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, will be published in April 2016 by HarperCollins.

Watching Ben Folds perform his songs on piano at the Tiny Desk, there seems to be a direct line between thought and expression, except perhaps when he stumbles or forgets a line or two. Folds has a knack for plainspoken, smartly crafted words that sometimes sting and always seem to speak the truth — like these words from "Phone In A Pool":

Seems what's been good for the music

Hasn't always been so good for the life

For a singer who's sought privacy in the parking lot of a Target so he could record vocals in the backseat of his car, Will Toledo hasn't been shy about sharing his work. By age 23, he'd already released a dozen albums. Toledo, who records under the name Car Seat Headrest, is prolific but never conventional.

EL VY: Tiny Desk Concert

Jan 29, 2016

It's fun to see something truly new from someone whose work you love. Matt Berninger came to the Tiny Desk as lead singer of The National a few years ago, but this time he's collaborating with Brent Knopf from the bands Menomena and Ramona Falls. EL VY is their new project, and the two are perfect foils for each other — especially in this intimate setting, which highlights Knopf's playful piano and Berninger's resonant voice.

Today, we celebrate the release of our 500th Tiny Desk concert. It's amazing that something that started as a bit of a wisecrack has been so widely embraced by artists and fans. In 2008 at SXSW in Austin, NPR Music's Stephen Thompson and I met up to see singer Laura Gibson. Laura was so quiet, and the crowd was so loud and rude — something about a March basketball game — that Stephen jokingly asked her to come play at my desk so we could hear her.

I think of Wolf Alice as noisy and primal, but at the Tiny Desk, the band showed a different side — one that was childlike, pretty and quietly wonderful. I knew the three songs the group played from Wolf Alice's 2015 album My Love Is Cool, but I hardly recognized them at first. One test when you're trying to spot talent is seeing how artists step up to a challenge, and Wolf Alice's songs sound muscular even when stripped of volume. The Mercury Prize-nominated British band is a great discovery, and I'm still enchanted.

This immensely talented band from Asheville, N.C., was my favorite discovery at this year's Americana Music Festival. River Whyless builds its music around fiddle, guitar and harmonies, with imagination and textures that set the band apart from many of its acoustic and folk-based peers.

In the summer of 2014, Natalie Merchant came to Washington, D.C., to perform her first album of all-new material in 13 years. She was supposed to play here at my desk the day after that evening's performance. Instead, she fell ill, wound up in a D.C. hospital, and canceled her upcoming dates.

After seeing exactly 662 bands in each 2013 and 2014, my concert attendance plummeted in 2015. This past year I saw only 506 bands take the stage, but I have an excuse. I wrote a book.

It's A Holiday Soul Party! isn't just the title of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings' new album. It also describes perfectly what you're about to see. No one does old-school soul like this band, and having the group perform traditional and nontraditional tunes for the holiday brought joy and laughs to NPR's staff.

Son Little's music pushes gospel and blues into the 21st century with guitar processing, including backward drones, and choirs made from his looped voice. As wonderful as his 2015 self-titled album sounds, having him at the Tiny Desk with his acoustic guitar and unprocessed voice, accompanied only by his soulful singing sister, Megan Livingston, and percussionist Jabari Exum was gently uplifting.

When Alejandro Rose-Garcia, aka Shakey Graves, breaks out his guitar and suitcase kick drum/hi-hat, a palpable rush of swooning adrenaline hits the room. I felt that at the Americana Festival in Nashville, at the Newport Folk Festival and here at the Tiny Desk.

When I first saw this Denver trio on its home turf last spring, I was swiftly drawn into its mysterious swirl. Martina Grbac sings quietly, and her voice — echoing and effects-laden — sits nicely on top of her percussive cello, James Han's textures and Ross Harada's perfectly placed percussion.

The moment Brooklyn soul singer Sharon Jones sang the line, "We're cooking up the brisket the kosher butcher sold my uncle Saul," I knew the world had a new Hanukkah classic. This week, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings played a special, holiday-themed Tiny Desk Concert that included this new song, "8 Days (Of Hanukkah)."

When The Oh Hellos piled out of a van at NPR, someone remarked that it was like a clown car: Band members just kept coming, including brother and sister Tyler and Maggie Heath and their mom. They were all road-weary, trading sniffles, coughs and more. But the nine-piece group brought anthemic joy to the Tiny Desk in the form of buoyant songs whose underpinnings could still be dark and lonely.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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