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Archive for September 19th, 2011

The Second Disc Interview: Talking with Ben Folds

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Leave it to Todd Rundgren to spot The Difference.  Hosting a 1995 episode of the late Philadelphia-based radio program of that name, Rundgren interviewed Ben Folds, “fronting his trio, The Ben Folds Five.  Go figure,” the pop icon dryly noted.  Reflecting on the experience sixteen years later, Folds recalled with typical candor the moment when Rundgren spotted the difference in the young musician.   It was “fucking surreal…He said ‘you have a distinct voice.’  And I thought, ‘really?  I think I sound like you, I think I sound like Elton, I think I sound like Joe Jackson…so, thank you!’  That was a really nice thing to hear out of someone who I think does have [a distinct voice]!”  The singer, songwriter, pianist, producer, television personality, and multi-instrumentalist has been making waves with that distinct voice since the 1995 release of Ben Folds Five’s self-titled debut.   With his first-ever career-spanning anthology The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective arriving on October 11 from Epic, and NBC’s The Sing-Off gearing up for its third season (which premieres tonight) with Folds as a judge, the prolific artist took time out of his busy schedule to chat with The Second Disc’s Joe Marchese about past, present and future.

Best Imitation of Himself

Folds, 45, “had no idea it would be such a process” to assemble the truly comprehensive collection he had planned for both diehard fans and new listeners alike.  “There was a lot to consider,” Folds begins.  “The main disc is really for the uninitiated.”  And after a pause, he continues, “I suppose I’ve stuck around long enough where the equivalent to me as a consumer might be, say, Graham Parker.  I’m aware of his name, I know friends who respect what he does, he was around for a long time, and at some point I picked up a disc that encompassed everything.  As a newcomer, you appreciate the old and the new stuff without bias.”  That lack of bias from new and potential fans led Folds to sprinkle some personal favorites among more familiar songs on the eclectic 18-track “best of” disc.   It was important to him to create “a full, equal representation of all phases of my career and what I felt resonated about that time period, like there [is] a song on there, ‘Still’ [written for the 2006 film Over the Hedge].  Not the most popular song, never gets requested, no reason to put it on there other than that, at that time in my life, I think it’s the best that I did.  Maybe it will never come around, but maybe in years, maybe people will hear.  I always felt there’s really something to that song.  It’s like that.”

That main disc of Best Imitation will be available as a stand-alone release and also as the first disc of a deluxe three-CD edition.   Folds crafted something very special for those second and third discs.  He explains, “There’s a live disc and a rarities disc and as we discovered more and more and more and weeded out, it was a really heavy process.  I would find something that was competitive or better or in some way illuminates something about the song that the studio version didn’t.  I would take the studio version off the main disc and use the alternate version on the second or third disc.  A lot of stuff got changed in that way and had an effect on the main disc.” 

Folds is understandably proud of the new material finally seeing the light of day.  One song, “Rock Star,” had previously been released in a very different version on the 2003 EP Sunny 16.  In digging through the archives and finding his long-unheard demo, he came to a realization.  “One thing I was struck by was that the version I arrived at for the EP that was released was just a real underwhelming track, and I’d never thought about the song anymore after that.  To hear my head space upon the impulse of the song before it was even really finished, that’s so much more powerful.  I think the song is lyrically, a really, really interesting song.  It sure wasn’t when it was released,” he offers candidly.  “I don’t know what happened by the time I kind of finished it; it wasn’t as good.  I think it’s a really good reason to look back at these things because all artists ought to be honest about these sorts of things so they can make the right decisions in the future.”  Both melodically and lyrically, Folds takes evident pride in the reworked “Rock Star.”  But that’s not all.  He soon discovered that he had much more to offer: “duplicates, triplicates of songs.”

The ’55’ Digital Vault: No “Sub-Par Shit”

There was so much, in fact, that a first-of-its-kind, 55-track digital vault will supplement Best Imitation of Myself.  “It’s a natural place to put the more obscure, rare third-tier stuff,” he asserts, keenly aware of how he’s resonated with a generation raised on the Internet.  “The fans can get it that way and my fans are mostly, have been Internet-based, savvy folks, since 2000, really.  2000 was the first year I recall signing more burned CDs than purchased CDs and I still think there are artists who can’t claim that.  Anyway, the only way to placate everyone on our kind of curation team…was saying, ‘Okay, gets into the vault!’  ‘Alright, into the vault!’  I wanted to figure out how to put it on [a duet by The Divine Comedy’s] Neil Hannon and me…I had to go, okay, that goes into the vault.  And that way it’s still out there. And what we did talk about was that none of the stuff in that 55 or 50 song collection in the vault could be sub-par shit.  We weren’t going to do it.  It turned out we had plenty.  We still have stuff on deck.”

We’ve got much, much more with Ben Folds waiting for you, including the scoop on what’s next from Ben Folds Five!  Just hit the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

September 19, 2011 at 10:34