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.

footnotes

Wicked Wisdom, Jada Pinkett-Smith’s band
TMZ

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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.

For a transcript of this episode, click here.

Illustration by Carlos Lerma.

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Episode 219: John Lennon

“God”

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.

For a transcript of this episode, click here.

Illustration by Carlos Lerma.

footnotes
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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