‘Song Exploder’ and the inexhaustible goings-on of Hrishikesh Hirway

‘Song Exploder’ and the inexhaustible goings-on of Hrishikesh Hirway
‘Song Exploder’ and the inexhaustible goings-on of Hrishikesh Hirway

Nobody bit, and Hirway went back to work as a graphic designer to pay his bills. A few months later he tried again, this time approaching a podcast company, Maximum Fun, which was distributing “The Memory Palace”.

“It was a completely coherent idea that made sense right from the start,” said Jesse Thorn, founder of Maximum Fun and host of the “Bullseye with Jesse Thorn” podcast, which illuminated “Song Exploder” in green in 2014. (The show is now distributed by Radiotopia.) “And he was such a skilled editor and producer that he needed very little help to get it working.”

If listening to “WTF” feels like being in Maron’s unique, hyperactive brain, “Song Exploder” is just as personal in its own way. The show is a reflection of the constitutional minimalism of its creator. Each of the nearly 200 episodes, which featured interviews with artists such as Lindsey Buckingham, Bjork and Solange, is surgically edited (running times can be up to 11 minutes) and carefully produced, interweaving individual elements of the featured song with the artist’s anecdotes and reflections.

Hirway cuts out his own side of the interview and presents the story as a continuous first-person narration. At first, this was partly a defense against his insecurities as an interviewer, but that concern turned out to be false. What Hirway lacked in journalistic training he could more than make up for with intuition and first-hand experience.

In the REM episode of the TV show we see him in action and ask the reserved Michael Stipe about “Losing My Religion”. At the beginning of the interview, Stipe shyly explains the protagonist of his most famous song as “total invention”. But then Hirway asks him to inhabit the character behind the lyrics. It doesn’t take long before his subject, which is beginning to thaw, ponders at length about uncertainty, disillusionment, and the pain of heartache.

“OK, maybe there is some autobiographical material in there,” he finally allows.

Morgan Neville, the director of “20 Feet from Stardom,” and director and executive producer of the television series “Song Exploder,” said Hirway’s ability to connect with guests at a granular level was the show’s secret weapon.

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