Ben Folds on “What Issues Most”
No Extra Leather-based Pants
Jun 23, 2023
Images by Alysse Gafjken
Though What Issues Most is his first studio album since So There, his collaboration in 2015 with the string ensemble yMusic, Ben Folds has been conserving himself busy. Except for his day job because the creative advisor to the Nationwide Symphony Orchestra on the Kennedy Heart, he’s written a memoir (A Dream About Lightning Bugs), launched a podcast, displayed his images in galleries within the U.S. and Europe, and appeared onscreen in movies and tv (together with the hit Amazon Prime collection The Wilds.). He’s additionally been nominated for an Emmy for his composition and efficiency of the theme tune to the Apple TV particular It’s the Small Issues. So, what made Mr. Folds return into the studio to make one thing as quaint as a pop report?
We spoke to Folds, who made a reputation for himself within the mid to late Nineteen Nineties with Ben Folds 5, concerning the new album (just lately launched by New West) and whether or not it’s higher to retire or flip right into a heritage act.
Ian Rushbury (Below the Radar): You’ve mentioned that What Issues Most has a selected sequence which builds to a finale. Was that all the time the idea or was that natural?
Ben Folds: I keep in mind speaking to Scott Litt, the man that produced R.E.M. and he mentioned they had been a fucking mess in the beginning of their periods however then proper on the finish, while you don’t suppose the objective goes to be scored, you kick the ball by 36 pairs of legs and the goalie’s palms and also you rating. They did that again and again with their music. I type of suppose that this album had a little bit little bit of that occurring.
I used to be seeking to make an album that made a visit as a result of I felt that life is like that. I consider that conserving an LP because the template is one of the simplest ways to make data. It provides you one thing to deal with—a format, a time restrict and an intermission, as a result of, within the period the place everybody forgot about vinyl, I used to be one of many folks that didn’t. Each single one among my data was pressed on vinyl and I used to be all the time so involved about how lengthy the packages are on all sides and the place the best dynamic is. I all the time have these issues in thoughts. I needed it to be a journey. Generally, I obtained a little bit bit misplaced; I assumed I used to be within the park however I used to be truly on the freeway, however that’s advantageous. I felt my method by.
There’s a cinematic really feel to the report and it finishes on an actual excessive with “Moments.” Did you all the time have at the back of your thoughts that it was going to finish on one thing uplifting?
I’m keen to confess that I’m not superb at [writing] an totally constructive tune. And that’s my downside! I finally went to my mates Tim Harrington and Paul Wright from Tall Heights for assist. I had the primary line of the tune and I instructed them, “It must be like this however I simply can’t do it,” they usually completed writing the tune for me. It turned an “period” factor—my period will not be that good at “all the things’s gonna be okay” songs. Within the ’90s, we thought that all the things was gonna be okay however now, once we know all the things isn’t gonna be okay, the youngsters like some fantasy! They’re cool with it. Youngsters can write constructive songs now and I like that.
One observe on What Issues Most—“Exhausting Lover”—is a candid recounting of a liaison with an aggressive groupie, ending with some weird flagellation involving a size of Scorching Wheels observe. Please inform me that is drawn from expertise?
I hate to let you know this however it’s a product of amalgamation, exaggeration, and straight up fiction. I did need to write a tune like Ice-T’s “The Lady Tried to Kill Me.” It’s so good—what he actually nailed in his tune was the absurdity of it. How artists have a very inflated concept of who they’re. It’s dudes telling tales they usually get crazier and crazier. It’s okay with me if individuals suppose it’s true. I made most of it up—sorry! Let’s say the man on this tune is just a few type of center American middle-class child who’s in over his head. Simply when he begins pondering, “I believe this won’t be the lady of my goals!” she turns round with a chunk of Scorching Wheels observe in her hand!
One other observe I assumed was actually fascinating was “Kristine From the seventh Grade.” It’s obtained a European really feel to it. It’s fairly uncommon for an American artist to put in writing like that.
Oh yeah, you’re gonna hear Nino Rota in there, and Jacques Brel. Undoubtedly a European affect. You possibly can’t erase Leonard Cohen from the equation both. The tune is unquestionably throughout the subject of rock ‘n’ roll however it owes as a lot to Neil Hannon [of The Divine Comedy] because it does to any American artist. It’s humorous—I don’t know why that tune got here collectively in such a method after the content material of the lyric.
You’re in the midst of a fairly exhaustive world tour, together with a return go to to The Royal Albert Corridor in London in November. Certainly all of the stresses and strains of tour bus life are behind you now?
My preliminary plan was that this was going to be my final album. I imply I’m 56, why ought to I be shaking my ass on stage in leather-based pants after this? I’m not saying I’ll by no means tour once more, however I felt I wanted to doc my emotions concerning the altering world in a musical time capsule. I felt just like the man on the hill with an extended beard trying down from his cave, saying, “Oh God I suppose I’d higher come down from the cave and scare some kids,” and return dwelling.
Have you ever nonetheless obtained the legs for the leather-based pants?
I’ve nonetheless obtained the stick-like pins I’ve all the time had and I’m going to shake my ass another time. However the day after the Albert Corridor I’m gonna be stuffing my face with cake.
Do you’re feeling that extra, older artists must be leaving the stage, relatively than simply carrying on regardless?
I do really feel for all of us. Some artists are hard-wired to do what they do. It’s a working-class job—I don’t care how a lot fucking cash you make; that is handbook labor. You present up and also you receives a commission. It’s an trustworthy day’s work. A few of these guys have been doing it since they had been 15 years previous. Who’re we to inform them that they will’t exit and make an trustworthy residing anymore? After I first heard the time period “heritage artists,” I assumed, “Are you severe right here?” I’m not going to be a heritage artist! I’m not saying that I’m retiring from stuff. I simply don’t plan to do any of that album cycle stuff the place you make an album and also you go on tour.
I’ve spent my complete life studying a craft. What I have to seize about this requires each little bit of craft that I can muster. The children don’t obtained the craft now. They’ve obtained one other type of craft and that’s advantageous, however they haven’t obtained that basic ’70s songwriting craftsmanship. The artwork of shaking a tune out of your sleeve. So, I believe it’s time for the previous fella to return down from the cave, present some youngsters the right way to dot I’s and cross T’s and write a correct three-verse tune with an important refrain and modulations and funky chords and metaphors and every kind of excellent shit. Then I can head again as much as the cave and hold up my leather-based pants.