15, 2014

Dave Hill is a comedian and host of his own podcast which, like Song Exploder, is on the Maximum Fun network. He’s also the frontman of the band Valley Lodge. In this episode, Dave will deconstruct the Valley Lodge song Go, which you might recognize as the opening credits of the HBO show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. This is a special episode produced for MaxFunWeek, seven days of celebrating the community of listeners and shows that make up the Maximum Fun podcast network.

October 1, 2014

Andre Allen Anjos is better known as RAC, a musician who first found success by remixing other people’s songs. His remixes for artists like Lana Del Rey have gotten millions of plays online. In 2013, RAC released Strangers, his first album of original material, and in this episode, he breaks down the song Let Go from that record. It features guest vocals from Kele, best known as the frontman of the band Bloc Party, and singer MNDR, who also talks about her experience working on the track.

September 18, 2014

The Thermals originally began as Hutch Harris’s solo recording project. He sang and played all the instruments on the 2003 Thermals record More Parts Per Million. In this episode, Hutch breaks down his lo-fi recording of the song No Culture Icons. The track was later mixed by Chris Walla, who’s known best for his work with Death Cab for Cutie, and we’ll hear some thoughts from him as well. I spoke with Hutch in front of a live audience at the XOXO Festival in Portland, Oregon.

September 2, 2014

In addition to guitars, drums, and bass, the band Anamanaguchi makes their music with the 8-bit sounds that were built into Nintendo video game consoles made in the 1980s. They use software called a tracker to meticulously sequence and produce those sounds. Most of their music is instrumental, but in this episode, they break down one of the first times they’ve incorporated vocals, for the song Prom Night, which features singer Bianca Raquel. Prom Night is from their most recent album, Endless Fantasy, which debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart when it came out in 2013. 

August 19, 2014

Spoon was formed in 1993 by singer Britt Daniel and drummer Jim Eno. They’ve released eight albums, including their most recent record, They Want My Soul, which came out in August 2014. In this episode, Jim Eno breaks down the song Inside Out, explaining how it went from the original demo to the finished album version, including what other music influenced the recording. Plus, we’ll hear from their co-producer, Dave Fridmann, whose other credits include The Flaming Lips album The Soft Bulletin, and Oracular Spectacular by MGMT.

August 6, 2014

In May 2014, the video game company Ubisoft released Watch Dogs, about a vigilante hacker in Chicago in the near future. Here’s how the game is described on their website: “You play as Aiden Pearce, a brilliant hacker and former thug, whose criminal past led to a violent family tragedy. While seeking justice for those events, you’ll monitor and hack those around you.” It sold over 4 million copies in its first week of release. The music for the game was made by Brian Reitzell, who played drums in the bands Air and Red Kross before becoming a composer and music supervisor for films like Lost In Translation and Beginners. He also creates the music for the NBC television show Hannibal. In this episode, Brian talks about the unique challenges posed by scoring video games, where players control what happens on screen and as a result, what happens in the music. He’ll break down a piece called Donovan, which he wrote for a chase sequence within the game. He also describes the instrument he created from a hundred year old piano. This episode is presented in conjunction with Polygon.

July 15, 2014

In this episode, rapper Open Mike Eagle talks about making the song Dark Comedy Morning Show, along with the track’s producer, Walker Ashby, aka Toy Light. Mike breaks down how Toy Light’s original instrumental version of this song inspired him, and how his view of his own vocals on the track has changed since recording them. 

July 1, 2014

In the fall of 2001, Phil Elverum released the album The Glow Pt 2 on K Records. Pitchfork named it the best album of the year. In this episode, Phil recounts how he created the first song on the record at Dub Narcotic Studio. He spoke with me from his home in Anacortes, Washington, about his love of being alone in the studio, evoking nature through music, and where the name The Microphones came from. Plus a few words from Calvin Johnson, the founder of K Records. This episode is presented in conjunction with The Creators Project. 

 

June 19, 2014

The band Converge formed in 1990, when its members were teenagers. They’ve been making music that lives somewhere in the intersection of punk, hardcore, and metal for almost 25 years. Guitarist Kurt Ballou spoke to me from his studio GodCity, which is where Converge writes and records. I also spoke over the phone with singer Jake Bannon. Coming up, they’ll talk about how the physical space of GodCity influenced their songwriting, how the Boston hardcore scene gave them a home, and how to get the classic Swedish death metal guitar tone.

June 2, 2014

In this episode, we’ll get a deconstructed view of the song One Second of Love by Nite Jewel. I spoke to Ramona Gonzalez of Nite Jewel and her partner and producer Cole MGN in their home studio in Los Angeles as they took a break from making a new record. Coming up, they’ll talk about the process they undertook, including recording to tape as a creative restriction, and collaborating with their friends and each other.

May 15, 2014

The band Garbage formed in 1994 when three guys from Madison Wisconsin — Butch Vig, Steve Marker, and Duke Erikson, met Scottish singer Shirley Manson. Twenty years later, they’ve sold over 17 million records worldwide. In this episode, we’ll get a view inside their 2012 song “Felt” from the album “Not Your Kind of People.” Butch Vig, who is also a legendary producer behind some of the most influential albums of all time like Nevermind by Nirvana, Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins, Dirty by Sonic Youth, and countless others, spoke to me from his home studio in Los Angeles. I also interviewed Shirley Manson separately to get her insight on how the song was made. Plus some thoughts from their longtime engineer and now co-producer Billy Bush.

May 1, 2014

Ryan Olson is a member of the band Polica. Though he doesn’t perform with them live, he put the band together, produces the songs, and co-writes them. I interviewed Ryan in his bedroom studio in Minneapolis. In this episode, he breaks down the song Smug, from their 2013 album Shulamith. He also talks about two pieces of equipment that have helped shape the sound of Poliça, and how he was introduced to one of them by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, and the other by DJ Shadow.

April 15, 2014

Loren Bouchard is the creator of the animated television comedy Bob’s Burgers, a series about a family and the restaurant they own and live above, currently in its fourth season on Fox. In addition to being the co-executive producer and showrunner, Loren also composed the show’s opening theme. I interviewed Loren in his office, where his desk is surrounded by musical instruments. In this episode, he talks about which ones went into the theme, and the emotions he wanted to evoke with each of them. Plus a few thoughts from cast members Jon Benjamin and Eugene Mirman.

April 1, 2014

Composer Jeff Beal deconstructs the main title theme music to the Netflix original series House of Cards. The show has been nominated for multiple Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Original Main Title Theme and Outstanding Music Composition. The show was adapted from a British series of the same name by writer Beau Willimon, and director and executive producer David Fincher. Jeff talks about his collaborative process with Fincher, and how they found the mood and musical palette for the show and its theme, and how it changed from season one to season two. A word of warning: if you haven’t watched the first season, there are spoilers about how that season ends.

March 17, 2014

Alfred Darlington, better known as Daedelus, takes apart his song Experience. This early track of his is made with only acoustic sounds, but Alfred still considers it a piece of electronic music, and explains why. He also talks about the unexpected life the song has had since he recorded it, after being sampled by Madlib for his collaboration with MF Doom, Madvillain. Experience became the beat for Madvillain’s Accordion, the first song on their highly acclaimed album, and later referenced and resampled by artists like Drake and Kitty (aka Kitty Pryde). Daedelus deconstructs the song and discusses what its legacy means to him.

March 1, 2014

Alex Brown Church of Sea Wolf breaks down Kasper, a song from the album Old World Romance. He talks about his songwriting process, collaborating with his bandmates, and the evolution that comes with learning the difference between making something that’s good, and making something that’s perfect. 

February 14, 2014

Will Wiesenfeld of Baths breaks down his song Miasma Sky, which came out last year on his highly-praised sophomore album Obsidian. Will talks about using the computer to intentionally destroy sounds, trying to find a balance in his music between simplicity and complexity, and what went into making his drum tracks. 

February 1, 2014

Claire and Jona of the band YACHT deconstruct their brand new single Plastic Soul, a fun pop song about human suffering. They explain how technology inspired them musically as well as lyrically, and how they recycle bits of their old recordings to create new songs. 

January 15, 2014

Jimmy LaValle of The Album Leaf takes apart The Outer Banks, a song he recorded in Iceland with members of Sigur Ros accompanying him. He reveals how the melody of the song was made from a glockenspiel, violin, and Moog synthesizer; and he talks about the importance of letting go of control during the recording process. 

January 1, 2014

Our first guest on Song Exploder is Jimmy Tamborello, aka Dntel, aka one half of The Postal Service (the other half being Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie). Jimmy breaks down the song The District Sleeps Alone Tonight, and talks about his instruments, his influences, and accidentally making a loop out of Jenny Lewis’s backing vocals.