[MUSIC PLAYING] ALAN SEALES: You know who he is, widely regarded as one of the major music influencers of our generation, he’s created an enormous body of genre bending music that includes pop albums with Ben Folds Five, multiple solo albums, and numerous collaborative records His last album was a blend of pop songs and his concerto for piano and orchestra that soared to number one on the Billboard classical and classical crossover charts for over a decade He’s performed with some of the greatest symphony orchestras in addition to being a judge on NBC’s the “Sing Off.” Continues to have cameos all over cable network TV Everybody, please help me welcome to the stage Mr. Ben Folds [APPLAUSE] BEN FOLDS: How you doing? ALAN SEALES: Hi Good You can sit over here Welcome to Google BEN FOLDS: Good to be here ALAN SEALES: Are you enjoying your Diet Cokes and snacks from our micro kitchens? BEN FOLDS: Yeah It’s good snack and a good Coke, yeah ALAN SEALES: Born in North Carolina in Winston-Salem I want to start at the beginning of your life, before we get to the career, to talk about a little bit of who you are as a person So you started playing piano at age nine When did you walk up to piano and say, this is what I want to do BEN FOLDS: Well, I had sort of done that before Before I had a piano, I was interested in it There was one at school, and every once in a while, I got to play on that I had a friend who his mother was a piano teacher And she was trying to get him to learn “Silent Night” on the piano for Christmas And maybe seven or eight, I picked it out by ear in the living room and was playing And she came running in very excited that her son had finally learned that song And she told my mother, he probably needs to play He seems to be good at this ALAN SEALES: So you always had a natural gift for piano, or just music in general? BEN FOLDS: I loved music When I was two years old, I sat on the floor and listened to 45s records up to eight hours a day That’s a lot for 2-year-old It prompted my grandmother to spring for a child psychologist, who confirmed that I was slow I’m glad they got a laugh ALAN SEALES: Yes Was that serious? You actually saw somebody? BEN FOLDS: Yeah ALAN SEALES: Really? BEN FOLDS: Mm-hmm ALAN SEALES: Wow BEN FOLDS: Yep Yep, I guess it was that square pegs in round holes stuff I don’t know what he did It was play therapy probably And he said I should be held back in school My mother doubled down in the opposite direction and put me in early ALAN SEALES: Really? BEN FOLDS: Mm-hmm ALAN SEALES: And obviously, it worked BEN FOLDS: It seems to have worked, yeah ALAN SEALES: Yes And as a two-year-old, you didn’t let it hold you back BEN FOLDS: No But I was obsessed with records I mean, that’s an actual obsession, like eight hours a day for a kid And right now, I’m finishing up my memoirs And yeah, I was spending some time remembering that and wondering if that I can remember so much from when I was two years old, it’s possible it has to do with stimulation of the brain from music ALAN SEALES: Mm-hmm BEN FOLDS: Because my parents will say, you couldn’t remember two years old Well, I’ll tell them the house plan of the place that we lived in We moved once a year So at any year, I can tell them where all the rooms were If I’m two years old, I can remember where they put the Christmas tree and where the lights were and the room addition and where they had stuff stored It’s I can remember It’s good And I’m not that damn smart It’s just that I remember really early ALAN SEALES: Wow Yeah, well, if what you were obsessed with as a two-year-old is any indication of what my kids will be, they’re going to be barn yard animals or marbles BEN FOLDS: Yeah ALAN SEALES: Basically But North Carolina So I can get them in music That’s the lesson here BEN FOLDS: Marbles fit in the mouth Records don’t You might stick with records ALAN SEALES: Oh, that’s a very good point North Carolina itself isn’t exactly known for producing a steady stream of mainstream artists How did you navigate the North Carolina scene and get into mainstream culture? BEN FOLDS: Well, when you say that, do you mean that most of the artists there are known to be out of the mainstream, or that it’s just not that they play music? What’s the? ALAN SEALES: That they’re not– well, it’s a lot of bluegrass It’s a lot of country It’s not– well, I guess, country is more mainstream But like your alternative, your rock, the genres that you’re known for are not popular, not common
in North Carolina BEN FOLDS: Right Well, I think, when I was a kid, there was a real healthy sort of original band scene There was a group called the dB’s that went to my school a couple years earlier And they were all sort of tied in with R.E.M. And Mitch Easter, and great, great They made one– well, they made a few records, but they made one record that topped “New York Times” new record list And they were from Winston-Salem And that was really inspiring to me to see that they could actually get out of town I think the thing about living anywhere, unless you live in New York or LA, is that it seems like all the famous stuff comes from somewhere else You don’t think of it coming from there But I mean, Ryan Adams, who we were talking about, he was from Raleigh And just within a few blocks of my house was a band called the Squirrel Nut Zippers ALAN SEALES: Yes BEN FOLDS: They were pretty big And then there was a band called the Archers of Loaf And they sold a lot of records and was one of Kurt Cobain’s favorite There was a lot of original bands that were very stubborn You know, they weren’t out to be mainstream It was more sort of left of center ALAN SEALES: So walk me then through where you went to form Ben Folds Five BEN FOLDS: Yeah, I had been in New York, and it was tough up here for me, because I play piano Like my options were to play places like The Bitter End, which is great, has a piano, but it’s not the most creative It’s not where you would go to really hear something new that was good And I met my manager by breaking a piano string at The Bitter End And I couldn’t afford to pay for it, and he took care of it for me And then the next night, I played [INAUDIBLE] I don’t know if anyone remembers Cafe [INAUDIBLE],, but they didn’t have a piano And so I had to play an electric one, and I always sucked on electric piano So he told me, you sucked tonight And I was like, great Would you like to be my manager? ALAN SEALES: But you also play drums and guitar, right? BEN FOLDS: I mean, yeah Yeah, I play drums, guitar I started on the drums I started thinking that I was going to be a percussionist in an orchestra, timpani, [INAUDIBLE] or battery percussion I thought that was what I was going to do with my life And so I had plan B as a piano player, but I had always written and made up my songs from a very young age Before I was playing piano, I was making up songs And so when I started playing piano, the piano promised to facilitate my ideas It took a long time, because I had to– it was very frustrating having an idea that you know that you could play on the piano if you could only play it So I had to learn how to play the piano ALAN SEALES: So then you sucked in New York, or didn’t do well in New York? BEN FOLDS: It was tough, yeah I found it tough, because the places I wanted to play, I had to get a piano into, which is obviously not something you just carry around New York So when I met this guy who became my manager, we just sat down, and were like, you know, why don’t I just go back to North Carolina where I will have some space and can put my piano in a house and practice? And so that’s when I moved back, I met Robert and Darren, who are the other two guys from Ben Folds Five We met within a month, and we had a record out within a year We just moved really quickly So once I got there, things became very easy I think in New York, it was always going to take a year for me to figure out how to do anything, like just get somewhere ALAN SEALES: Right And when you met the other two guys, I guess, how did the collaboration work? Were you writing all the songs, and they were adding into it? BEN FOLDS: I’d written everything that we put on the first record And I’d had that in my back pocket for maybe up to 10 years So some of the songs on the first record, I wrote when I was 18, 19 years old And I was waiting tables over most of my 20s And so when we got together, at first, we were going to just do all new stuff And then I think it just became obvious that a lot of these songs that I’d been sitting on for 10 years were hard to beat quickly So the first album is all, like it usually is, it’s all the songs that you had since the beginning And then the second album, “Whatever and Ever Amen,” all had to be basically new stuff So then that was like, that started a terrible habit of mine of writing in the studio It was a terrible habit ALAN SEALES: And you compose, but you compose a lot of songs live during your concerts
BEN FOLDS: Yeah ALAN SEALES: Do you have a track record of having things that you’ve done in the concerts make their way back onto recorded records BEN FOLDS: I have a couple times There are a couple of notable ones that are really close A song called “Cologne” was originally freestyled on stage in Cologne as rock this bitch in Cologne And it turned out to be kind of a sad, soft song It came about because I was on drugs I had pneumonia, and I was taking a lot of these codeine drops And I didn’t think they were doing anything, so the doctor said, you know, take six codeine drops, and you’ll stop coughing And it didn’t really work So the next night in Cologne, I took like 20 And so I was trying to freestyle a song, and all I could do was laugh I had nothing It was terrible It was a total waste of everyone’s time and money And after about five minutes, and you can find this on YouTube, if you’re really bored, but the first three to five minutes is terrible And then all of a sudden, something hit me, and it becomes this song “Cologne,” and it’s about 75% there freestyled Like almost everything that’s on the record The chorus is a little different, because I didn’t want to say rock this bitch in Cologne for the chorus But there’s another one called “Effington,” which was, I’d say, I don’t know how do you quantify these things, 80% composed freestyle And usually, they’re not that tidy And I’ll take an idea that came about at a show often use that Because I think that you’re in a different headspace to sort of freestyle in front of an audience You know? Usually, if I’ve been playing for an hour, feel comfortable with the audience, and that’s the point that I do it, that’s a different headspace than sitting by yourself and writing So I’ve found a lot of good stuff has come that way But recently, I was thinking about this, because there was a comedian in the UK I guess he’s famous He had a shit ton of followers And he accused me of ripping off one of my songs And all these people were piling on This was a couple of years ago And the person they said that I’d ripped off, I’d never heard of So I went and listened to this person that I had ripped off And I realized that this song that I had supposedly ripped off was from way later than when I had come up with it on stage So I just went to YouTube, and I found when I freestyled it, and I sent it to this comedian I was like, look, this is from 2011 I made most of this up on stage So stop He’s like, oh, sorry, mate ALAN SEALES: So you were many years with Ben Folds Five And then, can you talk about why you guys decided to go separate ways? Is that something you want to talk about? BEN FOLDS: Yeah, I mean, I think overall, it was because, as I described, we got together really quickly It was a mercenary thing I wanted to start a band These are the first two guys I met I didn’t even hear them play when I committed to play in a band with them ALAN SEALES: Really? BEN FOLDS: I was just in that space I was like, I gotta get it done I gotta get it done They looked like rock stars I heard they were pretty good And we didn’t have necessarily all that much in common, so it was six years of being in each other’s back pockets financially You’re living in a bus two inches from the other guy We got along fine, but we just didn’t have all that much in common And so I think after our third album, although it wasn’t a great commercial success, it was also not a great critical success Usually, you get one of the two We didn’t manage one of them And it just looked like, yeah, OK, well, we should probably sell while stocks are not as low as they will get And so we just called it I think it was three emails, and we were done And I didn’t expect it, but one day, Darren wrote and said, I don’t think I want do it anymore And then Robert said, well, if he doesn’t want to do it anymore, then I don’t want to And I was like, OK, well, I guess I don’t want to do it anymore So then I took all my songs which were meant for the band, I did them myself for “Rockin the Suburbs.” ALAN SEALES: So “Rockin the Suburbs,” actually, was released on 9/11 BEN FOLDS: That’s right ALAN SEALES: Which do think was it the album, was it the songs that you think were responsible for it not doing well commercially, or was it all tied to the 9/11 happenstance?
Because “Rockin the Suburbs,” by the way, is one of my all time favorite albums BEN FOLDS: Thank you Thank you Well, it didn’t do well over its first year, but it had an interesting way of hanging on for a long time And so it’s become one of my, you know, if I had to run out of a burning building with two albums to my name, it would have to be “Rockin the Suburbs” and the band’s first album I don’t think I could have a career without either one of those Those are necessary for me to exist, I think But I don’t know I mean, a lot of it was the release I mean, already when you go solo from a band, it’s not an easy place It’s assumed that you’re not going to do well, I think ALAN SEALES: I feel like people want soloists to fail when they leave the band, because they’d rather have the band BEN FOLDS: Yeah, I think so I mean, I think I’ve always been like that too So I knew that when I put the album out I was like, OK, have at it But also you feel like, you know, I made that record when I was 33 I felt like I’d aged out of the music business I don’t know why I thought that was aged out at 33, because I’m older than that now And I’m OK But yeah, I think, too, the other thing was at the end of each decade, there is a obvious changing of the rock and roll guard All the hairy chest, screaming guys in the ’70s were out as of the ’80s And all the sort of new wave artists were out as of the ’90s And the grungers were out when the aughts came It’s just always too, and when you put out a record like 2001, and you’re a ’90s band, it’s uphill ALAN SEALES: Right BEN FOLDS: But I think what’s really been good for me is just doing different things At that point, I didn’t try to just do solo records I tried to do other things ALAN SEALES: Well, that’s what I was going to get into That’s a good segue Thank you BEN FOLDS: Yeah I had a feeling ALAN SEALES: That you’ve done tons of collaborations Collaborations with other artists, but also you’re crossing genre boundaries all the time often with these collaborations Like you’ve helped William Shatner produce a record You’ve worked with Weird Al, Amanda Palmer, Sara Bareilles, which of course, has done her own Broadway to pop crossover Cake and, of course, Nick Hornby How do you choose what you want to work on, and who you want to work on it with? BEN FOLDS: Well, it’s usually it’s the who first And it’s usually circumstantial Like Weird Al, he was buying frozen pizzas at the grocery store And we were standing next to each other in line, and he’s like, oh, I’m a fan of your music ALAN SEALES: And I imagine it like, Weird Al, Ben BEN FOLDS: Yeah ALAN SEALES: Weird, Ben weird BEN FOLDS: Yeah Yeah, it was just that weird ALAN SEALES: [DRUM ROLL SOUND] BEN FOLDS: And I think that is like I like the personal first Because like with William Shatner, I was interested in him And in what did we really know about William Shatner at that point? He’s an actor, and he’s odd You know? So you don’t really know who you’re who you’re talking to And I thought an album of a 75-year-old man who everyone knows who he is, but don’t really know him, gives him a chance to tell a story And a musical story is a compelling story if it’s done well And I think Shatner is a great recording artist He was one of my favorite He’s not a musician, but he’s one of my favorites to ever work with, because he’s so brave about every take It’s always different And yeah, I really enjoyed working with him ALAN SEALES: Do you have another favorite? I was going to ask who your favorite was But– BEN FOLDS: Yeah ALAN SEALES: –he’s one of them BEN FOLDS: He’s certainly one of them I mean, they’re all my favorites, because it’s you always pull something really interesting I mean, one thing I think that all artists have in common, a few things, one is I think we’re all hacks And it’s really great to see your favorites hacking around in the darkness They don’t seem to know what they’re doing And that’s a wonderful thing to see Because if you’re collaborating with someone who’s not famous, it’s good to remember that they may have a good idea
They seem like bad ideas when they come out at first, you know? I noticed that about Joe Jackson, who was one of my favorites when I was growing up And working with him, I was like, well, that’s an abysmal idea That’s terrible Then I thought, you know, I like everything he does Maybe there’s something to this But when you allow the idea to see the light of day, I think I learned from collaboration that way ALAN SEALES: Who do you think that you’ve worked with that’s influenced you the most as a solo artist? BEN FOLDS: Well, I certainly learned from watching Shatner do every take completely different That that’s really something that we all need to learn from If you’ve already done the past one way, really, you don’t need to do that again And I think that that’s really interesting Working with Sara Bareilles is inspiring and slightly depressing, because she nails everything absolutely perfectly on the first pass She’s the most technically proficient performer I’ve ever worked with, and that there’s nothing that you want more out of it than what you hear on the first past in any way And that made me really, really have to work hard Because if I don’t find something wrong, I was producing her record, if I didn’t find anything wrong, then I got skewered It’s like so I got really careful about it She’d do a pass I’d be reading the lyrics, and I’d circle stuff It’s like, slightly flat, not really, but OK, slightly flat OK, she’s making some kind of mouth smacking noise You’re going to the salad bar here, and a couple things And then when she’d come out, I’d say, here are your problems, and I’d list them She’s like relieved I’m glad someone’s listening with a critical ear And then I’d say, and we’re keeping the pass, because it’s beautiful But that’s the only way someone that good you can And I’ve played with plenty of classical musicians and all sorts of musicians, but she’s just sort of a freak that way ALAN SEALES: Freak and an amazingly talented person BEN FOLDS: And she’s also talented ALAN SEALES: And so you’ve performed solo with bands You’ve obviously got a love for orchestras and acapella music Do you have a style? I mean, you’re known for the rock, but do you have a style that if you could just live forever– You have water over there somewhere BEN FOLDS: Is that where it is? That was obvious Where’s water? ALAN SEALES: Yeah, if you had a style that you could do forever and just make unlimited money, which one would it be out of everything that you’ve done? BEN FOLDS: I’m still on the unlimited money part I never thought about that You know, I wouldn’t I don’t have a favorite anything I don’t have a favorite style I don’t rage against style I mean, I think it’s cool Because when I go to buy a record, I like to know if it’s a country record or a jazz record I don’t know when this artist is like, I can’t be defined But I do think that not worrying about that and residing somewhere between them all is a nice place So I like being able to not worry I mean, that’s very low resolution creativity if you’re thinking about you’ve got five styles, and there’s so much that falls between the cracks of all those If you’re just going to pick those five points and live inside it, I’m not sure how that could happen I made a little single recently for the “Washington Post” of all projects I thought it was interesting, because they wanted me to be a reporter as a songwriter, which I thought was fascinating I liked the idea of doing that And what wasn’t noticed, which I thought was interesting about the song, is I felt like it was resoundingly it resided in folk music And no one said Most of time, I make something that I feel like is in a style, and people will comment And I felt, well, that either means that I can do whatever style I feel like and no one even notices it anymore, or I don’t know what But I thought it was an interesting thing, because I expected I mean, it’s like I got a tap dancer being the drummer It had fiddle and banjo in it And I would’ve thought that would have been notable Like, you know, the peanut gallery been like, oh, now, he’s going to make country records But no one said a thing So maybe I can do what I want I don’t know ALAN SEALES: For your next album then, I’ll plant the idea to write the song as an engineer BEN FOLDS: Yeah It’s not a bad idea ALAN SEALES: Yeah, right? You can call it ones and zeros BEN FOLDS: Yeah ALAN SEALES: There you go There’s your title BEN FOLDS: That’s pretty good ALAN SEALES: In 2009, you were a judge on “The Sing Off,” and you also released “Ben Folds Presents Acapella.” Do you have a special place for acapella music? BEN FOLDS: I was really, I mean, still am interested in it But my interest in acapella was self-centered, because so many university acapella
groups were covering my music And when I started a little bit before Ben Folds Five, my ambition was to be a songwriter that other people covered That’s what I want That’s what I thought I would do And Bette Midler covered one of my songs And then no one else did And that’s not bad I mean, Yellow Card did So Bette Midler and Yellow Card, that has been the extent and hundreds and hundreds of acapella groups from universities So I just wanted to visit these acapella groups, bring some microphones, and a sound engineer, and record it And that’s where the album came from that university acapella record When I was a kid, I really loved National Geographic field recordings And this was molded and I tried to make it like that Because they were, obviously, just a couple of mics, and they were in the natural habitat of the natives, which is what I wanted to do with these college kids I wanted to record it in their natural habitat, which would have been like, the lunchroom, or there was a synagogue on campus that we recorded one in that sounded really great I didn’t mind about external noise And I didn’t mind about it sounding like a record Oddly enough, there was an acapella scene it turns out of people who were really into acapella recordings And they didn’t like what I did ALAN SEALES: Really? BEN FOLDS: Yeah, because it wasn’t perfect They were cultivating a style that involved perfection, which had all the singers doubled and tripled and auto tuned within an inch of their lives And they were imitating instruments It was like, but what I love about the voice is it sounds like the voice That’s what’s interesting about it So that’s where I went with that And my interest in that led to being recruited for NBC’s “Sing Off” show So those two were kind of connected in a way ALAN SEALES: Right Did you enjoy that? Do you enjoy being on TV like that, or is that like, I don’t want to be on the big screens BEN FOLDS: It was interesting, because it’s so cheesy ALAN SEALES: But so many people love it BEN FOLDS: But that’s what I was going to say, like, I actually kind of embraced that Because I had asked myself, because I was trying to decide whether I was going to accept this or not, and at the end of the day, listening to great music and commenting on it with the hopes to possibly improve it or add perspective for the people who performed it didn’t seem cheesy at all ALAN SEALES: Mm-hmm BEN FOLDS: You know? And the format itself is a formula, and so I was judging it from that perspective And I was hard on it But once I got in it, I really did enjoy it You have a very short period of time, a window with which to hear precisely what’s going on with the entire group, like the whole rhythm section It’s not like “American Idol” or something where they’re not judging the bed, the arrangement They’re just judging whether the singer brought it or not And in this case, I got to really listen and do what I feel like is one of the things I’m best at, which is listening to a performance and having some clarity as to what might be the next step Because people that perform, especially on television, they don’t know what they’ve just done, no idea They feel like they’ve just gone backwards through a car wash with a bag over their head They have no idea where they are And they come out, and they’re like, it seemed like two seconds And it was 2 and 1/2 minutes And they’re like, tonight, what the hell just happened? You know? To have someone in front of you say, I know you were wondering where you were sliding Your tenor wasn’t flat Your basis was sharp And so then you started moving that way You got nervous, and these things, the legs got pulled out from underneath it And over, of course, the 2 and 1/2 minutes, you rushed So just tell them the basics that are really, really obvious to the obstacles to communicating the songs were really interesting to me And I really enjoyed doing it It’s really hard too, because you have two other judges, and they’re noticing things And you never know what order you’re going to get chosen in So the host of the show would say the two others first, and they’d say everything that I was going to say So then I’d just have to make up some stupid joke and move on But if they got to me first, then I had a wider field of what to say But no, I enjoyed it I thought it was good It lasted, I think I did it for four seasons And then they replaced me on the last one And then I think they threw the set away and that was it ALAN SEALES: So talking about education as well
You’re a outspoken champion for arts education and music therapy funding in our nation’s public schools 2016, you were the only one to hold the distinction to appear in both national political conventions advocating for arts education How did that happen? BEN FOLDS: Well, Americans for the Arts, who I work with a lot, had a slot on both And said, it’s kind of weird, but if you want to do both, that might be a good idea And I thought it was a good idea And in fact, I learned a lot that way I mean, my buddy for the day was Mike Huckabee at the Republican National Convention And I found him to be a really very eloquently spoken about arts funding Outside of that, I don’t know But for that, he’s very good at And it made me realize, it drove home that as a musician, if I’m going to go and sit across from senators and congressmen and try to convince them to keep arts education healthy in public schools and arts funding in general, it’s best if I also can come from the economic perspective And it’s actually more interesting in a way I mean, everyone knows everyone likes art Every senator’s son and daughter is going to go to a school somewhere that has good music and good art They’re going to make sure that they have access to it So you don’t have to convince them of the importance of it What you’re trying to convince them is the importance of investing in it and the importance of the symbolism of having invested in it ALAN SEALES: Right So if anybody has questions for Ben, please start lining up at the mics there Great I want to go back real quick Tell us about what you’re doing with the Kennedy Center in DC BEN FOLDS: My main project, well, they call me the artistic advisor, which was nice I got a three year– ALAN SEALES: First ever BEN FOLDS: First ever, yeah They made the position up for me That’s kind of cool I do a lot of stuff But my main project that I could bite off what I wanted is a series hoping to improve, not hoping, improving pops concerts Because symphony orchestras have to bring in new audiences, and there’s a lot of ways you can do it One of the models has been the pops concert, where they bring in a rock musician or a pop musician, and the orchestra plays with them And they’re riddled with problems And they’re systemic They’re stubborn embedded, easy answer sort of solutions that they’ve got going And they’re not getting anywhere And so what I’ve aimed to do is almost create– I have a group that’s willing to experiment I’ve got their budget And I’ve got all my rowdy rock friends, like Sara Bareilles, who I can bring in, and we can do pop shows the way that I think that should be done, and creating a manifesto as how you do that Because combining the two is a technical nightmare It lies over a cultural fault line that we don’t think of that the pop world and the orchestral world, even in terms of their contracts and their language, are almost just they’re just raring for a fight They really don’t get along And so I felt like there are enough cultural divides these days without having one be in music, so maybe my job could be to sew those things together And I think we’ve done a lot of really good stuff The shows are working ALAN SEALES: Yeah, they’re on YouTube I watched a few And I also watched a clip of you composing a full orchestral piece in under 10 minutes live Just like he rocks this bitch in his concerts, he rocked the bitch of the orchestra, I guess BEN FOLDS: Yeah Yeah, yeah, yeah ALAN SEALES: It was crazy What you read, you read something from the program about like, emergency exits are to be used in case of fire only, or whatever it was that were the lyrics BEN FOLDS: Yeah, yeah ALAN SEALES: That was incredible Yeah OK, let’s do a question here AUDIENCE: Hi I really, really like your music BEN FOLDS: Thank you AUDIENCE: But your lyrics– BEN FOLDS: Are terrible AUDIENCE: That’s actually what I’m going to ask I don’t think they’re terrible, but I wonder if they are you always, or when they’re not?
And when they are about you and your life, is it true? BEN FOLDS: It’s either true, or sometimes, it’s not true ALAN SEALES: Next question BEN FOLDS: And but it’s always something that I’m interested in I think when it comes to lyrics, the things that we notice that are observations, and when they’re observations, I feel like if you follow those really faithfully to when they occur to you, a picture forms that it is a picture of you But if an event occurs, and I’m going to like I just did with the “Washington Post” piece, if something happens and I’m going to relay that in song, your problem is that just the real estate for the syllables involved is really limited You know? Like you’ve got three minutes, and you’re expected to rhyme, and you’re expected for it to be in iambic pentameter sometimes And the cadence is difficult So you have to cheat with the lyric You know? You have to do things that put the listener in that place So I have a song about my father dying He’s still alive But the song isn’t necessarily about that, but it’s about the feeling of that And it needed to sound literal for me to be able to extract the abstract part of it So all that to say, there’s always something of me in it There’s always something that I’m very interested in or want to say Probably, it is about myself But often, I’ll make up a complete false scenario in order to get it across One thing I would say is that I think it’s a fascinating and really interesting opportunity for a rock lyricist, especially in the US Our culture here, we expect our rock writers to be singing the truth You know, if Bruce Springsteen says something about starting his car, breaking up with his girlfriend, going to the badlands, whatever, you expect there’s some truth in it You know? But if David Bowie sings about going to Mars, we can guess that that’s probably not true And the thing is that in America, we like our songwriters to have credibility to what it is that they’ve said And I love exploiting that by saying things that aren’t true, but sound like they could be true I like that Yeah ALAN SEALES: Question over here AUDIENCE: Hey, thank you so much for coming today BEN FOLDS: Yeah AUDIENCE: My name is actually also Ben, so I’ve always felt a special connection BEN FOLDS: Is it spelled the same way? AUDIENCE: Yeah So there’s that saying that good artists borrow, and great artists steal And there’s a lot of– BEN FOLDS: I steal all the time AUDIENCE: There’s a lot of musicians that get accused of theft or rip offs, like Led Zeppelin “Stairway to Heaven.” Do you think there’s a concrete distinction between what constitutes a rip off, what constitutes a remix, and what is truly original work? BEN FOLDS: Well, there are certainly a lot of musicologists that the guys that are brought in to these lawsuits that have parameters about it And at the risk of sounding kind of rude, because I don’t mean it like that, but I literally don’t care Because I’ve had people rip me off before, and really close And I can safely say, I just was flattered, that was all In one case, it was so close where they had kept the key They kept some of the lyrics They had changed certain important parts and kept other really distinct things This fellow was up for a Grammy in Brazil for record of the year I’ve never won anything like that before So out of jealousy, I might have been inclined to sue this guy, like a lot of people said I should But all I could think was, one, I was really flattered And secondly, I kind of felt bad for him that he didn’t have any better ideas Because I think it is more fun to steal from a lot of things and try to get something that’s personal across That strikes me as empty and sad that you do that But really, I don’t mind I really don’t mind I was listening to some blues music the other day, and it was one of those it was like a kind of a Pandora style station of some kind that was just playing I guess it was on satellite radio And I don’t know I’m sitting there waiting for my latte,
and I must have heard three songs that started with, woke up this morning Awesome Why is one thing almost like all? You have to say you woke up this morning in this same chord, same melody, and everything, and I enjoy it I think it’s totally fine People can rip off I mean, look, my lawyer wouldn’t agree with me, but I don’t mind for myself And I just think it’s about expressing yourself And if expressing yourself uniquely, oddly for some reason, would be copying someone note for note and changing one note, and that particular note said something really solid, I’m down I’m fine I don’t like this ownership stuff, even though the ownership stuff, obviously, affects my livelihood So it’s hard for me to reconcile the two But no, I don’t mind Like I don’t see any distinctions I think ripping off, borrowing, it’s all the same It’s all music I’m fine with it AUDIENCE: All right Thank you so much BEN FOLDS: Thank you ALAN SEALES: But something that I’ve always respected about you actually is it’s never come across to me as you’ve been doing things just for the money It’s because you love the arts You love music You love helping and educating So I– BEN FOLDS: Thank you ALAN SEALES: –I applaud you for that And I also want your help with my song I thought, it starts with, I thought about the Navy BEN FOLDS: Oh, yeah You’ve got it You’ve got it Put it in A flat ALAN SEALES: Yeah Question over here AUDIENCE: So “Lonely Avenue,” your collaboration with Nick Hornby, I think is one of the maybe greatest concept albums of all time BEN FOLDS: Why, thank you AUDIENCE: Brilliantly executed, and that bridging an author and a musician into this thing So A, is there are going to be a Lonely Avenue two? It seems like there’s a whole lot of stories he wants to tell And if there were another author you were going to collaborate with, who would that be? BEN FOLDS: Well, Neil Gaiman and I have been talking about making a record for a long time AUDIENCE: Yes Yes, do that Leave now and do that BEN FOLDS: It’s good advice ALAN SEALES: It would sell BEN FOLDS: Yeah Two bits Yeah, I mean, Neil’s actually got a neat voice And Neil thought he might want to be a rock star when he first started out, when he started out making comic books or graphic pieces And that’s where his heart was, and he thought he would be a rock star And his voice is, I think, outstanding I love it So I would just play piano for him We’d write the songs together I see him once a year on average, and we talk about how we’re going to make the record And this has been about 10 of those now So we really do need to do it Thank you for reminding me and encouraging me And as far as Nick Hornby, it’s the same with us We talk a lot about making another thing I think that we felt like the next step would be to make a musical And so we’ve been procrastinating on that for some time But I think we’re both scared Probably have, unfortunately, have the same fear of musicals, which is not good One of the two has to be fearless, but we’re really both scared to death of the genre, both for how it could get out of control and be like that You know? Some people have control over it, like I mean, there’s nothing at all cheesy about Hamilton It’s just brilliant And there are some that can be big without the gestures But I don’t think Nick and I know enough about it Anyway, that’s– ALAN SEALES: You need a creative team BEN FOLDS: We need a creative team ALAN SEALES: Yeah, I mean, that’s actually one of my final questions for you was, what’s next? And I know that Broadway has been on and off your radar for– BEN FOLDS: A long time ALAN SEALES: –a long, long time And you were originally asked– I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this Sorry if I’m not– to write the whole score for SpongeBob BEN FOLDS: Yeah ALAN SEALES: “SpongeBob SquarePants The Musical,” which just recently closed That would’ve been a completely different musical BEN FOLDS: I know ALAN SEALES: Why did you not want to get into that at the time? BEN FOLDS: That was one of many I’ve been approached with It looked, I mean, I like SpongeBob and everything And those guys are they’re hip They get it I don’t know I mean, it has to really be something that resonates with me That’s all I don’t know I don’t know what it’s going to take But it’s something I mean, I’ve had lunch meetings with them all since like 1997 I’ve been thinking about this for a long time And I think the longer it goes and the more choices I get, the less likely it is I’ll ever do it Because if I just walked into town as a 20 something, and I got any one of these offers I’ve ever gotten, I would put everything into making that musical
But then you’re like, that guy’s pretty good And that one was pretty good And that was a great musical And I really like this one I don’t know anymore I’m totally confused ALAN SEALES: You got to find a producer or set of producers that’s going to light a fire under your ass How many people here want to see him write Broadway? [CHEERS AND APPLAUSE] Yeah? Yeah So a couple people Couple people So we’re running short on time, so quick questions? Yeah? AUDIENCE: Yeah, I think it’s a quick one So I’m a big fan of the show “You’re the Worst,” and in particular your performance on the show And I’m just curious how you ended up there, and any sneak peeks into the next season? Are you alive? BEN FOLDS: Has the last one that we filmed come out? Oh I did another one I’m sure they don’t mind me saying that I think it’s towards the end of the season And yeah, I still have a pulse in this one And we’ve also talked about if it ever goes further, how close we can get to me not being alive But for anyone that doesn’t know, they just turned my character into some guy who moves straight from North Carolina, where I’m really from, to LA is very jealous that Moby is recognized and I’m not And I’m just really impressed with mixed drinks The weird thing about that is just this sort of he creates this weird little world where, for some reason, they don’t have mixed drinks in North Carolina I’m like, wow, you can get alcohol here And I just drink everything Yeah This next one, we went crazy Yeah Yeah, it’s fun Thanks for watching I enjoy it I had a kid the other day ordering coffee, she goes, are you the guy that plays Ben Folds on you’re the worst? That’s me It’s the best way to get recognized ALAN SEALES: Yeah? Over here AUDIENCE: Another Ben over here Hello BEN FOLDS: Are you Ben? AUDIENCE: I’m also a Ben I think most of your fans are named Ben apparently BEN FOLDS: That’s awesome AUDIENCE: I have two questions If the time is short, maybe you can choose one or combine them into one mega answer of some sort One question is that you’re one of the few people who’s been on the radio for the last 30 years and knows lots of chords and jazz chords and knows how to drive in reverse to a chorus How do you feel that pop music has sort of left all these different chords behind? BEN FOLDS: Yeah AUDIENCE: With songs of one repeating chord progression Number two, quite different, I always admired that when you sang, I felt like it was actually you, like your voice, a part of you’re talking but on notes How did you find your singing voice? BEN FOLDS: Well, thanks I think those are two really neat points about music in general The singing thing is that I didn’t think I was going to be a singer I thought I would write songs for other people So the bands that I played in to begin with, I made sure they had singers I always played in various bands, and one or two of the guys in the band would have great voices, and they would do singery things They sang loudly They used vibrato They did little riffs and stuff And I thought that would be a good thing I hear the song in my head, and I think, oh, if this has a great singer, then that’ll be a great thing But it wasn’t that satisfying to hear them do that I would make tapes for them where I would say, here’s how the song goes And the song would just be humbly speak singing would be it And I think that the recordings started showing themselves to be a lot more interesting than what we were coming up with And so I would try to get the singers to not sing, to speak on pitches I also had a little bit of a piano mentor for about a year at school I wasn’t majoring in piano But for one year before this guy retired, he gave me a full scholarship to just study piano with him And most of the time, we didn’t study piano We just talked about music And he asked me if I’d considered how great this guy he had just heard He goes, I recently heard a young man by the name of Eric Clapton Have you heard of him? Like, yeah, I’ve heard of Eric Clapton And he said, he seems to me to speak on pitches, which is interesting, because it gives more weight to the things that he’s singing about Why would a man like that be singing at all unless he had something to say? And I thought that’s kind of interesting, and I think that those things, I adopted those things As far as chords go, I’ve always loved harmony and chords And it can be its own puzzle, you know, the harmony and moving, even moving key centers, and they mean different things And I think that rock and roll music has,
sort of like with the voice, there can be an assumption that someone who just plays one chord must have more to say, and that by distracting yourself with the frivolity of trying to drive yourself through different key centers and you’re making music into a Rubik’s cube somehow, or it’s too much ornamentation I think Bob Dylan might have had a lot to do with that In that, you hear someone like Dylan, the simplicity is part of what’s great He seems like he knows what he’s talking about And he sounds wise, and almost sounds like, I can’t be bothered with all these chords And I’ve got something to say I don’t have time for this little hobby And so by the time I came through, it was really not cool to play any more than a couple of chords, couple, three chords, and this was during the grunge period And so that’s all I needed to use more chords That kind of pissed me off I felt like, oh, I’m not allowed? All right, punk rock, let’s do this So I would just really flex that part, because I thought it was pretty And there’s all sorts of subversion And in the punk rock culture, playing piano in itself was offensive So we would play That’s what we booked We just booked punk rock grunge clubs during most of the ’90s And I loved looking out and playing jazz chords and like– That’s nice I enjoyed that ALAN SEALES: Cool All right, yeah? Final quick question Then we get to some performances AUDIENCE: All right So I was always interested in how just creative a lot of your music is And I’m a hobbyist composer And sometimes, I get stuck into doing similar song structures or similar chords So I was wondering if you had any tips that maybe you used to try and get yourself to be more creative? BEN FOLDS: Well, I don’t think that using the same structure over and over again necessarily has to do anything with the creative part I think you can be really, really creative within a really confined sort of structure You could decide that you were the guy who was AB guy, and you were going to write it all in the same key, and that would be fine If you feel like that’s limiting you in some way, then I don’t know I think it’s important to remember that a song is there to communicate a thing, and that it needn’t do anymore than that I think that can free you up a lot in form and key and everything, because the necessity to communicate the thing that you’re coming up with means that that drives That drives things You might have a cadence where you thought you were going to end on I don’t know If you had gone– [PIANO MUSIC] And that was really similar It’s just like that’s all it is And then you get stuck in something way too long There’s something complicated about that But the fact that you got stuck in it so long says something about how you were stuck in your life, or your ideas, or the way you felt about it, or that you were scared to progress in your life, or you were scared of what’s next, or you just you were high and you couldn’t remember the next chord Who knows what it might be But if always your– that was really nothing I shouldn’t even have played that I think that’s the first thing is always, how do you feel? How does this moment feel? How can you get that across? Then if you need more vocabulary, you’ll find it If you can’t find the word, it doesn’t come out, then that’s when you reach for the thesaurus You know? You think about those things And I think the same is true of song structure I always like to play with song structure I like to question it too much So while I’m writing, it’s always a concern of mine that it doesn’t have the same structure And a lot of times I find that the effect that the song was having on me emotionally before I messed with it so much was there And then I messed with it and tried to do something odd with it So what I do then because I’m not getting the chill at that point, or I’m not hearing applause in the back of my head at the end of the song, it’s not doing the thing, I go back and I put it into a really predictable song structure And I mean down to the point where I’m timing the intro
Because if the intro is not falling between 12 and 15 seconds, then maybe I should lay out the songs so that it falls at the right time For some reason, we want to hear a chorus at one minute I don’t know why But sometimes, you want to hear– so there are certain songs that work so well, because they start with the chorus And like I don’t know, something like “Dancing Queen” by Abba, which that’s a fun song, because it starts with the bridge You can dance It’s like the party was just going And then the doors open, and you’re in it And there’s something really compelling about that That’s when you mess with form Otherwise, I think the form can be your friend That’s as much as I– that’s my whole upload on form there ALAN SEALES: That’s great So yeah, well, we’re out of time We’ll wrap it up, and then give us a couple songs But when is your book coming out? Real quick, plug that BEN FOLDS: Yeah, right now, I’m in the hell of editing it, which I didn’t really think about that part It should come out in September next year ALAN SEALES: Great Everyone, September 2019, but the book And then, we didn’t get into photography You’re an amazing photographer, which we can see on benfolds.com online Get your music You’re on Instagram up here Murkan Pianist And then of course, we’ll keep an eye out for you on the Broadway stage BEN FOLDS: Yeah ALAN SEALES: It’s going to happen, man BEN FOLDS: At some point ALAN SEALES: It’s going to happen BEN FOLDS: I’ll make one at some point ALAN SEALES: All right How do you want everyone to ask you what songs to play? Shout it out? BEN FOLDS: Politely ALAN SEALES: Paper airplane [INTERPOSING VOICES] BEN FOLDS: OK Those are the three ALAN SEALES: Oh, wait You got an actual paper airplane BEN FOLDS: Oh ALAN SEALES: There you go BEN FOLDS: If it’s something I don’t want to play, then that’s– OK, all right Yeah, see, I did this whole tour, the paper airplane request tour, and I found two distinct camps Well, maybe three They’re either the songs that everyone knows that are the most popular, which makes sense for a request, or there’s a type where they’re trying to fool me and find something on the internet that I wrote when I was 16 And then, of course, depending on where you play, it’s a lot of people want to hear “Piano Man.” I still don’t know that song OK, let’s see here See, I’m trying to remember what I was asked for OK, yeah OK, I know what the three were Yeah, all right So this one I hope I can do this I’ve just been editing in my room all by myself I hadn’t even had to talk to people much less sit down and play music So let’s see what happens If it’s no good, I’m sorry [BEN FOLDS SINGING “LANDED”] [APPLAUSE]
Thank you There’s something funny about playing where no matter which way I look, I see me It’s like– And then right in front of me, it’s like there’s a screen of me now just sort of mocking my looks All right, I’ll try this one Two people asked for it One I would have ignored, because I don’t play it that often And there’s a middle part, and I don’t know if I can remember it But we’ll find out I always said, I hate when I play with, by the way, with musicians who make disclaimers And I’ve made two of them So smack myself [BEN FOLDS SINGING “LULLABY”] That’s the part
There we go [APPLAUSE] Thank you That little riff, I totally screwed up, was something that I came up with when I was about 13 And I could do when I was 13 My mother had taken me to a piano teacher, seemed like the fun piano teacher in town He was a younger guy who played rock music And she heard outside the door as I showed him how to do this riff for half an hour, she fired him But it’s funny, because for anyone who plays piano, it involves hitting the same note several times with the same finger But it’s a– god, listen to that I can’t do it [PIANO MUSIC] That’s what I was doing at 13 OK, anyway All right, next Thank you And this one by request as well And I guess that’s the third and last one I’m not going to count the riff Kids, that’s for free [BEN FOLDS SINGING “ARMY”] Can you say fuck over this? That’s OK? [BEN FOLDS SINGING “ARMY”] [APPLAUSE]
Thank you very much Keep it going ALAN SEALES: Thank you BEN FOLDS: Thank you ALAN SEALES: That was wonderful BEN FOLDS: Thank you very much ALAN SEALES: So good BEN FOLDS: Thank you Thanks, y’all Thank you for listening And have a nice remainder of your Wednesday It is Wednesday, isn’t it? ALAN SEALES: Yes