Ben Folds has been at this so long that the first release of his second band was 10 years ago.
“That’s my old shit now. That’s fucked up,” he said, laughing.
But even if “Rockin’ the Suburbs,” his first album of piano pop under his own name after the dissolution of ’90s indie critical darling Ben Folds Five, was a decade ago, his quality hasn’t sagged with age. On Tuesday, he’ll bring top-notch tunes from his current record, “Lonely Avenue,” to Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa.
The disc is a collaboration with Nick Hornby, whose 1995 work, “High Fidelity,” is a landmark in the “books about people who read books about music” genre. The two are friends, and decided to team for a record, with Hornby contributing lyrics and Folds contributing music.
The pairing resulted in some of Folds’ strongest songs to date, including “Levi Johnston’s Blues” and “Your Dogs,” which you may have heard as the theme song to the current sitcom “$#*! My Dad Says.”
“‘Your Dogs’ happened so fast that I had the whole track written while the band was at lunch,” he said. “It’s fun to work that fast and still be affected and moved by the song. It doesn’t last long. Soon, you’re the doctor. You’re the coroner looking at a dead body.”
The doctor also looked at “Levi Johnston’s Blues,” a fictionalized account of the real-life guy who “knocked up the VP nominee’s daughter,” complete with multitracked dude-bro vocals.
“I wanted it to have some tension and mystery,” Folds said. “I was aware only later that words from Levi Johnston’s MySpace were the chorus. That gave me some energy for the chorus.”
It’s a song that ranks high among all his work. Although it might seem weird to have people you’ve never met ranking your accomplishments, Folds welcomes it. He’s especially fond of listeners who respect his new material.
“I think it’s a happy thing when people allow it to compete with your older stuff,” he said. “Hopefully, something in it compels you to listen to it enough to take it seriously.”
Even with all the thought Folds puts into his work and the criticism he receives, he maintains perspective.
“It’s just a pop song. It’s not Stravinsky,” Folds said.
His next project with Hornsby, however, might not be “just” that. The two have discussed the possibility of a novel-with-CD project that eventually would grow into a stage musical.
“He would write a book, and I would write songs for it,” Folds said. “It would give the songs context they may not have had. It would be really fun. He would know it’s based on music, and we would take it from the inside out.”
While work hasn’t begun on the project, Folds is confident the project will happen. In the meantime, he has plenty of touring, writing and hobbies to keep him busy. Even if the formation of Ben Folds Five was almost 20 years ago, there are still plenty of ideas left in his head. His current experiments include instruments played “irreverently.”
“Right now, I really like hearing a cello sound like it’s about to fuckin’ break,” he said. “That’s a lot more interesting to me than an electric guitar played like it’s about to break.”