Song Exploder is a music podcast that has broken down the tracks of some of our favorite artists, from The Postal Service to Daedalus. For its 13th episode, musician, creator, and host Hrishikesh Hirway offered The Creators Project an in-depth look behind The Microphones' stellar song, "I Want Wind to Blow."
On Song Exploder, musicians deconstruct their songs, and piece by piece, tell the story of how they were made. The recording is laid bare to give listeners a chance to learn about the alchemy that went into it.
I started the podcast with selfish motivations. My favorite recordings are full of mystery, where the traditional sound of an instrument is transformed, by the process of recording, into something less recognizable, less literal. And even when are instruments are clearly articulated, the best songs leave me imagining individual moments: how a note was played and how it hung in the air, and how it was pinned, moth-like, to be frozen in that moment. And a single song is crammed with these moments, stacked one on top of the other. Song Exploder gives me the chance to have those labyrinthine structures taken apart and explained to me by their makers.
In 2000, I went to see Mirah play at a tiny DIY attic space in Gloucester, Massachusetts called the Fishtown Artspace. On tour with her was Phil Elverum, who at that time played under the name The Microphones. I'd brought one of my own CDs to try to give to Mirah; in fact, I had two copies on me. At their merch table, I gave the other to Phil, and in return he gave me his album It Was Hot, We Stayed In the Water. I kept it in my car and listened to it as I drove up and down I-95 that year, along with the Mirah CD I was already wearing out. Phil had recorded her album, as well, and both were thick with ideas.
I moved to New York in August 2001, and shortly after, I found out The Microphones had a new album. The Glow, Pt 2 was a cabinet of wonders to me. In addition to the songwriting, which felt sharpened and more focused, and my love of Phil Evrum's guileless, plaintive voice, I was pulled in deep by the way the record sounded. I spent hours listening to the CD as I commuted on the subway and waited on the platforms, where the lyric "the awful feeling of electric heat" held sweaty poignance.
I'm thrilled to have gotten the chance to talk to Phil and hear him confirm and confound theories I had about what I was hearing in the song "I Want Wind to Blow." Most of all, hearing the individual instruments in isolation gave me a newfound insight into this song's beauty, thirteen years after I first fell in love with it.
Phil says in the interview that he was 'obsessed' with recording. What I love about recording, and about hearing a recording, and about making Song Exploder, is how easily music can lead to obsession. As I edited these layers together, hearing the parts stripped away from the whole, I found myself turning each track up, zooming in from the song to an instrument to an individual note to the grit and air between the notes. I listened over and over. Learning the secrets, it turns out, does nothing to remove the mystery.
Below, the original recording chart from Phil Elverum's recording session at Dub Narcotic: