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.
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.
Yo-Yo Ma is perhaps the most famous and well-loved cellist in the world. He was born in Paris in 1955; his family moved to the US when he was 7. He played for President Kennedy that year. He played at Carnegie Hall for the first time when he was 16. He’s won 18 Grammys and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And for this special episode of Song Exploder, the last episode of this year, Yo-Yo Ma’s is going to break down this piece—which he didn’t create, but he’s performed so many times. It’s the Prelude from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cello Suite Number 1 in G Major. It’s one of the most famous pieces of music written for the cello. Yo-Yo Ma first recorded the Bach Cello Suites in 1983, at age 27. He recorded them again in 1998. Now, at age 62, he’s recorded them for what he says may be the last time. It’s for an album called Six Evolutions: Bach Cello Suites. Yo-Yo Ma talked to me about what’s changed about the way he approaches this piece of music.
Lindsey Buckingham is a singer-songwriter, a guitarist, and a producer. In 1974, he joined the band Fleetwood Mac, along with Stevie Nicks, his girlfriend at the time. A few year later, in 1977, Fleetwood Mac released the album Rumours, which would go on to sell over 40 million copies and become the eighth highest-selling album in history. In this episode, Lindsey Buckingham breaks down “Go Your Own Way,” a song he wrote for that album about his relationship with Stevie Nicks.
Four years ago, on November 24, 2014, the first episode of the podcast Reply All came out. It’s a podcast about the internet hosted by Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt. And since then, they’ve put out 131 episodes. The show has gotten over 100 million downloads so far. Robert Downey Jr. is going to star in a movie based on one of their episodes. And from the debut, it’s been one of my favorite podcasts. A while back, in 2015, I did a special edition of Song Exploder for Reply All, about their theme song by Breakmaster Cylinder. I’d hear the guys talk about “the mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder” in the show’s credits, but I didn’t really know who or what that was. And I wanted to find out more. So in honor of the four year anniversary of Reply All’s launch, I’m putting out this special crossover episode for the first time here on Song Exploder.
Big Boi is a rapper from Atlanta. When he was a teenager, he and Andre 3000 formed OutKast, and went on to sell over 25 million records and win six Grammys. He’s released three solo albums, including Boomiverse, which came out in 2017. In this episode, Big Boi breaks down a song from that album called “Order of Operations.”
Janelle Monáe is an award-winning musician and actress who released her first record in 2007. She’s been nominated for multiple Grammys and starred in the Oscar films Moonlight and Hidden Figures. In April 2018, she released her third album, Dirty Computer, which includes the song “So Afraid.” In this episode, Janelle Monáe takes “So Afraid” apart to explain how she built it, step by step—beginning with a trip to the dentist.
Blood Orange is the project of songwriter and producer Devonté Hynes. He’s produced and co-written songs for artists like Carly Rae Jepsen, Solange, HAIM, and ASAP Rocky, among others. He’s been releasing his own music as Blood Orange since 2011. In August 2018, he released his fourth Blood Orange album, Negro Swan, and in this episode, Dev breaks down how he made the song “Saint.” You’ll hear the original version of the track from 2015, as well as the layers and voices that were added over the months to create the final version that appears on the album.