Earlier this year, I got to interview Hrishikesh Hirway about his method of interviewing musicians for his podcast, Song Exploder — “where musicians take apart their songs, and, piece by piece, tell the story of how they were made.” Since so much music discourse centers around the album review cycle, artists’ work is often critically examined in through the more overarching, macro form of an album; but this podcast inverts the way we discuss music. Here, you can really see how granularly the musical structure, technique, and production work behind a single song function in tandem with the album — or artists’ work and thematic focus — as a whole.
Most recently, Hirway had Perfume Genius — who just released his fourth album, No Shape — as his guest; he appears on the podcast alongside Blake Mills, who produced the album, and Sean Everett, the LP’s recording engineer. They exploded (which is to say, dissected) the already ecstatically explosive first single off No Shape, “Slip Away.” (If you’ve heard it yet, you’ll know what I mean — if not, you certainly will after listening to this podcast!)
“Before I wrote ‘Slip Away,’ I was writing very different songs for about a month,” explains Mike Hadreas, aka Perfume Genius. “I was writing dark, wordless chanting over drones. [The tracks] were formless and creepy; the last album [Too Bright] was more of an electronic exorcism — singing in tongues.”
The blinding (and indeed, there is still an element of violence or pain buried within this track) brightness of “Slip Away” came to him, however, “suddenly.” If you already know the song well, it’ll be interesting to then hear the demos that Hadreas shares — completely raw, with different lyrics, recorded in his home, that vastly contrast with the beautifully bombastic production on the final product.
“If I worked too hard, I always thought the emotion would be lost. But that kind of changed for me, writing this album,” he says. “I wanted the language to be mine, but weirdly universal, in a classic American pop song way; I wanted that Springsteen-y spirit to it. A lot of rock dudes are like, ‘here’s my big fat album, it’s amazing,’ and everyone’s like, ‘yeah, it is. We love it.’ They don’t need to explain…there’s a specific confidence to it and swagger to it that feels far to me, so it felt thrilling to steal some of it.”
Listen to the whole podcast to find out how Hadreas collaborated with Mills and Everett to determine the song’s crazy, dramatic instrumentation and swelling vocal effects:
Check out our recent interview with Perfume Genius on No Shape, and revisit the “Slip Away” music video: