The Imitation Game is a biographical film about Alan Turing, a mathematician who pioneered computer science and helped the British government break Nazi codes, but was then later prosecuted by the British government for being gay. Composer Alexandre Desplat created the score, which was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Oscar — his eighth Oscar nomination. In this episode, he breaks down the orchestration of the main theme from the film, which plays during the title sequence.
Here's Alexandre Desplat conducting the London symphony Orchestra performing The Imitation Game Suite:
Buy "The Imitation Game" on iTunes.
On February 1st, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart while reentering the earth’s atmosphere. John Roderick, singer and songwriter of The Long Winters wrote "The Commander Thinks Aloud" about that fateful moment. This episode was made from an interview I did with John Roderick in front of a live audience in Seattle, where we discussed how and why he made this song.
Buy "The Commander Thinks Aloud" on iTunes.
Read the profile of the commander and the six other crew members at NASA's page dedicated to the Columbia. The seven of them were of seven different religious faiths.
The band Blonde Redhead formed in 1993. Twenty-one years later, in 2014, the trio released their 9th album, and in this episode, they deconstruct Penultimo, a song from that record that caused some dissent between the band members. At the heart of the controversy was the Pitchfactor effect pedal by Eventide, a harmonizer that does a lot, or maybe too much. Coming up, you’ll hear how tricky it was to begin this song, as well as to finish it.
Buy "Penultimo" on iTunes.
Other songs in this episode:
Fleetwood Mac - Tusk
In November 2014, Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan released his 11th album, called 36 Seasons. A lot of people worked on it: soul band The Revelations served as a kind of house backing band for the whole thing. Lil' Fame from M.O.P. and engineer Daniel Schlett helped produce, and there’s a host of guest vocalists, including the ones on this track: singer Tré Williams, and rappers AZ and Kool G Rap. But the person who put the whole thing together, came up with the idea, and corralled all of these contributors is someone who doesn’t appear on the record. His name is Bob Perry, and his title is A&R, which stands for artist and repertoire. Nowadays, that usually means the person at a record label who acts as a talent scout for new artists, but back in the day, the A&R reps were often responsible for much more. In this episode, Bob Perry talks about how the Ghostface song “The Battlefield” came together, and Revelations guitarist Wes Mingus breaks down how the beat was assembled.
Buy "The Battlefield" on iTunes.
Other songs in this episode:
The Revelations & Tre Williams - I Forgot to Be Your Lover
The National formed in 1999. They’ve released six albums, and have been nominated for a grammy. Their music is everywhere from Game of Thrones, to Bob’s Burgers, to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. In 2013 they released their sixth album, Trouble Will Find Me, which debuted at #3 on the Billboard charts, The band is made up of singer Matt Berninger along with two sets of brothers: guitarists Bryce and Aaron Dessner, who are twins, and Brian and Scott Devendorf, who play drums and bass, respectively. In this episode, Matt Berninger and Aaron Dessner break down “Sea of Love,” a song that they co-wrote. You’ll hear how it went from Aaron’s original guitar demo to a densely layered recording with contributions from their bandmates and others, and they’ll talk about how collaboration is an intrinsic part of their process and their band identity.
Buy "Sea of Love" on iTunes.
Tycho is the project of Scott Hansen, along with guitarist Zac Brown and drummer Rory O’Connor. I spoke with Scott in front of a live audience in San Francisco (thanks to Noise Pop). In this episode, he breaks down the title track from the 2014 Tycho album Awake, including a note he misplayed, and a vocal part you aren’t really supposed to know about.
Buy "Awake" on iTunes.
See some of Scott's design work for Tycho at Re-form on Medium.com.
The Interpol song that influenced Scott is "PDA."
Stars is a band from Toronto, who have been making music together since 2000. Their seventh album was released in October 2014. For this episode, I spoke to several members of the band: singer Amy Millan over the phone, and to Evan and Patty in their studio in Toronto along with their co-producer Liam O’Neil. Coming up, they’ll talk about the inspiration for the phrase “No One Is Lost" which is the title of this song as well as the album. And you’ll hear the original version of the chorus: one that they wrote, recorded, mixed, and finished but then, ended up changing completely.
Buy "No One Is Lost" on iTunes.
Donate to the Pablove Foundation and learn more about their mission, at pablove.org/donate.
Before The Books broke up, they released four albums that combined composed music and found sounds. In this episode, Nick Zammuto explains how he crafted the song Smells Like Content, off of their 2005 album Lost and Safe, out of unlikely sources, like geometry, chance encounters, and a corrugated PVC pipe.
This video demonstrates how Nick Zammuto creates rhythms within the locked groove of a vinyl record:
Buy "Smells Like Content" on iTunes.
Julia Holter studied composition, and in the song “Horns Surrounding Me,” she arranges not only acoustic and electronic instruments, but also layers of ambient field recordings and background noise. The song was released in 2013 on her acclaimed album Loud City Song. In this episode, Julia deconstructs the recording, and talks about what she did to evoke a feeling of fear in both the music and the way she sang, changing her voice on different parts of the song to create character and texture.
Buy "Horns Surrounding Me" on iTunes.
The song playing when Brian Ferry sings is Roxy Music's "Love Is the Drug."
Song Exploder t-shirts are now available here.
Dave Hill is a comedian and host of his own podcast that, like Song Exploder, is on the Maximum Fun network. He's also the frontman of the band Valley Lodge. In this episode, Dave will deconstruct the Valley Lodge song Go, which you might recognize as the opening credits of the HBO show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. This is a special episode produced for MaxFunWeek, seven days of celebrating the community of listeners and shows that make up the Maximum Fun podcast network.
Buy "Go" on iTunes.
Song Exploder t-shirts are now available here.
Andre Allen Anjos is better known as RAC, a musician who first found success by remixing other people’s songs. His remixes for artists like Lana Del Rey have gotten millions of plays online. In 2013, RAC released Strangers, his first album of original material, and in this episode, he breaks down the song Let Go from that record. It features guest vocals from Kele, best known as the frontman of the band Bloc Party, and singer MNDR, who also talks about her experience working on the track.
Buy "Let Go" on iTunes.
The Bloc Party song at the beginning is "Helicopter." You can hear André's full remix of the song here. The voice from Portal is the character GLaDOS from the games Portal and Portal 2. Listen to Michael Giacchino's opening theme to Lost.
The Thermals originally began as Hutch Harris’s solo recording project. He sang and played all the instruments on the 2003 Thermals record More Parts Per Million. In this episode, Hutch breaks down his lo-fi recording of the song No Culture Icons. The track was later mixed by Chris Walla, who is known best for his work with Death Cab for Cutie, and we’ll hear some thoughts from him as well. I spoke with Hutch in front of a live audience at the XOXO Festival in Portland, Oregon.
Buy "No Culture Icons" on iTunes.
In addition to guitars, drums, and bass, the band Anamanaguchi makes their music with the 8-bit sounds that were built into Nintendo video game consoles made in the 1980s. They use software called a tracker to meticulously sequence and produce those sounds. Most of their music is instrumental, but in this episode, they break down of the first times they’ve incorporated vocals, for the song Prom Night, which features singer Bianca Raquel. Prom Night is from their most recent album, Endless Fantasy, which debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart when it came out in 2013.
The song by Capsule is "I Wish You," from the album Player.
Spoon was formed in 1993 by singer Britt Daniel and drummer Jim Eno. They've released eight albums, including their most recent record, They Want My Soul, which came out in August 2014. In this episode, Jim Eno breaks down the song "Inside Out," explaining how it went from the original demo to the finished album version, including what other music influenced the recording. Plus, we'll hear from their co-producer, Dave Fridmann, whose other credits include The Flaming Lips album The Soft Bulletin, and Oracular Spectacular by MGMT.
Buy "Inside Out" on iTunes here.
In May 2014, the video game company Ubisoft released Watch Dogs, about a vigilante hacker in Chicago in the near future. Here's how the game is described on their website: "You play as Aiden Pearce, a brilliant hacker and former thug, whose criminal past led to a violent family tragedy. While seeking justice for those events, you'll monitor and hack those around you." It sold over 4 million copies in its first week of release.
The music for the game was made by Brian Reitzell, who played drums in the bands Air and Red Kross before becoming a composer and music supervisor for films like Lost In Translation and Beginners. He also creates the music for the NBC television show Hannibal.
In this episode, Brian talks about the unique challenges posed by scoring video games, where players control what happens on screen and as a result, what happens in the music. He'll break down a piece called Donovan, which he wrote for a chase sequence within the game. He also describes the instrument he created from a hundred-year-old piano.
This episode is presented in conjunction with Polygon.
The Tangerine Dream song that plays is "Mysterious Semblance At the Strand of Nightmares."
In this episode, rapper Open Mike Eagle talks about making the song Dark Comedy Morning Show, along with the track's producer, Walker Ashby, aka Toy Light. Mike breaks down how Toy Light's original instrumental version of this song inspired him, and how his view of his own vocals on the track has changed since recording them.
In the fall of 2001, Phil Elverum released the album The Glow, Pt 2 on K Records. Pitchfork named it the best album of the year. In this episode, Phil recounts how he created the first song on the record at Dub Narcotic Studio. He spoke with me from his home in Anacortes, Washington, about his love of being alone in the studio, evoking nature through music, and where the name The Microphones comes from. Plus a few words from Calvin Johnson, the founder of K Records. This episode is presented in conjunction with The Creators Project.
The band Converge formed in 1990, when its members were teenagers. They've been making music that lives somewhere in the intersection of punk, hardcore, and metal for almost 25 years. Guitarist Kurt Ballou spoke to me from his studio GodCity, which is where Converge writes and records. I also spoke over the phone with singer Jake Bannon. Coming up, they'll talk about how the physical space of GodCity influenced their songwriting, how the Boston hardcore scene gave them a home, and how to get the classic Swedish death metal guitar tone.
In this episode, we'll get a deconstructed view of the song One Second of Love by Nite Jewel. I spoke to Ramona Gonzalez of Nite Jewel and her partner and producer Cole MGN in their home studio in Los Angeles as they took a break from making a new record. Coming up, they'll talk about the process they undertook, including recording to tape as a creative restriction, and collaborating with their friends and each other.
The band Garbage formed in 1994 when three guys from Madison Wisconsin — Butch Vig, Steve Marker, and Duke Erikson, met Scottish singer Shirley Manson. Twenty years later, they've sold over 17 million records worldwide. In this episode, we'll get a view inside their 2012 song "Felt" from the album "Not Your Kind of People." Butch Vig, who is also a legendary producer behind some of the most influential albums of all time like Nevermind by Nirvana, Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins, Dirty by Sonic Youth, and countless others, spoke to me from his home studio in Los Angeles. I also interviewed Shirley Manson separately to get her insight on how the song was made. Plus some thoughts from their longtime engineer and now co-producer Billy Bush.
Buy "Felt" on iTunes here.
Ryan Olson is a member of the band Poliça. Though he doesn't perform with them live, he put the band together, produces the songs, and co-writes them. I interviewed Ryan in his bedroom studio in Minneapolis. In this episode, he breaks down the song Smug, from their 2013 album Shulamith. He also talks about two pieces of equipment that have helped shape the sound of Poliça, and how he was introduced to one of them by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, and the other by DJ Shadow.
Loren Bouchard is the creator of the animated tv comedy Bob's Burgers, a series about a family and the restaurant they own and live above, currently in its fourth season on Fox. In addition to being the co-executive producer and showrunner, Loren also composed the show's opening theme. I interviewed Loren in his office, where his desk is surrounded by musical instruments. In this episode, he talks about which ones went into the theme, and the emotions he wanted to evoke with each of them. Plus a few thoughts from cast members Jon Benjamin and Eugene Mirman.
In this episode, composer Jeff Beal deconstructs the main title theme music to the Netflix original series House of Cards. The show has been nominated for multiple Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Original Main Title Theme and Outstanding Music Composition. The show was adapted from a British series of the same name by writer Beau Willimon, and director and executive producer David Fincher. Jeff talks about his collaborative process with Fincher, and how they found the mood and musical palette for the show and its theme, and how it changed from season one to season two. A brief word of warning, if you haven't watched the first season, there are spoilers about how that season ends.
You can buy the House of Cards score by Jeff Beal on iTunes here.
In this episode, Alfred Darlington, better known as Daedelus, takes apart his song Experience. This early track of his is made with only acoustic sounds, but Alfred still considers it a piece of electronic music, and explains why. He also talks about the unexpected life the song has had since he recorded it, after being sampled by Madlib for his collaboration with MF Doom, Madvillain. Experience became the beat for Madvillain's Accordion, the first song on their highly acclaimed album, and later referenced and resampled by artists like Drake and Kitty (aka Kitty Pryde). Daedelus deconstructs the song and discusses what its legacy means to him.
Buy Daedelus's song Experience on iTunes here.
In this episode, Alex Brown Church of Sea Wolf breaks down "Kasper," a song from the album Old World Romance. He talks about his songwriting process, collaborating with his bandmates, and the evolution that comes with learning the difference between making something that's good, and making something that's perfect.
Buy the song on iTunes here.
Sea Wolf's website, with links to tour dates and more music, is seawolfmusic.com.
Will Wiesenfeld of Baths breaks down his song Miasma Sky, which came out last year on his highly-praised sophomore album Obsidian. Will talks about using the computer to intentionally destroy sounds, trying to find a balance in his music between simplicity and complexity, and what went into making his drum tracks.
Buy the song on iTunes here.
Baths will be on tour in April and May throughout North America. Concert dates and tickets can be found on the anticon website.
Claire and Jona of the band YACHT deconstruct their brand new single Plastic Soul, a fun pop song about human suffering. They explain how technology inspired them musically as well as lyrically, and how they recycle bits of their old recordings to create new songs.
footnotes, references, links:
Amanda Lear - Never Trust a Pretty Face
Jimmy LaValle of The Album Leaf takes apart The Outer Banks, a song he recorded in Iceland with members of Sigur Ros accompanying him. He reveals how the melody of the song was made from a glockenspiel, violin, and Moog synthesizer, and he talks about the importance of letting go of control during the recording process.
Buy the song on iTunes here.
Our first guest on Song Exploder is Jimmy Tamborello, aka Dntel, aka one half of The Postal Service (the other half being Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie). Jimmy breaks down "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight," and talks about his instruments, his influences, and how he accidentally made a loop out of Jenny Lewis's backing vocals.
Buy the song on iTunes here.
Watch the video here: