Ben Folds: Rockin' the Des Moines Suburbs
Metromix: By Joe Lawler
When Ben Folds sees a couple approaching him in a coffee shop, he knows what's coming next. After making his name with unhappy relationship songs ranging from maudlin ("Brick") to hilarious ("Song for the Dumped"), his song "The Luckiest," off 2001's "Rockin' the Suburbs," has become a first dance staple at weddings.
Folds originally wrote the song for a scene in the forgotten comedy "Loser." That scene was cut, so he took it back to rework. He was looking to write a special kind of love song.
"It occurred to me when I was writing it that no one writes love songs," Folds, performing March 18 at Val Air Ballroom, said in a phone interview. "I guess schlock writers do it all the time, but no one does it and takes it serious. I thought it'd be really cool to do a song that stumbled, where the character thought 'What if we had been born 50 years apart?' It's a love song from a vulnerable, not a terribly confident position.
I remember doing a lot of defending of writing a love song, but I decided it's not common in our generation to do these, and they're very uncool to do and how amazing it would be to write the only one."
Folds is currently touring in support of his latest album, "Way to Normal," but perhaps "touring in defense of" is a better description. The album, like many other recent albums, has received criticism for mastering issues that pump up the volume. Folds says he's not a big fan of the mastering either, so he recently released the two disc set "Stems and Seeds." It contains files that let fans remix and remaster the songs in Garageband. Folds is offering the fan who makes the best mix $200 and his personal copy of Phil Collins "No Jacket Required" LP.
"If I was 20 years old, how excited would I be to get my hands on the tracks of an Elvis Costello record?" Folds explained. "I thought giving the fans a chance to mix it themselves would teach them a lot. I had a long talk with Regina Spektor and she had no idea why I would want to do that. But she's not a fucking nerd like me."
Up next for Folds is a collaboration with "High Fidelity" author Nick Hornby. Hornby saw Folds on the pianist's first tour of England (which would have made Folds "shit bricks" if he'd known), and wrote an essay on the Ben Folds Five Song "Smoke" in the book "31 Songs."
The singer began corresponding with the author and invited him to contribute tracks to Folds-produced William Shatner album "Has Been." Hornby wrote three songs, but none were used. Folds plans to start recording some of Hornby's songs for his next album.