DiscoverThe Art of LongevityThe Art of Longevity Season 7, Episode 5: Ben Folds
The Art of Longevity Season 7, Episode 5: Ben Folds

The Art of Longevity Season 7, Episode 5: Ben Folds

Update: 2023-05-28
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For Ben Folds, coming back on the scene with a new studio album feels like a breeze, literally:

“I Feel like the expectations are lowered but I have the wind on my back”.

In June 2023 Ben releases What Matters Most, his fifth studio album and his first in over six years, almost an ice age in today’s breathless music biz. But part of the reason and the joy it has taken him so damn long to make, is a focus on the craft that is part of Folds’ raison d'être as a musician some three decades into a professional career.

“I have carried a tradition of craft, that is not easily come by, in an era when it was always going away, until now” It might sound cocky to say that this is a lesson in songwriting but I dunno, it is.”

This is coming from someone who in the past decade has committed part of his career to promoting and campaigning for better music education. Come to think of it, a conversation with Ben Folds is a music education class in itself. His role as music scholar and teacher is now part of his legacy but his contribution to music is easily underestimated.

For starters he sandblasted a music scene that in the mid-90s was dominated by grunge, Britpop and pretty soulless boy & girl band pop. And he did it with a fucking piano. Aided and abetted of course by belting bass (Robert Sledge) and drums (Darren Jessee) combo that made up Ben Folds Five - a refreshingly guitar-free rock band.

After the trio disbanded following the usual music industry roller coaster ride (a familiar story beautifully told in Fold’s 2019 book A Dream About Lightning Bugs) Folds went solo - sometimes quite literally.

He made ‘sustainable touring’ a thing, by going on the road with himself and a piano. That’s something now essential for bands in the mid-tier - the so called “working class musician” - to tour with a minimalist set up. Fold’s truly took to it - improvising and bantering with the audience - even creating a song (Bitches Ain’t Shit) that became a sort of regrettable classic. He found the experience scary but took his inspiration from James Booker. “I was playing standing places - rock venues. I was shaking in my boots the first time I went out on tour like that, but I felt the need to do it”.

Folds is a pioneering independent artist. He called the creative shots even when first signed to a major label imprint with Ben Folds Five. He paid for vinyl masters to some of his albums knowing full well it would come out of his royalty account. He was an early adopter of the direct to fan model with his Patreon site, recently expanded to include a private Discord channel. It’s very much the modern fan-centred business model for up & coming artists these days.

Through it all, Folds is one of those artists that can always rely on the ability to write a song. It’s something that has seen him through the thick & thin years as he transitioned from a band to a solo career and then later as he expanded into soundtracks and orchestral works.

That songcraft is firmly intact on What Matters Most on songs such as Back To Anonymous, Winslow Gardens and Kristine From the 7th Grade. But Folds can strategize the biz side too these days, and his plan is to make this new album an event.

“I know we’re making movies in a way when we make records but I wanted to make a record that you could date on all counts. The event is powerful, because you are either expressing an ideal, a design - or you are expressing an event”. 

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The Art of Longevity Season 7, Episode 5: Ben Folds

The Art of Longevity Season 7, Episode 5: Ben Folds

The Song Sommelier