How can art and storytelling through music help to solve big social and environmental issues like climate change? For Hrishikesh Hirway and his wife Lindsey, it all comes down to how people solve creative problems.
Take, for instance, a song. In his podcast-turned-Netflix series Song Exploder , Hrishikesh creates a platform for musicians to tell the story of making one of their songs. Using isolated tracks from the original recording, the musicians have a show and tell of what they did and why. The process exposes the innumerable small creative decisions and craftsmanship that might otherwise be overlooked. “It’s not just magic,” Hrishikesh says.
For Lindsey, she practices the process of creative problem solving through the mottled glaze vases and pots she makes for her homeware brand Larsen & Lund, and in the way she approaches her life and home.
“I love things that are essential and necessary,” she says, adding that how she and Hrishikesh eat, shop, live and create are all governed by the goal of living a simple, clean and responsible life.
This spring, we visited the Hirways in their essentialist home space and sat down with Hrishikesh to talk Song Exploder, his latest album “Rooms I used to call my own”, and what the process of songwriting can teach us about tackling the globe’s biggest environmental issues.
LifeLabs: Why do you think that deeper degree of storytelling you do in Song Exploder is important?
Hrishikesh Hirway: I think it’s easy for music to feel disposable, and I think that’s a tragedy. The easier it is to skip away from something within 5 minutes of listening to it, the greater the chance to miss out on something that could actually be quite meaningful to you.
LL: In a NYTimes article from a couple of years ago, the author called Song Exploder ‘a reflection of the creator’s (your) constitutional minimalism.’ What does that phrase mean to you?
HH: I studied graphic design in college. One of the principles Dieter Rams has said is that good design is as little design as possible. With stories about the creative process, it can be easy for it to feel like it’s self indulgent. I always wanted Song Exploder to feel like it was made for people who were hearing an artist for the first time and for whom it was their favorite artist. To strike that, I tried to be as efficient with the storytelling as possible. I really embrace minimalism because it feels like an exercise in efficiency. And efficiency is the opposite of self-indulgence.
“ I really embrace minimalism because it feels like an exercise in efficiency. And efficiency is the opposite of self-indulgence.”
LL: Is there a connection between fostering an attentiveness to the creative process and how we think about big issues like climate change and sustainability?
HH: I don’t know if this is a perfect metaphor, but part of the reason I try to make Song Exploder about the little moments of people’s lives and little moments of inspiration and solving creative problems is because in presenting it that way, the idea of creating something great becomes more tangible. For someone on the outside who thinks that a song might sound perfect in terms of the finished product, getting to know how human the process was behind it might make them feel like if I could just put one foot in front of the other and keep going then maybe thats’ something thats’ within my grasp as well.
When I think about an issue like climate change, it is so monolithic and enormous, it feels hard to understand how we can tackle it and hard to imagine solving it. But I think, taking these steps. It’s hard to wrap our minds around the collective power of people doing small things. It’s going to take huge institutional decisions as well, but on a personal level it also requires these small steps that are within our grasp on a sustained basis.
“[Tackling climate change] is going to take huge institutional decisions as well, but on a personal level it also requires these small steps that are within our grasp on a sustained basis.”
LL: Beyond that step by step approach, which is really key, do you think there are other roles art and storytelling have in influencing the way people take action or think about these bigger issues?
HH: I think it’s a lot easier for people to connect to stories than ideas in the abstract. The best way to communicate an idea and to relate to something abstract is to couch it in something very concrete and human and tangible. It’s been a challenge to try and tell those stories in ways that connect, but that’s what’s worked. I’ve seen it work. Lindsey became vegan a couple years ago after watching a documentary on the fishing industry. Seeing a documentary and having it put in these storytelling parameters connected with her in a way that devastated her and she changed her life.
“The best way to communicate an idea and to relate to something abstract is to couch it in something very concrete and human and tangible.”
LL: Let’s pivot to what you’ve been working on lately. You just put out a new album, tell me about it.
HH: The new album is called Rooms I Used to Call My Own. It’s the first thing I’ve put out in 10 years. After about 5 years or so of doing Song Exploder, even when I wanted to get back to making music, I didn’t really know how to make room for it while still working on the podcast. And then I started making the Song Exploder TV show.
We wrapped up the TV show after the pandemic started in 2020, that was when I made a decision that this is a priority for me. I have to figure out how to make music a part of my life again. I was like how can I do this in a way that fits my life now? I made a decision that every Friday I’m not going to work on anything else but music. I had to make some regiment to practice, which felt contrary to how I thought the creative process worked. But one of the things I learned from a few interviews I’d done in Song Exploder, a lot of times, the work of making music is work. And you have to approach it like work, and you have to have a practice. If I could treat music that way, maybe there could be a way for me to find a way back.
“But one of the things I learned from a few interviews I’d done in Song Exploder, a lot of times, the work of making music is work. And you have to approach it like work, and you have to have a practice.”
LL: What is the album about?
HH: It’s called Rooms I Used to Call My Own because in it i’m thinking about snapshots of my life at different moments, from when I was two decades earlier living with my family, to moments when I lived alone before I met my wife, to the places we’ve lived together including where we lived during the pandemic. The actual songs are about the people close to me and trying to hold onto those people as close as I can. My mom died a year and a half ago. Her death looms over the EP and her memory and the process of holding onto her memory while she was alive has a big influence on my life in terms of how I relate to other people since then.
LL: How was that return to being a musician?
HH: It felt kind of miraculous, because I really didn’t know whether I could or not.
LL: Where will people be able to hear it?
HH: All digital platforms. And I’ll be going on a West Coast tour in May.