Screen Violence is their new album. It draws inspiration from classic horror films like John Carpenter’s Halloween. With its horror frame, the lyrics explore dark themes, like the violent online abuse CHVRCHES lead singer Lauren Mayberry has endured for much of the band’s existence, a hyper consciousness of her own mortality brought on by that abuse, and fears of losing her grip on reality. Switched On Pop’s co-host Charlie Harding spoke with Lauren, Ian, Martin from CHVRCHES about the making and meaning of Screen Violence.
A typical “Switched On Pop” episode pairs a contemporary hit with a musical topic—modal scales, descending bass lines, modulations, and so on. The strategy that Sloan used when he taught harmony by way of “Call Me Maybe” remains in play. Because the songs are so familiar to much of the audience, the hosts can wallow in technical lingo without fear of losing people. A sly bait and switch is at work: the conversation often wanders far from the song in question, ranging across pop-music history or delving into the classical past. For me, the switch operated in the opposite direction. For the sake of listening to Sloan and Harding musicologically jabber away, I received an education in the mysteries of the modern Top Forty.
As a ‘persnickety classical-music critic’, Ross takes particular note of their four part series on Beethoven’s 5th Symphony touching on the different tack taken. Personally, this is one of the things I habe noticed more lately, that the podcast has started diving into the worlds of different artists and with that using different approaches. This maybe in part based on the extension of the ‘mutual mansplaining’ through the involvement of more guests and what might be described as bramd cross-pollunation.
It is interesting to contrast this approach with that of Kirk Hamilton’s Strong Songs. I feel that Hamilton spends a lot more time in the weeds and often covers a wider range of music, but like Switched on Pop, often ends up diving into various detours.
Bruno Major blends old song structures from The Great American Songbook with contemporary production on his new album “To Let A Good Thing Die.” The result is a nostalgic, yet contemporary collection of love songs for the Netflix and chill generation. We speak with Bruno Major about how he draws inspiration from the past to craft something new. He breaks down his songs “Nothing,” “To Let A Good Thing Die,” and “The Most Beautiful Thing,” which he wrote with Finneas. And we unpack how Bruno Major found success only after being dropped from his record label.
Quarantined in his family’s music room, musician Jacob Collier has been remarkably productive. Known for his polymathic musical talents, Collier has used this time to reflect on, and release new music. His latest song “All I Need,” was created with new technology that let him record remotely with his collaborators Mahalia and Ty Dolla $ign. The song is uplifting. It modulates into arcane keys that evoke the euphoria of newfound love. Collier’s also been convening live streams with artists like Tori Kelly and Chris Martin where Collier seemingly defies the laws of physics to collaborate, in time, over long-distance video chat. Collier is a hopeful voice, demonstrating how music can boost our spirits in dark times.
He explains that as his music has grown in complexity over the years, he has had to rethink how he collaborates. One thing that has made this more doable has been technology, such as Source Connect, that allows you to record live sessions from across the world.
In regards to live streaming, Collier elaborates on how he taught his brain to compensate the latency by perceiving the music in two times to perform live, rather than the perception of being live that many performances are. Something Harding labels a ‘rhythmic multiverse’. He worked this out live with Tori Kelly:
He moves onto a discussion of his track All I Need. This includes an explanation of his intent in moving away from A 440 halfway through the song to musically capture the uncanny experience of love. He also touches on how he managed to have 646 tracks in his Logic session.
He closes the interview with a reflection on playing live and how the most joyous instrument to play live is actually the crowd.
I remember coming upon Jacob Collier a couple of years ago via his explanation of harmony:
As well as his breakdown of Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke:
I find his take on music so interesting.
They say you should never meet your idols, that you’ll only be disappointed. We had this possibility in mind going into our first interview with Carly Rae Jepsen, the pop star who inspired us to start our podcast Switched on Pop when Nate taught “Call Me Maybe” as a case study in music theory. Six years later and hundreds of pleading emails later, the time had come to meet the muse and unpack her latest offering, Dedicated Side B. In the course of composing her last two albums, E•MO•TION and Dedicated, Jepsen wrote over 200 songs. Many of her favorite works didn’t make it on either final album, so she’s started a tradition of releasing “Side B” records on the one-year anniversary of her last release. Her newest collection of unreleased music fluidly crosses decades of musical history and spans a vast emotional range. We spoke with Jepsen over Zoom about how she curated her latest B-Side release from a massive body of work. Would this beatific figure, once described by poet Hanif Abdurraqib and the “most honest pop musician working,” live up to her reputation? Listen to find out.
A few interesting points to come out of the analysis of Jepsen’s song was the way in which Jack Antonoff creates a safe space in the studio to explore different and diverse ideas. This reminds me of. Also, the connection between the music and lyrics, especially the unual diminished chord in the pre-chorus that has always caught me.
In the second part of the program, Jepsen discusess how writing is more than a job and how she is always collecting ideas. This is how she wrote 200 songs for Delicate. She explains that she has ‘albums buried in the backyard’ which sometimes come out if she needs particular parts. This is reminiscent of Tom Waits (as recounted by Thom Yorke) who talks about leaving songs in the shed to mature:
There’s a Tom Waits quote about songwriting, he says he’ll have loads of little ideas and stuff, he’ll leave them in his shed at the bottom of the garden, which is his studio, and he shuts the door, and it’s like they’re little kids and they all breed and when he comes back there’s loads of them… certain things have really flourished and certain things have died. You know, we could go and do it all tomorrow, but… when you write a song, certain songs you just forget about and certain songs increasingly take on a significance and just don’t go away, and I think that’s the most important stage, really, because I think anyone can just rattle ’em off. But it’s what ends up meaning something to you.
She also explains how she decides which songs make the album and which don’t, creating charts which plot theme and feel of songs. She describes this as a ‘beautiful crazy mind’.
When Bristol-based producer Laxcity logged onto Twitter to find out that Justin Bieber sampled his music, he was at first unphased. The sampled material came from a royalty-free sample pack on Splice.com, free for Splice users to add to their track. Then accusations of theft started rolling in. Another artist, Asher Monroe, had used the same sample just a few weeks earlier and he accused Bieber of copying the idea. Laxcity inserted himself into the argument to show that the so-called offending sound, was in fact his, but not limited to anyone’s use. This mixup led to Bieber shouting out Laxcity, giving the nascent producer a career boost. On his episode we speak with Laxcity, Splice CEO Steve Martocci, PEX COO Amadea Choplin and Verge reporter Dani Deahl (who first reported the story) to unpack how sampling works in today’s music. Then we hear how Beiber’s new album, “Changes,” interprets the sample to convey Bieber’s personal evolution in the public eye.
In 2019 guitar made a comeback in the top 10. According to analysis from Hit Songs Deconstructed, about a third of all songs featured the electric guitar, a nearly 10% jump from the year before. In 2020 this trend isn’t stopping. Recent releases by Halsey, 5 Seconds of Summer and Joji …
Out now: Switched On Pop: How Popular Music Works, And Why It Matters
Switched On Pop
Look At Selena Gomez Now with Justin Tranter & Ian Kirkpatrick
Selena Gomez has her first #1 song on the Hot 100. “Lose You To Love Me” is a confessional look at her past five years of heartbreak and health challenges. By contrast, her single “Look At Her Now” is a testament to moving on and moving up. Each of these songs inhabits a different musical and lyrical world and we were lucky to get to speak with her collaborators on the songs to take us behind the scenes of how they came to be. Justin Tranter and Ian Kirkpatrick are two of today’s most in-demand writers. They walk us through how Selena takes her personal emotions and translates them into public catharsis on her album “Rare.”
Anil Dash is obsessed with Prince. Since he’s the host of the tech podcast Function, he has a unique perspective on the Purple One’s complicated relationship with technology. Anil joins the show to break down the many ways that Prince predicted the sound and science of modern pop, from drum machines to online distribution to internet culture. We’ll discuss how Michael Jackson jacked Prince’s electronic experimentation for Thriller, why Prince liked to lurk in fan chat rooms, and how he found ways to change his sound without ever sacrificing his integrity. We’re only beginning to understand Prince’s legacy, but Anil takes us one step closer to fully appreciating the ahead-of-their-time talents of a once-in-a-century artist.
Anil Dash discusses both the man and his music. Of particular interest was Prince’s use of technology, as well as his influence on others, such as Michael Jackson.
There are icons, and then there’s Dolly Parton. The country singer-turned-actress-turned-cultural phenomenon has produced a nearly unparalleled body of work, in both quantity (Parton is the sole or co-author of more than three thousand songs) and in legacy. Despite releasing her first album over 60 years ago, Parton’s songs are still covered and performed live by today’s pop artists. Presidential candidates are still selecting her songs as official walk-on music. So what is it exactly that makes her music so enduring? Today, we select four essential Dolly songs for dissection and try to answer that big question with the help of composer, longtime radio-maker and host of the new hit podcast, Dolly Parton’s America—Jad Abumrad. Whether or not you identify as a Dolly Parton fan, or even a country music fan, we think you’ll love this one.
Dallas Taylor, host of the stellar sound design series Twenty Thousand Hertz, stops by to fill Nate in on the science and style of mastering: the subtle art that explains why Metallica had to re-release a controversial album, Kanye sounds so crisp, and why the best pop really pops.