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 He performs contradance music and has a podcast of contradance music that he produces with his son Julian.

Longtime NPR fans may remember another contribution Boilen made to NPR. He composed the original theme music for NPR's Talk of the Nation.

In 2009, The Dry Spells released Too Soon For Flowers, a folky rock album that became an instant best friend. Then, as far as I could tell, they vanished. But now there's new music from this Bay Area ensemble, a song called "Heliotrope," and I feel like an old buddy came to town for the holidays.

I asked about the long absence and guitarist Adria Ott wrote this back:

Great singers aren't easy to come by, so finding three in one band is something special. The Wild Reeds' music shines when Sharon Silva, Kinsey Lee and Mackenzie Howe harmonize, but each also takes a leading role — and that's the power of the L.A. band, whose songs are clear and memorable, potent and sometimes delicate.

Bob Boilen Wrote A Book

Nov 18, 2015

I've spent the past few years talking with musicians about a song that altered the course of their life. Now those conversations are making up my first book, called Your Song Changed My Life: From Jimmy Page to St. Vincent, Smokey Robinson to Hozier, Thirty-Five Beloved Artists on Their Journey and the Music That Inspired It.

Nathaniel Rateliff and his band The Night Sweats are on fire, with concerts that get feet moving and bodies swaying, fueled by rhythm and booze.

Ask a Bruce Springsteen fan about the holy grails of his concerts and you're likely to hear about a 1980 Tempe, Ariz. show. Today NPR Music has video of Springsteen performing "The River" from that very concert. The brilliant performance — or at least much of it — was recorded using four cameras and a multitrack machine for audio. It's all been put together and is being released 35 years later as part of a new box set called The Ties That Bind: The River Collection.

Brian Burton has good taste. As Danger Mouse, he's won five Grammy Awards and worked with everyone from the Black Keys to Gorillaz to Adele. Now the musician, songwriter and producer is adding another impressive project to his resume: his own record label.

The first time I saw Aurora sing, it appeared so new to her that each note, and each hand gesture accompanying each note, seemed like a discovery and an adventure for the singer. She was 18 when I first saw her in New York City, and now the Norwegian singer is 19; take a look at this Tiny Desk Concert, and her sense of innocence and discovery still rings as true as ever.

My Bubba is the duo of Sweden's My and Iceland's Bubba, women whose quirky, delicate, sweetly sung folk songs are a delight. The centerpiece of their tunes are the harmonies, but the backing instrumentation is equally intimate, from handclaps to an old table harp and acoustic guitar.

The pair's current album, Goes Abroader, was produced by Noah Georgeson, who's known for his work with Joanna Newsom, Cate Le Bon and Devendra Banhart. As for this Tiny Desk Concert, it's best viewed on a comfy couch, perhaps snuggled up with a friend, your favorite animal or both.

I'm happy to have new music from the harmonious and ethereal band Quilt. The Boston quartet's 2014 album, Held in Splendor, is a favorite of mine. Their third album, Plaza, is coming on Feb. 26, and this first new song "Eliot St.," is a pleasant extension of the band's sound.

What is it like to sing songs almost 50 years after first writing and recording them? How does it feel to make your most creative work only to have it ignored? I wondered about these questions when I went and talked with Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone, two of the original members of The Zombies. They were in town with all the surviving members of their original band to perform their long overlooked, now classic 1968 album, Odessey and Oracle in full alongside earlier hits like "She's Not There" and "Tell Her No" and songs from their 2015 album Still Got The Hunger.

Martin Atkins, a drummer, producer and professor, weaves the terrifying tale of any musicians' personal horror in this spooky Halloween installment of The Martin Atkins Minute, an occasional series in our All Songs +1 podcast.

I have found myself watching and re-watching this video over and over since I first saw it. It takes a simple idea — a story that unfolds via paper cut with an X-Acto knife and backlit to create intricate and stunning silhouettes — and shapes it into something that honestly feels divine.

It was a moment of television magic. I heard a brand new song from my favorite band and saw them on film, walking around and riding horses. If the expression "my mind was blown" had been created, I'd have phoned up my friends and told them that. All I can remember saying to my friends after seeing The Beatles' "Penny Lane" film is, "That was boss!" And now that film is back and more beautiful than ever.

Le Volume Courbe is the music of Charlotte Marionneau and her friends. On her second album those friends include names you'll know, like Kevin Shields from My Bloody Valentine, and names you'll want to know, like Melanie Draisey, Chris Mackin, Lascelle Gordon and more.

The first time I saw 10-piece Houston big band The Suffers, it was at a small venue in Washington, D.C., called DC9. The club was barely big enough to contain all the horns, guitars and percussion, not to mention the undeniable force of the music.

Listen to this conversation and you'll feel like you're sitting in an airport lounge eavesdropping on two smart, funny, mutually-admiring musicians.

There's a lot of mediocrity to sort through when you hop from one club to another during a festival like the CMJ Music Marathon, five days during which bands flock to New York. So when I find stuff that stands out, that pushes the inevitable evolutionary boundaries of rock, I get really happy.

I've seen Oh Pep! four times in three cities in the past month, and needless to say, the Melbourne band's music is infectious. Oh Pep gets its Oh from Olivia Hally (vocals, guitar) and its Pep! from Pepita Emmerichs (violin, mandolin). These Australians fit well in Nashville during an Americana music festival, as they played fiddles and mandolins alongside guitars, bass and drums. Their harmonies are sweet, with lyrics that are thoughtful, deep, funny and poetic.

The way we listen to music evolves constantly. From wax cylinder recordings all the way through to today's streaming services, formats have come a long way. What's next? What does this unending metamorphosis say about the music industry? And what does any of this have to do with Robert De Niro?

My rule when booking Tiny Desk Concerts is to see artists live before they come to the office. I've heard many a great record only to be disappointed by a live show. But when I heard Andra Day sing "Forever Mine" from her album Cheers To The Fall, I decided to break my rule, sight unseen.

Deqn Sue rose above a crowd of close to 7,000 entries and almost won our Tiny Desk Concert Contest earlier this year. I so loved her song and her performance of "Magenta" that I invited Deqn Sue — along with her producer, Kelvin Wooten — to my desk to perform that song and more.

I've listened to Eskimeaux's O.K. more than any other record this year. I madly love this music: It's intimate, with abundant joy and sorrow. From that album, "Broken Necks" is a song about two lovers and friends trying to make it all work.

Good luck getting these tunes out of your head.

I first became enchanted with Marian McLaughlin's music when she was searching for ways to mix her quirky classical guitar picking with her equally unusual voice. McLaughlin follows her muse for a sound that occasionally recalls Joanna Newsom or the psychedelic folk music of The Incredible String Band.

As technology rules the sound of the day, it's good to be reminded how powerfully a single voice can transmit deep emotion. Joan Shelley made one of the most beautiful records of the year with just her voice and two guitars.

The Watkins Family Hour began a dozen or so years ago as a way for a group of friends to get together and play old and new tunes. For Sean and Sara Watkins, it served as a monthly bit of magic: a musical variety show filled with extraordinary talent in the world of folk, bluegrass and beyond at L.A.'s famous Largo.

NPR Music is in Nashville all this week for the 16th annual AmericanaFest. So the newest episode of All Songs Considered offers a big bundle of music from some of the acts who are playing the festival that the team is most excited to see. Before leaving D.C., Bob called up NPR Music's Ann Powers and NPR Music contributor Jewly Hight in Music City to talk about what Americana means, and who its newest and most promising voices are.