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Hrishikesh Hirway presents
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.
September 8, 2021
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.
August 25, 2021
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.
August 11, 2021
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.
July 28, 2021
Cheap Trick - Surrender
The song "Surrender" by Cheap Trick was released in 1978. Rolling Stone called it the ultimate 70s teen anthem, and included it in their list of the greatest songs of all time. It’s been in a bunch of movies and tv shows—including South Park, Scrubs, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, New Girl, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Cheap Trick formed in Rockford, Illinois in 1973. They’ve released 20 studio albums, they’ve sold over 20 million records, and in 2016 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rick Nielsen is the guitarist in the band. He wrote “Surrender,” and for this episode, I talked to him about how the song was made. For more, visit songexploder.net/cheap-trick
July 14, 2021
Fousheé - Deep End
The story of how the song "Deep End" came into existence and became a hit is kind of wild. One person who really didn’t see it coming is the person who created it, Fousheé. She’s a singer and songwriter from New Jersey. You might have seen her competing on The Voice in 2018. Soon after that, she got asked to make a pack of vocal samples for the music platform Splice, where users can download samples and include them in their own songs, royalty-free. Coming up, Foushée tells the story of what happened with one of those samples, and how that led to her making "Deep End." That song has now been streamed over 385 million times. Fousheé became the first Black female artist to hit the Top 10 Alternative Chart in over 30 years. For more visit, songexploder.net/foushee.
June 30, 2021
AURORA - Runaway
AURORA is a singer and songwriter from Norway, who released her first EP in 2015, when she was 19 years old. It featured the song, "Runaway" and after it came out Aurora went on to win Norwegian Grammys for Best New Artist and Best Pop Artist. And she played the voice of the North Wind in Disney’s Frozen 2. This year, six years after that debut EP came out, Aurora’s song "Runaway" became a huge hit on TikTok. As of this recording, between YouTube and Spotify, "Runaway" has been streamed over half a billion times. In this episode, Aurora looks back at how the song first began, and how it evolved over time, from the demo to the final version. For more, visit songexploder.net/aurora
June 16, 2021
Sparks - This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us
Sparks are the brothers Ron and Russell Mael, a legendary duo from Los Angeles. Over the last 50 years, they’ve released 25 albums. They’ve collaborated with Giorgio Moroder and Franz Ferdinand, and they’ve influenced bands like Joy Division, Faith No More, Björk, and countless others. Director Edgar Wright, whose films include Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Baby Driver, and Scott Pilgrim vs the World, has made a documentary about the band called The Sparks Brothers. It premiered at Sundance, and comes out in theaters on Friday, June 18th. In this episode, Ron and Russell break down their hit, “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us," which came out in 1974, and changed their careers forever. To learn more, visit songexploder.net/sparks Radiotopia's annual fundraiser is going on right now! To support Song Exploder and the mission of independent, creative story-telling through creator-owned shows, please donate at radiotopia.fm/donate.
June 2, 2021
Arlo Parks - Black Dog
Arlo Parks is a singer and songwriter from London. In January 2021, she released her debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams. It hit number three on the UK charts, and she won this year’s BRIT award for Breakthrough Artist. Last year, NME called her song "Black Dog" the year’s "most devastating song." In this episode, Anaïs breaks down “Black Dog," which she made with producer Gianluca Buccellati. ("But I just call him Luca.") Here’s Arlo Parks on Song Exploder. If you’re thinking about suicide, or if you have a friend who is, or if you just need someone to talk to right now, you can get support by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or by texting HOME to 741-741, which is the Crisis Text Line. If you're outside of the U.S., check out the list of international hotlines at suicide.org. For more about “Black Dog,” visit songexploder.net/arlo-parks Also: it’s the Radiotopia Spring Fundraiser! Your support helps foster independent, artist-owned, award-winning podcasts like Song Exploder. Donate today at Thanks!
May 19, 2021
Imagine Dragons - Follow You
Imagine Dragons are a Grammy-winning band from Las Vegas. They’ve sold over 20 millions albums so far, and they were the most streamed band on Spotify in 2018. In March of this year, they released the song “Follow You." Singer Dan Reynolds started the song at home, and then later, the band took it to the studio Shangri-La, to record parts of it with legendary producer Rick Rubin. In this episode, Dan breaks down the song, which tells a deeply personal story of his relationship to his wife. For more, visit songexploder.net/imagine-dragons
May 5, 2021
girl in red - Serotonin
Marie Ulven is a singer, songwriter, and producer from Norway, who makes music under the name girl in red. She just released her debut album in April 2021, but she already has a big fanbase and she’s gotten a lot of critical acclaim from two EPs and singles that she’s released online, including a couple that went gold. The New York Times included her work in their best songs of the year in both 2018 and 2019, and she was nominated for Best Newcomer at the Norwegian Grammys. "Do you listen to girl in red?" has also become code on TikTok, a kind of shibboleth, to ask if someone’s a lesbian. In this episode, Marie breaks down the song "Serotonin," a song that started as a video she posted to her own TikTok in the early days of lockdown in 2020. You’ll hear the original version she recorded on her own, before collaborating with Norwegian Grammy-winning producer Matias Téllez, and later, with Grammy-winning artist and producer Finneas O’Connell, in order to finish the song. For more, visit songexploder.net/girl-in-red
April 21, 2021
Porter Robinson - Get Your Wish
Porter Robinson is a Grammy-nominated electronic artist and DJ from North Carolina. In 2014, his first album hit #1 on Billboard’s Dance chart, and he was named MTVU’s Artist of the Year, and one of the top DJs in the world — but then, he got stuck. He didn’t release his second album for seven years, until April 2021. In this episode, he talks about what he was grappling with in those intervening years, and how all of that became part of his song "Get Your Wish." For more, visit songexploder.net/porter-robinson
April 7, 2021
Lianne La Havas - Can't Fight
Lianne La Havas is a singer and songwriter from London. She’s been nominated for a Grammy and a Brit award, and in 2020, she released her third album. In this episode, she breaks down her song "Can’t Fight," and traces its evolution — along with her own evolution – over several years. For more, visit songexploder.net/lianne-la-havas.
March 24, 2021
Jon Batiste - We Are
Jon Batiste is a pianist, songwriter, and composer from New Orleans. He’s been nominated for multiple Grammys, and just won the Golden Globe and got an Oscar nomination for the soundtrack to the Pixar film Soul, which he composed along with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Jon is also a recipient of the American Jazz Museum’s lifetime achievement award, and on weeknights, you can see him as the bandleader on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. In March 2021, he put out his new album, We Are. But the title track from it came actually came out much earlier, last year, in June 2020. In this episode, Jon talks about how he drew from his roots, at a very personal level — and at a cultural, historical level — and wove all of it into the song. For more, visit songexploder.net/jon-batiste.
March 10, 2021
Glass Animals - Heat Waves
Glass Animals is a band from Oxford, England. They’ve released three albums since forming back in 2010. One of their biggest hits is the song "Heat Waves," which came out in June 2020. It was certified Gold in several countries, and Platinum in Australia, where it hit #1. Dave Bayley is the singer, songwriter, and producer of the band. He won the UK’s Music Producers Guild award for "Self-Producing Artist of the Year," and he’s produced songs for other artists, as well. In this episode, Dave tells the story of making "Heat Waves," over several months. First, on his own, and then later with his bandmates, Joe Seaward, Ed Irwin-Singer, and Drew MacFarlane. For more, visit songexploder.net/glass-animals.
February 24, 2021
Sasha Sloan - Until It Happens To You
Sasha Sloan is a singer and songwriter based in Nashville. She put out her debut album, Only Child, last year. Before that, she’d written songs for artists like Katy Perry, John Legend, and Charli XCX, and she’s been a featured guest vocalist on songs by electronic artists Odesza and Kygo. Sasha made her album with her boyfriend, producer Henry Allen, aka King Henry, whose other production credits include songs by Beyoncé and Diplo. In this episode, Sasha, along with Henry, tells the story of making her song "Until It Happens to You." For more, visit songexploder.net/sasha-sloan.
February 10, 2021
PJ Morton - Say So (feat. JoJo)
PJ Morton is a singer, songwriter, and producer. He’s the first artist ever to be nominated for a Grammy for the Best R&B album three years in a row. In 2020, he won the Grammy for Best R&B song for his track, "Say So," which is a duet with the singer JoJo, a platinum-selling artist in her own right. But that version of "Say So" almost didn’t come to exist. In this episode, PJ takes us through his original voice memos, the demos, and the isolated pieces of the final studio recording, as he tells the story of how the track was created, then disappeared, and then got re-created—and ended up becoming one of his biggest songs. For more, visit songexploder.net/pj-morton.
January 27, 2021
HAIM - Summer Girl
HAIM is a band from Los Angeles, made up of the sisters Danielle, Este, and Alana Haim. They’ve released three albums, and they’ve been nominated for three Grammys. Over the years, they’ve worked extensively with Grammy-winning producer Ariel Rechtshaid. Danielle and Ariel share the emotional backstory of the song “Summer Girl,” from HAIM’s third album, Women in Music Pt. III. In this episode, they break down their experience creating the song, along with Este Haim and the song’s co-producer and co-writer Rostam. For more, visit songexploder.net/haim.
January 13, 2021
Yusuf / Cat Stevens - Father and Son
The legendary singer/songwriter Yusuf / Cat Stevens released his first album in 1967. He’s a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and his albums have sold millions. In 2020, he released Tea for the Tillerman², a re-imagining of his hit 1970 album Tea for the Tillerman. In the song “Father & Son,” he sings a duet between the two title characters, doing both voices. But in the 2020 version, he approached this song in a kind of astonishing way—he recorded the part of the father, but for the part of the son, he used a live recording of himself from 1970, taken from a show he played at The Troubadour in Los Angeles. So the two parts are still both sung in his voice, but 50 years apart. In this episode, the 200th episode of Song Exploder, Yusuf / Cat Stevens tells the story of how he created, and then re-created “Father & Son.” For more, visit songexploder.net/yusuf-cat-stevens.
December 16, 2020
Common - A Riot In My Mind
Common is a Grammy- and Oscar-winning rapper, actor, and activist from Chicago. He’s been making records since 1992, and in October, he released his thirteenth album, A Beautiful Revolution. In this episode, he breaks down how he made the song “A Riot In My Mind,” along with a handful of collaborators, including Lenny Kravitz and a cameo from Chuck D. songexploder.net/common
December 2, 2020
Jewel - You Were Meant For Me
Jewel is a singer-songwriter from Homer, Alaska, who’s received four Grammy nominations and sold over 30 million albums worldwide. Her debut album, Pieces of You, came out in 1995, and a 25th anniversary edition was released in November 2020. That album contains the hit song "You Were Meant for Me," but it turns out it wasn’t a runaway success—not at first. In this episode, Jewel traces the history of making “You Were Meant For Me,” starting with the demo, and moving through all the different versions that were made along the way. songexploder.net/jewel