An interview with Ben Folds.
By Melody Alderman
PS: Thanks for taking the time to meet with me Ben. I'm curious, since branching out on your own from Ben Folds Five, what's been the biggest adjustment going solo?
BEN: It’s all just been kind of right. I mean it’s funny when you’re on to something and you know you’re doing the right thing you know? It’s like there’s just this curve. It’s hard to explain but there’s the fear factor you have to get over to accept that it's the right thing to do. It seems most people will be turned away at the gate because they don’t have the guts to actually go through with it. But, you can feel that coming on and you wanna freak out but you just do it. I had that and that was the only hump. Once the gigs started it was so obvious that that’s what I needed to be doing right now, and actually things have been going much better. I mean if I just speak from a businessman's point of view, business has been much better since I’ve been solo. Attendance has been better. Every source of sales has been better except record sales, which have been shit for everybody.
PS: And now you're touring with Tori Amos. Do you think you two will pair up onstage for a song or anything?
BEN: Well, we’re at the beginning of the tour and I haven’t even met her yet, so I would think not. I mean she’s got her own thing she’s doing. I think that what’s interesting about the bill is more the contrast than the similarities. I mean, you can put any good musicians together and do something but… right off the bat I have a hard time really hearing it.
PS: You have such a great sense of humor in your songwriting. How important is that to you?
BEN: It just makes it real to me that’s all. I can believe if someone has bad news to present to someone else, a lot of the times the whole thing is the sadness offset by the humor. You don’t really have one without the other. The fact that the person is trying to make everyone comfortable and make them laugh shows that there was something else going on beneath it, so it’s just more real to me. I think that’s the reason I like it. It’s just more real.
PS: Do you have any guilty pleasures, like a band that you love or a movie that you’re really embarrassed to admit you like?
BEN: (jokingly) No, I mean my tastes are pretty impeccably cool. I don’t think there are any flaws in what I like. (Just then, Ben gets saved by a woman who enters the room and asks what's up. Ben tells her, "I’m talking about myself." She sarcastically says, "Again? This has got to stop," and then closes the door.).
PS: So does your family get to join you on the road?
BEN: Yeah, they’re going to come out for the last month, the kids are. I’m still tryin’ to think of a guilty pleasure. I like shopping for cameras on the Internet. I mean that’s pretty fucking lame though.
PS: You’re into photography?
BEN: I love it, yeah. I’ve got with me, it’s basically my entire dark room minus an enlarger.
PS: Oh really? That’s a nice amenity.
BEN: (laughs) Yeah, well it’s just all gonna be this box and then I’ll get to a place like this and I can get a changing bag for the film and get distilled water and develop that out of the bag.
PS: I wanted to ask you how your writing has evolved. You said you’re working on a new album as well as the EP’s and I know you’ve had a lot of changes in your life, first and foremost becoming a father. Do you see that reflected in your writing?
BEN: I don’t know. I'm just trying different stuff. I always have. I’ve never made a record that I thought sounded like what I had done before. In my head when I write a new batch of songs, it’s always scary ‘cuz I think of it as being a huge departure. After I get away from it, it works itself into the catalog and people get used to it and then I start to realize that it’s just a natural extension. It’s not me goin’ nuts but just as I’m writing stuff I’m like, ‘wow, that’s kind of weird.' I mean, I’ve recorded ten songs for two EP’s and then I’m gonna go back home and do another five in a couple of weeks after this tour’s over and put the third EP out in November. So the first EP came out last week. The next one comes out in September and then November. So, I’m flyin’. I’m writing and finishing and putting them on the record before I can really think about what it is. So I’m hearing vocals come back and some are like, ‘damn, is that me?’ I’m singing stuff really low for my range or singing some stuff in a way that I hadn’t done it before. Who knows? I mean I felt that about the song "Brick" though. That was extremely like that. I felt like… you know the guy that did that song (singing in a very low tone), ‘mmmm….mmmm…mmmm.' What was that?
PS: Oh yeah, I know what song you’re talking about. The Crash Test Dummies?
BEN: Yes, that’s what I felt "Brick" was. I felt it was like the Crash Test Dummies. So, that’s what some of this stuff is to me and then I’ll feel like I’m doing a Van Morrison song but I’m sure that’s only me.
PS: You mentioned "Brick" which is a perfect example of an incredibly personal song, lyricall. Do you ever have a hard time releasing songs that have such a a personal, autobiographical subject matter? Do you ever feel concerned putting that out there?
BEN: I can put it out there and run but some songs I have a difficult time being in the room while the recording is being played. It’s just terribly uncomfortable. That song is one of them. It’d come on and I’d wanna leave but I didn’t have a problem with putting it out ‘cuz it’s doesn't feel real, you know? Like I never heard it on the radio. I know it was on the radio a lot. I used to see the chart numbers all the time and think, ‘holy shit, they’re playing it way too much,’ but I never heard it. No wait... I heard it once in Minneapolis.
PS: When you heard it, did you turn it off?
BEN: No, it was kind of interesting hearing it but I wasn't in the car with anybody else. It was kind of cool because it came on after a song by Bush and Bush was so loud and they said, ‘up next Ben Folds Five’ and I thought, ‘oh, we’re gonna sound so small next to that massive like billion dollar production,' yet it still sounded massive. I guess that’s why the song… part of why the song did well is ‘cuz it actually, for how quiet it was, it had this really large sound from the first note. It just commanded. I don’t know why. We did that in a room smaller than this room with an upright piano and two mic’s. People don’t do that. I don’t know why it sounded so good. Maybe that’s why it sounded so good because it was so simple.
In twenty years from now
Maybe we'll both sit down
and have a few beers
And I can tell you 'bout today
And how I picked you up
and everything changed."
Song * Still Fighting It
Album * Rockin' The Suburbs
you know I'm not mad anymore
at least most of the time
but that could take a while
I've been living just to see you smile
every once in a while"
Song * Give Judy My Notice
Album * Songs For Silverman
To find out this is it
And when I go to sleep
You'll be waking up
Four, three, two, one,
I'm letting you go
I will let go
If you will let go"
Song * Cologne
Album * Way To Normal