Normally, I am not a fan of podcasts. They’re either too long, I lose focus, or just overall tend to get bored. However, this past month I needed something to occupy my time with on a 9-hour drive. I had heard about these podcasts called “Song Exploder” during quarantine last year, but again, never actually followed through listening to them. But this drive allowed me to give my undivided attention to some of my favorite artists explaining the meaning, production, and more behind some of my favorite songs. Here are my top 5 favorite episodes of the podcast series: Song Exploder!
I have been a long-time Phoebe Bridgers fan, especially this song, so naturally, this was the first one I chose to listen to. Each of the podcasts opens up with some initial background information about the artist. The song “Scott Street” was co-written and co-produced with her drummer Marshall Vore. Vore originally wrote the first verse and showed it to Phoebe. It was just a little ‘sing-songy’ verse of what was going on through his mind on his walk to a friend’s that was sprawled into a what would be “imagined” conversation with someone who is no longer in your life. Phoebe emphasizes how sad and disheartening the second verse is since a dialogue between oneself and another who is no longer in your present life. What would the person be asking, what’s going on now? Even if it’s just a few years, it’s still a heavyweight to deal with being completely estranged from someone you once knew so well. All this in mind, the song allows for the listener to fill in the blanks with the simpleness of the lyrics into their own lives. The line “do you feel ashamed when you hear my name” ultimately relates to a specific relationship Vore had but can take in any direction that the listener feels when appreciating the music. The production behind the song is interesting as well. Phoebe typically doubles her vocals to add depth to the conversation played within the lyrics. The song incorporates a range of piano, guitar, synths, and an arrangement of sounds to lead to the large build-up at the end of the song within repeating the melody.
This song conceptualizes a dream Billie had while writing her first album. She and her brother Finneas wrote this song together, as most of her music is usually assisted with his production. However, this song is unique in the way that she had Finneas also sing on it. They layered her vocals back and forth into harmonies between her and him. Billie explains the background of the dream as a reflection of herself after she had ultimately died and how the people around her, fans, media, etc. all felt about her. In the dream, she got “everything she wanted” and felt like it was a message she needed to convey that, yes, in the moment it was all she thought she wanted. However, having people in her life to help through dark times, there are people that can shine a light into seeing there’s more than that dark ending. The dream lingered with her especially about how it made her feel and she felt confident in telling this story. Their production of music together has created a beautiful and uplifting song that came from a dark place she was in. She recognized that although it started out from a dark place, it’s a reflection of how to move forward through times like these with the help from others. Writing and seeing from a new perspective past the dark times allowed for them to create a song to help people who feel the same way. There are people who will always be able to help you in times of need.
In this episode, through the song “Alewife,” Clairo reflects on a difficult time in her life that was helped by those around her, specifically her friend Alexa. Alexa gave her the confidence to be herself and it’s important to talk about people like her in your life and how genuine they are.
She, like Phoebe, is inspired by songwriters that double back their vocals in layers. All the vocals on this song are ones she recorded on her voice memo app, layered over each other, and produced to get the final touch. She explains the flow of the song as “honest,” as if she’s talking directly to the listener as a friend. She explains that storytelling doesn’t have to rhyme or be cohesive, it’s just being raw, real and honest. The realness in the song can then be accompanied by the acoustic-sounding guitar emphasizing the layers and soften the sound mixed with piano. Naming the song “Alewife” has significance to the meaning. Alewife, a train station in Massachusetts, is the one she would drive to from her small town to take the subway into different parts of the city. “Alewife” was an opening to endless possibilities in the city that limited her in her small town. The suburbs can feel almost suffocating at times, a younger version of myself would certainly agree, making this song one of my favorites of Clairo’s discography.
Maggie Rogers’ fame took off in an interesting way. An undergraduate student at NYU, Maggie presented her senior thesis (“Alaska”) to Pharell Williams and the video went viral. In this episode, Maggie elaborates on the steps and missteps it took to get there. She talks about the initial subject of the song, based on her month long hiking trip in Alaska after her freshman year of college which she claims as a “hard, interesting, learning experience.” After Alaska, she hit a long phase of writer’s block, almost the rest of her college career. Her thesis of Alaska helped her break this writer’s block, mostly she claimed by needing to graduate. The song has lots of influences throughout her time in college, mainly her time abroad and being introduced to German haus music with the upbeat synths. These synths combined with a steady drum progression and sound samples from anything she had been collecting over the past 2 years such as a morning dove, echos, etc. Maggie claims the melody flew so effortlessly, she was able to pick up right where she left off with 2 years to cover the basis of life that she had missed while in writer’s block. The lyrics are as meaningful as they come, walking in Alaska found a rhythm within her mind; “I walked off you and I walked off an old me.” The song starts off in past tense and moves to present as she gets closer to coming to terms with the reality of it all.
Sharon Van Etten reflects through “Seventeen” the things in her life that have moved past and forward in her life and how the change is inevitable but doesn’t make it any less sentimental. She explains that seeing these things change over time creates a longing for nostalgia and is sometimes bittersweet. The song itself is a sort of perspective on life between your present self while reflecting on a younger version of yourself. She felt she was naive about life back then, the future unlimited. There is this perception, but Van Etten also feels as though her mom is singing this to her as well. She closed off guidance from her and thought she was invincible. She says that hindsight can forgive yourself and a better understanding of where you were coming from in life. That’s why “Seventeen” to her means more than the initial lyrics. It’s an apology but it’s also forgiveness, closure on the past and acknowledging her weaknesses but embracing my strength through them. Van Etten also emphasizes how different this song is compared to her typical sound. Since the lyrics encase such real, emotional feelings; she felt the song needed to have a darker, edgier undertone through production, which can be heard through edgy drums, vocals, and a build up to the chorus.