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Ben Folds - Just A Normal Guy

Author: Huwston
Monday, September 29, 2008

Ben Folds – who spends his time equally between his native United States and our own Adelaide – spoke with 3D’s Huwston about his latest album, Way To Normal.

With a little help from outside producer, Dennis Herring, Ben Folds wrestled through a long divorce to complete Way To Normal. As much as they were Ben’s songs, though, it was still very much a collaborative effort.

“The collaboration was that [Herring] encouraged me to exaggerate, to not only explain the joke in the meaning behind the songs but to be economical and efficient and creative about what we wanted to do,” Folds says. “A few notable times he created the arrangement – in Frown Song, I wanted it to go in another direction. Other times he just said ‘you guys are playing too many notes’.”

Explaining the poignancy of lyrics is probably something all songwriters wish they were exempt from.

“I feel like I do it [explain the meaning] when I write the songs,” he admits. “We’re all guilty of being fascinated with personality and autobiography, like who’s dating who, and being interested in public failure. People like to know that someone has faults.

"I just like to get across the song and then run – throw it like a grenade. With Brick we moved so closely between the writing, recording and releasing, I probably would have taken it out if I had a chance to make it stop.”

It’s that sort of Folds magic that the movie studios love, scoring him numerous spots recording for soundtracks, although most of his best work for films has landed on the cutting room floor.

“The song The Luckiest was for a movie, a nerd kissing scene. I knew it had emotional legs, but the scene was cut from the movie, so when I used it on my album people grasped for context - the movie wasn’t there so people wanted to know what it was about.”

Whilst he has always had interest from the movie studios, he feels his lyrics get in the way of big scenes.

“They don’t want on the nose lyrics and some of mine get very specific – like Hiroshima, that would ruin a scene, unless it’s about a guy falling off stage. They want someone saying ‘come on, back that ass’,” he jokes again, dryly.

As the piano man of our generation, Folds feels comfortable and doesn't wish to be swinging an axe on stage, as songs like Rocking the Suburbs might have us believe. Surprisingly enough, though, he doesn’t mind the comparisons.

“I am bound to that part of the stage,” he says. “You can pull a rock move but I feel like I'm just there to play piano. The performance is all manners. I like to push the songs by making them compete with the performance. If the performance is winning then that keeps me on my toes about the songwriting. In Ben Folds Five we used to really fuck with the songs and do different versions of them.

“There is a public perception of the piano man, it's as well founded as rap is becoming - hip hop is an institution, you can’t avoid that, trying to avoid that is probably not cool.

"I want to draw the line in personality or where I am coming from with my songwriting - it should be obvious from the first five lines that it's not Jerry Lee Lewis or Elton John.

“[I’m] one of those guys who use ‘izzle’ in everything I say.”

WHO: Ben Folds
WHAT: Way To Normal through Epic/Sony BMG
WHEN: Out now