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Song Exploder

Chloe Parker Episode 225: Joy Oladokun

Joy Oladokun – “look up”

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, they recorded a couple very long voice memos. Joy sent me those voice memos, and in this episode, in addition to the stems of the recording, and Joy’s story about how it was made, you’ll hear the actual moments when the song was first coming together. And Joy explains how the song was inspired by the different, and maybe opposite ways that she and her partner see the world.

You can buy or stream “Look Up” here.

Illustration by Carlos Lerma.

Manchester Orchestra
“Blackbird” by The Beatles

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Chloe Parker Episode 224: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Danny Elfman – “What’s This?”

Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas came out in 1993. It’s a stop-motion animated musical, with music by legendary composer Danny Elfman. He’s won Emmys, a Grammy, and been nominated for four Oscars. His work includes the music for Tim Burton’s Batman films, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films, Good Will Hunting, and the theme to The Simpsons. From 1979 to 1995, he was the singer and songwriter in the band Oingo Boingo.

The Nightmare Before Christmas takes place in a world where different holidays all have their own realm. And the story is about Jack Skellington, the leader of Halloweentown, a place where it’s always Halloween, and Halloween is all they know, and Jack has grown a little tired of it. But then, Jack discovers a portal to Christmastown, with snow and Santa and all things Christmas inhabiting it. The song “What’s This?” takes place in that moment of discovery. In this episode, Danny Elfman tells the story of how it all came together, and how writing and singing this song for Jack Skellington ended up profoundly connecting to his own life.

You can buy or stream “What’s This?” here.

Illustration by Carlos Lerma.

Steve Bartek, orchestrator
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure
Edward Sciccorhands
Celesta, instrument
Tchaikovsky“The Nutcracker,” ballet
Gilbert and Sullivan“I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General”

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Chloe Parker Episode 223: Halsey

Halsey – “You Asked For This”

Halsey is an award winning singer and songwriter from New Jersey. She’s been nominated for two Grammys, and sold over a million records. In August, she released her fourth album, “If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power,” which was produced by the Grammy and Oscar winning duo of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, from Nine Inch Nails. Halsey wrote one of the songs on the album, “You Asked for This,” with Greg Kurstin who’s won 8 Grammys himself, including Producer of the Year. In this episode, Halsey tells the story of making this song while pregnant with her son, and how that shaped the lyrics and the music.

You can buy or stream “You Asked For This” here.

Illustration by Carlos Lerma.

My Bloody Valentine “When You Sleep”
Gewn Stefani
No Doubt

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Chloe Parker Episode 221: The War On Drugs

“I Don’t Live Here Anymore (feat. Lucius)”

The War on Drugs is a band from Philadelphia who formed in 2005. They won the Grammy for Best Rock Album in 2018. This year, they put out their fifth album, I Don’t Live Here Anymore. Adam Granduciel is the singer and lead guitarist in the band, and I talked to him at his recording space here in Los Angeles. In this episode, Adam breaks down the title track from I Don’t Live Here Anymore, from the original demo to the version that was hammered out after months of work. And he explains how the song was influenced by Bob Dylan and his own newborn son.

The War On Drugs is Adam Granduciel, Robbie Bennett, Anthony LaMarca, David Hartley, Charlie Hall, and Jon Natchez.

You can buy or stream “I Don’t Live Here Anymore (feat. Lucius)” here.

Illustration by Carlos Lerma.


Bob Dylan – “Desolation Row”
Bob Dylan – “Shelter from the Storm”
Eric Slick, drummer for the band Dr. Dog
Marshall Amp

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Chloe Parker Episode 220: WILLOW

“Transparent Soul feat. Travis Barker”

Willow Smith is a singer and songwriter from Los Angeles. She’s also a member of one of the most famous families in the world. From a very young age, she followed in the musical footsteps of her parents, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith, and released her first single when she was just ten years old. Since then, she’s released four albums, and was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most influential people in the world. This year, on her most recent album, she put out this song, “Transparent Soul,” which was co-written with her longtime collaborator Tyler Cole, and features Travis Barker from Blink-182 on drums. I talked to her about how her upbringing and her musical evolution from her early pop star days influenced the way she made this song.

You can buy or stream “Transparent Soul feat. Travis Barker” here.

Illustration by Carlos Lerma.


Wicked Wisdom, Jada Pinkett-Smith’s band

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Casey Deal Bonus Episode: Hrishikesh Hirway TED Talk

“What You Learn When You Listen Closely”

This summer, I gave a TED Talk at the TED Conference. My talk was about what you discover when you really listen. It was based on how making Song Exploder has changed the way I think about conversations and connecting with people. My talk came out today on the TED website and on the TED Talks Daily podcast, and the very nice folks at TED asked if I would also put the audio of the talk here, on Song Exploder. And I normally wouldn’t put this much of myself on here, but they asked, and like I said, they were very nice. I hope this isn’t too meta, to talk about the show, and what I get out of making it. But it also features some music, including beautiful cello played by Yo-Yo Ma, so there’s that to look forward to. Here it is, my TED Talk on what you learn when you listen closely.

You can listen to my song with Yo-Yo Ma, here.

Illustration by Carlos Lerma.


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Casey Deal Episode 219: John Lennon


Earlier this year, I got an amazing email—the estate of John Lennon said that they have a treasure trove of audio material from his life, and they were wondering if I would be interested in making an episode around the song “God,” from John Lennon’s first solo album. I’ve never tried making a posthumous episode before, because hearing directly from the artist is at the heart of Song Exploder. But with all the interview archives that they have of him speaking, plus all the isolated tracks from the recordings, and the original demo, it actually seemed possible. So this is a very different and special episode of the show. 

In September 1969, John Lennon told the rest of the Beatles that he was leaving the group. Their breakup was announced publicly in April 1970, and that December, John Lennon released his first solo album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. The Plastic Ono band was the name for a rotating group of musicians that John and his wife, the artist Yoko Ono, had put together. For the making of “God,” the band included Ringo Starr on drums, Billy Preston on piano, and Klaus Voormann on bass. I got to interview Klaus Voormann about his experiences making this track, and in this episode, you’ll hear from him along with the archival interviews with John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and Billy Preston. You’ll also hear the original demo for “God,” and outtakes from the recording sessions at Abbey Road studios. They recorded the final version of this song on October 9, 1970 – John Lennon’s 30th birthday.

Archival audio sources:
– John Lennon’s audio was excerpted from an interview with Rolling Stone’s Jann S. Wenner, recorded on December 8, 1970. The full interview can be found here. With grateful thanks to Jann S. Wenner for his permission and collaboration.

– Arthur Janov and Billy Preston’s quotes came from interviews conducted in 2005 owned by Yoko Ono Lennon. With grateful thanks to Yoko Ono Lennon for her permission and collaboration.

– Ringo Starr’s audio came from the 2008 Classic Albums documentary on John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band, directed by Matthew Longfellow. With grateful thanks to Ringo Starr for his permission and collaboration.

You can buy or stream “God” here.

Illustration by Carlos Lerma.

The Beatles, band
“Help!” – The Beatles
“Strawberry Fields Forever” – The Beatles
Arthur Janov, psychologist
Primal therapy
Manfred Mann, band
Klaus Voormann’s cover art for Revolver
Little Richard, artist

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hrishikesh Episode 218: Lucy Dacus


Lucy Dacus is a singer and songwriter from Richmond, Virginia. She put out her first album in 2016, and in 2018 she formed the band boygenius with Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers. In June 2021, she released her third album, Home Video, which includes the song “Thumbs.” The first time I heard it, I knew I wanted to ask Lucy about how and why she made it. After some COVID testing, we spoke in person here in Los Angeles, and she told me the story of how “Thumbs” took months and months to get right.

You can buy or stream “Thumbs” here.

Illustration by Carlos Lerma.

Collin Pastore, co-producer
Jacob Blizard, guitarist
Ricardo Lagomasino, drummer
Trace Horse Studio

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Casey Deal Episode 217: Mustafa

“Air Forces”

Mustafa is a singer, songwriter, and poet from Toronto. He first gained national recognition in Canada for his poetry, and in 2016, he served on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Youth Advisory Council. Later, as a songwriter he contributed to the Grammy award-winning album Starboy by The Weeknd, and he’s written songs for Usher, Camila Cabello, and others. In May 2021, he released his own debut album, called When Smoke Rises, inspired by his experiences losing friends to inner-city violence. His album has been critically acclaimed, and was shortlisted for the Polaris Prize. I spoke to Mustafa about his song “Air Forces,” a track he made with his longtime collaborator, Grammy-winning producer Frank Dukes, plus Swedish artist Simon On The Moon, and Jamie xx.

You can buy or stream “Air Forces” here.

Illustration by Carlos Lerma.

Regent Park, neighborhood
Remember Me, Toronto – short film
“The Age-Set” – Dinka people of Abyei
Mickey Newbury
Puffy L’Z

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