Inspired By ‘Song Exploder,’ St. Louis-Based ‘Songs Out Loud’ Has Local Artists Talking
It was during the bleak COVID-19 winter, while cautiously hanging out with a friend in a chilly garage, that Aaron Doerr began mulling the wild idea that would lead him to “Songs Out Loud,” his recently launched podcast. Feeling cold and world-weary, Doerr and his pal were passing the time by sharing some of their favorite podcasts and other creative work.
One of Doerr’s top recommendations for his friend was the popular Radiotopia podcast “Song Exploder,” which he himself had only recently discovered. Each episode dissects a single song in conversation with those who created it.
“My wife showed me this episode [of ‘Song Exploder’] featuring Hozier — he’s this singer-songwriter guy,” Doerr recalled. “He had a new album out, and he was breaking it down on this podcast, and he started with the demo … and I’m like, ‘Nobody ever hears this part of songwriting.’
“And he’s playing his voice memo track from his phone, and then the next thing you hear is this little project file recording that he did with his organ, and then talking about listening to it in the shower. And you just get this, ‘Oh my God, this guy’s a person, and I can relate to all this about him.’ And in the background you’re hearing what he’s talking about.”
In January, when Doerr admitted to his friend that he wished he could work for “Song Exploder,” his friend suggested he take steps in order to do so. But Doerr laughed and noted that he already had, to no avail.
“And [my friend] said, ‘Do your own,’ and I thought, ‘Well, maybe I should,’” Doerr said.
After much reflection, the guitar teacher and St. Louis Public Radio audio engineer began trading messages with a few associates in the St. Louis music scene, just to gauge potential interest. He wasn’t expecting much — “I get crazy ideas,” he said — but as he reached out to people, the response was overwhelmingly positive.
“And it was so validating; it really was. These ideas, you just wonder if they’re going to take off … you just gotta test them out, and you never know until you try, and that’s what I learned from this,” Doerr explained.
Just in the past two months, Doerr has released six episodes of “Songs Out Loud,” featuring local bands ranging from Middle Class Fashion to Mathias & The Pirates. More conversations and tunes drop every other Tuesday.
On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, Doerr stepped away from his usual post running the talk show’s soundboard to talk with host Sarah Fenske about the project.
It’s a highly produced podcast, one that pares down hours of individual conversations with band members, and in some cases dozens of iterations of a single song, into about a 25-minute listen.
On the talk show, Doerr explained why doing each interview separately is important.
“I didn’t want them so much playing [off] each other conversationally directly,” he said. “I felt like if I was broadcasting, so to speak, their own conversations about something, it wouldn’t have quite the documentary feel that I wanted it to be.”
Six episodes in, the stories behind the songs have run the gamut, with St. Louis-based artists opening up about deeply personal experiences in some cases.
“These musicians have a story to tell, and especially when they're the lyricist, they have a story to tell that we don’t really know at all,” Doerr said.
The next episode of “Songs Out Loud” drops April 20, featuring the band Foxing.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.