There are many layers to a hit song that may not stand out as fans hear music from even the most well-known artists. A listener may catch on to the drums, a vocal, or a guitar riff, but it is rare to dissect the separate components of every hit that comes out. Music fans usually just appreciate a song in its complete form. The fascinating podcast Song Exploder excels at taking apart a track and digging into the creative process of a wide variety of musicians.
The podcast is created and hosted by Hrishikesh Hirway, although the musicians are typically the only voices heard in each episode. As Hirway interviews each artist, the podcast includes isolated parts from a select recording and the musicians explain the origin of each part. Most episodes are between 15 to 20 minutes in length and provide an interesting takeaway about a song. While certain technical aspects are explored, at no point does the podcast overwhelm with studio minutia.
At times the musicians’ explanations can be exorbitant (the seven-year process to create Solange’s “Cranes In The Sky”) or focus on the happy accident (the Lumineers’ microphone clipping during “Ophelia”). Song Exploder will also delve into what did not make it on to the song. The Lumineers had recorded “Ophelia” with the help of the E-Street Band’s horn section. Their efforts were ultimately withheld from the final take because of how the horns changed the tone of the music. You can hear some of the horn section’s contribution on the episode and listen to how their addition altered the band’s traditional sound. Hearing the different cuts of the same song encapsulates why Song Exploder can be interesting for music fans. It highlights the experimentation that can occur in the studio and allows for insight into the creative process.
To date, Song Exploder has already focused on high-profile artists like U2, Michael Kiwanuka, Solange, and Gorrillaz. While most of the song choices are hits like Phoenix’s “Ti Amo,” the podcast also looks at less obvious choices as well. The Black Key’s Patrick Carney was not interviewed for any songs from his Grammy-winning band, but about his instrumental theme for the Netflix series Bojack Horseman.
The most recent episode featured St. Vincent, who discussed her new single “New York.” St. Vincent not only broke down the evolution of the track, but commented on how her affinity for swearing found its way into the song. In a way that is typical of Song Exploder, she also credited the contributions of other artists, such as Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff. Guests like St. Vincent help make the podcast unique. Even though it is more customary to watch a documentary that analyzes the recording of a classic rock album like Pink Floyd or The Beatles, Song Exploder profiles work from both established and rising musicians. This allows for the feeling that you are listening to the construction of a classic from a well-chosen roster of contemporary masters.
Prior episodes of Song Exploder can be found at: