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.

It's often true that the songs we wind up loving most are the ones that surprise us. I'm not a pop music lover, not a lover of songs with obvious hooks, so when I heard the big fat chorus that starts off Genevieve's "Colors," I thought, "uh-oh." What wound up drawing me in first was her voice — powerful with a tiny bit of rasp and a sweet smile in her phrasing. And then that perfectly positive message, worded in a way that gave me chills:

They came to the Tiny Desk a bit groggy, having been up late playing music in the hotel the night before. It's what Frank Fairfield and his friends Tom Marion and Zac Sokolow do when they're together. And the music they make is casual and mostly hand-me-down songs from well before Fairfield was born nearly 30 years ago.

There's sweetness to Madisen Ward And The Mama Bear's music that makes me smile, and then there's so much more. I first saw the Kansas City mother-and-son duo perform last fall in Nashville's Blue Room, a small, perfect-sounding stage at Third Man Records. The bluesy roots of the music suited the space, and the sound — with young Madisen Ward's powerful, quivering voice backed by his mother Ruth — had a homespun feel.

They've made music together since they were young teens, coming together in Edinburgh from places as far apart as Ghana and Maryland. Young Fathers' hip-hop-infused poetry is intense; you can hear that on the group's new album, White Men Are Black Men Too.

Bellows' debut album, Blue Breath, was among my Top 20 records of last year. What sets Bellows apart from thousands of other guitar-bass-drums bands out there is its heart. Oliver Kalb sings about things that matter to him in ways that matter to me. His sing-song, matter-of-fact phrasing and guitar melodies are memorable, and the harmonies are lovely, with the staying power to drift in my head for days on end.

We met at a ping-pong party in Iceland. Brendan Angelides introduced himself as a musician and friend of Jónsi and Alex Somers, who were hosting the party. When I came home from the Iceland Airwaves music festival, I listened to the music Angelides makes under the name Eskmo, and was intrigued.

There's a quiet and a calm from José González that amplify his words. This has never been truer than on his new album, Vestiges & Claws. The songs are full of abstract imagery — more paintings than stories. He performed this song, "With The Ink of A Ghost," at my desk.

Idle as a wave
Moving out at sea
Cruising without sound
Molding what's to be
Serene between the trace
Serene with the tide and ink of a ghost

People always ask me, "What's your favorite Tiny Desk Concert?" Well, right now it's the one recently performed by DakhaBrakha. The creative quartet from Kiev, Ukraine make music that sounds like nothing I've ever heard, with strands of everything I've ever heard. There are rhythms that sound West African and drone that feels as if it could have emanated from India or Australia. At times, DakhaBrakha is simply a rock band whose crazy homeland harmonies are filled with joy.

Young, soulful English singer Jessie Ware has a powerful voice, but it's used with grace. Her singing brings warmth to electronic music and swoon to her own pop, so it's no surprise that her visit to the Tiny Desk was filled with casual poise and spontaneity.

His songs feel familiar; they're old friends before the first play is done. They'd fit nicely on a mix alongside Paul Simon or the McCartney side of The Beatles.

Death Cab For Cutie came as a trio: Ben Gibbard sang, Nick Harmer played bass, and we wheeled in our piano for Zac Rae. This intimate set included two new songs — including "Black Sun," the first single from their new album Kintsugi.

It's hard to believe that it hasn't quite been a year since the first Sylvan Esso album came out. The odd yet perfect marriage of Nick Sanborn's electronics with Amelia Meath's voice feels like a familiar friend by now. And yet seeing these songs performed softly — and captured in the light of day — made them feel fresh and lovable in new ways.

Spoiler alert: The Punch Brothers came to the Tiny Desk on Chris Thile's birthday. We made him a cake and gave him an NPR surprise! This wasn't the first time the brilliant mandolinist had brought a project to my desk, it was his fourth. The last time was with his longtime band Nickel Creek — and his new braces.

It says a lot that, with almost 7,000 entries to choose from, we selected Fantastic Negrito as the winner of our Tiny Desk Concert Contest. For his winning submission, he performed "Lost In A Crowd" in a freight elevator in Oakland. It was his passion, his voice and his backing band that landed him an invitation to perform behind my desk. We're proud of our choice.

Phox: Tiny Desk Concert

Mar 2, 2015

I first saw Phox in an impromptu concert at a restaurant in Philadelphia. I thought the band was talented and charming, and I still do. Phox is six friends from Baraboo, Wis., who make pretty, catchy music. The group's not-so-secret weapon is Monica Martin, who sings with a smoky lilt in front of spare, tasteful instrumentation.

Sometime years from now I may be asked: What was your favorite day at NPR? I am likely to say it's the day Dan Deacon got the NPR staff worked up into a giant dance party! It's also the day Deacon and staff wheeled in an upright piano and connected it to his computer — a magical mix of old player piano and electronic avant-garde.

With her huge voice and an assist from talented trombonist Daniel Walter Eaton, Zola Jesus presented a curious combination at the Tiny Desk — a combination I hardly ever encounter. Having seen her mostly with a big and powerful band, I wondered if this configuration would work. But it was magic, with the trombone poignantly complementing her mellifluous voice and stark personal words.

The beauty of the Tiny Desk lies, at least partially, in the limitations of size and technology. We rarely amplify voices, for example, so for a band like Until The Ribbon Breaks, the challenge becomes how to take a loud electronic sound down to a volume where singer Pete Lawrie-Winfield can be heard. In this case, the solution involved a spaghetti strainer, a paint bucket and an acoustic guitar.

Today we're thrilled to announce that the winner of the Tiny Desk Concert Contest is Fantastic Negrito.

When I first imagined Mucca Pazza at the Tiny Desk, I honestly had no idea how the Chicago band's 23 members would fit in — in the literal sense of the term. To load-test this performance, we actually gathered a gaggle of interns behind my desk and began to stack people on cabinets, step-stools and, of course, desks.

It might be easy to dismiss a music project from actor John Reilly, but that would be a huge mistake: Reilly is a fine singer, especially when he gets a hold of old-time material, and his guitar work provides a perfect foundation for these church and porch tunes from America's past.

I was in Nashville, standing in line at a food/music festival, when this guy behind me hears my voice, recognizes me and says, "Hey, Bob Boilen! Bobby Bare Jr. here. I've been hoping to play your desk." Truth be told, I'd been hoping to make that happen, too. And so the deal was sealed over a pork bun. Thirty minutes later, at the same festival, Bare was on stage with his dad, the country legend Bobby Bare Sr., and Kings Of Leon. That's Nashville for you.

Before Rubblebucket played its Tiny Desk Concert, its members asked if they could bring a confetti cannon. And, though I said no — dear coworkers, I really do care about you — the band still brought a fun mix of brass and brash to the Tiny Desk.

I came to know Daniel Lanois through his instrumental collaboration with Brian Eno, Apollo: Atmospheres And Soundtracks, in 1983. I fell in love with Lanois' own music through his singing and the heartfelt, textured songs on albums like 1989's lovely Acadie (with its New Orleans flavor) and 1993's For The Beauty Of Wynona (with its haunting sounds and stories).

Pages