As a journalist, there is always an act that makes you excited; to learn about their story, hear things from their perspective, and see things through their eyes. This time was very special for me, as I got the opportunity to interview, in my opinion, a legend in the music business. I am sure you all have heard of an artist called Ben Folds, and yes, he is just as cool as he seems. We chatted about everything from his new album, tour life, his career, and more. Take a few minutes and indulge in the abundance of wonderful that is Ben Folds. Check it out!
First and foremost, it is an honor and a privilege to interview you; I’ve been a fan for as long as I can remember.
Thank you. I hope that doesn’t mean you hit your head recently. Sorry, I’m not funny. Thank you.
To start if off, I want to chat the new record So There. It’s amazing, and has gotten wonderful reviews. Can you tell us a little bit about the writing and recording process of this record?
For the yMusic portion of the record, I brought in partially finished songs. We played with arrangements which informed which songs would be finished and what direction they might go. Once I at least had form, minus some lyrics and details here and there, we would put the yMusic arrangements on paper and run them a few times, then record. They’re pretty much one- or two-take kind of players. We used fewer and fewer mics as we progressed, committing to the audio bleed and the feel of a full take. I would do a scratch with missing lyrics, quietly, go home and finish them, come back and lay the vocal on.
From a fan’s perspective like myself, I personally interpret this album as a collection of songs reminiscing on many occurrences in my life. Is that ever weird to hear that your music can really hit people on an emotional level?
Not really. I have to assume that there are people who will receive the way that I put it out there. If it resonates with me it has a chance of doing so in ways that I didn’t expect for others. I can’t manipulate that or how anyone feels about what they’re hearing. But if I stay true to what I’m feeling, I can bet that someone else will. Sometimes we grow into understanding a song, or away from it. It’s all pretty much a mystery, but nothing of it surprises me.
One of your many attributes as an artist is that you take unexpected paths. With so many side projects and other things happening in your life, what made you decide to release this record when you did?
I’d composed the concerto with no real plan to record it. Then the initial performances were so overwhelmingly successful and satisfying that I knew I needed to make a record based on that piece. I settled on yMusic as my band, and collaborators. I decided, after all, to write full songs with lyrics for the yMusic part. When it was done, I wanted it out there because I felt strongly about the whole things as a piece.
A statement I often say about you that I think you can agree with is that you will never make the same album twice, even if you tried.
What I aspire to is to make albums I’ve never heard. That’s lofty, and not always achieved. Well… sometimes I’m not even going for that. Sometimes I just have a rock record, or a songwriter record inside and need to do that. But it’s a treat to go for it when you realize that you’re doing something new. This record was like that for me.
So aside from the new record, what else are you up to right now?
A lot of printing of photographs. I’m starting to keep my mind’s ear open for a direction to go with a project I’m going to begin—when I can—involving university orchestras and choirs. I’m starting organizing my thoughts for a book.
Musically, is there anything you can’t do that you wish you could?
I take a step at a time. I would like to be able to use Sibelius myself—a software program that makes it easy to notate for orchestration. But every time I get into that damn thing I put myself to sleep. So, I have the luxury of having someone at my side to do that. Orchestration is something I would like to continue to explore. There’s so much. I want to achieve ideas that I can hear in my head—that’s enough of a leap sometimes.
In your career, many of your fans have grown with you since you emerged on the scene with Ben Folds Five. Do you also tend to notice that younger fans are still coming on board?
Absolutely. Without new fans each time out I would be playing a very specific kind of show and have a very specific oldies-oriented audience. Each album has brought new and younger fans. I generally look out on a healthy spread from 18-50 these days. College students are at peak of listening power and disposable time—they don’t think so at this point, and I understand, but it’s true—so if you’ve got a healthy career, and I do, there’s a lot of college people out there.
What would you say has changed the most for you in this industry since you first started out?
I couldn’t say. I continue to do what I like and to go where my interests lead. The more I do that, the happier I am. I’m still here. Maybe I’d have been bigger than Jesus if I’d done what someone else thought was a good idea, but something tells me not. I just follow my heart and the “industry” seems to still have a place for that.
Ben Folds will be playing at The Paramount in Huntington, NY on Nov. 1. His new album, So There, is available now. For more information, go to benfolds.com.