“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 that’s sold more than 3 million records to date. “That doesn’t mean it’s a masterpiece — it’s just that a valid, good song avoids two sentences that are jive, or something that’s falling over part of the music that’s not coherent. I feel like I’ve worked hard to do that.”
It’s been just over 10 years since “Rockin’ the Suburbs” came out, and more than 15 since Ben Folds Five’s eponymous, piano-punishing, alt-rock debut, and the now-45-year-old singer’s 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 isn’t 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 it’s 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 album’s 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 they’re founded on the expression of sentiments that are universal among people who grew up in an environment where outward image more commonly supersedes what’s inside.
dedication to songwriting even transcends genre and age, as he said
that he’s “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$ha’s single “Sleazy,” which he released to help support
tsunami-relief efforts in Japan last spring.
“Ke$ha’s a good songwriter. She’s
writing in the language of this moment,” he said, appealing to
Oklahoman Jimmy Webb’s book “TuneSmith” as a criterion. “She knows what
the fuck she’s 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 that’s 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 there’s real value in that.”
Just like pop music, he’s always on to
the next thing. For Folds, that’s his current symphony tour (he’ll 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,
he’ll also teach a master’s class at ACM@UCO, thanks to the efforts of
its CEO, Scott Booker.
doing a great thing,” Folds said of Booker. “I’m proud of those guys
for getting that together. That’s the kind of thing I’ve always wanted
to get together, and they’re actually doing it. Yay for them.”
Photo by Kim Tonelli