Im Februar rockte der Amerikaner Ben Folds wieder einmal nicht nur die „Suburbs“, sondern auch Deutschland. Mit seiner neuen Platte ‚SuperSunnySpeedGraphic‘ im Gepäck, heizte Folds trotz Grippe dem Publikum gewaltig ein und rechtfertigte seinen Ruf als „Rampensau“. Im Anschluss an die Tour hatte ich die Chance mit einem äußerst netten und gut aufgelegten Ben Folds ein Telefoninterview zu führen.
S R: You’ll kick off a North American Tour in three days. What have you been up to since your European tour ended in February?
Ben Folds: Well, I have been in the studio. Otherwise I have been buying towels, shades and shower-curtains for my house. I just moved. So I’m just doing the most boring domestic housework.
S R: What did you think about the European tour?
Ben Folds: Oh, I loved it. I love playing Europe and I don’t get to do it enough. We had a great time. I got some kind of nasty cough some time in the middle of the tour. That made it a challenge, because I had to stay in bed most of the day and then go play and that’s always a drag, but I still loved being there.
S R: I was at your concert in Cologne. You said that you were sick, from your performance people probably wouldn‘t have noticed.
Ben Folds: Well that’s good, that’s what you hope. That’s being a professional hopefully. I just stayed in bed all day long, did what the doc told me and I blew it all out in two hours and then I collapsed back to my hotel-room (laughs).
S R: Can you give us a hint on when you might come back to Europe?
Ben Folds: Not really. My schedule is pretty much spoken for till the end of the year, so it will be some time. Some time 2008. Which comes quicker than we think (laughs).
S R: Starting in June you will be on the road with John Mayer. How did that teaming come about and are you excited about the tour?
Ben Folds: Well it’s the most all-pervasive American tour I’ve done in probably seven years. So, yeah I’m excited to do that kind of tour because I haven’t done it in a long time.
S R: Will you both play full sets?
Ben Folds: Yeah I suppose. I mean he’s gonna play a full set, it’s his show. I don’t know about me. I’ll play however long I’m supposed to.
S R: Your new album ‚SUPERSUNNYSPEEDGRAPHIC, the lp‘ got released a few months ago. How did the idea of covering Dr. Dre‘s ‚Bitches Ain‘t Shit‘ arise?
Ben Folds: That was very spontaneous. I needed a b-side for a British single and I used all my songs for b-sides and internet releases and exclusives. I just thought “god I don’t really have anything and I’m tired of covering peoples music at the moment”. But then I was listening the ‚The Chronic‘ by Dr. Dre a lot, so I just decided to make it pretty.
S R: ‚All U Can Eat‘ is another song on your new record. It deals with, in an ironical way, some aspects of the US-American culture. Have you ever thought about leaving the country on a permanent basis and what‘s your take on the current political situation in the US?
Ben Folds: Well I left, not for political reasons, but I lived in Australia for four years. You know it’s strange, it’s so complicated, I guess you guys know that too. If you live here it’s a different perspective than you ‘ld have if you didn’t live here. On the one hand the United States of America is a really, really great place. At least some of the people who live here (laughs) and what happens between the borders. But the country itself, I don’t know. You got three days? (laughs) I think some really bizarre stuff is happening here and I don’t think it’s that good.
S R: From time to time your songs deal with religiousness. About the man who fell from a tree in ‚Not The Same‘ you once said that after he fell, he became a ‚born-again-christian‘. What‘s your take on the whole issue of religion, are you a religious and/or a spiritual person?
Ben Folds: He didn’t fall, he took acid at a party and stayed up in a tree all night long and when he came down he went into seminary school. I have a hard time imagining anybody not being spiritual in some way. But the organized religion part of it, I would rather go down to the drivers-license bureau and sit in line to get my drivers-license. I don’t understand the organization and the fanaticism and the fundamentalism in religion. It just has to be a way to move money and power. I don’t believe it and I’m not interested. But I think contemplating about why you’re here, what you’re a part of and what it all means at some point of the day has got to be good for you.
S R: In live-performances of ‚Not The Same‘ and ‚Army‘ your audience gets a rather big part when you play either tune. How did the idea for that routine evolve and are there other songs you think about including the audience as much as in those two?
Ben Folds: Well, if you talk about religion and spirituality and all that I think larger groups of people singing together is amazing. When it’s real singing. When it’s not just the recognition of a hook they heard on the radio that they’re all singing together, (sings) “Ooops I did it again”. That’s why the things are in the set, they evolved. Which is what people do. It’s interesting, I went into a show somewhere in Illinois and had no idea that was going to happen. And when I walked out I was like “wow”. Everyone started singing in harmony at the end of that song. They needed some guidance, but they were spontaneously doing this. It made me think that I just need to conduct this a bit better. Which I did. And it evolved. And my next thought was “I need to stop this, this is becoming something that everyone’s going to expect”. But I haven’t seen any good reason to stop doing something that I don’t see happening otherwise. It’s like church, people don’t sing like that in church anymore, only under gunpoint (sings) “Come all you…” (laughs). But I mean everyone singing together and locking in harmony like that feels amazing so I just continue to do it.
S R: In recent years you played quite some shows with big orchestras like the ‚Western Australian Symphony Orchestra‘. What is the experience of playing with big ensembles like and do you plan on doing it again in the future?
Ben Folds: Yeah, I’ll do a lot more of that. It’s not that dissimilar from the everyone singing together. It’s just much more precision and it’s more disciplined.
You can get the best of that and the worst of that can happen. I think it’s amazing, I love to play with symphony orchestras. It’s just such an old institution and it works so well. It doesn’t necessarily want to blend with Rock ‘N Roll that easily. It’s a challenge. Like trying to stuff too many things into a suitcase before you get to the airport. So the challenge is clearing the way for the symphony orchestra to actually dominate, at least sometimes, because that’s more natural to me than the rock band playing at 120 decibels and you can’t hear the orchestra at all. Because that’s what happens, the two different worlds have two ways of thinking.
S R: Did you have to rehearse a lot?
Ben Folds: I have rehearsed quite a bit with the orchestras now. I’ve played with five symphony orchestras in Australia and a few here in America and every time we’ve had two or three days of rehearsal. So I must have done a months worth of rehearsals with orchestras.
S R: ‚Song For The Dumped‘ was one of the first songs I heard from the ‚Ben Folds Five‘. I always wondered about the story behind that song. Can you shed some light on that?
Ben Folds: That was our drummer Darrens (Jessee) experience. His girlfriend dumped him after dinner and he wished he hadn’t bought her dinner. That was basically it.
S R: What are your plans concerning going into the studio and recording a new record?
Ben Folds: I plan to do it, but I just don’t have any specific plans. I got 25 or 30 parts of songs. The studio is nice. We’re considering a producer. Most of the times anymore I don’t have a producer, but I’m sort of interested in that process this time around. Kind of push me into thinking only about playing piano and singing and showing up. As opposed to having to think about the track order and things a producer thinks about. Which is musical too, but it’s just a lot of hats to wear. So I’m thinking maybe I get out of the business there for this record, just have a producer. Got a lot of synthesizers laying around in the studio. I went on Ebay one night I was on tour and ordered about fifteen (laughs) different random bits of synthesizers. And when I got back home they were all in the studio in boxes. Half of them work, so I’ve got about seven right now (laughs). Kind of interesting. I mean it’s something I’m interested in because I like orchestration and I like sounds. Those are just interesting machines. I used this little red synthesizer on tour. I was using it subtly sometimes, I like it a lot, it’s very inspiring. I taped a key down sometimes to have one note going so I could play the piano. I didn’t have three hands.
S R: Do you have any plans to revive ‚The Bens‘ and do some stuff together?
Ben Folds: I don’t think so. We all pretty busy. I talked to Ben Lee yesterday, he’s making an album. I think I’m going to play piano for him.
S R: What are your musical influences, who do you listen to and how about contemporary bands?
Ben Folds: At the moment I really like this Midlake record. I’m kind of fascinated with the record. I mean I don’t know if I even understand the songs yet. There’s something about it that I’m really drawn to. The sound of it, it just goes down easy, maybe that’s what it is, but it’s so good at what it does. I like that record. Sufjan Stevens I like a lot. The Dresden Dolls are just amazing. If anyone ever wants to go to Youtube and just see their performance from a DVD called “Live in Paradise”, it really is like watching Black Sabbath in their prime or something, it’s so good. So yeah, those are the current bands I can think of from the top of my head. I don’t know about the influence part. I know about people that inspired me. And I don’t really know if the influence cracked in. Because sometimes you’re influenced by things you don’t want to be influenced by. You might be walking through the mall and you hear a basketball-theme or something on a television set and that actually creeps into your influence. While sometimes I think the things we like the most we have too much respect to be overly influenced by it. So it’s hard to know. I listened to a lot of stuff. Initially I listened to RnB-music only, when I was a kid. It was all late 60’s, early 70’s funk, period, nothing else. And I don’t think that anyone would think that my music sounds like early 70’s funk. That was my inspiration. And my other inspiration was comedy, like Andy Kaufman. He inspired me to want to be into music to a pretty big degree. I mean he was this great conga player and I just thought that was amazing, that was my idea of drums, the way that he played that conga-drum. It was awesome and he’s a comedian.
S R: How important is the piano for your career and can you say something about your relationship to the instrument?
Ben Folds: I don’t play it very often. It’s a tool to write songs and get songs across. I don’t why I don’t. Sometimes I even guilt myself about that. Given five or six weeks off I don’t even go to the piano, it just never happens. I just command the piano much more than I do the other instruments I play, which I’m finding out as I go in the studio. I was a drummer for some time, I always think of myself as being as good of a drummer as I am a pianist, but I’m realizing that that’s not true (laughs). Cause I’ll sit down and play the drums and be like “I just don’t have quite the command”. I guess it’s years of touring and playing all the time I’ve gotten better at the instrument and not realized it. The relationship with the piano is that it’s a tool for writing music.
S R: Have you ever met Reinhold Messner?
Ben Folds: No I haven’t. I almost met him once at an airport. I came through after he did. He came off a plane and I came off a plane and someone had held a sign up that said ‘Ben Folds’. He stopped at the sign and talked to the driver. “My name is Reinhold Messner, tell him I said hello. I am from Austria, he made an album, put my name on it and I talked to his manager.” You know he talked to the car driver for quite a while and of course the car driver didn’t know anything about Reinhold Messner, me or anybody. He was just holding the sign up. So when I got into the car he’s was like “a strange man told me…”. He described him and I was like “oh my god, that was fucking Reinhold Messner dude” (laughs).
S R: So did he object about the name of the CD?
Ben Folds: He did at first. He wasn’t happy to have his name used at first. And when my manager talked to him on the phone he first rejected the idea. And then my manager just said, “Well listen, they’re just making an album. The name has nothing to do with the album. No one really knows who Reinhold Messner is in America. It’s not being used to sell their record, it’s just part of a theme”. I think he got it after a while. He wasn’t happy because his name was being used to sell water and something else and he was in a lawsuit or something, so he just felt a little sensitive about the commercialisation of his name. But it wasn’t a commercial endeavour to begin with.
S R: How did the idea of naming one of your records ‚The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner‘ even arise?
Ben Folds: It was an accident. I didn’t know who Reinhold Messner was, neither did my drummer. But the name had come up somehow in the relation to fake ID’s in high-school. Everyone was using Reinhold Messner as their fake ID-name and no one even knew who he was. So one kid must have know and he used his name and everyone was Reinhold Messner. So all of a sudden we put out the record, we didn’t even know until the record was out that Reinholds name was really Reinhold Messner and that’s why we had to call him because we were gonna be in trouble. So we had to get him to agree and luckily he agreed.
S R: Thanks a lot for sitting down and doing the interview.