Episodes
Published 09/28/22
Tayari Jones is the author of four novels. She won the 2019 Women's Prize for Fiction, and received a Lifetime Achievement Award in Fine Arts from the Congressional Black Caucus. Her novel An American Marriage was an Oprah's Book Club Selection, and was longlisted for the National Book Award. She won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Fiction. An American Marriage tells the story of Celestial and Roy, a Black middle-class couple living in Atlanta. Their lives are torn...
Published 09/28/22
Panic! at the Disco is the Grammy-nominated project of Brendon Urie, who originally started it as a band with his high school friends from Las Vegas in 2004. In the eighteen years since, Panic! at the Disco has won American Music Awards, MTV Video Music Awards, iHeartRadio Music awards, and more. In August 2022, Brendon released the seventh Panic! at the Disco album, Viva Las Vengeance. The title track hit #1 on Billboard’s Alternative Airplay chart. In this episode, Brendon tells the story...
Published 09/21/22
Carmen Maria Machado is the award-winning author of In the Dream House, a memoir where each chapter has its own vivid style of storytelling. It won the Folio Prize in 2021, and was named one of the best books of the year by The New York Times, The New Yorker, and NPR. In the Dream House depicts Carmen’s experiences in an abusive relationship, and in this episode, she spoke to Susan about a pivotal passage from the chapter “Dream House as House in Florida.” 
Published 09/14/22
(This is a re-issue of Björk’s episode from December 2015.) In January 2015, Björk released Vulnicura. She described it as "a complete heartbreak album." And in November, she released Vulnicura Strings, a companion album that stripped away the electronics. In this episode, Bjork breaks down the making of both the original version of the song "Stonemilker," which you’re hearing now, as well as the strings version. She traces her writing and recording process for the track, her collaboration...
Published 09/07/22
Michael Cunningham is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hours. He’s the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship. The Hours was published in 1998, and in addition to the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, it won the PEN/Faulkner Award. The book was later adapted into an Oscar-winning film starring Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, and Julianne Moore. In this episode, Michael speaks to Susan Orlean about a passage concerning the suicide of Virginia...
Published 08/31/22
Madonna is the best-selling female recording artist of all time. She has twelve albums that have gone multi-platinum. She’s won seven Grammys, and has had fifty songs reach number 1 on the Billboard Dance chart. That’s more number 1s than anyone in any category, ever. In this episode, she talks about one of those number 1s: “Hung Up,” from her 2005 album Confessions on a Dance Floor. The song and that album were co-produced by Stuart Price, an electronic musician, producer, and DJ from the...
Published 08/24/22
Min Jin Lee is the author of the best-selling novel Pachinko. She’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and the recipient of South Korea's Manhae Grand Prize for Literature. In Pachinko, she tells a sweeping, multi-generational story of a Korean family that moves to Japan. Pachinko is an international best-seller, named one of the best books of 2017 by the New York Times, the BBC, the New York Public Library, and more. In 2022, it was adapted into an Emmy-nominated television series on Apple TV+. In this...
Published 08/17/22
Kae Tempest is a songwriter, rapper, an award-winning poet, and best-selling novelist. They’ve been nominated for the UK’s Mercury Prize and Brit Award. Their most recent album is The Line is a Curve, which came out earlier this year. It was executive produced by legendary producer Rick Rubin. Kae made the album alongside their longtime collaborator, producer Dan Carey. I talked to Kae and Dan talk about the song "Move." You’ll hear the first demo they made, which sounds almost nothing like...
Published 08/10/22
Introducing a new miniseries: Book Exploder, where authors break down a passage from one of their books, and discuss the creative process that went into writing it. Every other week, in between episodes of Song Exploder, you’ll hear from a new author, in conversation with host Susan Orlean. But for this first episode of the series, Susan is interviewed by Hrishikesh Hirway about her own book, The Library Book. Susan Orlean is the author of twelve books, including The Orchid Thief (which...
Published 08/03/22
Sudan Archives is a singer, songwriter, producer, and violinist. She grew up in Cincinnati before moving to LA. Her music has been called "viscerally gorgeous" by The Guardian, and "stunning" by Pitchfork, who gave her in ‘Best New Music.’ This year, she’s releasing her second album, and one of the tracks on it is "Selfish Soul." She told me the idea for this song started when she asked her boyfriend, James (who is the rapper Nocando) to shave her head. Cutting off her hair made her reflect...
Published 07/27/22
Maia from mxmtoon released her first EP in 2018. She was 18 years old, recorded it in her bedroom, and self-released it. It went on to be streamed over 100 million times. This year, she put out her second album, Rising, and in this episode, she breaks down her song "Mona Lisa." She told me about how different it is from the songs she used to write when she was teenager. And how she found something authentic and honest by connecting with a part of herself from even earlier in her life. For...
Published 07/13/22
Monica Martin is a singer and songwriter based in Los Angeles. Before that, she was based in Madison, Wisconsin, where she was part of the indie rock band Phox. She’s been a featured guest vocalist on songs by James Blake and Vulfpeck. In this episode, Monica breaks down her song “Go Easy, Kid,” along with the tracks’s producer, Khushi. She talks about making a song that’s in part about how hard it can be to make a song. And more generally, how hard it can be to let go of things we get hung...
Published 06/29/22
Maren Morris is a Grammy-winning, multi-platinum artist. She’s also won multiple country music awards, including CMAs for Female Vocalist of the Year, and Single of the Year in 2020, but her feelings about the country music industry are kind of complicated, as she discusses in this episode. She breaks down her song "Humble Quest," which is the title track from her third album. It was produced by Greg Kurstin, who’s won the Producer of the Year Grammy more than once. The album came out in...
Published 06/15/22
Rick Astley is a singer and songwriter from England, whose debut single, "Never Gonna Give You Up," became an international smash hit. The song came out in July 1987 and won the BRIT Award for “British Single of the Year.” It hit number one in 25 countries, and Rick Astley was nominated for a Grammy for Best New Artist. And then, 20 years after the song came out, it became a new kind of phenomenon, when the meme Rickrolling was born. Last year, the music video for "Never Gonna Give You Up"...
Published 06/01/22
Kevin Morby is a singer and songwriter based in Kansas City. He’s put out seven albums since 2013, including his most recent one, This is a Photograph, which just came out last week. For this episode, I talked to Kevin about the title track from This is a Photograph. It’s a story about his family, the pandemic, and memories of times that have happened — and times that haven’t happened yet. To learn more, visit songexploder.net/kevin-morby
Published 05/18/22
Arooj Aftab is a singer and composer based in Brooklyn. She grew up in Saudi Arabia, but her family is from Pakistan. And earlier this year, she made history by becoming the first Pakistani artist to win a Grammy. Her song, “Mohabbat" won the Best Global Music Performance Grammy, and she was nominated for Best New Artist. "Mohabbat" was first released on her 2021 album, Vulture Prince, but it’s been a part of Arooj’s life for a long time . In this episode, she tells the story of how the song...
Published 05/04/22
This week, I want to introduce you to another podcast that I make, called Partners. It’s a show about partnerships that was born out of Song Exploder. I’ve made a bunch of episodes with bandmates, or co-writers, or an artist and a producer who worked together, all these stories where the songs were the result of a really special collaboration. And I was always fascinated by the origins of the relationship, as part of the story of the origin of the song. When you hear those stories, it becomes...
Published 04/20/22
Peaches is a musician, producer, and performance artist. She’s released six albums and in 2015, she won the Polaris Heritage Music Prize. Her fourth album, Impeach My Bush, came out in 2006, and features the song “Boys Wanna Be Her.” She produced the song with Mickey Petralia, whose other production credits include Beck, Ladytron, and Flight of the Conchords. “Boys Wanna Be Her” has become kind of an anthem since it came out. It’s been used in a lot of film and tv. To name just a couple...
Published 04/06/22
Steve Reich is a legendary composer who was one of the pioneers of minimalism. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music, and the New York Times called him “America’s greatest living composer.” I had the incredible honor of getting to speak to Steve Reich about his piece Different Trains, written for string quartet and pre-recorded performance tape. It was first performed in 1988 by the Kronos Quartet, and they released a recording of it in 1989, which won the Grammy for Best Classical...
Published 03/23/22
This week, I want to revisit one of my favorite episodes of Song Exploder, with Perfume Genius telling the story of making Slip Away. This episode originally came out in May 2017. The album the song’s from, No Shape, went on to be nominated for a Grammy, and was named one of the year’s best in lots of places. And next week, on March 16, Perfume Genius will be playing at the Song Exploder Stage at SXSW. I’m really excited to be putting on a showcase at the festival, and the other artists...
Published 03/09/22
Sarah Kinsley is a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. Her most recent release is an EP called The King, which came out in 2021. When she made it, she was in college  in New York— and actually, at the moment, she still is. But the title track on The King was written at a time when the pandemic had shut things down, and she was back in Connecticut, living with her parents. In this episode, Sarah tells the story of demo’ing the song in her childhood bedroom, then recording it in the...
Published 02/23/22
Brandi Carlile is a singer and songwriter from Washington State. She's  released seven albums and won six Grammys. Her most recent album is In These Silent Days, which debuted at number one on Billboard’s folk and rock album charts. It was named one of the best albums of 2021 by Rolling Stone, Stereogum, and more. It was produced by her longtime collaborators Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings. In this episode, Brandi breaks down her song "You and Me on the Rock," and how it was influenced by her...
Published 02/09/22
The band Franz Ferdinand formed in 2002, in Glasgow, Scotland. They’ve won the Mercury Prize and two BRIT Awards, they have five Grammy nominations, and they’ve sold millions of albums. One of their first singles is this song, “Take Me Out,” and it’s also their biggest hit. In this episode, singer and guitarist Alex Kapranos tells the story of how he and his bandmates made the song, from the original home demo to the final studio recording. To learn more, visit songexploder.net/franz-ferdinand.
Published 01/26/22
Joy Oladokun is a singer and songwriter from Arizona, now based in Nashville, who’s been releasing music since 2015. Last year, she was named an Artist to Watch by NPR, Spotify, and Amazon, and she was #1 on Vogue’s list of New LGBTQ Artists To Listen to Now. She put out her third album, In Defense of My Own Happiness, in June 2021. It includes the song “Look Up.” For that track, she worked with Grammy-nominated songwriter and producer Dave Bassett, and while they were working and talking,...
Published 01/12/22