Benjamin Scott "Ben" Folds (born September 12, 1966) is an American singer-songwriter and record producer. From 1995 to 2000, Folds was the frontman and pianist of the alternative rock band Ben Folds Five. After the group temporarily disbanded, Folds performed as a solo artist and has toured all over the world. The group reunited in 2011. He has also collaborated with musicians such as William Shatner, Regina Spektor and "Weird Al" Yankovic and undertaken experimental songwriting projects with authors such as Nick Hornby and Neil Gaiman. In addition to contributing music to the soundtracks of the animated films Over the Hedge, and Hoodwinked!, Folds produced Amanda Palmer's first solo album and was a judge on the NBC a cappella singing contest The Sing-Off from 2009 to 2013.
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.
In the late 1980s, Folds (as a bassist) and longtime friend Millard Powers formed the band Majosha. 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 his own band. 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 (bass) and Britt "Snuzz" Uzzell (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 attended the University of Miami's Frost School of Music on a percussion scholarship, but dropped out with one credit to go before graduating. 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."
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 cafe 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."
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 spawned many singles such as "Brick", "Song for the Dumped", and "Battle of Who Could Care Less". 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".
Folds has described this band as "punk rock for sissies", and his oddball lyrics often contain nuances of melancholy, self conflict, and humorous sarcasm, often punctuated by profanity.
Despite its presence on multiple Billboard genre charts, no Ben Folds Five singles reached the US Hot 100, although they did show well on both adult contemporary and modern rock charts. However they gained a strong following in the United Kingdom and Australia early in their career, and like many other 'alternative' American acts this was largely thanks 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 Five'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 the 1998 Triple J Hottest 100 poll. 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.
Folds and his bandmates have moved many albums since 2001. He said, "The songs have been getting a great reaction, it makes me look forward to having a new album out there because it’s been a while. This feels like a really free period in my life and I’m really enjoying it.” 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 the MySpace "Front to Back" series, in which artists play an entire album live. The band played its final album before their split, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner. The concert aired during October and can be viewed at Nowwhat.com. 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 of promotion of their new work.
As of 2008, Folds had released six solo LPs, including an experimental side project called Fear of Pop, which was released while Ben Folds Five was still together.
Folds made a guest appearance on a 1996 Space Ghost Coast to Coast episode, Anniversary, on Cartoon Network.
Folds's first solo release after the breakup of the band was Rockin' the Suburbs in 2001. He played nearly all the instruments, notably guitar (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 "Rockin' the Suburbs". Folds' friend and fellow musician John McCrea, lead singer of the band Cake, contributed vocals to Folds' song "Fred Jones, Part 2".
A year later, he 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).
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."
The soundtrack for the 2006 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.
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 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.
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.
Folds produced The Dresden Dolls' Amanda Palmer's first solo album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer which was released September 16, 2008. He also performs on the album.
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 same show in Richmond on April 11. 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.
In August 2008, Folds played piano for friend and Japanese singer-songwriter Angela Aki's song "Black Glasses" on her new album Answer.
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.
Folds' song "Rockin' the Suburbs" was featured on the soundtrack for ABC's sitcom Surviving Suburbia, which aired in August 2009.
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 and offered insightful, constructive comments and criticisms to the contestants. 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.
In March 2010, Folds became a YouTube phenomenon after a video he created titled "Ode To Merton" went viral. In the video, Folds improvises several songs about people that he sees on the popular social networking site Chatroulette, in the style of "Merton" another YouTube phenomenon who many 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.
Folds was an inaugural member of the Independent Music Awards' judging panel to support independent artists.
Ben Folds made a cameo appearance in the 2013 film We're the Millers playing himself as a piano teacher.
In November 22–24, 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 American Voices Concert on November 23, he premiered with the National Symphony Orchestra his new song "I'm not the man" and also sang with Sara Bareilles "Not the same" from the alternative rock 2001 album Rockin' the Suburbs. Folds entertained the audience by involving it into accompanying him a capella during the performance of "Not the same" without, as the "Washington Post" put it, "being too annoying".
In January 2014, Folds had a brief appearance in TV show Community episode "Basic Intergluteal Numismatics" (S5E03), as well as contributing the song that closes out the episode, "Ass Crack Bandit".
On 20 January 2014, Folds performed at the El Rey Theatre, Los Angeles, in support of the David Lynch Foundation's celebration of Ringo Starr's "lifetime of peace and love".
In March 2014, Folds premiered a commissioned piano concerto he composed with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.
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 performs two of his concert traditions: palm-smashing and throwing his stool at the piano.
Folds toured with John Mayer as an opening act (though his set typically lasted an hour) in the summer of 2007. 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 11pm."
On March 29, 2008, Folds played the Cage Center Arena at Berry College in Mt. 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.
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 Ben Folds and Nick 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 played 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.
Folds has been married four times. His 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 met 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: "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 Hotel in Las Vegas. They were based in Nashville, along with Julia-Rose, Stanbrook's daughter. Folds shares custody of his twins with Hynes. Folds and Stanbrook ended their relationship sometime in 2011. Folds stated that "As much as I love the idea of being married, it's not for me."
Folds started dating actress and singer Alicia Witt in 2012. The relationship ended in June 2014.
Folds received a 2002 Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) Gold Record award for Ben Folds Five's "Whatever and Ever Amen" (1998).
He was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2011.
Ben Folds Five (1995), Passenger/Caroline
Whatever and Ever Amen (1997), 550 #42 US
The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner (1999), 550 #35 US
Rockin' the Suburbs (2001), Sony #42 US
Songs for Silverman (2005), Epic (Bonus DVD) #13 US
Way to Normal (2008), Epic #11 US
The Sound of the Life of the Mind (2012), Legacy #10 US
Sources: Last.fm, Wikipedia
Ben Folds in the news
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