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Song Exploder

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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.
185 Episodes
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Semisonic - Closing Time

Semisonic - Closing Time

2020-01-1500:26:3412

The song “Closing Time” by the American rock band Semisonic came out in March 1998. It hit #1 on the Alternative charts, and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Song. It gets played in stadiums, Weird Al covered it, and it’s the last song of the night in countless bars. Since then, Dan Wilson, the lead singer and songwriter of Semisonic, has become a powerhouse songwriter who has written or co-written for artists like John Legend and Taylor Swift. And he’s won Grammys for his songwriting with the Dixie Chicks and Adele. But over two decades ago, Dan and his bandmates John Munson and Jacob Slichter were in Minneapolis, getting ready to start work on their second album, Feeling Strangely Fine. In this episode of Song Exploder, Dan breaks down how that process led to "Closing Time." songexploder.net/semisonic
The band Vampire Weekend started in 2006, in New York. Their third album came out in 2013, and was named one of the best albums of the year all over the place, and it won a Grammy. But it took six years for their next album, Father of the Bride, to come out. This album’s also been nominated for a Grammy, for album of the year. And the lead single from it, “Harmony Hall,” was nominated for Best Rock Song. In this episode, Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend takes “Harmony Hall” apart. I spoke to him along with producer Ariel Rechtshaid, and the two of them detailed winding path the song went down, over several years, before it finally took shape. songexploder.net/vampire-weekend
Thao Nguyen has been guest hosting Song Exploder this year, with Christian Koons producing, to give Hrishikesh a little room to daydream. That’s all been possible because of the support of Radiotopia listeners. In this bonus episode, Thao says goodbye, and we break down the intro music that Hrishi made to go with Thao’s time as guest host. Thanks to everyone who has listened this year. If you’d like to support the future of the podcast, you can donate to Radiotopia. You can help make new things possible for the podcast. Make your mark. Go to radiotopia.fm to donate today.
Meek Mill - Trauma

Meek Mill - Trauma

2019-12-1100:21:004

Meek Mill is a rapper from Philadelphia. He’s put out five albums. His most recent, Championships, debuted at #1 on the charts, and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rap Album. Back in 2007, He was arrested on a gun charge at the age of 19, and over the last eleven years, he was sent to prison four times for parole violations. But in July 2019, based on evidence of alleged police corruption, the Pennsylvania Superior Court threw out his conviction, and the parole violation that had led to his most recent time in prison, a five-month sentence. It was soon after Meek Mill was released that this song, “Trauma,” was created. He took inspiration from his experiences in prison, and his early life in Philadelphia. In this episode, Meek Mill and Don Cannon, who produced the track, break down how the whole thing came together. songexploder.net/meek-mill Right now, Radiotopia is holding its annual fundraiser. You can help support Song Exploder and the network that makes it possible. Make your mark. Go to Radiotopia.fm to donate today.
Natasha Khan makes music under the name Bat for Lashes. She’s released five albums, including Lost Girls, which came out in September 2019. In this episode, she breaks down the making of the lead single from that album, called “Kids in the Dark.” But just before she started writing it, she wasn't sure if she would make another album at all. songexploder.net/bat-for-lashes Right now, Radiotopia is holding its annual fundraiser. You can help support Song Exploder and the network that makes it possible. Make your mark. Go to Radiotopia.fm to donate today.
Jay Som - Tenderness

Jay Som - Tenderness

2019-11-1300:19:113

Melina Duterte goes by the name Jay Som. She’s a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. She’s released three albums as Jay Som, and has produced, engineered, and mixed each one. Her third album, Anak Ko, came out in August 2019. And in this episode, Melina breaks down a song from it called “Tenderness.” songexploder.net/jay-som
Slipknot - Unsainted

Slipknot - Unsainted

2019-10-3000:18:208

Slipknot is a Grammy-winning metal band from Des Moines, Iowa, who first formed in 1995. They’ve sold over 30 million records. In this episode, guitarist Jim Root breaks down how Slipknot made the song, “Unsainted,” from their 2019 album We Are Not Your Kind. songexploder.net/slipknot
Raphael Saadiq - Kings Fall

Raphael Saadiq - Kings Fall

2019-10-1600:17:219

Raphael Saadiq is a Grammy-winning songwriter, producer, and artist from Oakland, California. He was the lead singer of the legendary ‘90s R&B group Tony! Toni! Tone!. As a producer, he’s worked with D’Angelo, TLC, Mary J. Blige, Whitney Houston, Solange Knowles, and John Legend. In August 2019, Raphael released his fifth solo album, Jimmy Lee, which is named for his late older brother. In this episode, he breaks down a song from he made with his nephew, Dylan Wiggins, called “Kings Fall.” songexploder.net/raphael-saadiq
Clairo - Alewife

Clairo - Alewife

2019-10-0200:24:107

Claire Cotrill is a singer, songwriter, and producer who goes by the name Clairo. She started releasing music in 2014 as a teenager. A few years later, songs she had uploaded to YouTube had racked up over 40 million views. This year, Clairo put out her debut album, Immunity. She’s recently performed on Ellen and Jimmy Kimmel, and played arenas, opening for Khalid. In this episode, Clairo breaks down her song “Alewife.” I spoke to Claire and her co-producer Rostam Batmanglij about how the song was made. songexploder.net/clairo
Brittany Howard - Stay High

Brittany Howard - Stay High

2019-09-1800:19:436

Brittany Howard is the guitarist and lead singer of the four-time Grammy-winning band Alabama Shakes. This month, she’s releasing her first solo album, called Jaime. In this episode, Brittany breaks down the song “Stay High,” which was the album’s first single. She started working on it while staying at a house in Topanga Canyon, near LA. songexploder.net/brittany-howard
Robyn - Honey

Robyn - Honey

2019-09-0400:25:0111

Robyn is a Swedish singer and songwriter. Her first album came out in 1995, when she was 16 years old. It went platinum in the US, double-platinum in Sweden. Since then, she’s been nominated for five Grammys and started her own record label. But there was an eight-year gap between Robyn’s album Body Talk, which came out in 2010, and her most recent album, Honey, which came out last October. Time, Rolling Stone, and Pitchfork all named it one of the best albums of the year. For Song Exploder, Robyn breaks down the song “Honey,” the title track from that album. The first time the public heard the song was in a 2017 episode of the HBO show Girls, but that’s not the final version that was released on the album. In this episode, Robyn traces the long history of how she made “Honey,” a song that The New York Times called “her masterpiece.” songexploder.net/robyn
Bon Iver - Holyfields,

Bon Iver - Holyfields,

2019-08-2100:19:2517

Justin Vernon founded the band Bon Iver in 2006. Bon Iver’s released four albums, and won two Grammys, including Best New Artist. The most recent album, i,i, came out in August 2019, and in this episode, Justin breaks down a song from it called “Holyfields,.” He’s joined by producers Chris Messina and Brad Cook. We spoke to him in July, from his studio in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where the song started. They finished it at Sonic Ranch studio, in Tornillo, Texas, on the border of the US and Mexico. songexploder.net/bon-iver
Sleater-Kinney was formed in 1994 by Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein. Drummer Janet Weiss was a member of the band from 1997 until 2019. In Time Magazine in 2001, author and critic Greil Marcus named Sleater-Kinney “America’s Best Band.” Over the years, they’ve made nine albums, including this year’s The Center Won’t Hold, which was produced by Annie Clark of St. Vincent. In this episode, Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein break down how the song “The Future Is Here” was made. songexploder.net/sleater-kinney
Denzel Curry - RICKY

Denzel Curry - RICKY

2019-07-2400:17:549

Denzel Curry is a rapper from Miami. He started his career at age 16 as part of the hip hop collective Raider Klan. He released his first solo album while still in high school. In May 2019 Denzel released his fourth album, ZUU. He made it with the Australian production duo FnZ, who have been collaborating with him since 2016. The album was named Best New Music by Pitchfork, and Denzel made his TV debut on The Tonight Show. songexploder.net/denzel-curry
Jamila Woods - BALDWIN

Jamila Woods - BALDWIN

2019-07-1000:22:458

Jamila Woods is a singer, songwriter, and poet from Chicago. She’s released two albums, and she’s collaborated with artists like Chance the Rapper, Noname, and Macklemore. In May 2019, she put out her second album, LEGACY! LEGACY!, to critical acclaim. NME called it one of the albums of the year, Rolling Stone called it a “revelation,” and Pitchfork named it “Best New Music.” In this episode, Jamila and her producer Slot-A break down a song from that album, called “BALDWIN,” named after the late author and civil rights activist James Baldwin. songexploder.net/jamila-woods
Big Thief - Cattails

Big Thief - Cattails

2019-06-2600:18:189

Big Thief is a four piece folk-rock band from Brooklyn, New York. In May 2019, they released their third album, U.F.O.F., to critical acclaim. Pitchfork named it “Best New Music.” In this episode, singer Adrianne Lenker and drummer James Krivchenia break down a song from that album called “Cattails.” songexploder.net/big-thief
Sheryl Crow is a singer-songwriter from Missouri. She’s released ten studio albums, sold over 50 million records, and has won nine Grammys. In April 2019, Sheryl Crow released a new version of her song “Redemption Day,” which was first released on her self-titled album in 1996. This new version features vocals from Johnny Cash, who recorded a cover of the song that was released posthumously in 2010. And in this episode, Sheryl Crow breaks down how it all came together. songexploder.net/sheryl-crow
Raleigh Ritchie is the musical alias of Jacob Anderson, a musician and actor who’s probably best known for playing the character Grey Worm on Game of Thrones. Raleigh Ritchie released his first album in 2016, and he’s put out a handful of EPs. In September 2018, he put out the single, “Time in a Tree.” He made the song with Grammy-nominated producer Daniel Traynor, aka Grades. In this episode, the two of them take apart “Time in a Tree” to explain how it came together, and how it was influenced by classic Hollywood movies, Billy Joel, and overwhelming anxiety. songexploder.net/raleigh-ritchie
John Darnielle has been writing and recording songs as the Mountain Goats since 1991. He’s released 17 studio albums, and also written two books of fiction. In April 2019, the Mountain Goats released the album In League with Dragons, and in this episode, John Darnielle breaks down a song from it, called Cadaver-Sniffing Dog. We’ll hear his original demo, and then, hear how the song evolved at Blackbird Studios in Nashville, with the help of John’s band, some incredible session musicians, and producer Owen Pallett. songexploder.net/the-mountain-goats
The Cranberries formed in Limerick, Ireland in 1989. Singer Dolores O’Riordan joined a year later, and the group went on to become one of the defining bands on the ‘90s, eventually selling over 40 million records worldwide. In January 2018, while the band was working on their eighth album, Dolores O’Riordan passed away unexpectedly. Later that year, remaining members Noel Hogan, Mike Hogan, and Fergal Lawler announced that they would end the band, and that this would be their final album. It's called In The End. It was released in April 2019, and in this episode, guitarist and songwriter Noel Hogan breaks down a song from it called “All Over Now.” You’ll hear how Hogan and O’Riordan first started the song, and how the remaining members worked to finish it without her. songexploder.net/the-cranberries
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Comments (154)

Ron Severtis

This is definitely my favorite episode of this pod. granted, I love HoC. But the 'explosion' of the melody and composition and background are truly something special. Nice work Hrishikesh.

Jan 27th
Reply

Michael Glaun

Great episode! So much emotion shared by Robyn. Aweome song. 😁

Sep 6th
Reply

Ja'Kayla Hill

so many life lessons and gems dropped in this segment, very beautiful. i'm inspired 🙏🏾💗

Aug 12th
Reply (1)

John Hollowell

this song itself is beautiful, and then you add the try story of the song and it adds a depth that you can get only from the lyrics themselves.

Jun 15th
Reply

Byron Drake

I love the song and the musicality of it, it's just so good.

Jun 4th
Reply (1)

Byron Drake

Amazing, I didn't realize what this song had to tell as a story.

Jun 4th
Reply

Isabelle Tailhades

Ta chanson est super

May 11th
Reply

Shashank Bhargava

I love this episode!

Apr 23rd
Reply

Oleg Petrunchak-Fesenko

💎

Apr 23rd
Reply

Vicente Jofre

loved the song!

Apr 4th
Reply

Baber Ali Zeb

this song is just beautiful.

Mar 21st
Reply

William Rachal-Curtis

This podcast is awesome!! Please add more hip hop and R&B songs.

Mar 18th
Reply

benjamin schleiken

Great one

Mar 18th
Reply

Luke Morrill

My favorite quote from this episode is when Jack says: "It's really about anybody who wants to build any kind of walls that divide us... Whenever I feel anti-something I try to quickly catch myself and say 'if I'm against these ideas, then what ideas am I for?' I try to at least come from this place of 'if you're going to try to tear something down, what are you trying to build?'"

Mar 12th
Reply

Comrade Quashie

Surreal

Mar 10th
Reply

Ofc. Webber

Such a great song.

Feb 21st
Reply

Steve Yencho

Really nice - what a brilliant musician and treasure of our generation. Incredible also to think about musicians back from the classical era and the dedication to the longevity of their art.

Feb 9th
Reply

timma h

OMG this song's my favourite

Jan 9th
Reply (1)

Justin Brown

one of my faves

Jan 6th
Reply

Karissa Carnival

EW

Dec 28th
Reply
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