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Song Exploder

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.

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The best episodes ranked using user listens.

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Kimbra - Top of the World

Kimbra is a singer from New Zealand. Her first album came out in 2011, and in 2013 she won two Grammys for her collaboration with Gotye, the multiplatinum hit song "Somebody That I Used to Know." In this episode, Kimbra breaks down a song from 2018 called "Top of the World,” a song she also made in collaboration—this time with artists Skrillex and Diplo. songexploder.net/kimbra

19mins

11 Apr 2018

Rank #1

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Hozier - Nina Cried Power (feat. Mavis Staples)

Andrew Hozier-Byrne is a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter from Ireland. His debut single from 2013, “Take Me to Church,” was a massive, multi-platinum hit. In September 2018, Hozier released the song “Nina Cried Power,” which features the legendary gospel singer Mavis Staples. In this episode, Hozier breaks down how he made the song, and Mavis Staples tells the story of how she got involved. songexploder.net/hozier

19mins

9 Jan 2019

Rank #2

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Neko Case - Last Lion of Albion

Neko Case is a singer and songwriter. She’s been nominated for multiple Grammys, and in addition to her own music, she’s a member of the band The New Pornographers. In June 2018, she put out her 7th album, Hell-On, which she also co-produced. In this episode, Neko Case breaks down the song “Last Lion of Albion.” Albion’s one of the oldest names for island of Great Britain, and it was while she was in England that this song first began. This episode is guest-hosted by Thao Nguyen (of Thao & The Get Down Stay Down). songexploder.net/neko-case

16mins

1 Aug 2018

Rank #3

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The 1975 - The Birthday Party

The 1975 are a band from Manchester, England, made up of Matty Healy, Adam Hann, Ross MacDonald, and George Daniel. They started playing music together in 2002, when they were teenagers. Since then, they’ve released four albums, won three Brit awards, and gotten two Grammy nominations. Their most recent album, Notes on a Conditional Form, came out in May 2020. In this episode, Matty and George break down how they made the song “The Birthday Party.” songexploder.net/the-1975

18mins

12 Aug 2020

Rank #4

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Ghostface Killah - The Battlefield

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.

16mins

7 Jan 2015

Rank #5

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Clairo - Alewife

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

23mins

2 Oct 2019

Rank #6

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Vampire Weekend - Harmony Hall

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

26mins

25 Dec 2019

Rank #7

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Sylvan Esso - Coffee

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.

11mins

8 Jul 2015

Rank #8

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Mumford & Sons - Beloved

Mumford & Sons are a Grammy-winning band that formed in London in 2007. They’ve put out four albums, and sold millions of copies. Their last three albums have all debuted at number one on the Billboard charts. The most recent of those albums is Delta, which came out in November 2018. The band is made up of Marcus Mumford, Ben Lovett, Winston Marshall, and Ted Dwane, and in this episode, Marcus and Ben break down a song from Delta called “Beloved.” You’ll how the song went from Marcus’s original raw voice memo to the intricate finished track. songexploder.net/mumford-and-sons

20mins

6 Mar 2019

Rank #9

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Spoon - Inside Out

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.

16mins

19 Aug 2014

Rank #10

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Reissue: Mitski - Your Best American Girl

In honor of Mitski’s new album, “Be the Cowboy,” here’s the episode she did in 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

13mins

29 Aug 2018

Rank #11

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Bon Iver - Holyfields,

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

16mins

21 Aug 2019

Rank #12

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Oathbreaker - 10:56 / Second Son of R.

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

20mins

28 Oct 2016

Rank #13

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Wilco - Magnetized

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.

13mins

3 Dec 2015

Rank #14

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Carly Rae Jepsen - When I Needed You

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 Crowe. 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.

15mins

9 May 2016

Rank #15

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Arcade Fire - Put Your Money On Me

Arcade Fire is a Grammy-winning six-piece band originally from Montreal. They’ve released five albums, and the last three have all debuted at number one on the charts. In this episode, singer Win Butler takes apart "Put Your Money On Me," from their 2017 album Everything Now. He breaks down how the influence of Marvin Gaye, Harry Nilsson, and ABBA all helped shape how the song eventually turned out. You’ll hear the original demo, and an alternate version of the song that was never finished. The story begins when Win and his wife and bandmate Régine Chassagne moved to New Orleans. songexploder.net/arcade-fire

21mins

25 Apr 2018

Rank #16

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Selena Gomez - Lose You to Love Me

Selena Gomez is a singer, songwriter, and actress, who’s spent most of her life in the public eye. She started her acting career as a child, and put out her first albums as a teenager. She’s had three number one albums and eight Top 10 hits, and in 2017, Billboard named her Woman of the Year. At one point, she was the most followed person on Instagram, and the details of her life are constantly discussed in tabloid headlines. So, when your private life is that public, how do you write a song about something as personal as heartbreak? Selena teamed up with the Grammy-winning production duo Mattman & Robin, who she’d worked with before. And she turned to her longtime songwriting collaborators, Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter. Julia Michaels is also a Grammy-nominated artist in her own right, and Justin Tranter, also a Grammy nominee, was named BMI’s 2017 Pop Songwriter of the Year. The three of them have written 10 songs together, including this one, “Lose You to Love Me.” The song came out in October 2019, and went on to become Selena’s first number-one hit. It went double-platinum in the US, and was named one of the best songs of the year by Vulture and Billboard. In this episode, Selena, Julia and Justin break down how the song came to be, from the first writing session to the final production touches from Finneas. songexploder.net/selena-gomez

19mins

23 Sep 2020

Rank #17

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Courtney Barnett - Depreston

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.

16mins

7 Jan 2016

Rank #18

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Reissue: Kelela - Rewind

In November 2015, I interviewed Kelela about her song “Rewind,” from her debut EP, Hallucinogen. Since that EP was released, she's gone on to collaborate on songs with Gorillaz and Solange, and released her first full-length, Take Me Apart, which was named one of the Top 10 albums of 2017 by Vulture, Pitchfork, Cosmo, and a bunch of others. So I wanted to go back and revisit Kelela’s episode, which originally came out in January 2016. Here it is: Kelela is a singer and songwriter based in Los Angeles. In 2015, she released Hallucinogen EP, 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. songexploder.net/kelela

15mins

31 May 2018

Rank #19

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CHVRCHES - Clearest Blue

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.

13mins

23 Jun 2016

Rank #20