Lollipop Magazine is being rebuild at LollipopMagazine.com. Lollipop.com is no longer updated, but the archive content will remain until 2018 (more or less).
Check out our new site!
Ben Folds | Songs for Silverman | interview | alternative | Lollipop
Songs for Silverman (Epic)
An Interview with Ben Folds
By Tim Den
After wetting our appetites with three EPs and a collaborative band (The Bens, with Ben Lee and Ben Kweller), the full-length weve long been waiting for has finally arrived. Songs for Silverman is Ben Folds "grown up" record: A statement of independence, a declaration that he no longer needs to live up to anyones expectations. You expected a Rockin the Suburbs sequel? You aint gettin one. You expected a piano-bashing ruckus? Too bad. Songs for Silverman slowly unfurls at a steady, introspective pace, building subtlety upon subtlety in ripples of nuanced melodic play. Some have compared it to The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, but its much more sturdy and honed in. The tempos and the mood might echo "Missing the War" instead of "Battle of Who Could Care Less," but place your attention in the slippery turn of phrase (lyrically and melodically) and you shall be rewarded. This is a record you need to devote time to, despite its accessible appearance.
And although its not without faults (single "Landed" rips a bit of James Taylors "Fire and Rain;" a remake of "Give Judy My Notice" feels regimented and stiff; the piano lick after the third line in the chorus of opener "Bastard" reminds me so much of Blossoms theme song that I cringe every time), Songs for Silverman is as involved as a piano pop record can get without losing catchiness. Funny (but not funny funny) chord changes, irregular meters, and lyrics that are a shade darker than the usual Folds cannon paint this collection one for the winter. It might not be for everyone, but for those whove always felt the melancholy beneath Folds bright hooks, its simply wonderful.
Youre living in Australia these days, right?
Yeah, I just came from there. Im there about three months out of the year, the other times Im in Nashville. Im in America a lot because Im working, but soon, Im going to spend an entire year in Australia.
I ask because your bio mentions that you found your current bandmates (bassist Jared Reynolds and drummer Lindsay Jamieson) "down the street from where you live." Are they Australian?
No, Lindsay is British and Jared is American.
Whats your musical life like in Australia? Is it pretty nonexistent? No one to jam with?
Yeah, pretty much, but Ive never really "jammed" when Im not writing songs anyway. I tend to write songs on my own and then bring them to the band.
Was that how the Five worked as well? How did you find those guys?
I was living in New York at the time, and I decided that I was going to get serious about my music. Up until then, Id been really slack about it. At age 27 (no less). I really wanted a certain kind of bassist and a certain kind of drummer, and I knew I wasnt going to find those kinds of players in a big town like New York. So I moved down to North Carolina, found those guys, and it came together pretty quickly.
Thats interesting, since the Five always seemed like three close friends who just happened to start a band together.
No, we didnt know each other at all, actually. But we went from strangers to practically living out of each others pockets
which contributed to the bands demise, I think.
The bio says youd recorded the entire album yourself, and then scrapped it when you found the new guys?
No, I didnt record the whole album
Thats a mis-something in the bio. I recorded a few songs, but they were basically demos. After I did the three EPs (Sunny 16, Speed Graphic, and Super D, all released on Folds own Attacked by Plastic imprint post-Rockin the Suburbs), I had a ton of songs leftover, and I called the label and said "hey, uh, I have an album ready." But after listening to them, I felt that the album deserved more than scraps from the EPs. So I started writing new songs and found Jared and Lindsay.
Its hard when you record everything yourself, because a lot of the subtleties are lost. Instead of shades of grey, all I had was a grey mush.
Do you mean that, because youre writing all the songs and playing all the instruments, youre too close to it all and too burnt out to notice the dynamics?
Its more like
when youre recording the drums, youre only listening to the drums. And then when you record other instruments, you dont sense the chemistry between me, me, and me until the song is almost finished. And then if you notice something, and youre like "fuck, I gotta start all over again." Id already gone through that once with Rockin the Suburbs, and it made for a really slick album. With this one, I wanted it to be more subtle, more about the songs and not the singing or the piano playing. It needed the subtleties between individual players.
Ive read a review or two that mentioned Songs for Silverman doesnt "rock" as much, which is completely ridiculous because good songs arent only about "rocking." Theyre about nuance and character; whether or not theyre eventful and crafted
Yeah, I can see how to some people "rocking" can be important. Youre always judged by your past. And to those people, I can see how theyd think this album is kinda "flatline." But with this album, I didnt feel the need to be jokey or loud for louds sake. I wanted the songs to speak naturally. I think the lyrics hold a lot of weight on their own and didnt need to be shouted or musically accentuated. I know some people will probably look at the title "Jesusland" and think "oh my god, hes gonna go OFF!" But musically, I didnt have to. It says exactly what it needs to say. There are a lot of subtleties and dynamics in the songs, but in the seams. And because the seams arent showing, you gotta look for them and listen carefully.
There were times when I walked away with my fingers bloody from playing these songs. Just because they sound "easy" doesnt mean they are. I used to be really good at playing stuff that sounded more difficult than it really was, and I was like "fuck yeah, people dig my shit!" But as I said, I wanted this album to be about the songs
I felt like I no longer needed gimmicks. I dont have to be a clown if I dont feel like it.
One of my goals was to be able to wear a white tee shirt, play acoustic piano on stage, and have it ROCK. I feel like Ive done that and taken it as far as I can.
About a week ago, when I started doing press for the album, I got really nervous. I started thinking "Ugh, I shouldve put those two songs on there to make it a bit more upbeat" or "I shouldve sung that one line/song with more power." But then I realized that I went into this album knowing exactly what I wanted. And you cant bother with what people are going to pick at because youll never win that way.
But you know, now I just want to get back into the studio and just bang the shit out of everything. (laughs)