Bob Boilen

In 1988, a determined Bob Boilen started showing up on NPR's doorstep every day, looking for a way to contribute his skills in music and broadcasting to the network. His persistence paid off, and within a few weeks he was hired, on a temporary basis, to work for All Things Considered. Less than a year later, Boilen was directing the show and continued to do so for the next 18 years.

Significant listener interest in the music being played on All Things Considered, along with his and NPR's vast music collections, gave Boilen the idea to start All Songs Considered. "It was obvious to me that listeners of NPR were also lovers of music, but what also became obvious by 1999 was that the web was going to be the place to discover new music and that we wanted to be the premiere site for music discovery." The show launched in 2000, with Boilen as its host.

Before coming to NPR, Boilen found many ways to share his passion for music. From 1982 to 1986 he worked for Baltimore's Impossible Theater, where he held many posts, including composer, technician, and recording engineer. Boilen became part of music history in 1983 with the Impossible Theater production Whiz Bang, a History of Sound. In it, Boilen became one of the first composers to use audio sampling — in this case, sounds from nature and the industrial revolution. He was interviewed about Whiz Bang by Susan Stamberg on All Things Considered.

In 1985, the Washington City Paper voted Boilen 'Performance Artist of the Year.' An electronic musician, he received a grant from the Washington D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities to work on electronic music and performance.

After Impossible Theater, Boilen worked as a producer for a television station in Washington, D.C. He produced several projects, including a music video show. In 1997, he started producing an online show called Science Live for the Discovery Channel. He also put out two albums with his psychedelic band, Tiny Desk Unit, during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Boilen still composes and performs music and posts it for free on his website BobBoilen.info. He performs contradance music and has a podcast of contradance music that he produces with his son Julian.

Boilen's first book, Your Song Changed My Life, was published in April 2016 by HarperCollins.

CHAI: Tiny Desk Concert

Oct 23, 2019

My face hurt from smiling so much! That's what I remember most about CHAI's Tiny Desk. CHAI is a sweet, colorful blanket of joy. These four women from Japan — twin sisters Mana and Kana, along with Yuna and Yuuki — are on a mission to expand the conventional notion of what we think of as "cute" or "kawaii" as it's called in Japan.

From the moment Brittany Howard walked into the NPR offices, I could sense her intense commitment and passion. Her eight-piece backing band, all decked out in red and black, played with a soulful subtlety that bolstered Brittany Howard's tender songs about her family — stories of a mixed-race child growing up in Alabama.

Charly Bliss arrived at the Tiny Desk with roughly 20 gold balloons, a burst of energy and some glitter to match. The vibrancy, especially from singer Eva Hendricks, can feel childlike and candy-coated. On the other hand, the subject of these songs is more about the pain of entering adulthood and leaving some of that sweetness behind. The three songs performed at the Tiny Desk, all from the band's second album, Young Enough, are dark songs laced with the hope of bettering oneself.

Molly Sarlé began her fascination with the multitude of objects shelved behind the Tiny Desk back when she sang with Mountain Man earlier this year. This time, with her own band, those objects left by others inspired a tale of a sweaty towel, an old lover and more.

"Maybe it's the start of something, and maybe it's not." That's what I said at the very first Tiny Desk concert back in April 2008, featuring Laura Gibson. It's quite a trip to go back 11 years and watch the first Tiny Desk concerts — quaint may be the best way to describe it. I started this series with no idea how much an intimate concert in an office would change the lives of the musicians and thrill millions of viewers all over the world.

Josh Ritter came to the Tiny Desk with the enthusiasm of a young child and the wisdom of an old soul. He arrived armed with a message and musical soulmates, Amanda Shires on fiddle and Jason Isbell on acoustic guitar. Both play on Josh's 2019 album Fever Breaks; in fact, Jason produced the record.

Warning: The opening cut on this week's show, by Fran got stuck in my head and kept me wide awake at four in the morning. But a song from Soccer Mommy about dealing with temptation and the devil, Ruby Duff's "rainbow of emotions," Chastity Belt's first new music since 2017 and (Sandy) Alex G's devastating song titled "Hope" will help when taken at a hefty volume.

There's a hush to the music of Nilüfer Yanya that made the Tiny Desk the perfect stage for her sound. On a hot summer day, the British singer and her band — made up of Jazzi Bobbi primarily on sax, Lucy Lu on bass, Ellis Dupuy on drums and Nilüfer on guitar and vocals — performed their three-song set with restraint and subtlety. At moments, the music felt like an eruption waiting to happen, though the suave, refined sound left an indelible vibe in the room.

Like almost 6,000 other artists, Hobo Johnson entered the Tiny Desk Contest in 2018. But unlike the other entries, his video, for the song "Peach Scone," went viral. It now has nearly 16-million views. Though Hobo Johnson didn't win the Contest, I did invite them to play a proper Tiny Desk.

There's a cinematic theme in the songs on this edition of All Songs Considered, including a new track from Thom Yorke called "Daily Battles" and an instrumental version of it from trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. These two songs were created for the Edward Norton film Motherless Brooklyn.

It's 10 years almost to the day since we published The Tallest Man On Earth's Tiny Desk in 2009. What I remember most about that performance was the intensity of Kristian Matsson and how astonished our audience was to discover him. I think of it as one of our very first viral videos. Tiny Desk Concerts were in their infancy in 2009; we had recorded only about 25 by the time he visited my desk.

A-WA: Tiny Desk Concert

Sep 3, 2019

The last time we filmed these three Israeli sisters, they were sitting in my hotel room during South by Southwest, performing a heartbreaking lullaby, accompanied by just a guitarist. Now Liron, Tagel and Tair Haim are behind my desk with a full band of keyboards, bass, guitar and drums, singing more forlorn tunes in their unique three-part harmony.

On this edition of All Songs Considered: songs of gratitude from Pinegrove, a take on intimacy from Norwegian artist Jenny Hval and a song of quietude with a few surprises from Anna Meredith.

I'm also thrilled to have new music from Sudan Archives, an artist who blends violin loops and catchy rhythms like no one else. And what is the sound of four Mellotrons? Hear John Medeski, Pat Sansone, Jonathan Kirkscey and Robby Grant's "Pulsar," part of their Mellotron Variations project.

"Is it ok if I do a little dance on your desk?" asked 47SOUL singer and percussionist Walaa Sbeit on first seeing the Tiny Desk. I thought a minute, went under the desk, tightened the bolts, stuck some splints of wood under a few of the uneven legs and (feeling reassured) gave him the nod. It would be our first traditional Middle Eastern Dabke dancing atop the Tiny Desk and the first sounds of Shamstep (a kind of electronic dance music) behind it.

Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz made everything seem so easy, pulling a few acoustic instruments out of their car and, in no time, huddling around a single microphone behind the Tiny Desk. With that, Mandolin Orange was ready.

Emily bowed her fiddle while Andrew strummed a guitar and sang about his mom being carried away in a hearse. "Golden Embers" is the lead-off track to Mandolin Orange's 2019 album Tides of a Teardrop. This song shines a light on the darkness that fell on Andrew's family when he was 18.

Bob Boilen and I are back together again to share some of the phenomenal new music we've been hearing, starting with Brittany Howard's stirring and inspired "He Loves Me," from her upcoming solo debut Jaime. She named the album after her sister who passed away when they were both teenagers. The music is a celebration of the human spirit.

When Among Authors arrived at NPR, the Seattle band seemed like a pack of eager pups — and with good reason. The odds of this unsigned, self-managed quartet playing a Tiny Desk concert was pretty small, but Among Authors is a band that beats the odds. Nearly a dozen years ago, at 23, bandleader Ian Ketterer had open-heart surgery. Born without a thumb on his right hand and deaf in his right ear, he plays piano and sings.

Note: With hosts Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton away this week, we've got an encore presentation of The Worst Songs Of All Time, from Feb. 2014.


Guitarist, actor, writer (and former Monitor Mix blogger) Carrie Brownstein joins us, along with NPR Music's Stephen Thompson, to do something we don't normally do: Talk about the songs we really, really don't like.

For the past 14 years, producer Andy Zax has been digging into the music and sounds of Woodstock, that culture-shifting music festival that unfolded in August of 1969. Now, 50 years later, all 32 performances — the audio announcements, the entirety of this three-day festival in upstate New York — is about to be released by Rhino Records in a 38-disc box titled Woodstock - Back To The Garden:The Definitive 50th Anniversary Archive.

I was thrilled to have the gifted voice of Tamino gracing the Tiny Desk. But as charged as I was, that didn't match the excitement that Colin Greenwood expressed as we rode up the elevator. The Radiohead bassist (and bassist for this special performance) shared a brief text exchange with his son, basically telling his hugely accomplished dad that playing the Tiny Desk was "the coolest thing he'd ever done!" That made us all smile.

This month marks 60 years since the very first Newport Folk Festival. NPR has been covering the event since its rebirth in 2008. Jay Sweet, now the executive producer, was mostly responsible for the festival's revival, booking unexpected bands and reinvigorating the spirit of the annual gathering. It's long been a place where musicians would collaborate and make music often steeped in social justice.

I told this story on the 40th anniversary of the first moonwalk, but on this 50th anniversary, like grandpa, I'll tell it again.

It was July 20, 1969 and I had tickets to see the supergroup of supergroups: Blind Faith. I was psyched until I realized that it was to be the night of the very first manned moon landing — and the very first time a human would walk on the moon.

We've been covering Priests, this fabulous, punk-infused art band, since 2013. I've seen them a lot (they're based here in D.C.). So the request of an upright piano was the last thing I expected when singer Katie Alice Greer and guitarist G.L. Jaguar talked about doing a Tiny Desk Concert. But we wheeled the Yamaha upright in place and they invited their accompanist Mary Voutsas to join bandmates Daniele Yandel and Alexandra Tyson. What we have is a kinder, gentler and starker version of this great band.

I'm all alone in the studio.

I had so many new songs to share; I didn't want to split the show with a co-host.

To be clear, sad songs make up the majority of this week's All Songs Considered. So, if you have a love for the type of music you might hear from Julien Baker or Japanese Breakfast, we have five new artists to add to your playlist, including a 19-year-old singer from Belgium who goes by the name Asia; The artist known as Dolly Valentine asks, "Do you know where you want to go?" And there are more beautiful but crushing tunes brought to you by "the dream team" (NPR's Lyndsey McKenna and Marissa Lorusso).

Don't see the video above? Click here.

In the NPR parking garage, Gemma Doherty pulled her 34-string lever harp from the band's vehicle; it seemed bigger than all of us. The other instruments were less exotic — a few small synthesizers, a sampler, electronic drum pads — but I was feeling thrilled by what was about to unfold.

For the past year, NPR has been taking a deep look at American anthems and all the forms they can take. These are the songs that unite us, inspire us or say something about what it means to be an American — songs as traditional as Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land," or as defiant as Public Enemy's "Fight the Power."

Lucy Dacus / YouTube

Lucy Dacus is conflicted about America.

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