When Musicians Make Podcasts And Podcasters Make Music: Hrishikesh Hirway considers himself a musician first and foremost, who happens to also make podcasts. He’s been creating music under the alias the One AM Radio for years – lush, occasionally experimental indie-pop with the catchiest, sweetest of melodies. But many know him better as the creator of the popular Song Exploder podcast, which sees him dive deep into one particular track with the artist that recorded it. Not to mention, he’s also the creator and co-host of the West Wing Weekly, and he’s responsible for the Home Cooking and Partners podcasts. The guy is busy.
“I definitely think Song Exploder is something I made only because and due to my career in music,” Hirway says. “The other podcasts came out of there. But I think the way I make all of the shows I make are all related to the way my brain thinks about music.”
The first episode of Song Exploder, about the Postal Service’s “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight,” debuted on New Year’s Day 2014. The most recent episode at the time of going to press was the 235th, about Monica Martin’s “Go Easy, Kid.” In the years separating them, the show has explored songs by artists of all genres, from Metallica to Rick Astley and everything in between.
“Part of the reason I started the podcast is I really enjoyed the kind of conversations that I get to have on the show,” Hirway says. “I did before I even made the show. Finding out why other artists make the choices they make. That’s the core of the show, and I don’t think I’ll ever be tired of that. One of the most frustrating things is like, there’s a lot more music than there is time.”
It pays, Hirway says, not to be snobby when choosing the songs.
“One of the things that’s interesting is getting to hear about a song that isn’t something you would listen to on your own,” he says. “What you might dismiss out of hand, that instinct happens naturally for everybody including me, but then when you stop and have a chance to hear about those thoughts and decisions, it reframes it for you. I like the idea that Song Exploder might give that moment to somebody.”
Hirway says that his parallel career as a musician entirely informs his approach to creating Song Exploder.
“The way it helps the most is being able to talk to musicians in a way that they know they can talk about music the way that they normally would,” he says. “They don’t have to do some kind of code switching for a lay audience. That’s up to me later in the editing process.”
That brings us to Hirway’s own music; he released the Rooms I Used to Call My Own EP this year – his first music under his own name.
“One AM Radio was my musical identity for over a decade,” he says. “For this record, I tried writing with other people for the first time, which is something that I really only learned about by making Song Exploder. It was really cool. I wrote half the songs with Jenny Owen Youngs [L.A. Exes], and half with John Mark Nelson. On the production side, I worked with some old friends, like Jimmy Tamborello, who was the first ever guest on Song Exploder. He was in the Postal Service. Yo-Yo Ma plays cello on one of the songs.”
Bonnie Bloomgarden fronts L.A. rockers the Death Valley Girls, and she started the Death Valley Girls Podcast so that she could chat about the things she loves to chat about, namely the supernatural and music, with all manner of interesting characters. Full disclosure – this writer has been a guest on the show.
“Over the past seven years, we have been collecting supernatural interviews on tour from all around the world,” Bloomgarden says. “We love gathering stories and trying to figure out the mysteries of the universe. Our first interview was in Gothenburg, Sweden. We met a former skeptic that found himself outnumbered by ghosts of pirates in the city center in the middle of the night! Later that week a missing 500-year-old pirate sword fell from a tree, and was a pretty big news story. He also became a believer! We weren’t exactly sure what format we would release these interviews, but we made it a goal to gather as many tales of the strange and unusual as possible. Officially, however, we started the podcast March 2021, once we figured out how to use Zoom.”
The main aim of the show, Bloomgarden says, is that everyone feels believed.
“I think the main thing that has changed is that I’m not interviewing people to prove the paranormal or supernatural to anybody anymore; I am certain that it is real,” she says. “I am certain ETs and UFOs exist! I’m more interested now in talking to people about their personal experience. What it’s like to live with these extra senses, and have these extra experiences. I don’t want people to feel alone or alienated.”
The subjects covered on the show have been varied and fascinating, from the inventor of the world’s largest gummy bear to psychics, sex witches, mediums, hospital workers, animal reiki masters, film makers, a weed farmer, and more.
“I feel like almost everyone is a hero, if you just give them time to explain what they are excited about,” Bloomgarden says. “I like to talk to people about what excites them, why they do what they do, and how they overcame obstacles to be the heroes they are.”
The artist says that she can’t believe how many people are listening to the show now, but she has tricks to stand out.
“I think I just try to find exciting guests that talk honestly and openly about what they are passionate about,” she says. “Also people that have not been taken seriously or beloved. I think people love hearing about other people’s stories and growth and successes, it reminds them it’s OK to try!”
There’s plenty more to come from the Death Valley Girls Podcast, and also from Hirway who has expansion in mind for Song Exploder.
“Song Exploder is branching out this summer,” he says. “On July 20, the first episode of Canción Exploder is coming out — the Spanish language spinoff. In August, on the Song Exploder feed, there’s gonna be a miniseries called Book Exploder that I’ve made with author Susan Orlean.”
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