Benjamin Scott "Ben" Folds is an American singer-songwriter and record producer. From 1995 to 2000, Folds was the frontman and pianist of the alternative rock band Ben Folds Five. After the group temporarily disbanded, Folds performed as a solo artist and has toured all over the world. The group reunited in 2011. He has also collaborated with musicians such as William Shatner, Regina Spektor and "Weird Al" Yankovic and undertaken experimental songwriting projects with authors such as Nick Hornby and Neil Gaiman. In addition to contributing music to the soundtracks of the animated films Over the Hedge, and Hoodwinked!, Folds produced Amanda Palmer's first solo album and has been a judge on the NBC a cappella singing contest The Sing-Off since 2009.
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Hello reddit. I'm Ben Folds and I play piano. Most recently I wrote a piano concerto and 8 new chamber rock songs. I recorded the concerto with the Nashville Symphony, the new chamber rock songs with yMusic, and put it all on a new record that comes out tomorrow, September 11. It's available here.
Ask me anything.
Banana for scale: http://i.imgur.com/ollbBNH.jpg
[EDIT: More proof: https://www.facebook.com/BenFolds/posts/10153050042017231 ]
[EDIT: 2:22pm CST taking a quick break, back in a sec ]
[EDIT: 2:34pm CST back for a few more questions ]
[EDIT: 2:53pm CST That's all! Thank you so much for all your amazing questions. ]
did you ever get your black t shirt back?
Nope. But nobody ever took one from me. That was Darren's lyric - true story from the night his girlfriend dumped him... after he had bought her dinner. He was pissed.
That was Summer of Summer B. She happened to be my room mate as well. I recently saw her and she's just the same.
Ben, bartender here with a very important question: What's in those plastic cups you're always going backstage to refill during your show? What's Ben Folds' drink of choice?
Generally a pretty damn good scotch.
Hey Ben! Huge fan! In fact, I moderate over at /r/BenFolds.
My question to you is, do you ever worry about opinions of yours being misconstrued when you write songs from the perspective of other people? A lot of your songs feature different characters who fall along all different areas of opinions, the political spectrum, etc. but even when you use "I" in your songs, it doesn't necessarily refer to you, Ben Folds. For example, Away When You Were Here is written from the perspective of a person whose dad died, but as far as I know your dad is still alive and well. Do you write songs like this in order to relate to different people, or is it just something you like to do to keep your songs fresh?
Also come to Canada more please!
edit: So I figured this was worth posting. I just got a ring on my doorbell, I opened the door, and it turns out my So There order came in early. Not only that, but I was the first order on the Premium Deluxe Edition, apparently. Here's an album:
Yeah, I enjoy the ambiguity and freedom of writing a character and using first person. Some of course is a part of me. Some is completely made up. I always assume people are smart enough to know when I'm writing a douche character, but that's not a safe assumption and I'm often disappointed in myself to be offended when someone calls me a misogynist for instance, because I wrote a few nasty characters. But hey, I asked for it because I was playing with that dynamic when I wrote, so I need to suck it up. The only bad thing would be someone drawing inspiration from a character that I wrote that was a horrible person. I'm sure that's rare. Anyway, people ARE smart - never write down to them. And never write down to your characters. There's good and bad in everyone. I think that's a good and hard thing to remember when creating fiction.
Hey Ben! My name is also Ben! I got Whatever and Ever Amen when I was like 10 years old and I've been a huge fan ever since.
My question is: Has Dr. Dre ever given a reaction to your cover of Bitches Ain't Shit? I'd love to know if he's listened to it and what he thought of it.
I understand Snoop approved our use. Never heard from Dre. Big fan of both and I sincerely hoped to do something with their song that they wouldn't have thought of themselves, and would be both as serious as the place their music came from, and as irreverent as well. Like any good piece, it was often misunderstood. I think it's one of my most sincere vocals and melodies, and there's a reason for that. It's also absurd of course, as was intended by the composers!
Do you ever forget how to play a song you composed and have to listen to your recordings or look up videos of your performances on YouTube and be like “Oh yeah, that’s what I did there”?
Absolutely! I used to have that everything I ever did went up on YouTube but it's useful, especially for remembering what I've made up on stage. The concerto on the new album... I have to revisit the music once a month, so I carry the score. It leaves my brain - too many notes - who the hell wrote that shit?
Hi Ben! I was in the audience at Colbert's Late Show premiere on Tuesday and was SO happy that you were a surprise guest.
How did that all come together, and what was the vibe like backstage?
Vibe was excited, even jittery like any good first night. Stephen's crew came over from the old show and they're the best. Lots of time backstage with everyone else talking shit. Batiste if fantastic too A real talent
Thanks for taking time to be with us!
What is your favorite and least favorite thing about living in Middle Tennessee/Nashville?
Nashville offered me a commission to compose a concerto. Then we sold out show after show, for a piece of instrumental music. That is true support, encouragement to dumb nothing down and to keep pushing and learning. Not every city does that for their local artists.
Billy Joel or Elton John?
Apples and Oranges. I relate to both. Both have inspired and personally encouraged me. They mean different things. But be assured, they would be as successful in any era - both are geniuses.
Who is the Ass Crack Bandit?!
I can only tell you his initials: D.T.
Hi, Ben. I've been a fan for a long time, and I've had the same question for many years, so I'm excited I get to ask.
When Reinhold Mesner came out back in 1999, there were tales of "Don't Change Your Plans For Me" originally being longer before it was shortened to the album version we have today.
Is there any trace of your original vision of the song before it was shortened? I've wanted to hear it for years. I have money. Would you like money?
It was shortened on the 2 inch tape machine. Caleb cut the parts he didn't like and literally left the unwanted bits on the floor. I imagine the floor was cleaned and the recording went into the trash.
And what the HELL was Annie waiting for for so long??
Ah she, like many of us, do too much waiting and not enough doing. Who knows how long she'll wait. As I've said, all characters have a part of me in them.
Hi Ben! Big fan of yours. One of my favorite things you've ever done is the chatroulette piano improv, as an ode to Merton. I laughed way too hard at those videos. Any chance of doing that again?
That was a moment. It would be fun to do more of that, but to tell you the truth we only did it three nights. About 20 minutes each time. We edited all the dicks out and the technical glitches and left exactly what remained. Kinda special. I edited that on the bus and uploaded it before hotel. I think I'll leave it at that.
Is Mayonnaise an instrument?
It can be if your put your dick in it.. Did I say that? I don't even know what it means. Actually what it means is that's my last question. Gotta move on. Tell all your Reddit friends thank you I still don't even understand how this shit works. I'm just answering what I see. Group hug. Reddit!!!! ooxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxxx
As a lady who has been completely twitterpated with you for years, how would I get a date with you if I ever became single?
Haha you're called "The Future Mrs Folds" and you're NOT single? It's your boyfriend I need to meet!
Hi Ben, like most everyone here I am a big fan! My beautiful wife and I recently had a son and would like to lightly encourage him in the direction of music. Was there anything from your upbringing that you attribute to sparking your interest? Any lessons that lead to your success which originated from your parents?
Good question, and I've been pondering this for the book that I want to write. I admire Malcolm Gladwell for pointing out that nobody succeeds on their own - there's always something about their upbringing which gives them an advantage. In my case, my parents were accepting of my music. They were accepting of my messiness about it, the repetition. I think they knew I had more confidence because of it. At the same time, they didn't think it was a good idea for a profession. Nothing wrong with wanting to prove your parents wrong. I think each kid being different, demands a different treatment. Some kids just don't want to play an instrument and so I'd say expose them to it and let them move away from it before you turn them of completely.
Hi Ben! I've been a huge fan of you and your music since forever! Thanks so much for doing this
What song do you love that would surprise us? A favorite guilty pleasure, for example
It would probably surprise most to know I listened to Piece Of Me by Britney Spears on repeat during the production of Sound Of The Life Of The Mind. I also made everyone else listen to it.
Heyo Ben! I'm a huge fan so I obviously have tons of questions. Just take your pick and thanks for taking the time to chat with us! :)
whats the biggest difference, musically and personally, between 1995 ben folds five and 2015 ben folds + yMusic?
who are some current sources of insipration?
in an interview you said you were only set on a career in music. when did this become known to you? Also, before this discovery did you think of other career option?
why was your twitter avatar an opera singer viking woman?
are you going back to the voice?
favorite chord progression?
who got you to do a reddit AMA?
I'll take the serious question. Each incarnation has had it's moments of discovery. Then, the tough part is growing and really being in the moment, while you're being patted on the back for the past.
So I think there's something about the first BF5 record that's utterly unique and naively very brave. Once we were told what that was and patted on the back, it was harder to keep. That said, I don't think we made a bad record.
My solo period same. Rocking The Suburbs... well, that's a pretty damn solid set of songs because I was scared shitless about going solo. So I worked hard and put in craftsmanship that I wasn't always doing for BF5.
This album with yMusic is that moment again. It's new - somewhere I haven't been. These guys/girls push me. They're the best musicians I've ever been in a room with which is inspiring. Personally I'm just in a good space too. But of course, if this becomes a 'thing', and defined, then yMusic and I will have to decide to keep up more of the same, rebel against the old, add to it? The waves that knock you around.
I think the Shatner record stands out as a unique moment too and why I never wanted to make another with him. We did our thang.
Since you're one of the precious few songwriters left who can actually tell a story, have you ever thought about writing the score for a stage musical?
First thank you. And... I have yes, but for some reason I haven't DONE it. Maybe that is because the songs already do the story for me? I'm not sure. I don't know if I want them to have anymore context than they already do.
Hey Ben! I loved your constructive criticism in the Sing Off. It's because of your keen hearing that we have great artists like Pentatonix today!
My question is, if you could give advice to other judges in shows like American Idol, X Factor, etc what would it be?
I wouldn't give them advice. I'm sure they know what they're doing! Though I've never seen any of those shows. I would imagine they'd all be great on Sing Off because the nature of an all vocal group... well, it begs for constructive criticism and it pushes your ear. That show would make anyone a good judge.
Have you ever gotten star struck?
I got star struck seeing Sugar Ray Leonard at a restaurant. Years ago saw Randy Newman in airport and got really quiet. Since then I had at the opportunity to have dinner with him and he's nothing to fear! A great guy. Ya never know... Michelle Obama I thought would make me shy but she's such an inclusive one on one person that I relaxed. Ah, I'm quite the nervous one around those famous people.
Hi Ben, you did a Way to Normal 'piracy' version which was pretty amazing by the way - being someone who is financially directly impacted by piracy how do you feel about someone who may love your music but have never paid a penny/cent/local global currency to listen to it?
Well I feel two ways. Mainly I always just wanted people to hear and be effected by what I did, as I was by music as a child. It truly saved me. So I almost feel a hippocratic oath vibe about it. I do it because I am supposed to. At the same time I can see how much the music business suffered for it. I know many good people who don't have jobs now etc. The good thing is that kids entering music now don't harbor the illusion they will become rich. They're doing it because they love it. Downloading for free has had many good effects and bad. I ride the wave. I don't advocate on this issue simply because I'd rather put my time into education and music therapy and there aren't enough hours in a day.
Hey Ben! You're awesome!
Is New Orleans really a place you won't play?
I've played New Orleans plenty. Not as much recently and that's just because I don't play in the south as much. I'll be there soon.
How does your practice routine look like? Do you have any particular pattern or collection of exercise? Or is it more like doodle on the piano, get loose, play some familiar tunes?
As an adult my practice has been taking risks on stage. So that's not helpful advice for you. When I had to practice for the first performance of the concerto I took off 6 weeks. I practiced a good 6-8 hours a day. I began with slow scales. All of them. Arpeggios as well. Very slow with metronome and speeding as I went. Fuckin Hanon exercises too!
Then I played my piece section by section with metronome slowly. Painfully slowly. I really adjusted my technique at this time. Actually I did some Alexander Technique which I found helpful as my posture is awful at piano. Finally, I would take breaks and even ice my forearms and shoulders.
How'd it feel to throw your drums into Lake Oceola?
I recall it felt really fun. Anyway, those drums were awful. I was the token poor kid at that school, there on scholarship. The crappy drums which were purchased for 27 dollars, including stool, were an embarrassment to me. I now am proud of where I came from, it gets cooler as you become more successful. But I was ashamed of them, and my clothes, my accent and manner. So that display was cathartic.
I met you a couple times (with my bff in NOLA and Houston) and we both have tattoos of your lyrics and signature. :D
I saw a post you wrote earlier about working on a book and I'm just wondering if there is any sort of timeline for when it will be published?
P.S. my piano's name is Emmaline.
Hi! No timeline on book. I get nice nudges from my book agent weekly but obviously I'm currently on a new album. When I have time, I write write write with no real form yet. Much is about my childhood, but as it relates to how it effected my musicianship and my perspective, and hopefully I can broaden that to help anyone else realize how obvious it is to tap into your own unique personality and talent. I feel everyone has good music in there, that would succeed in it's own way, but I also see that most of us are sort of constipated creatively. Those who make music easiest, somehow didn't get the 'memo'. In other words, we don't know we're not supposed to do certain things. I think there's a way there for anyone, and I'd like to explore that. Will be a good year before I get there, I imagine.
What did you want to be growing up and what's your most embarrassing memory as a kid?
I wanted to be a musician but I never admitted that. I kept that to myself. Not that I played music, but that I aspired to it as a career.
Embarrassing memory. Standing in front of the class and realizing that I had no pants on and that my junk was painted as Ronald McDonald, orange pubic hair coloring etc. Terrifying... wait. That was last night's dream.
Hi Ben! Enormous fan, of course. I've always wondered - why does Rockin' The Suburbs sound so different, production-wise, than the rest of your albums? Is there a reason you decided to go all out on that album with things like synths, perfect vocal takes, etc.?
Oh and one more thing - how did the Theme from Dr. Pyser come to be? Who is Dr. Pyser?? I've looked this up and have found no answers.
Suburbs was my wanting a production value that was mainstream and current. I felt as though if my music had something to say, it may as well be said through the current filter. I often worried that you'd hear my records in fifty years and assume they were from the 70s. So that was a phase for me. It was painful to be honest. In retrospect I think I was right. Produce the fuck out of it like it's 2000 and be proud. It's a good record in my opinion and despite my wanting to quit every single night of that record, I think it's perfect. I also think the producer Ben Grosse is a complete bad ass and was very patient with me.
Hey Ben, I'm a huge fan! The songs I've heard from the new album are sounding great. I'm hoping to get to come see you and yMusic at the Tabernacle in November. My question is, how does "So There" compare to the past albums you've put out? Your solo career definitely has a uniquely different feel in comparison to the work you've done with Ben Folds Five. Working with yMusic, how do you feel you've evolved as a solo artist on this album? Thanks!
To be blunt and honest and probably horribly cocky, I think So There is my best album. It's the one I would give someone first anyway. You'd think that would be my attitude towards them all, as they're always the latest child to be born, but this is a unique feeling this album. I'm feeling a great wave of freedom.
Hi Ben. I'm a piano player and have been a fan of your music for many years. I have a strange specific question that might be so incidental to you that you can't remember! In your Myspace gig from 2006, you played Postal Services `Such Great Heights'. I have the DVD, and love your synth solo. What confuses me is that there are several clips on Youtube of the exact same gig, but the solo is slightly different. What's going on?! Are the Youtube videos captures from the live stream, and did you perhaps overdub the solo for the DVD release? If so: why? I really hope you could explain since it's been an unsolved mystery to me for many years. Thanks!
Really I don't remember. However I DO remember that when the show went out live, I went to play the synth and it had dropped a half step, about. So at the top of that DVD you hear me fucking up a bit and then getting it right. That's because I had to transpose my right hand up a half step and stay in the right key on my left on the piano. I was in hell. It's possible we decided to overdub the keys for Such Great Heights after the performance but I don't remember.
Ben, if you had to give one piece of invaluable, but not often said, advice to someone learning music - be it piano, drum, or vocals, what would it be?
(You inspired me to start learning piano at 30, and though I suck a year later, I wouldn't trade my shit playing of Speak Softly Love for anything. So, thanks for that.)
Reset every moment. Take time to be aware of energy that you're recruiting that you don't need. Those are barriers. They come from being self conscious usually. Tension. If this is observed in technique it will rub off on performance in general. I say reset, because each day brings new hang ups we don't realize. Lose those and you will express freely. That's what I THINK anyway...
What are the differences in the creative processes between your solo work and your work with The Ben Folds Five?
The creative process wasn't that different. I bring in songs that are half baked in general and start recording. I steer them with those I'm working with. The first BF5 album had finished songs that had been toured. Never happened that way after that one.
Hi Ben! What is going to be next for you? Do you think with the success of your piano concerto that you'll write another one?
I want to write pieces of university orchestras, with choir. I've got a few melodies for this and a basic idea of where to start with texture. What I want is for them to have another piece of music that is theirs. Something that challenges them, but not necessarily because of how many notes it has, but that it's outside of comfort zones for instruments, at times. I want the lyrics to break the law and have them feel what that is to sing, with an orchestra... the informality with the formal. I'm very inspired about this and this is what I want to do next.
Is it weird that I work out exclusively to your music? I sometimes worry that someone is going to hear my wispy voiced piano music and chastise me publicly.... but then I'd hurt them so it ok.....
Yes, keep that to yourself. I don't want you to have to club a motherfucker over me. Keep up the good work!
Hi Ben! I've been a fan of yours for over 15 years and am fortunate enough to have been to a number of your shows. My favorites have been your performances with orchestras (specifically Baltimore and Philadelphia). I'm a huge fan of instrumental music and these concerts were absolutely incredible. Will you ever record an album with an orchestra??
The new album So There has 8 songs with a small chamber ensemble called yMusic. And a composed a concerto for piano and orchestra which I did live in my studio with Nashville Symphony Orchestra. An 83 piece recording. The record is out tomorrow! wooooohoooo!
Hi Ben, it's awesome you're doing this. Been a fan of yours since hearing Julie-Anne on a cassette that came with a music magazine way back in 1996.
I'd love to know if the song Julianne is based on your own experience.
Also, any plans to visit England soon? I'm gradually losing my hearing and you're one of a few acts I'm keen to see live before that happens.
Oh wow, sorry to hear about your hearing... or, sorry to READ about your hearing. We just did the Royal Opera House and it was magical. I'll probably be coming back just to do some radio stuff - there's not a lot of time. Possibly Europe in the summer. Fingers crossed.
I saw you for like the 4th time when you played at the Barbican with the LHO - and I used to play big band stuff with Jools their director.
For me that performance was a life-changer, because before every chart you gave the back story to writing it. There I was at 24 finally understanding fully the tunes that I'd lived with and loved for 15 years.
Is there anywhere that I can see these back stories, to read them again? If not, please could it be a mini project of yours? If not on your website, somewhere?
Thank you. Well... I am slowly working on a book, which I mentioned earlier today a few times, and I think that might be a good outlet for some of that. The stories behind the songs obviously resonated with me enough to write about them, and there may be more there.