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Connecting the songwriter to the listener


Steve Penhollow

Whatzup Features Writer

Published October 10, 2019

Heads Up! This article is 3 years old.

Unlike many established musicians, Ben Folds doesn’t mind admitting that he sometimes gets sick of playing his most beloved songs.

“I might have said right before I played the gig, ‘I never want to play that [expletive] song again,’” Folds told The Washington Post. “And then when you start playing the show, you realize this is [the audience’s] favorite song … . You just remember you can cash in on your lost innocence.”

Folds is best and most widely known for his band Ben Folds Five, purveyors of the hit song, “Brick.” At a point when the band was at its hottest, they decided to call it quits in 2000.

The pop Band grind

“It aged us all,” Folds told the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, referring to the grind of being a pop band. “We were just [expletive] tired. It was 24 hours a day of doing that for six years. Maybe The Who gave it that much for longer, but one of them died though, you know?

“We were the type of band that, if we weren’t feeling it, we felt we weren’t doing our job,” he said. “And we weren’t feeling it consistently. We were just over it.”

Folds went on to try a little bit of everything: Solo tours and albums, alliances with orchestras and ballet companies, bands comprised of guys who were also named Ben, a stint as a judge on a reality show, and collaborations with likely and unlikely people, including British novelist Nick Hornby and actor William Shatner.

Folds has nothing but praise for Shatner.

“He’s great,” Folds told the Daytona Beach News-Journal. “First, he’s a complete pro. I mean the guy has 50 or 60 years of experience in his art form.

“But even after all that, he’s just so spontaneous,” he said. “His takes are always different. He makes it a new experience every time and part of that is very professional.”

Collaborations

Excellence of musicianship isn’t always what draws Folds to a collaborator or a touring partner.

“Chance kind of puts people together sometimes,” Folds told the Toledo Blade. “I’ve met enough people doing what I do to realize that just because I like their music, doesn’t mean I’m going to like them or vice versa. Some of my favorite people to tour with personally, I don’t like their music. I just like them. Separating the two is kind of difficult sometimes.”

As much as Folds enjoys seeking out questionable helpmates and putting together strange ensembles, he said that seeing him live in a solo setting may be the ideal way to experience his music.

“It does something for the songs when you do it that way,’’ he told the Hobart Town Mercury. “You have the ability to really highlight the song, just put a marker right there.

“While you can certainly do that with ensembles, orchestras, or rock bands, there’s something special about solo performance,” he said. “It’s not something that all writers and performers are as comfortable with, because it does require a little bit of mastery of the instrument.”

The instrument in question is the piano, although Folds plays many others and plays them well.

Stop comparing him to Joel

Ben Folds Five was notable for being a piano-centered and guitar-free pop act.

When Folds started out, he was compared to Elton John and Billy Joel. Nowadays, young pop and rock pianists are compared to Folds.

Folds said it’s flattering but too facile. It does a disservice to the individuality of each artist.

“That’s as flattering as it gets,” he told the Allentown Morning Call, “but I take it with a grain of salt. When I was starting out, it was very, very frustrating hearing [myself compared to] Billy Joel over and over again. It was insulting because people making the comparison didn’t mean it in a nice way. And that was doubly insulting for Billy Joel, implying that he was washed up in some kind of way.”

As a lyricist and composer, Folds is often compared to Randy Newman. That’s an analogy that he takes unqualified pride in.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “He’s one of the best. I love his point of views and his characters are just so well written and sometimes so bizarre. It’s a huge compliment.”

Folds’ fans tend to respond to his songs as if they are selections from the soundtracks of their lives. The connection between songwriter and listeners is a bit mysterious, Folds said.

“I think what we do is we write what moves us,” he said. “I suppose anyone who is genetically or spiritually inclined or connected will pick it up, you know? I think there’s probably a lot of people who listen to it and say ‘What a bunch of [expletive].’ I know. I read a couple of those reviews. You don’t know what’s going to connect. People see things different ways. For me, if it’s someone who takes things to the heart via the head, they’ll get it. Thinkers seem to connect.”

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