“I spent maybe six months just running scales with ametronome like a freak. I suppose that did something.”That’s Ben Folds explaining what he filled his time withafter dropping out of the University of Miami’s Frost Schoolof Music, with only one credit left to graduate. He wasalways a bit of an oddball, as I imagine most skilledmusicians are. He got his start playing music early, after hisfather brought home an aged upright piano as barter from aman who couldn’t pay a debt. As a young kid in the late70’s, he would listen to his parents’ Billy Joel and EltonJohn records and would learn to play them by ear.
A lot of Ben’s songs are influenced by his love of thesemusicians as well as his hometown. He was born on abeautiful September day in 1966, in Winston-Salem, NorthCarolina. He describes the autumn season back East assomething to be grateful for. Growing up he always hadsome musical project going on. He was part of severalbands from middle school through college. Interestinglyenough he was often the drummer or bassist of the group.It’s hard to imagine given the fact that he has been namedone of the greatest piano players of his era.
Trying to make a name for himself on the music scene, hestarted a band with his best friends, Millard Powers andDave Rich. With Ben on bass, Millard on guitar, and DaveRich on drums, they played and won the Battle of theBands under the name Mojosha in 1998. After that, theywent on to make an EP titled, “Party Night: Five Songsabout Jesus.” Surprisingly, none were actually about Jesus.Soon, Mojosha became a recognized name and theybegan playing bigger and better paying gigs. Not long afterthat EP was released, the put out an album called, “ShutUp and Listen to Mojosha.” This included a few songs from“Party Night” which they chose to remix. “Emaline” made itsdebut at this time, which is still a very popular song thatBen Folds does solo.
In 1990 the band broke up and Ben went on the form Potsand Pans with Evan Olson on bass, Britt Uzzell as guitarand vocals, and Ben on drums. They only lasted about amonth, with Uzzell and Ben’s brother, Chuck forming a newband with a different name. This inspired Ben to write asong about the failures and miseries of life called “Army”. Itbecame one of his biggest hits, even making it tomainstream radio.
After years of performing and doing everything he could toexploit himself, Ben finally got a break. Nashville musicexecutive, Scott Siman gave him a record deal afterhearing him play the drums in a house band. Ben beganplaying drums for different bands all over Nashville andwas quoted as saying, “In Nashville I was running 8 miles aday, hanging out with my friends, walking around eatingchocolate-chip cookies and playing a lot of drums, which Ienjoyed. Life was easy. I was never frustrated- even thoughI wasn’t fulfilling my contract obligations. If you are failing inNashville, at least your standard of living is nice. Nashvilleis a nice way to fail.”
After his stint in Tennessee he went on to the University ofMiami’s Frost School of Music on a percussion scholarship.He did very well, received high marks, and his teachersappreciated his talent. It wasn’t until after a night of partyingand a fight which injured his hand, did he start to godownhill. That day he showed up at school and wasexpected to play in front of a jury, which would determinehis final grade for the semester. After he failed, he lost hisscholarship, and proceeded to throw his drum kit into thecampus lake.
His real success came after a short time in New Jersey where hestudied acting and abandoned music altogether. A friend askedhim to move back to North Carolina where they could start aband. He agreed and headed to Chapel Hill to form Ben FoldsFive with Ben on piano, Darren Jesse on drums, and RobertSledge on bass. This was the beginning of something trulymagical. Only one year after they started, they released a majoralbum titled, “Whatever and Ever, Amen” which did very well inthe alternative music scene. Hits like “Brick” and “Song for theDumped” were huge among college kids and young professionaladults. The lyrics were often noted to contain “nuances ofdepression, melancholy, self-confidence, and humoroussarcasm”. Their songs eventually made the BillboardCharts, but never the top 100. The band released several morealbums and EPs but eventually broke up. Ben started a solocareer.
After he decided to take the leap and do his own music, hereleased a very successful album called “Rockin’ theSuburbs” in 2001. He played almost all the instruments oneach track and added the guitar, which was not on theother Ben Folds Five albums. He also released a series ofvery successful EPs which included “Speed Graphic” and“Sunny16”. Ben was on his way to superstardom andbegan having songs hit mainstream alternative radiostations across the nation. He even found huge success inJapan, Australia, and England. Most recently he releasedan album which turned out to be the highest charting albumof his career in the U.S. Topping at #11 on the Billboard 200; he knew he had finally gotten somewhere.
Success started to come easily as he toured with bignames like The Fray, Rufus Wainwright, Ben Lee, and JohnMayer. He started performing with symphonies all over theworld including W. Australian Orchestra, BaltimoreSymphony Orchestra, Boston Pops, SydneyOrchestra, and Queensland Orchestra. Ben enjoyed therichness of all the instruments and remained humbled andflattered that any beautiful orchestra would want to be apart of his music.
He continues to tour and amaze as he shares his talentwith the world. I have seen him perform live all over thecountry and will continue to follow his shows. The reasonwhy I chose Ben Folds is because his music truly movesme. It’s not the rock that I love, it’s his lyrics and the effecthis piano playing can have on someone. He is aremarkably talented individual and I can only hope he hasthe desire to keep making music for me.
The first song is titled “Mess”. It was composed by and lyrics written byBen. He was quoted on his iTunes Original album as saying, “Messwas a song about a loss of innocence. It’s a song about having somuch baggage that now you are unable to completely explain yourhistory; you’ve made a mess. It’s like at this point, there’s really-thenext person I meet I can no longer completely explain my history. I haveenough baggage to where that’s not possible any more, and they’re justgonna have to take it from, this is a new clean slate.” ,When I listen to this song, those are precisely the feelings he conveys.The music has a desperate quality about it. You will be able tounderstand the feeling he is trying to create; you’ll notice it is in minormode. There are several little gems within the music if you listenclosely. Ben adds strings when he wants to create a heavy feel, adepressing and lost feel. You’ll also notice the tempo is very quick andhe does this simply to emulate a very confused, chaotic, and out ofcontrol emotion. Pay close attention to his variances in wordingthroughout the chorus, it helps to explain his confusion.
The next song is called “Magic”. It was written and composed byband mate, Darren Jesse. It’s hard to find a definite explanationof this song because Darren is a person who doesn’t like to dishon exact meaning. After reading several interviews, theconsensus seems to include his grandfather’s death, a best ladyfriend’s suicide, and love. All of these are certainly subjects I canhear within the song. When Ben plays a small part on the tackpiano, it paints a very specific image. Whomever they arereferring to at this point, you get the image that the band wantsto keep this person as a very special memory. The innocence ofthe high notes on the tack piano tells me that it’s almost a dreamor vision in which they’re seeing this special person again. At atime where there was no pain, only love and understanding. Thisis a precious song and the fact that I don’t have a specific storyallows me to use my own life to paint their ambiguous canvas.
The last song I chose is called “Don’t Change Your Plans”. Written andcomposed by Ben Folds in A major, it gives you a pleasant feeling. Thisis another song without a definitive history. Ben has said, “It wassupposed to be just a long instrumental passage- after it was editeddown to its final product, a producer just cut it and all of a sudden it wasthis pop song! And then I was like, oh, okay, I see what you’re talkingabout.”I love this song; I love all the variety you get. You hear happiness andexcitement in the beginning, you hear the joy of love andcommitment, and you hear real life thoughts and emotions. He does aspecial little variance in the choruses, after the first chorus he startsplaying the chords as triplets and that simple change completely altersthe song. This is the small variety I love that he does. Just when youthink you understand what he is trying to convey, he throw you acurveball and it’s up to you to interpret it as you wish. He incorporatesan array of instruments; featuring wire brush ondrums, trumpet, trombone, and saxophone. He also adds some stylewith syncopation when his back- up singers do their part. It’s really anexciting piece. I hope you enjoy these songs as much as Ihave, throughout the years in all different moods and contexts.
• “Mess” Music and Lyrics by Ben Folds- G Minor• 0:00 Introduction- Piano makes its debut with drums entering shortly after. Main theme repeats 6 times• 0:15 Verse 1 begins, “There was a time when I had nothing to explain of this mess I had made”. You can hear cymbals accentuate certain parts of this music• 0:29 Second part of verse 1, after you will hear the main them repeated without lyrics before the chorus• 0:43 Chorus: Take note of the variation in wording during the choruses. The first time he says, “But I don’t believe in God, so I can’t be saved”• 1:08 Instrumental break- Solo piano with some effects, you’ll begin to hear the viola, violins, and bass come in. You’ll also hear back-up vocals that add depth to the music.• 1:22 Pace and intensity pick up, creating dissonance- you can hear blocks, strings, and a painful scratching sound. Strings raise pitch to add to the chaos, and vocals are alongside a shaker.• 1:35 Break comes to a halt and introduces us to verse 2. This time you’ll notice there in significantly more energy and instrumentation than the first verse. “All the untested virtue of things I said I’d never do, least of all to you”• 2:00 Chorus: “But I don’t believe in love so I can’t be tamed”. You see the difference in chorus lyrics here. You also hear back- up vocals this time.• 2:19 Chorus comes to a close as you start to hear things slowing and calming. It almost feels like a tired section. He adds lyrics to the end of the chorus that weren’t previously sung. “I have made the same mistake over and over again.” The word “again” is said with no instrumentals.• 2:37 A light organ note is held and drums come back in to reintroduce the main theme.• 2:55 Verse 3, “There are rooms in this house that I don’t open anymore, misty books and pictures on the floor”. After the word “floor” the piano makes a grand statement and all instruments are back.• 3:10 Chorus- Begins with a heightened tone than the last couple times. The wording is now back to the first chorus, though the back-up singers echo the second chorus wording.• 3:33 There is still chaos but it’s slower, and you start to sense a little more darkness in the tone.• Coda- He adds a series of “a’ohh’s” here instead of how the last bridge ended. The closing statement only includes some dissonant piano and a few drum beats.
• “Magic” Music and Lyrics by Darren Jesse F Major• 0:00 Introduction- You hear simple piano that offers and slow and unidentified emotion.• 0:22 Verse 1, “From the back of your big brown eyes” you only hear piano and vocals.• 0:44 Verse 2, Same theme with the piano’s tempo getting slower and softer than the previous verse.• 1:06 Variation of second verse that extends longer, but it comes to a halt.• 1:11 I don’t know what you’d call this part, it’s not necessarily a bridge, and it’s not the chorus- “Saw you last night dance by the light of the moon” starts to bring a memory into play and paints an innocent picture.• 1:29 Drum hits and breaks concentration. It’s highlighted with a light tambourine. This is the simplest chorus I’ve heard in my life. Simply a series of “shal lai lai lai’s” and a few heavy drum beats and bright tambourine.• 1:52 Second half of chorus is only the piano and the viola. Shortly after you begin to hear the violins which play as if they’re meant to add sensitivity or longing.• 2:12 Verse 3 “You’re the magic that holds the sky up” start with piano and voice, but strings come back in.• 2:43 Tempo has slowed significantly and Ben plays the tack piano which emulates a memory or a vision. It’s as if they’re portraying this special person as a beautiful and innocent being.• 3:15 Drums snap you back to reality and the chorus repeats. This chorus is much more lively than the previous ones.• Coda: The songs ends with one last “la la la” and a tap of the tambourine.
• “Don’t Change Your Plans” Music and Lyrics by Ben Folds- A major• 0:00 Introduction- a single string instrument starts us out getting louder as it’s played. You hear the first piano chord slam.• 0:11 Strings make an entrance introducing the wire brush on drums and the first verse.• 0:33 Chorus “All I really wanna say, you’re the reason I wanna stay”.• 0:47 Piano stops but you still hear the brush on drums. Verse 2 begins, this time with more drum and a louder and more decorated piano.• 1:06 Break in piano that leads us to the bridge, “Don’t change your plans for me” with some soft strings.• 1:48 Drums return adding our familiar beat while painting a picture of the “leaves falling back East”• 1:57 Instrumental break- the piano and back-up vocals begin. The piano is now playing excited triplets while the back-up “Ah- ah-ah-ah-ah’s” are adding a bit of confusion. You’ll also begin to hear an electric guitar which is almost never employed by Ben Folds. It creates a bit of a dragging sound.• 2:22 Here comes the trumpet adding to the excitement of the scene, with all instruments coming together and drums quickening pace.• 2:35 Strings enter playing a soft yet essential part of the theme.• 2:49Everything starts slowing with strings making the closing statement• 2:57 Verse 3 “Beautifully we smile again, in fact I might be sore from it” has the piano and some sort of echo.• 3:14 Chorus- this time sounding more mellow. You will hear a very soft high hat as well as some soft strings and bells.• 3:40 Brush returns to the drums and bass guitar enters adding to the chorus• 3:50 Piano and bell rings on the downbeat highlighting the chords. Drums enter.• 3:57 Whistle- this is very simple but adds a lot of character to this section after all the chaos. It seems there is some relief.• 4:07 All instruments back together for chorus with a variation of the lyrics. “But destiny is calling”• 4:22 Back up “ah, ah, ah’s” with trumpets adding a little noise here• 4:37 Coda- “I love you, goodbye” tells you things are ending. Piano playing soft triplets and strings adding to it.
• 1. Five, Wikipedia-Ben Folds. Wikipedia.com/benfolds. [Online]• 2. Ez-In-Articles. Ezinarticles.com• 3. The Shrubbery. The Shrubbery.com• 4. Ben Folds Five-Whatever and Ever Amen, Liner Notes• 5. Billboard Charts- Billboard.com• iTunes Originals album-Interview• Kepkanation.wordpress.com• Ben Folds Interview on benfolds.org