Folds in 2007
|Birth name||Benjamin Scott Folds|
|Born||September 12, 1966|
Winston-Salem, North Carolina, U.S.
Benjamin Scott Folds (born September 12, 1966) is an American singer-songwriter, musician, composer and record producer. Folds was the frontman and pianist of the alternative rock band Ben Folds Five from 1993 to 2000, and again in the early 2010s during their reunion. Apart from the band, Folds has recorded several albums and performed live as a solo artist. He has also collaborated with musicians such as William Shatner, Regina Spektor, "Weird Al" Yankovic, and yMusic and undertaken experimental songwriting projects with authors such as Nick Hornby and Neil Gaiman. He has frequently performed arrangements of his music with uncommon instrumentation, including symphony orchestras and a cappella groups. In addition to contributing music to the soundtracks of the animated films Hoodwinked!, and Over the Hedge, Folds has produced several albums, including Amanda Palmer's first solo album.
Folds was a judge on the NBC a cappella singing contest The Sing-Off from 2009 to 2013. Since May 2017, he has been serving as the first artistic advisor to the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. In July 2019, Folds published his first book, a memoir, titled A Dream About Lightning Bugs: A Life of Music and Cheap Lessons.
Early life and career
Folds was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He became interested in piano at age nine. His father, a carpenter, brought one home through a barter trade with a customer who was unable to pay. During this time, Folds listened to songs by Elton John and Billy Joel on AM radio, and learned them by ear. During his years at Richard J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, Folds played in several bands as the pianist, bassist, or drummer.
Folds attended the University of Miami's Frost School of Music on a full percussion scholarship, but dropped out after having failed 'the jury' and losing his scholarship. He devoted a lot of time to working on piano technique. "I spent maybe six months just running scales with a metronome like a freak," Folds said. "I suppose that did something."
After leaving Miami, he returned to North Carolina and enrolled at the University of North Carolina - Greensboro for the fall semester of 1985. It was while studying at UNCG that he met his 'accidental mentor', Robert Darnell. Folds would acknowledge the impact of Darnell on his appreciation of music in his 2019 memoir A Dream About Lightning Bugs.
In the late 1980s, Folds (as a bassist) formed the band Majosha with longtime friends Evan Olson and Millard Powers. The group released several locally produced records. They played their first gig at Duke University's Battle of the Bands in 1988, and won. They played at bars and fraternity parties, and self-produced an EP called Party Night: Five Songs About Jesus (1988), which they sold locally. The EP has four songs, none of which are about Jesus. They recorded Shut Up and Listen to Majosha in 1989. It contains, among other tracks, the four songs from Party Night (remixed and/or re-recorded) and "Emaline" and "Video", which Folds would later record with Ben Folds Five. The song "Get That Bug" from Party Night was released as a dance mix in Japan.
After Majosha broke up, Folds played drums in a band called Pots and Pans with Evan Olson on bass and Britt "Snuzz" Uzzell on guitar and vocals, but the newly formed band lasted only about a month. Olson and Uzzell formed Bus Stop with Folds' brother, Chuck Folds, on bass, and Eddie Walker on drums.
Folds eventually got a music publishing deal with Nashville music executive Scott Siman who saw Folds open for musician Marc Silvey, as well as playing bass for Silvey's band Mass Confusion, and moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue it in 1990. He played drums for a short stint in Power Bill, headed by Jody Spence, Millard Powers and Will Owsley. Power Bill was later renamed The Semantics. Folds did not take a creative role in the band. He attracted interest from major labels. He ended up playing drums there as a session musician.
In Nashville, I was running eight miles a day, hanging out with my friends, walking around eating chocolate-chip cookies and playing a lot of drums, which I enjoyed. Life was easy. I was never frustrated – even though I wasn't fulfilling my contract obligations. If you are failing in Nashville, at least your standard of living is nice. Nashville is a nice way to fail.
Folds moved to Montclair, New Jersey, and began to act in theater troupes in New York City. He enjoyed it in 1993 to the point where he did not want to keep pursuing a musical career. He also played weekly gigs at Sin-é, famous for being the café which had helped start Jeff Buckley's career.
Soon after, Folds moved back to North Carolina. The trio of Folds, bassist Robert Sledge, and drummer Darren Jessee formed Ben Folds Five in 1994 in Chapel Hill. As Folds put it, "Jeff Buckley was being signed at that time by Columbia and I was talking to Steve, his A&R guy, and somehow we knew the same people or something."
Ben Folds Five
In 1995, Ben Folds Five released their self-titled debut album. The debut was followed by Whatever and Ever Amen in 1997, and the odds-and-ends compilation Naked Baby Photos was released in early 1998. Whatever and Ever Amen included many singles such as "Song for the Dumped", "Battle of Who Could Care Less", and the band's most successful song, "Brick". In 1999, the band released what was to be their final album for over a decade, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, which included the hit "Army".
They gained a strong following in the United Kingdom and Australia early in their career. Like many other 'alternative' American acts, this was largely due to consistent support from national broadcasters in those countries, the BBC in Britain and the ABC's Triple J youth radio network in Australia (and ABC-TV's music video show Rage). The group's first chart breakthrough came in the UK, when "Underground" made the lower reaches of the Top 40, peaking at no. 37. Britain was the band's strongest territory in terms of chart success, with five singles making the national Top 40 there – "Underground", "Battle of Who Could Care Less", "Kate", "Brick" and "Army" – although none managed to crack the UK Top 20. In Australia, "Underground" likewise broke the band locally and while it did not make the ARIA chart, it came in at no. 3 on the 1996 Triple J Hottest 100 poll (broadcast on January 26, 1997). The 1998 single "Brick" became the group's only major chart placing in Australia, reaching no. 13; it also came in at no. 53 in the ARIA Australian Top 100 for that year and earned a Gold Record award while its parent album Whatever and Ever Amen peaked at no. 9 and charted for 32 weeks.
Ben Folds Five reunited to perform its first concert appearance in nearly 10 years on September 18, 2008 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Memorial Hall. The one-off gig was part of MySpace's "Front to Back" series, in which artists played an entire album live. The band played The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner. All proceeds from ticket sales benefited the charity Operation Smile, of which Folds' uncle, Jim Folds, is on the board of directors for the North Carolina Chapter. The band reunited once again in 2011 with a subsequent release of the album The Sound of the Life of the Mind, leading to a 2012 tour of their new work.
Rockin' the Suburbs to Supersunnyspeedgraphic (2001–2007)
Folds' first solo album after the breakup of the band was Rockin' the Suburbs in 2001, released on the same day as the September 11 attacks. He played nearly all the instruments, most notably guitar which was an instrument seldom used during the Ben Folds Five days. The Luckiest was written for the Amy Heckerling movie Loser, but the scene it was meant for was deleted. Millard Powers, Britt "Snuzz" Uzzell, and Jim Bogios joined him on the promotional tour of the album. "Weird Al" Yankovic directed and appeared in Folds' video for the album's namesake song, "Rockin' the Suburbs". Folds' friend and fellow musician John McCrea, lead singer of the band Cake, contributed vocals to "Fred Jones, Part 2".
A year later, Folds released Ben Folds Live, a collection of live solo recordings. In late 2003, two solo EPs, Speed Graphic and Sunny 16, were released. The last EP, Super D, was released in mid-2004.
Songs for Silverman was released in the United States on April 26, 2005. The album returned to the trio format, featuring Jared Reynolds on bass and Lindsay Jamieson on drums. This album includes the track "Late", a tribute to the late singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, and also features backup vocals from "Weird Al" Yankovic on "Time". Folds had played piano for Yankovic's song "Why Does This Always Happen to Me?" on his Poodle Hat album.
On October 24, 2006, Folds released Supersunnyspeedgraphic, the LP, a compilation of songs that were originally released on the EPs Sunny 16, Speed Graphic, and Super D. He announced on his MySpace blog that he planned to work on his next studio album in October 2006, although recording did not actually start until 2007. On that same day, Folds became the first person to webcast a live-by-request concert over MySpace. The concert was complete with pranks staged ahead of time by Folds, including a drunk man falling over the balcony during "Jesusland" and a "suicide attempt" by Folds at the end. The concert is also notable for featuring a "guitorchestra", a group of acoustic guitarists from Nashville who accompanied Folds on some songs, as well as an impromptu ringtone orchestra made up of audience members playing their cellphone's ringtones in unison. A DVD of the performance, "Live at MySpace," was released on February 20, 2007.
Way to Normal to Lonely Avenue (2008–2010)
During a concert at the National in Richmond, Virginia on April 11, 2008, Folds announced that he had completed his newest album, and played four tracks from it. He played the first track, "Hiroshima", at the show. He also debuted new music at an impromptu gig at the Exit/In on December 19, 2007 and at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival on January 25, 2008. Other new songs include "Errant Dog", "Effington", "Bitch Went Nuts", "Free Coffee", and "Kylie From Connecticut". Folds played The 6th Annual Langerado on March 8, 2008 and was a part of the lineup for the 2008 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.
On July 16, 2008, an anonymous user posted what they claimed was a "leak" of Folds' latest album on a fan site (eventually called Way to Normal (Fake)). The file contained nine tracks along with a PDF of supposed cover art, and was a mix of what appeared to be legitimate songs from Way to Normal, pastiches of dry humor and melodramatic pop interwoven with bright, energetic melodies. Folds explained on Triple J radio a few weeks later that in one overnight session in Dublin he and the band had recorded 'fake' versions of songs from the new album. His sources had then leaked them to the public as a light-hearted joke on his fans.
Way to Normal was released on September 30, 2008, in the United States and on September 29, 2008, in the United Kingdom. It became Folds' highest-charting album ever in the US, debuting at no. 11 on the Billboard 200.
Soon before Way to Normal was released, Folds announced that he planned to record an album with English author Nick Hornby, with Hornby writing the lyrics and Folds writing the music. The idea of the collaboration came out of the "fake" leak of the album Way to Normal released in July 2008. "(We will) write and record it in about three days, just like we did in Dublin with the fake record," Folds said.
On April 28, 2009, Folds released Ben Folds Presents: University A Cappella!, an album consisting of college student's a cappella arrangements of his music performed by some of the country's best college a cappella groups.
In March 2010, a video Folds created titled "Ode To Merton" went viral on YouTube. In the video, Folds improvises several songs about people that he sees on the social networking site Chatroulette, in the style of "Merton", a YouTube creator who many initially thought was Folds himself.
Folds' final solo album before his reunion with Ben Folds Five, a collaboration with English author Nick Hornby, was entitled Lonely Avenue and was released on September 28, 2010. On June 14, 2010, Folds released the official album art via his Twitter account. "From Above", the first single from the album, premiered on Richard Kingsmill's new music show 2010 on Triple J in Australia on July 18, 2010. "From Above" features Australian singer Kate Miller Heidke on backing vocals. Folds also recorded a video song with Nick Hornby and Pomplamoose. As well, English YouTuber Charlie McDonnell was commissioned to create the music video for Folds' song "Saskia Hamilton", which was uploaded on October 1, 2010.
Work with chamber pop to present (2011–present)
Ben Folds Five had a brief reunion in 2011 and 2012 in which they recorded the album The Sound of the Life of the Mind. In March 2014, Folds premiered a commissioned piano concerto he composed with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. This was followed up in 2015 with So There, an album by Folds and the yMusic Ensemble, released on September 11, 2015. The album includes eight chamber pop songs and the piano concerto performed with the Nashville Symphony.
In September 2018, Ben Folds released the song "Mister Peepers" as a single commissioned by The Washington Post. The song depicts former-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's conflict with Republicans during the Russia investigation, with the name coming from President Trump's nickname for Rosenstein.
Other work in music
Work for other musicians
In addition to collaborations on Folds' own music, he often works with other musicians on their projects. In 1997, Ben Folds recorded an unreleased studio album titled Forever Valentine with Whiskeytown.
"Weird Al" Yankovic's parodied Ben Folds' style in the song "Why Does This Always Happen To Me?" on his 2003 album Poodle Hat. According to music critic Nathan Rabin, the song "amplifies the noxious self-absorption of the American character to hilarious extremes" by describing a narrator who, upon hearing about a number of horrible tragedies, only complains about the (minor) inconveniences that affect him. Folds himself plays piano on the track. Yankovic later told The A.V. Club: "Ben and I are old friends at this point, and of course I sought his keyboard work for that song. So he came in and knocked it out."
In 2004, Folds acted as producer, arranger, musician, and backup vocalist to William Shatner's album, Has Been. Shatner was also involved in Folds' Fear of Pop project, contributing vocals to a number of songs on the album, most notably the song "In Love."
Ben Folds has often contributed both original and previously recorded songs to movies and television shows. The soundtrack for the 2005 animated film Hoodwinked! featured "Red is Blue," performed by Folds. In May 2006, Folds contributed three original songs to the soundtrack of Over the Hedge, titled "Heist", "Family of Me", and "Still". Included with them was a cover of The Clash song "Lost in the Supermarket" and a recording of "Rockin' the Suburbs" featuring new lyrics written to complement the plot of the film.
Folds' song "Rockin' the Suburbs" was featured on the soundtrack for ABC's sitcom Surviving Suburbia, which aired in August 2009. Folds also wrote the soundtrack for the Netflix original film Handsome, released in May 2017.
After Ben Folds Five split, Folds' first tour with a full band was to support the album Rockin' The Suburbs. He was accompanied by Britt "Snüzz" Uzzell on guitar and electronic keyboard, Millard Powers on bass and keys, and Jim Bogios on drums. Powers and Bogios later went on to join Counting Crows.
On a tour of Australia, Folds joined with solo artists Ben Kweller and Ben Lee to travel the country as The Bens, at the suggestion of a fan on Kweller's official website. The trio also went on to record a four-track EP together.
In the summer of 2004, Folds co-headlined an American tour with fellow singer-songwriters Rufus Wainwright and Guster. Folds again performed with Wainwright and Lee in the summer of 2005 as part of the "Odd Men Out" tour. In addition, Folds has performed with many other notable musical names, including Weezer and Tori Amos. After seeing The Fray perform with Weezer, Folds asked the band to join him for twelve performances in 2005.
Folds also performed with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra (WASO) in March 2005, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) in November 2005, the Sydney Symphony at the Sydney Opera House, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, Western Australian Symphony Orchestra, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and The Queensland Orchestra during an Australian tour in 2006. Folds performed with the North Carolina Symphony in March 2010, and the Utah Symphony Orchestra in July 2010. A DVD of Folds playing with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra was released in December 2005.
On May 9, 2007, Folds performed with the Boston Pops Orchestra. The orchestra's performance was marred when a fight broke out between two audience members in the balcony, though Folds had not yet taken the stage.
After his MySpace performance on October 24, 2006, Folds's tour performances began to feature a synthesizer, which he uses in many of the songs when played live. The synthesizer is a red Nord Lead II synthesizer. During his concerts, Folds frequently performs two of his concert traditions: palm-smashing the keys and throwing his stool at the piano.
In March 2007, Folds went on a headlining tour, which opened on March 24 at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. In the summer of 2007, he performed as the primary opener for John Mayer during his Continuum 38-day summer tour. During this tour, Mayer sometimes joined Folds on the song "Narcolepsy", playing synth. At various concerts throughout the tour, parents of young children going to see Mayer would file complaints about Folds' lyrics. Folds responded by posting on his website, "We have kids too, but we don't take them out to rock shows that last until 11 pm."
On March 29, 2008, Folds played the Cage Center Arena at Berry College in Mount Berry, Georgia. During contract negotiations, he was asked by the administration to not play one of his songs due to its explicit lyrics. Folds refused, citing artistic freedom.
On May 9, 2008, Folds played his first completely solo show in years at Western Connecticut State University due to the fact that his bassist Jared Reynolds was with his wife who had just given birth to their first son.
Folds made a brief solo tour of Australia during August 2009; at one of his sold out Sydney Opera House concerts he was joined onstage for several songs by Aimee Mann, who was also touring Australia at the time. At the Palais theatre in Melbourne Missy Higgins joined him for "You Don't Know Me", a single from Way to Normal that Folds originally sang with Regina Spektor.
In 2010, Folds went on a brief tour of North America called "Ben Folds and a Piano" where he played solo other than with Zach Williams or Kate Miller-Heidke and her husband Keir Nuttall as supporting musicians. A small number of copies that were pre-ordered also included signed manuscripts by Folds and Hornby.
In April 2011, Folds collaborated with Amanda Palmer, Neil Gaiman and Damian Kulash as 8in8 to write, record, and produce eight songs in eight hours which were then available online within 24 hours, as well as being performed once on its world tour, as part of the ReThink Music conference.
Folds reunited with Ben Folds Five to play the Mountain Jam Music Festival on June 2, 2012. This was the first time the band had performed live together since 2008.
Ben Folds performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. for the 2012 Presidential Scholar in the Arts ceremony with several of YoungArts best alumni.
As part of their 2013 "Last Summer on Earth" Tour, Ben Folds Five joined the Barenaked Ladies along with Guster for 30 dates across North America, beginning June 17 at the Verizon Theatre in Dallas, Texas and ending at the 2013 Celebrate Brooklyn festival.
From November 22 to 24, 2013, Folds took part in Performing Arts' American Voices festival hosted by Renée Fleming at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., which featured American jazz, country, Broadway, gospel, popular and classical music. With Sara Bareilles, he conducted a pop/rock master class for aspiring singers. During the concert series he premiered his new song "I'm Not the Man" with the National Symphony Orchestra and sang "Not the Same" with Bareilles.
From July 2017 to early 2018, Ben Folds went on a tour titled "The Paper Airplane Tour", in which audience members were encourage to throw paper airplanes with song requests onto the stage halfway through the concert. Folds would then randomly select from these requests from his extensive catalog and perform them solo.
In 2001, Folds was an inaugural member of the Independent Music Awards' judging panel to support independent artists.
Starting in December 2009, Folds was featured as a judge on NBC's a cappella competition The Sing-Off alongside Nicole Scherzinger and Shawn Stockman. In the Season 1 finale, Folds showcased his talents and played the piano background on "Why Can't We Be Friends?" sung by the two finalist groups, The Beelzebubs from Tufts University near Boston and Nota, from San Juan, Puerto Rico. He again returned for the show's second season in December 2010, the third season in September 2011 alongside Stockman and Sara Bareilles and a fourth season with Stockman and Jewel in December 2013.
Folds has made several appearances, often as a fictionalized version of himself, in both TV and movies. He made a cameo appearance in the 2013 film We're the Millers playing himself as a piano teacher, although the scene did not make the theatrical cut. In January 2014, Folds had a brief appearance in the TV show Community episode "Basic Intergluteal Numismatics" (S5E03) as "Professor Bublitz", a botany teacher who secretly grows marijuana in his office, as well as contributing the song that closes out the episode, "Ass Crack Bandit". Folds appeared as himself, albeit an exaggerated version, in Seasons 3, 4 and 5 of the FXX comedy You're The Worst.
In June 2019, Folds launched a podcast titled ArtsVote 2020 with Ben Folds with the stated goal of getting every candidate in the 2020 United States presidential election to have "a one-on-one, 30-minute conversation with Ben Folds about their personal background in the arts and arts education, their observations and previous policy efforts to transform through the arts the communities and states that they represent, and their vision for advancing support for the arts and the charitable sector in the future."
In July 2019, Folds published his first book, a memoir, titled A Dream About Lightning Bugs: A Life of Music and Cheap Lessons.
Folds' personal life has inspired several of his songs; the hit single "Brick", co-written with Darren Jessee, was based on the experience of Folds' girlfriend having an abortion while they were in high school. Folds initially refused to discuss the story behind "Brick," thinking it was too serious for a pop song, but he eventually confirmed the inspiration for the song during a show on his Ben Folds Live tour. His telling of the story is included on the "Brick" track on the album.
Folds leased RCA Studio A in Nashville, Tennessee beginning in 2002 and was pivotal to the preservation of the historic building during its developer controversy in 2014. His efforts, along with others, led to the creation of the Music Industry Coalition.
As of 2016, he lives in Santa Monica, California, though he is temporarily residing in Australia, where he was touring when travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic prevented him from traveling home.
Marriages and children
Folds has been married five times and divorced four times. He met his first wife, Anna Goodman, in first grade at Moore Elementary School, Winston-Salem and was married to her from 1987 to 1992. She co-wrote several Ben Folds Five songs, including "Alice Childress", "The Last Polka", "Smoke", "Kate", and "Lullabye".
Folds was then briefly married to Kate Rosen in 1996.
Folds met Frally Hynes, an Australian, in January 1998 and they were married in May 1999 in Adelaide, South Australia, making their home there and later releasing a song about the city titled "Adelaide". Two months after their wedding, Frally gave birth to twins, Louis Francis (July 22, 1999) and Gracie Scott (July 23, 1999), the former inspiring his song "Still Fighting It" and the latter inspiring his song "Gracie." Hynes also sang lead on "Root To This" on Fear of Pop's 1998 album Volume 1. Folds filed for divorce in November 2006.
Folds married Fleur Stanbrook on November 17, 2007, at The Venetian in Las Vegas. They were based in Nashville. Folds and Stanbrook ended their marriage sometime in 2011. In 2012, Folds stated that "As much as I love the idea of being married, it's not for me."
Folds married Emma Sandall, an Australian dancer, sometime before July 2020.
Awards and recognition
Folds received a 2002 Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) Gold Record award for Ben Folds Five's Whatever and Ever Amen (1998).
- Rockin' the Suburbs (2001), Sony No. 42 US
- Songs for Silverman (2005), Epic (Bonus DVD) No. 13 US
- Way to Normal (2008), Epic No. 11 US
- Speed Graphic (2003), Attacked by Plastic
- Sunny 16 (2003), Attacked by Plastic
- Super D (2004), Attacked by Plastic
With Ben Folds Five
- Ben Folds Five (1995), Passenger/Caroline
- Whatever and Ever Amen (1997), 550 No. 42 US
- The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner (1999), 550 No. 35 US
- The Sound of the Life of the Mind (2012), Legacy No. 10 US
- Fear of Pop: Volume 1 (1998), 550 (with Fear of Pop)
- The Bens (EP) (2003), BMG (with The Bens)
- Has Been (2004), Shout! Factory (with William Shatner)
- Ben Folds Presents: University A Cappella! (2009), Sony (with various artists)
- Lonely Avenue (2010), Nonesuch (with Nick Hornby)
- Nighty Night (2011) (with Amanda Palmer, Damian Kulash and Neil Gaiman as 8in8)
- So There (2015), New West (with yMusic)
- Naked Baby Photos (1998), Caroline
- Ben Folds Live (2002), Sony No. 60 US
- iTunes Originals – Ben Folds (2005)
- Supersunnyspeedgraphic, the LP (2006), Epic
- The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective (2011), Legacy
- Fifty-Five Vault (2011)
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