Though Hirway has a technician’s ear, he is just as deft at distilling the animating impulse behind a piece of music. His goal isn’t merely to demystify production; he wants to study the idea or feeling that carried an artist through a song’s creation.
Dua co-wrote the song “Levitating” with some of her closest collaborators, including producer Stephen Kozmeniuk, AKA Koz. In this episode, Dua and Koz break down “Levitating” and how Dua’s childhood memories shaped its sound.
Tame Impala is the project of Kevin Parker, a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer from Perth, Australia. Since putting his first EP in 2008, Tame Impala has been nominated for two Grammys and won eight of Australia’s ARIA Awards. Multiple albums of his have been named best of the year. As a producer, he has collaborated with Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, The Weeknd, and more. The most recent Tame Impala album is The Slow Rush, which came out in February 2020. For this episode, Kevin chose to take apart the song, “It Might Be Time.”
In this episode, Dan breaks down the song “Home.” He talks about how he managed to get past several moments of creative uncertainty to figure out the final track.
He unpacks the journey from a sample found on YouTube, the inspiration from a friend’s experience of refinding home and the challenge of finding a bridge for the song.
There were two aspects that stood out to me was. One was Snaith’s work with Keiran Hebron (FourTet) as a sounding board. This reminded me of Norman Cook’s discussion of the early days were he, the Chemical Brothers and Darren Emerson would often collaboratively complete:
So, I started hanging out and partying and DJing with people like The Chemical Brothers, and John Carter and Darren Emerson. On a Saturday night we’d play each other new tunes, then next week it would be in the charts.
It was a really weird thing where I was hanging out with other people, we were making records, they were getting released, and we were getting away with it. And we were all over the charts together. It was a wonderful thing.(source)
Another interesting observation from Snaith was the intent to regularly just make. This is not about a particular purpose or intent.
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.
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.
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.”
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 between the US and Mexico.
Bleachers is the moniker of Jack Antonoff, a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer. He won two grammy awards as a member of the band fun., and another for his production work on Taylor Swift’s album 1989. He’s also co-written songs with St. Vincent, Carly Rae Jepsen, Lorde, Sia, and more.
In June 2017, Antonoff released his second album as Bleachers, Gone Now. In this episode, he breaks down a song from that album, called “I Miss Those Days” and traces the process of making it—from the original demo, to a version he discarded, to the final song.