Each episode of “Song Exploder” features a guest songwriter to lend insight on the ideas and decisions behind one of their compositions. Hrishikesh Hirway is its perceptive host who since 2014 has analyzed hallmarks of modern music — Wilco, the Magnetic Fields, Ghostface Killah and beyond. Despite the insight the show provides, Hirway doesn’t consider himself a music journalist — the objective, rather, is to provide perspective on how each individual artist writes a song. WSN reached out to Hirway to talk about his beginnings, the art of television themes and future interviewees.
WSN: In less than two years, you’ve been able to speak to some of the most important, innovative musicians that have recorded in the past twenty. How did the guests come together at first?
HH: I’ve been making records and touring [with The One AM Radio] for over a decade, so at first, I just asked my most famous friends in my circle to let me interview them. Jimmy Tamborello is a good friend I’ve know for years and The Postal Service was such an influential record that it made sense to ask him. Having him as the first guest helped open the door to ask artists I didn’t know as well, or didn’t know at all.
WSN: How have these explorations on “Song Exploder” affected your own music?
HH: When I talk with other musicians or visit another musician’s studio or see them on stage, I naturally get excited about wanting to try new ideas out myself. I feel like I have just saturated myself with that experience now. So there’s inspiration all around. Ironically, the problem is that I’m spending so much time on the podcast, I don’t have as much time to work on my own music.
WSN: What led you to start examining opening theme songs? What fascinates you about that process?
HH: I love film scores. That’s why I moved to Los Angeles, and I’ve scored a couple of films and worked on films for another composer. So that music is part of my listening library naturally. But unlike a film, you hear the opening music for a TV show over and over, even for series with only a couple of seasons. So we have a different kind of relationship to it. It’s almost like a song that’s always on the radio. It becomes part of our cultural fabric. But in addition to making a great piece of music, you have to establish a tone for something outside of the song itself. I think that’s a very difficult problem to have to tackle. And fundamentally, that’s what I’m interested in taking on with “Song Exploder” — how do you solve a creative problem?
WSN: You said in an interview that one of your dream guests was Björk. Did your episode with her on “Stonemilker” live up to your expectations?
HH: It exceeded my expectations, honestly. Given her stardom, I was surprised by how open and honest she was. She was able to access the fundamental emotional underpinnings for her creative ideas very easily. It was impressive. There’s still a long list of dream guests: Portishead, Kanye West, Radiohead, Noah “40” Shebib and Drake, Aphex Twin, Pharrell — I could go on. But I’m so happy I got to do an episode with even one of my dream guests.
A version of this article appeared in the Jan. 25th print edition. Email Zane Warman at [email protected]