I think a good song is just unflinchingly correct, Ben Folds said, simultaneously answering a question about the lasting success of his solo debut album, Rockin the Suburbs, and explaining his method of songwriting, a strategy thats sold more than 3 million records to date. That doesnt mean its a masterpiece its just that a valid, good song avoids two sentences that are jive, or something thats falling over part of the music thats not coherent. I feel like Ive worked hard to do that.
Its been just over 10 years since Rockin the Suburbs came out, and more than 15 since Ben Folds Fives eponymous, piano-punishing, alt-rock debut, and the now-45-year-old singers stuck by that philosophy every inch of the way. Frank and unpretentious, his songwriting ranges from plaintive and touching to sarcastic and even occasionally morbid, all told in stark, accessible language.
With time catching up to him, Folds isnt too concerned about changing his game, or even about his old material seeming dated. In fact, he embraces the concept of music belonging to a certain time, so long as its supported by good songwriting.
Things go in and out. I tried to date the production on (Rockin the Suburbs), he said. I wanted that record to be exactly in that moment and for people 10 years later to go, Oh, my God, that sounded like 2001.And yet, songs from the tender The Luckiest to the sarcastic, white-boy bravado of the albums title track continue to capture the thoughts of people who are as young now as Folds was then. The stories might be accompanied by dusty lounge piano or twinkling, dated melodies, but theyre founded on the expression of sentiments that are universal among people who grew up in an environment where outward image more commonly supersedes whats inside.
dedication to songwriting even transcends genre and age, as he said
that hes flattered whenever people say they love his work as much as
the victims of his more satirical songs and covers, the most recent
being Ke$has single Sleazy, which he released to help support
tsunami-relief efforts in Japan last spring.
Ke$has a good songwriter. Shes
writing in the language of this moment, he said, appealing to
Oklahoman Jimmy Webbs book TuneSmith as a criterion. She knows what
the fuck shes doing.
also said that the advancement of home-recording technology has
furthered his art form, with others flooding the market with amateur
tunes on a daily basis.
think thats the sad, best truth about songwriting: that it really just
needs to move along, he said. The technology allows you to move so
quickly that it allows you to get your ideas out before they even have
time to be edited, and I think theres real value in that.
Just like pop music, hes always on to
the next thing. For Folds, thats his current symphony tour (hell play
with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic Thursday night at the Civic
Center), which is supporting the release of his definitive, three-disc
career retrospective, The Best Imitation of Myself. While in town,
hell also teach a masters class at ACM@UCO, thanks to the efforts of
its CEO, Scott Booker.
doing a great thing, Folds said of Booker. Im proud of those guys
for getting that together. Thats the kind of thing Ive always wanted
to get together, and theyre actually doing it. Yay for them.
Photo by Kim Tonelli