: Oh my GOD was I nervous about this one. You'll probably be able to hear it in my voice. I have been listening to Hrishikesh Hirway's podcasts for a very long time — Song Exploder! West Wing Weekly! Home Cooking! I even listened to the three-episode miniseries he did for Google Music, which is how I learned about the existence of bounce music in New Orleans. Look it up. Anyway, having him on Follow Friday was a dream come true for me.
And you know what would also be a dream? If you told someone else about Follow Friday. We're past the one-year mark and I still love doing this show, but it needs your help to keep growing. Tell a friend, tell your coworkers, tell your Twitter followers, whatever it is you do, I really appreciate your support.
I also appreciate our patrons over at Patreon.com/followfriday
You're listening to the public feed, which means you're going to hear four follow recommendations from Hrishikesh Hirway today. But he actually gave me five, and if you want to hear all five, then come check out the Patreon page.
Lastly, I want to thank this week's sponsor …
Today's show is brought to you by Kelsus, which pairs startups with expertly assembled software development teams. They work with funded startups across multiple industries to help them get to market fast. Learn more and get in touch at kelsus.com.
: I'm Eric Johnson. Welcome to Follow Friday, the podcast about who you should follow online.
Every week, I talk to creative people about who they follow, and why. This is a guided tour to the best people on the internet, led by your favorite writers, podcasters, comedians, and more. If this is your first episode of the show, take a moment now and please follow or subscribe in your podcast app.
Today on the show is Hrishikesh Hirway, the host of the podcast and Netflix series Song Exploder, and co-host of Home Cooking and West Wing Weekly. He's also a TED speaker and a composer and a musician who has performed with everyone from Lakeith Stanfield to Yo-Yo Ma. You can find Hrishikesh on Twitter and Instagram @HrishiHirway. Hrishikesh, welcome to Follow Friday!HRISHIKESH
: Thanks so much for having me.ERIC
: I'm so glad that you're here. You were a recommendation of a previous guest on the show, Bijan Stephen. And first off, we should tell folks that you are going to be on tour in a couple of weeks with the singer-songwriter Jenny Owen Youngs. I already have my tickets to see you in San Francisco, but explain what you and Jenny are going to be doing on this tour.HRISHIKESH
: Awesome. Yeah, we're doing one combined set where we're going to be performing as a duo, playing each other's songs together. So half the songs will be mine and half the songs will be Jenny, but we're going to play them all together.ERIC
: That sounds like fun. And you're going to do a mixture of songs and storytelling?HRISHIKESH
: Yeah, and I think we're also going to be doing a lot of storytelling in between. So people who might know us from music will get to hear songs and people who might know us from podcasts will get to hear us talking and doing that thing, too.ERIC
: Wonderful. So, I've mentioned this in the episode with Bijan, that your podcast with Samin Nosrat, Home Cooking, was very important to me, helped get me through some of the darker days of this pandemic. And one of the hallmarks of the show is that you like to torture Samin with food puns. So before we get to your follows, I have to know, were you coming up with those on the fly, or before each podcast taping, were you cramming, like trying to think of "What can I pun with arugula?"HRISHIKESH
: [laughs] No, I like to practice my wordplay in real-time. So it has to really only happen in reaction to something that she says. It's not really stuff that I could ever come up with beforehand. I think part of the reason why it was fun for me and painful for her is because it would be based on something that she had just said.ERIC
: Exactly. All right, well before the puns start flying, let's find out who Hrishikesh Hirway follows. And you can follow along with us today — every person he recommends will be linked in the show notes and in the transcript at followfridaypodcast.com.
Hrishikesh, before the show, I gave you a list of categories and asked you to tell me four people you follow who fit in those categories. Your first pick is in the category "someone you just started following," and you said Sumesh Hirway, who is on Instagram @sumeshhirway. Sumesh is a food scientist, a frequent celebrity guest on Home Cooking and also your dad, and you only just started following him? What's that about?HRISHIKESH
: Well, he only just recently started an Instagram account.ERIC
: Okay, fair enough.HRISHIKESH
: He started an Instagram account and it's ... I don't know what to say about it. I don't know how many people in their eighties have Instagram accounts, but my dad is one. The way he primarily uses it, it's kind of a disaster, but it's also entertaining; certainly entertaining for people who aren't his children. For me, it's like a little bit mortifying, but it's also like oh, what am I going to do? Like, sure. He mostly takes pictures of articles in the New York Times food section that he has enjoyed. He takes a picture of them, and then posts the photo on Instagram and says, you know, "this was a good article."
But because it's a picture of the print version of the New York Times, you can't actually read anything. And because he doesn't understand cropping and stuff like that, a lot of the times the headline is cut off so you couldn't even necessarily find it. A lot of times the photos are upside down or sideways. It's ...ERIC
: It's incredibly charming.HRISHIKESH
: Yeah it seems almost like dadaist art or something like that, but it's my father, so really it's daddyist art.ERIC
: I'm glad the Sulzberger family hasn't come after him for pirating their content.HRISHIKESH
: Yeah, exactly!ERIC
: But how would you describe his relationship with the internet, as a man in his eighties? Is he an online person, in any other way? Is he someone who ever throws out any hot takes about the internet in your direction?HRISHIKESH
: I would say he's pretty online, especially for someone his age. He listens to a lot of podcasts through a Google Home speaker and that's what he uses to listen to podcasts, including mine. And yeah, he has some troubles just like any parent might, especially when we were recording episodes of Home Cooking, and I'd be trying to get my dad to record a local version of himself while also talking to us. So it meant like using multiple devices because we would be asking him to Zoom on his laptop with us while also recording a voice memo on his phone to send to us, to have a better recording.
That was, I think ... challenging for both of us. Samin found it very amusing. I think that's basically how people feel about his Instagram as well, they enjoy it. And I don't know how this happened, but he has almost 5,000 followers on Instagram.ERIC
: Oh, wow. That's the Home Cooking bump for you there, you just get a little exposure and ... yeah.HRISHIKESH
: Considering what he posts, it really does not line up.ERIC
: Speaking of Home Cooking, is he still obsessed with his air fryer, or has he moved on to something else?HRISHIKESH
: No, he is obsessed with his air fryer. He has a bunch of things that he gets excited about. He recently did a whole taste-testing project where he tried three different saffrons from three different countries and he made an Indian dessert called shrikhand, using the saffron from each country. And then he wrote it all up, and he asked me to edit it so he could send it in an email to a few different people. So he's still a food scientist very much at heart, even though he's retired.ERIC
: What was that like having a food scientist father, when you were growing up, how did that affect your relationship with food? Did you have constant experiments or lectures about the nature of food in the kitchen?HRISHIKESH
: You know, when I was growing up, not so much because at the time, when I was younger, my dad's job in food science was more in sort of health and safety and quality control. Then it was only later, once I was sort of in my twenties, that my dad got a job that was closer to his heart, that was more in like R&D and new product development. So it was really the last 15 years of his career or so that he was doing those kinds of experiments. And so I would get those lectures and we would have those kinds of conversations, but it was more like when I was an adult or a young adult than when I was a kid.ERIC
: Well, that was Sumesh Hirway, Instagram's new hottest star. You can follow him @SumeshHirway.
Hrishikesh, let's move on to your next follow. I asked you for "someone you don't know, but want to be friends with," and you said Rose Matofeo, who is on Twitter @rose_matafeo, and on Instagram @rosematafeo. Rose is a comedian from New Zealand and the creator of a BBC series called Starstruck. What was your introduction to her, or her work?HRISHIKESH
: A friend of mine posted on Instagram stories that Starstruck was a show that she really loved, and she's a very funny person. She's a writer on the HBO show Barry and someone whose opinion I take very seriously, and I think that was the first time I'd seen Starstruck. And then I think maybe even the next day, certainly the same week, I think, Samin also told me how much she loved that show, that she had just binged all six episodes of the first season in one day, and she thought it was great.
So those two recommendations came kind of back to back and I think that weekend, my wife Lindsey and I watched the entire first season. We did the same thing, we watched all six episodes in one night, and I've gone back now and rewatched season two. It's so great. And there's a second season that's coming out, I think it's already out in the UK, but it hasn't come out yet here in America.ERIC
: So for people like me who are ignorant to the greatness of Starstruck, who haven't watched it yet, what's the show about, what makes it so good?HRISHIKESH
: It's a rom-com about two people who meet and fall for each other and kind of in fits and starts. Rose plays one of the characters and the other character is, unbeknownst to her when they first get together, a very famous actor. She was pretty drunk when they first meet and so she doesn't quite put it all together until the next day that she actually knows who that is.
And she's sort of like a "normal person" and he is this movie star and I thought it was great, really funny. Also, it was nice to see — the movie star character is Indian and he's played by an Indian actor and there was something so nice and refreshing about the idea that could even exist in the reality of the show. And there isn't really attention drawn to it in a way, that is at all... I mean his family, his upbringing, they're part of the story, but it's never brought up as like "Oh, he's a famous movie star, despite the fact that he is Indian" or something like that.
It's the UK, and things are different in terms of the prominence of Indian people in mainstream culture, but still, it was really cool. I would have loved the show even despite that, but that aspect made me love it even more. And I thought, what a cool thing to create this world and have that be part of it. So that's part of the reason why I want to be friends with Rose, it was just like "you must be so cool."
She's also incredibly funny, both in the show and then, because of my fandom now, I've gone back and watched early videos on YouTube of her interviewing people for New Zealand press junket stuff where she interviews celebrities and they're so good and so charming. And so far above the caliber of those kinds of normal weird press junket interviews.
There's one that I thought was very good where she interviewed Bill Hader, this was from like 2015...
[clip from interview]ROSE MATAFEO
: We're going to do some fast word association.BILL HADER
: Are you up for that, Bill?BILL
: I am, yes!ROSE
: Let's do it! Waterbed!BILL
: [cracks up laughing]ROSE
: Well, you know, it's a sexy thing! Right?BILL
: Waterbed, uh, mirror on the ceiling.ROSE
: Whoa! Air mattress.BILL
: Two-for-one Thai massage voucher.BILL
: Oh ... four-way?ROSE
: Nice. The moon landing.BILL
: Finally! Someone ...BILL
: Brave enough.ROSE
: ... recognized. We're speaking truths right here. This is going to get cut out, but it's important to talk about it.
: It's great. And then I've watched a bunch of things from British game shows and stuff that she's been on. I find her very charming and very funny.ERIC
: I was just watching a clip of her on 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown. I don't know if you've seen any of her appearances on that.HRISHIKESH
: [laughs] Yeah.ERIC
: Well okay, if Rose hears this and she's like "Hey, you sound cool too, let's hang out," what do you want to do first? Do you want to go somewhere with her? Do you want to just get a coffee and talk? What's first on your list?HRISHIKESH
: I think if we were going to hang out, she's on TV and probably going to be a movie star too, she must come to LA for meetings and things like that. We could go get lunch, or I could do what I did with Samin the first time that we ever hung out in LA, where I took her on a tour of LA to go pick up some of my favorite cookies in town. And that was a good introduction to our friendship then, a few years ago, so maybe I'd do something like that.ERIC
: That's good. I will throw out an alternate suggestion, though. This is from Rose's Wikipedia page: "As a teenager, Matafeo participated in Franz Ferdinand message boards, expressing her infatuation for the lead singer, Alex Kapranos, until she was kicked off for 'being too racy.'" [Hrishikesh laughs] And I think you know Alex Kapranos and the Franz Ferdinand guys. So I think you should get these kids together, turn on a microphone, and just to see what happens, but that's just me.HRISHIKESH
: Wow, that's good information.ERIC
: Well hopefully you can use it someday. That was Rose Matafeo who is on Twitter @rose_mantafeo and on Instagram @Rosemantafeo. We're going to take a quick break right now, but we'll be back in a minute with Hrishikesh Hirway.
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: Welcome back to Follow Friday. Hrishikesh, I asked you to tell me about "someone super-talented who's still under the radar," and you said John Mark Nelson, who is on Twitter and Instagram @JohnMarkNelson. John Mark is a musician in Los Angeles, you're a musician in Los Angeles, I assume that you know him in real life?HRISHIKESH
: Yeah, we do know each other in real life. We met through my friend Jenny Owen Youngs, the person who we talked about earlier, who I'm going on tour with. Jenny is a close friend of mine and also a close collaborator of mine. We really became friends through collaborating and making music together and writing songs, and she introduced me to John Mark.
He's a great songwriter on his own, but I first worked with him because he mixed a soundtrack that I did for a video game. I needed somebody to mix this soundtrack really quickly and elevate it, and I asked Jenny, and she said oh, you should talk to John Mark. I did and it was great. I really loved working with him.
And then a few months after when I was writing songs of my own, I think it was Jenny who suggested that maybe John Mark and I try writing a song together. So we did, and that became a really wonderful collaboration. And so the record that I have coming out at the end of March, it's six songs and half of them I co-wrote with Jenny and half of them I co-wrote with John Mark.ERIC
: Oh, wow. And what's the name of that record, so people can keep an eye out for it?HRISHIKESH
: It's called Rooms I Used to Call My Own.ERIC
: So talk about the collaboration process there. So, you work with these two collaborators on these songs. Obviously, you've worked with a variety of folks, as I mentioned, throughout your career as a musician, all sorts of collaborations of different types. What does it look like when you're working with someone like John Mark and what makes a collaborator stand out? What's something he did in that process that made you go wow, this is a really talented guy, this guy gets what we're trying to do here?HRISHIKESH
: What I really loved about the process is it prevented me from throwing everything away immediately, which was what was keeping me from writing songs for a long time. The last record I put out came out in 2011. It's been a really, really long time and I got into a kind of writer's block where everything I did, I could immediately talk myself into how stupid it was or how unoriginal it was or I would convince myself to just throw it away, and it wasn't worth anything. And that kind of went on for a long time.
When I met Jenny and she asked me to write a song with her, that was my first time working with somebody who has experience in the co-writing idiom. And I really loved it because I would sort of put out ideas and just have somebody else listen to them and absorb them and say "oh, I like this," it just slowed down the process. You know, what would happen in a split second, of me being like "I have an idea, okay let me try it, oh that's stupid. Or okay, forget it, never mind, I quit, I hate it, and I should never be attempting this again." You know, which would happen in a split second.
Suddenly now I would sing something or write a lyric or something or both, and one of them, Jenny or John Mark might hear it and they'd be like "oh, I like that." And I'm like, really, isn't that bad? They're like "no, hold on," and then they would play it, and I could just hear the same melody in the same words being sung by somebody else, and I could appreciate it in a different way. I was like oh yeah, okay, maybe there's something there, and then it could live for a minute.
You know, not every line or every idea made it into the final song, but enough of them survived that I could actually write a song. There could actually be a song by the end of it. So that was incredibly, not just helpful, it was life-changing because it meant I was able to make music again.
And with John Mark, one of the things that I really love is just the way that he challenges me, but also I feel very supported by him. There's an underlying trust because I feel like he believes in me. I know that he thinks that there are some good ideas that I have, so when we get started on something and he likes it then I can believe that. But then also when he pushes back and he's like "maybe something else here," I know that it's coming from a place that isn't only critical. And the ways in which he pushes me, I think are really really helpful.
He kind of pushes against some of my own instincts to obscure, or soften, or complicate some ideas. You know, sometimes I will say a thing and I'll write a line and he'd be like oh yeah, I like that. And then two days later I'll go back to it and I'm like well maybe I could rewrite it like this. It would be more clever this way, and it would have more depth than maybe the language is prettier or something like that. And John Mark might come back to me and say "no, it was good the way you first came up with it, because it was sort of direct, it was from the heart and the plain spoken way of doing it is actually more effective." I think that's advice that I could really use often, and he's able to put it in a way that I can hear it and accept it.ERIC
: Right because when you are singing something that you've written, you're bringing in the baggage of just what you were feeling when you wrote it, or maybe the aspirations of what you wanted it to sound like. Or alternate lines you could have sung, all sorts of extraneous material that went into that creative process and he's approaching it as an outsider, as a helpful, positive constructive outsider and can maybe show you a different perspective on something that you've probably spent a long time thinking about and working with.HRISHIKESH
: Yeah, he's also just a terrific musician, and so sometimes there'll be an idea that I have musically that if left to my own devices, I might have to work for a few hours to figure out how to execute what I was trying to do. But with John Mark, I can say, well this is the idea, I'm trying to do this, and I can play my bad version of it, but I can express the idea and then he'd be like oh, like this, and then he can play it on the guitar or on the piano much faster than I could.
So we were able to work more efficiently that way, and either I can say, oh actually now that I hear it, that's not great. Or I can hear him play it and be like yeah, that's the thing, and then he can just quickly record it. And then we have it to work off of, instead of me having to grind for a little while to get a workable version.ERIC
: Well, it sounds like a great collaborator. Although I will say, I noticed he's a slight competitor. On his YouTube channel, he's basically doing a one-man Song Exploder of one of his songs where he's breaking down all the different tracks, all of the stems, and explaining what they mean. And I don't know, you better watch out for this guy.HRISHIKESH
: No, no, I approve of everybody doing their own Song Exploders, that was really the point of the show, was for artists to be able to have a context where they could talk about the reasons why they made something, how and what the creative decisions were. But there are obviously just way too many songs out there for me to be able to make episodes. So I think as many artists want to do that themselves, that's great.ERIC
: Definitely. Well that was John Mark Nelson, who is on Twitter and Instagram at @JohnMarkNelson.
We have time for one more follow today, Hrishikesh, I asked you for "someone who's an expert in a very specific niche you love," and you said Erik Agard, who is on Twitter @e_a_rly. Erik is the crossword puzzle editor at USA Today and a crossword setter at the New Yorker. So I'm going to take a wild leap here and assume that you are a big fan of crossword puzzles.HRISHIKESH
: I am, and I love Erik's puzzles in particular. He is a fantastic puzzle constructor, and he's also a great puzzle solver. If you pay attention at all to crossword competitions, he just decimates people, but he's also very, very good at constructing puzzles.ERIC
: So what is it that he does that sets him apart, so to speak?HRISHIKESH
: The joy I think from crosswords usually comes from the themed answers, a lot of times they're the longer answers that all tie in and there might be some kind of like clever mechanism behind them. But then what ends up happening is a lot of times, in service of those longer clues, you get all the short words; it's just called "the fill," you know, the little four-letter, three-letter things.
And if you're someone who solves crosswords regularly, you end up running into the same kind of fill all the time. Some of those are just repetitive, and some of them are kind of nonsense and you're like "wow, this is quite bad." What I love about Erik is that he is very thoughtful about all of his clues and his answers. So, you often run into answers that you've never seen before. I mean, he's a big fan of the WNBA. There's a good chance that if you see a WNBA clue in a crossword, it might be constructed by Erik Agard, and I love that.
I think the way that he references culture is very modern and very refreshing because one of the problems with crosswords is that it can be kind of stodgy and very white and not exciting after having solved a thousand crossword puzzles. Sometimes, you see the exact same set of letters that you might've seen in another puzzle, but if the clue is given to you in an interesting and refreshing way, it's just as delightful. If you've had to think about something in a new way to come up with the same answer, it still counts as something new, and I feel like he consistently provides that and I really appreciate it.ERIC
: It doesn't need to be a cryptic crossword. It doesn't need to be extremely difficult, but it just makes you process things in a slightly different way. Think an extra second to get to that same word or the same set of words, yeah.
I'm not very good at crosswords myself, but I was a big fan of the documentary Wordplay that came out like 15 years ago. And there was a point in that where they were talking about like "Oh, well this is the New York Times, we should represent all of culture." And at the time, their example of what "all of culture" was, was "video game Tomb Raider Croft." And it's like yeah, cool, video games are great, but there's so much more blue sky out there. There's so much more to be represented than yet another mass medium.HRISHIKESH
: Yeah, and Erik has made part of his work in crosswords about inclusion in a way that I really appreciate. Especially since having that kind of diversity in the people who make crosswords and the kinds of clues and answers that you feature in crosswords, only makes them more interesting, not less. He doesn't sacrifice anything in terms of quality by doing that. It's in fact a misapprehension to imagine that you would be sacrificing anything by being more inclusive and it's the opposite, because you get to fit in more ideas in the same kind of 15 by 15 grid.ERIC
: And now in addition to his crossword prowess, you told me that he was also a Jeopardy! champion and he was a fan favorite on that show, is that right?HRISHIKESH
: Yeah, at least, he was a favorite of mine, as a fan of both the show and I thought his appearance was fantastic. And I don't want to spoil it, but maybe I should …ERIC
: Let's go ahead and say Jeopardy! spoilers. If you're not caught up on Jeopardy from however many years ago, go back and watch it now. What's the spoiler that you're flirting with here?HRISHIKESH
: He didn't know the answer to Final Jeopardy. And, let's see ... OK, I found the clip here for a second. Here we go.
[clip from Jeopardy]ALEX TREBEK
(reading clue): "In a hint of the future, in 1973 Marjorie Post gave it to the U.S. Government as a warm-weather presidential retreat, but it was returned." 30 seconds, good luck.
: We don't have 30 seconds. So pause the podcast here if you want to think about it ... OK, time's up.HRISHIKESH
: The answer is Mar-a-lago, whatever. But Erik didn't know the answer, and instead of just writing whatever, he wrote "What is you doing baby?"
: And he got Alex Trebek to say "what is you doing baby?"ERIC
[clip from Jeopardy!]ALEX
: Erik Agard, I think you struggled with this one. You were leading, though, with $15,800. "What is ... what is you doin'? What is you doin' baby?" Is that what ... ?ERIK AGARD
: Too loud right now.ALEX
: "What is you doin', baby?" Well, I'm responding incorrectly!
: It was incredible, and then that just thrilled me so much. There is a meme of "what is you doing baby," and that's what he's referencing. It was just a delight.ERIC
: I saw a tweet recently of someone saying "I'm really happy for the new hosts of Jeopardy!, they seem like they're having a great time. But Jeopardy! should not be hosted by nerds, it should be hosted by people who consider themselves slightly above the nerds who come on the show." Which I feel like Trebek, trolling him a little bit, getting him to say stuff that he was too good for, that's one of the joys of the show.HRISHIKESH
: There's a big overlap between people who are Jeopardy! fans and crossword fans. And I think people who are very good at crosswords understandably are also very good at Jeopardy!, so to see all of this stuff come together in one place was fantastic.ERIC
: Absolutely. That was Erik Agard, who is on Twitter @e_ a_ rly.
Hrishikesh, thank you for sharing your follows with us today. Before we go, let's make sure listeners know how to find you online. Where do you want them to follow you?HRISHIKESH
: You could follow me on Instagram and Twitter @hrishihirway, and my website is hrishikesh.co
, pretty much everything that I do is up there. I also have a newsletter that's at hrishikesh.bulletin.com
: Follow me on Twitter at @HeyHeyESJ and don't forget to follow or subscribe to Follow Friday in your podcast app. If you like this episode, then check out the past Follow Friday interviews with Amanda Aronczyk
from Planet Money, Bijan Stephen
from Eclipsed, and Max Miller
from Tasting History.
Follow Friday's theme music was written by me and performed by Yona Marie
. Our show art was illustrated by Dodi Hermawan
. Special thanks to our Big Fri Patreon backers Jon and Justin. Visit patreon.com/followfriday
for bonus follows, including one from today's guest, Hrishikesh.ERIC
: That's all for this week. This is Eric Johnson, reminding you to talk about people behind their backs, and when you do say something nice. See you next Friday!