Acclaimed musician, composer and creative visionary, Ben Folds, has created an enormous body of genre-bending music that includes mega-hit pop albums with Ben Folds Five, multiple solo albums, and countless collaborations. He currently serves as the first-ever Artistic Advisor to the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center. Ben's first book “A Dream About Lightning Bugs,” is a story-driven meditation on art, life, and music.
You can find Ben Folds at: Instagram | Website
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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
My yesterday is Ben folds, widely regarded as one of the major music influences of our generation has created an enormous body, genre, bending music. That includes pop albums with Ben faults.
I've solo album, so many collaborative albums starting
drummer and then a piano player and eventually a singer in a band member for over a decade. Now he has
worn with some of the world's greatest symphony orchestras as well in car.
lay serves as the first ever artistic advisor to the now
national symphony orchestra at the candy centre and energy.
into solar, rock and orchestral touring, an scoring and getting involved in
Cinema and tv now falls.
so branch into the writing world with a new book, a dream about lightning bugs that debuted as
your tonnes best seller. Dropping you too,
The pivotal moments and stories that have shaped his fiercely.
Engaged life of non conformity and perpetual
creation and collaboration and reinvention. You might also recognize him as a judge for five seasons on and be sees the sing off and ben
also, an outspoken champion for arts, education and music. There be fun
in our nations, public schools and weak dive into all of this in today,
conversations so excited to share with you. I'm Jonathan fields- and this is good life project
How does a I even work where it is creativity come from?
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MR back in time and tell them
story? That's right! You and now, if you are then can a circle
and away or up to these days, also gruber north carolina north carolina. That's his brow.
Greensboro is the salem. Actually, I was born in greensborough and they moved when I was four yeah music touch
down for you at a really age, but better seems like actually before you ever playing it you're just
listening and says it, even though the earliest stages kind, about nonstop on repeat and in a huge number of hours
yeah, I mean my my mother is dead certain than it was at least eight hours a day when I was two years old. That's a lot
I mean the on one hand it shows somewhat
when obsessive streak that sir now been part of my life,
and on the other side, I think it's interesting for how much muse
information and associative memories. You can crime,
to a two year old head, and I feel I benefited from their yeah amidst
on it. I know parents now will start to play certain music.
with their kids and in utero yes trying to
like you know, figure out is, is kind of in some way affect them, or do so
into their brain. I have friends, you ve just because you really want their kids to love classic rock roll
I mean, I don't know who we are. We all suspected the stuff that the parents play, the kids is probably gonna. Have the heart
It's fact for right. I'm you know by the army mean I I exposure the music
It seems to be pretty pretty good for a ride.
I mean, which is all I mean it's it's interesting, also that talk about that at this moment in time, when you look at a lot of education and like what's one of the first,
get stripped added, especially a lot of public school education, especially in areas where the school district is challenged. Financially, it's like muzak, precisely where it happens, and and and and it affects the kids that need it,
same old story, music, education, if you, if you look at it
after there. There are really pretty pretty efficiently drawn graphs in order to to understand these things, and if, if, if you look at it from the time, I was a kid it, it does declined slightly overall, but not that much, but where it's really declining is in poor neighborhoods and and that's a damn shame because of that those are the neighborhoods where the drop out rates could be really quickly affected positively by music.
It's been shown. If you put a little bit of arts little bit of music in the in the curriculum, you drop out rate goes down as you my experiences as I travel around the country. We do these little things called a master class, not really a master class. But ah it's just some.
They turn into a little town. Hall is, if anything, you know it's like master class,
q and a really is what they are
bring political music teacher in two to talk as well as for fans. People coming to my shows an m I've just found,
just the wildest swinging variety of community, some of them. The music programmes, are better than we ve ever seen a music programme even in a public school, and some of them are absolutely nothing
at all. You have like, on the one hand, you have one county well, we might have some kid. Is it
as a twenty year old, new music teacher straight out, a car
and their drive and the hatch back around broken instruments to all of the schools they just trying to get something.
and on the other hand suspicious or you know, if, if, if, if it's, if a place can afford it, then you've got the opposite. You've got a state of the art. Music curriculum was singing to orchestras all kinds of stuff. So it's it's. It
the disparity the bothers me yeah. I mean it's so bizarre to me as I I get their budget constraints, but at the same time people are trying to figure out like what are the things we keep them word of the things we jettison. It's like
well if you want to get scientific, there's, clear research which shows how
important music is to us
psychological, emotional development to academic performance even and that's the thing that gets pulled out. Well, people in that's that
why it's really good thing for us to hang on the facts here in this era, because the the data is pretty clear. It's good
for a test scores, it's good for well being it's good for drop out rates, and it's good
for making well rounded happy humans. You know by the incentive, is
we're administrators and principles and anyone involved in the school when
see the test scores going down panic kicks in that's the best I can.
panic kicks in and they ok,
music's already costing a couple of bucks. We're cutting that out we're going to stick their head in the books for another fifteen minutes a day and hope to Christ that we keep our our
jobs and I think that's what he will do when we panic we win. We jettison the facts and we just in the data and the experience in and there's no steady hand. I also you can't really a cow.
For the social divide that causes people to double down on things that I haven't consider
just because there, on the other side, an issue, and so
We have to watch the way we preach these things. It needs to remain non partisan because anything the becomes partisan suddenly is not subject anymore too.
to reason- and this so far in, I think them
their side of the political divide want their kids to have music and arts in their education. They just differ on who's, going to pay for it and honestly, it doesn't have to cost a lot of money that
Something that that that some of my friends more on the left will be quick. To tell me the hush about, like don't die,
it doesn't cost any money, they won't give anything. But the truth is: if you really want these kids to have some music, they can sing, they can slap their knees and dance. They can do things that are inherently musical. They can listen to music and talk
I it. I prefer we had instruments and then they they worked and he had a teacher that was, you know, able to direct a band, that's better, but
if it's not going to happen in this moment, I would prefer to see the next four eight years of kids not go through a system with no music and more art at all, just because we could get them the instruments. You know I sat on the floor when I was a kid cause. They we had an experimental school. It wasn't that we were poor, but we sat on the
floor and every thirty minutes, we did a music exercised and went back to back day, it was like it was in, they would
draw on the staff on the on chalkboard lose
Staff of music staff permanently on the chalkboard, and they would draw any
it's ty ty ty, ty, ty, Ty peta and we clap we might sing a song and then we just go back go back to to work, and I have to think that that
really good for me that that so interesting, just kind of dropping it in here and there in the micro moments, almost yeah. If, if it, if of teachers, if
to teach school. You have to know a little music good for the teachers and then the kids are in a class
that may be a history class or
the general education class and they take a break in the same thing with with just going out to play and physical education? If nothing else, the taking the brake has
mean something and that its music- or that is art, is even better for them.
yeah I mean, and and not even getting to the fact that this is a really powerful form of expression for,
whatever is going on inside your head, at any rate, on alone, a kid special going through anxious to yours and psycho case. So I can express.
a lot of different ways: some constructive and creative and some destructive and harmful. Oh, that is an excellent argument and point for music and art in education. Young is that music and all forms of art are expression and their communication
and if a kid doesn't yet have a seven hundred word vocabulary. Certainly there
pressing themselves in an artistic way and in fact,
more more believe that music
maybe the way that we teach it should be adjusted a little bit to take into account that it is
fresh, that everyone can do it. We tend to start,
happy music. First, what copying is great for four technique for someone who's gonna get really good at it is necessary, but right off the bat, it might be worth pointing out
it's that they hear music all day long in the car horns and in in someone dragging
crash can down the aisle you hear speeding up slowing down. There was some get angry. They speak quicker and higher li yell too
Oh and all those things is music and say: what's your song today, the in the kingmaker I wanna go home boom. We got a song, suddenly its expression in store
Which is really the way our brain is wired. Yes, this is,
more about musicality ran surly, classically defined music. Yeah me. I think that music is an art form, is hijacking what
three quarters of our brain uses any way in order to tell us a story about the days that we can survive. You know. Certainly, people evolved there's a reason that the brain lights up when exposed to music in a way that it doesn't when exposed to anything
including speech it is a small part of the brain it that that light up to create the thought to expand
the thought verbally and then to listen, but when
it comes to music it just you just almost can't keep track of it. It just is a christmas tree as a friend of mine, who's, an raj, the science say about what happens to your brain light. Up like a christmas tree, so I feel like music is high,
jacking that evolution of our brain in order to enjoy it, nor to tell a story on a higher artistic level, but that doesn't mean that children should expect to achieve
that unless they are meant to do that, otherwise
They should enjoy music for all the reasons that that music was was intended and they don't have to become a professional, so teaching them music technique before you teach them that is expressed.
I am not so sure. I know a lot of professionals who still haven't figured out that its than its expression that their best performances are
oddly, then, when they're off their game or upset or distracted, because they start to a moat in a way. Rather,
fixated on the technique. Yeah, I meaning, and you can even at having carried out
Or to sir, like day where, if you look at the industry, and so much reporting has done you like on the poor tools, grid and auto tune and slight terrific
is not about just letter
what you need to let out and the way it needs to be led out. But how do we make this as technically her
yes possible. How does everybody fall into the exact same formally in the exact same grid? Show that we can come as close to possible as believing we ve got something that's commercially viable and it's like it flows through from being taught from the youngest kid to what's happening. The industry today was sort of it's like his rejecting the humanity side of it. Here,
minutes. You know you give people a chance and- and we will conform to fit in
to survive, and when you give people every tool,
at our disposal in order to achieve their course we're gonna. Do it further. I think that that the that the menus low
the creative resolution, incredibly you're you're a creative resolution personally
is we don't know how much you can imagine it could be anything, but the issue becomes solving the problems. If I thought well I'd like to do,
jump into the air and fly the mars will. I can imagine that that's incredible. Creative resolution cannot solve that problem to get there
probably not by myself, but when you start to get these
solutions before you have the imagination of what you gonna do so someone says: here's, five plugins and five grids and things
you could put your music on first. You having
it decided that you're gonna fly to mars
First of all, you need to think of.
Any delay your imagination to lead the way, and then
use those tools in the form of of a grid or whatever hijack those make those your bitch as it were, and and make the music.
Whatever, but the more tools we get with menus and the more that menu stuff happens, then is no. It's no surprise me
hands look pretty much like most people's hand. So if I sit down the piano and play the first records, it come to mind,
sidewinder song around that that I'm allowing the piano too to kind of dither my my creative, resolute
and so it's it's not just menus. It's also an instrument if you sat down with a guitar you'll hit the first few bar accords or something as easy for him. So I I think, thou so is it
The problem is that our tools now are so menu base that the resolution of creativity is way too.
Like its constraining what were even willing to explore as the realm of possibility there. Why would you explorers
If the digital computer is going to suggest or prompt, you know it's interesting years back at a conversation with them
gunnar milton glaser, whose is iconic designer whose in his knife
is now he created the I heart and Y logo conan in your magazine style. All this incredible stuff still works in his studio and you go into his studio and he's got people who work in the studio they have computers. He doesn't touch them and asked him about it and was almost the identical thing that he said to me he's like. I don't want my creativity constrained by what I might feel this petition
tool can give me a right for someone to come up with the idea. Maybe it can actually be actualized or not, but it will not. Let me come up with the idea that go back to the doors you that's so important. It's
morton creatively to imagine something whether or not its yet possible to actual eyes it. That's what creativity is an end. If you dont sort a dream big,
with your ideas. If you allow first of all say okay now, where the four walls, first of all
then you like, okay, well, I'm out you, your ideas will be cut down to don't worry about that.
Like no matter what it is like, it will be an adult,
near one of the great from
I along on air and ass it would. He misses about making records, is the problem solving because it would come in with an idea of what the record could be?
and they had to just figured out. The technology was new everyday like well. We only got eight tracks and you have you have.
Idea that is gonna be beyond
that so we'll put for people in one room and well, you know, do what we
what we can to make it happen. Now,
sort of like the ideas, the skies limit inside the computer, and it tells you what the limit is. So here's the sky in the skies suspiciously low, yeah. Let's talk about anything gm gum.
A related, but almost a flip side of that, which is when you have, especially in the early days as as somebody who is really trying to do
and all this thing you hear or you see- or you feel this thing in your head- you know what you want it to sound like you know what you want to look like, but you don't yet have command over the craft. The tools wherever it may be, that should get it out in the world and look and sound and feel that way and
That, as as an artist and I'm thinking about you know like and in the context of of you, for example, you get exposed,
Japan are really on it and then to drums, also and become take that sir,
semi, obsessive devotion and say I'm all in on this, you did you all reach a point where your brain is starting to come up with all sorts of
things will get them out here with me
that was in a sort of claim here when I was nine but it'll
three years before that I was walking
with music in my head and just daydreaming at all the time, and I suspect that I was hearing performances that were probably,
Synthesized misunderstood what I had heard before. I was probably hearing flutes and extended
down into the base range, I might have been hearing
singers that were singing arranges that humanly possible and instruments that morphed into other instruments.
The idea was that it was creed,
an emotional effect that was making me happy. It was either exhilarating or hypnotizing, something about it and
as I started to learn to play various instruments, my frustration was
Finding that solving that problem of getting
the things that were. I was waking up with in my head. I think with them
taught me as a concept. Even before I had
to really not decide to much
was it. It was a lot of board time allotted time, focusing on what was possible and my imagination.
And that translates now to a lesson which is essentially sit on your hands for awhile. Don't jump straight to the tools! Take that time that I got between the time of being six years old and aims
like today travelled to the city on train real,
as soon as train. I left my computer and all my notes to southern composing. So
I find it. No, I bar a pencil, and I just sat there on that
and I imagined all the various you know
passages that I that I need to work on today. I described them. I listen to them in my head running off the train. I felt a lot better.
then I would have had I jumped the computer. The is important, but I needed to have waited so. Luckily, I
my bag, hopefully not outside, I just don't! No, I don't have my bag with me. It's somebody who's walking around with computer in the notes for the next great piece that will hopefully not do you do
have a sense when you do when you, when you finish that work on the train was
any sense that maybe this is actually interesting or different or better
what had originally had had, I just open the computer and contain
data right on that. You know it's hard,
now there's it there's just such a time for everything when you start throwing stuff up against a canvas you can expect-
member every site
ok, you as you did it. So someone ask you what you just did sometimes ivy league for may I back up from that mean
the way someone might back up from a camus little miss
three involved like I'm, not sure exactly what the order of this was an where my
head was that when I did this, who is important almost have that canvas or the computer or a quarter, taking
notes and sort of
memorialize in it as it goes. Launder comes that time, but before that, and maybe between those periods equally as important,
Is the time where you're, just imagining, I wouldn't
tell someone that you know
to imagine more than they realize or more than they memorial iser are score whenever, but do it some
You know it's like, and I was heading towards not doing it enough. I feel like if I hadn't left my staff at home. I wouldn't have had today day to do some really important thinking about some transitions, just to sit
as if I was listening to the record or sitting in an audience and feeling what it really felt like. I was born
We saw impatient about play.
with these bits and micro bits of ideas. It probably was time for me to slow down, but I think most of us don't take the time to sit on our hands anymore and are so it was forced. Today there I mean you just brought up another interesting thing, which is the idea of the part of the process which is about you getting out of your
What needs to be got now and the part of the process, which is a curiosity about, and maybe an intention wrapped around. How is this going to land with people who would be in the audience? Is this when you're working on something? Do you strip out that last
part and in the early days do is add a factor in your process, the last part being how people say bland. Yet, while you can't control how people feel about things and react to things, I think you know one other thing
The only external issues I think of arm
I consider anything there that I may be doing
in what I'm creating that might be causing anyone to fold there are
is the cause of folding. The arm certainly covers the heart and dear not going to open yourself up to a piece of music. If few have a piece of music in it quote something.
Does something abruptly it's it's manipulated someone in a way that they they they don't open themselves up kind of hard to explain what.
Might be omitted, the song it might just sent simply be to saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Some say that I sanitizing or cater I just one
make sure that if, if you're on my planet
we're genetic same genetic, whatever brain footprint, if we're all on the same day that you are going to like what I make, I want that person to have the chance to hear it, and
real easy to make something in a way that doesn't invite somebody
and that's the only issue as far as the centre of when I make
Someone agrees with it responds to it. I can't help it if that's negative or positive. So I put myself in the audience
Lastly- and I do have that moment where I gotta have- I screamed in someone's face of a bit
You need a friend of that taken my time she can.
A piece of music that you can't get into that's what interests or foreign like, especially that
I know, the classical music of the nineteenth century,
it gives you a lot of time to get there and
There now people are like,
have time so
So now the issue is, if you could boil it,
to that other than just be there. You know back in the day
The way to unfold the arms was too like, like you and with the with the with a dog in our universe, straight
the dog was that strange, doglike, you put your hand down. You set your humble. Let them come too
that's why music used to be now it's a little bit more like ok, what you're elevator pitch yo turkey there.
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I was listening to somebody describing how the
literally world they'll, write and record differently
or something they know is going to be streamed on one of the major platforms versus played on the radio versus played live because they know like on a streaming platform. They've got what like three seconds to grab somebody so that
comes the major thing and then like okay. So let me feed them what I want, but it has to hit hard and fast immediately and and hooked them, so they don't flip away. Then the next thing, whereas your your radio,
I had a little bit more time at the time, somebody's in a live audience that kind of bear with you already certain kind of like ease it out,
he didn't more gently by. It is interesting how filled the creative process is changing, based on not just people's attention span, but on the platform that working
and created out by, but it always has a man like right when, when thirty three hour p m came and suddenly we can have a long play record. One of the first records may be. The first record made for the medium was was by duke ellington.
And he was like, while I've girl is space, so he makes the first jazz me.
that's really jazz music for that medium
and it takes his time to open up and he goes back to another. He no longer does he have to get this out on a seventy eight. Where he's got two and a half minutes, and I I think that that will
you do then, is an artist. Remember again that music is communication. So, yes, it's about your idea.
And the precious of your ideas always invited eyes is always welcome. But
You ve really got an idea
and someone allows you to seconds to tell people yeah.
I try to communicate. You should try if you got five minutes to do it or two seconds or an hour, you should try to fitted to that because
you're trying to do is communicate something. If you know that you can't is open a window and blurted out, then you might, he might say, uncle immediately waiver flag in that
try it, but I don't have I don't I'm not so precious that I wouldn't like. I realized every time they made me cut down a song for a pop music at it back in the nineties, which my band was making records, which we had to do that castling. My first instinct was, I am an artist, do not cut my everything I ever cut. I like it better.
Twenty years later is you know like like I, I try not to be too precious about those things. People like Jesus at all as to be like snack, buy stuffs like one I mean, could be good for that. Maybe it's good for that
We don't know you just have to you have to make it for the medium and do do. What you feel like is right, but remembers communication. If you can communicate in two syllables, do it yeah, I'm ready
It's interesting also as you're saying that I am thinking about what's happening in the pot casting world as well,
is: there's a really interesting trend to go along form and angelic. We go for about an hour, but their play podcast out there that will go from multiple hours right now and then
Massive global devoted audiences, so it's almost like there's something happening where it's like there are these two things happening simultaneously, where you know people want certain things really fast,
instant, but they also want to luxuriate in something longer and deeper.
Certainly I melodious in flowing and with more closure yeah they don't. We don't get as much
more than likely we held a short form stuff, but then people are we recompense
penalize? So now someone
be sitting in their car every day for literally three hours to go to and from work. So this is,
some sense of of sanity to to hear something come go I mean I'm glad the podcast to go on longer. I hope that means that people are are like bothering to listen to half of mozart's piano concertos. You know we'll say and jump a little bit of back back tear your path. You came at a high score recap list and I'm going
it's worse with you will, or not piano and drums and struggling with school itself. But I end up applying to university of miami part of that application process is a brute performance.
As standards you didn't have, so you actually created unrecorded your own, that's right
I didn't know dressed anderson and I actually felt pretty pretty and secure about that. So I thought that by writing my and getting it was that that actually later on that score, it was that and that I played all the answers
meant to do it it just you know, years later and my percussion, professor still
remember that day and it was
yeah. I remember that we got this in the mail. It's like you played all the instruments. She wrote the stuff yourself,
yeah. I still remember, I think I got the tape as amazing. It was unusual.
I think I would have understood that it was unusual.
doing what I thought was necessary to were
may I was ashamed that I did know anyone else to play jazz solves jane.
You know somebody biogas when, when when it, when I
application. I ask you to do something you really want to do it the right way. So I was like
Well, this is kind of her warmed over p,
say here: I'm just going to have to do it. You know the the way that I know how to do it and that got me in there. You end up there and you're. There
relatively short time after the first semester, they have these things called juries where you have to we step up and play the night before bitter
personal drama which ass you in a hospital with a broken hand,
and you gotta show up the next day and yet play and yours scholarship, which is keeping their depends on how you place a you, play right now. Well,
drop in the stick and slept on I tongue over knows that did what what you expect of an idiot teenage boy? I did exactly that and, alas scholarship, which was
the house is destroyed a hit always so band, I mean so you end up back home working around locally
playing around locally bad, but then you also you you make decisions like you know what I'll take another shot at at school or at education. So you end up back at it. Was u n c greensboro
right and the sound like there was this chance moment where sub comes in shared fianna glass
You shouldn't have been in the first place. It was so basic right and it's like that. Sliding doors thing this guy randomly dropped in to live in, and
We have become this incredibly person made a big difference,
I was assigned to teach her and I use that class. I shouldn't billions called class pierre. If you ve never touched a keyboard before it
on our middle see as that is your class or the reason I was in that class was because I was
probably ashamed to take the placement
because I was a relatively recent piano player. Who could read very well and it was that it was that
not being able to read that I thought was particularly. I was ashamed of so
just ended up in this class, I was goofing off and the regular tee
your head, not caught me, I guph and off. He was unable to see who's a person playing like dave, gruber back legs around
class cause we're all in several piano.
And I, when we were attached by headphone, so it didn't give you a sense of of who was where some old dude substitute teacher, I screwed with him the entire time, and he asked me to come to his office. So I thought I was in trouble.
Any kind of gave me a little bit of an odd test about my ear and re harmonised.
Sing songs, headed talk of me and then at the end of it he said I'd like to give you a pr scholarship if you'll switch from production
that wasn't you I didn't. I didn't remain as a pianist soon after he left, but what I did get was proper mentorship. A proper teacher give him.
His complete attention. The way the best in family doctor might, if
bummed one day. Let's talk about that, how it affects music, he had had a nervous breakdown.
Was younger, he was a promising west coast composer when he was a kid met, iron copeland. He had taken a boat across Europe
Madame blanche a he was very promising, and then he had
is breakdown and end. This affected his life a lot and he saw myself or so
I'm in myself in may and
and you know whether or not I was to have a nervous breakdown and ethics out, but he may have a
a lot of things for me was a proper mentor. I dont think that something that may
musicians I know have had the have have had. Is that kind of mentorship? It's not normally afforded at a at a at a college, and he just did this year geo essence that it had he not dropped and had that one had he not subbed in that one class.
is your path would have been very different. Well, I think my path, I mean, that's that's hard to know, I mean my path, I think any
you know, it's consistent involvement, a straight line stuff, but I think that it's a man we
I just don't know that such deep philosophy there you know, but I I I think, that a a the straight path, the constant intention
which means a lot of frustration means a lot of faith.
We also means a lot of crazy love like I got, has a lot to do with
Maybe something else will come along. I think sometimes we're looking for something we don't know and then it happens, but I think the intention the will and the wish to get their combined.
with the things that will happen. People have always tried to ask me to pinpoint like him, my professional career. What was your break? I didn't have a break. I had a break.
Every day, and I actually think that that the break with this teacher bob doornail was you know,
at least as important as my being signed to a label or getting a chart position or a rolling stone peace through at least ism
but I dont know a man. He has heard another,
thanks. I think that the problem with looking at the problem
I acknowledging them is to not be adequately thankful for them appreciative of those moments, but to depend
Then there is also a problem, so I think he does keep keep ploughing
is such an important point in our I have. I once went to a matter of mine who basically told me to stop looking for mentors
right right because I like, because annulling for the person who's gonna, show us the guru proud now give you the flag like the go ahead and pointing an interaction. Is a person may never come. You knows lit for champions of four people who out there,
in what you already she didn't deconstruct it just keep doing what you're doing, but don't don't wait, don't hold back in any way shape or form for, like some magical being to drop into your path, which I think a lot of people do yeah.
I got good advice. The podcast cast- and I can't remember who this was. His name was tyler and I came from up. They remember what he
has any more, but he was fast eddie
He said you know
get a mentor when you need them he's like I'm interested
right now in in shakespeare. So I just
If someone is shakespeare, I buy
dinner and we meet for dinner once a week and- and I and I teach him a thing, and he teaches man thing. I think that's with a mentorship like you say you can't you're, not looking for a guru or someone to be too much, but just their full attention is even as good as good.
The hundred percent. You end up during that same window. A time spent some time there. But then
To do now is gone. You also leave their down in this relatively short window time months and then a couple years you mary Ann child, her friend touring around europe, forming a band
things ever, is relatively successful, but nothing really really catching. You come back and then have an opportunity to touch down to jump over to nashville where you're tellin, trying to figure out the scene there and you get a publishing deal- sounds like fairly quickly there. Would it
The ban that has been at that moment in time is quite working in nashville.
No it's it's! It's was. It was constant frustration. You know I mean it's some of it that the the evil frustration of feeling I write, really good songs,
turn on the radio. I don't hear really good songs why
my songs not on the radio
kind of where my head was that nothing was gonna. Make me happy in that time
always working really
I do I worked as a. He knows: a cup
band musician, playing basin drums and an piano whatever
you get and I realized it. That was good. A slippery slope
so I decided not to do that anymore and I would only accept payment for music that was inspired that I had written. That became a problem for
then a collection agencies at the door avoiding in and the heat turned
all the time- and you know that the regular broke out
Musician stuff- and that was my twenties- was basically just one long decade of of a frustration yeah you bounce from there then up to new york yep. I can
currently the deal that you had a nashville was picked up here
was. I was asked to do some stuff for other bands who were becoming successful, who I felt at the time and copied me anyway, and if I would do that, because they
published by the same people, then I could keep writing my songs and they give me my stipends and stuff, and if I refused to do that- and there is really nothing they can do for me more- which I think is very fair in retrospect by they need to make their money off me or or move on. But as it happens,
the equal office in new york was full of fans and they were
asking my cassette tape around as if men, to my surprise as if it was music, which is crazy, because I'd come to view
music as a demonstration tape as a portfolio is a business card,
to hear that people were listening to my music in a car, for enjoyment, was pre calibration and re inspirations like this is why I make music, because you got something to say now, because you need a gig, so I went up there and I
softly pursued it I was, I was doing some theatre like musical theatre jobs guy, not only when something would come up. What I bother to go to
I can play my music. It was a. It was at least eighteen months kind of off of of music. I didn't know if I was going to keep playing it or not. Yeah you, each pint new york, where you sorta, like a whole bunch of stuff, comes to a head like your feelings, about music, your feelings about the
do you feel about new york, your marriage, which is struggling at the time, cause Anna's in there with you. You guys had been apart for awhile and there's a
moment where you're grappling with what do you do? She gets a gay and mtv which is based in europe now she's lily driving up and
you're sitting. You described the snake
sitting on a suitcase trying to figure out a case. What's my next move here
yeah. She went up and soon she came up to new york. I went back. Bounce have just said
was actually I suddenly had an opportunity with
roger he believed in man, and they there
thing. I had a new york and I was inspired every
I was hearing suddenly was, like my people, handle this fair record glances. Incredible, like
I got just as much confidence in her vocals as I do in mine, which is to say none and all of these. Ah, you know irony in lyric self, deprecating, ironic lyrics. You know, as the nineties
that's the way always written so also, and I felt like I was part of it.
anna coming up to work at him tv and for us to try to make things work. We both know that it wasn't going to, but it pushed
a push me to go. If I don't leave now I'll get stuck up here, and probably I don't what marriage causing further eighteen months, two years I'll work, maybe it a pizza place or something like that
opportunity will come and go no one,
be better served by that won't be happy. I won't be happy. Now is the moment
do it and as it turns out, I was right. I mean I got back down to. I went to chapel
north carolina from north korea met these two
as it were my band within a week of being down there. I think a week to
eggs we started rehearsing did not sound like you can hear anything committed to that.
a year later, we were making their first tracker with her with a record deal a year after that and everything was handling gas supplies
as in their becoming along with you ben full time, that's right. You get signed your work on how to deal with the first out and doesn't go
By the way, as piety their eyes, I love you. I like you, have a very specific way of making music and
and the studios engineers want to really clean it up and make it the way that its quote supposed to sound to you produce this thing and then you wrap comes in here. Is it and she cried
the sector is bad. Anyone to be to be fair to everyone who, who
who's, the mean this is a problem. I don't think I'm partake, I'm gonna produces certain records, but not all them and people who can
is a record have to know so much about
took all his knowledge of how you make a record. That was really good stuff
he taught me so much about record making about every
record the world, except for the one that we happen to be making in and
it just didn't work he he got to play in time. That's good like I don't. I like feel bad,
I update academic, seen dave years, who may who made that record,
I would want him to understand that I am grateful for what I learned and I feel he was probably the recipient of anything any any bad air
like he was the one he just, but that's what happens? Producers like the bookcase starts with them, and he got these three guys that we're just.
the wrong thing to try to make right. You know now and I make a record and that's an uneven for our third record. The band's third records called a the the unauthorized biography of reinhold messner. Why people considered our best record was made with all the things Dave taught us. We were ready to do that by that time it at that point have the wrong thing to tell his young men there too,
going back into the studio busily in a matter of our slashed aids redoing the whole thing you're, what
and then, when you people, listen to that and say, while their this also urgently
his paws all over the industry, there's buzz in the stations and you guys go out and said: ok, so Ben folds five is actually a thing now. You start touring you're on the road, comes down to your spear second album, and that album is one that I that I feel it brings. You inches really more mainstream, especially cause bricks.
in the sec. You that's why yeah right and- and it's so fascinating to me- that the song off of that album that becomes the big breakout hit is actually about something that happens to you when you're sixteen years old,
the EU and that your then girlfriend everybody sing a song everyone's playing the sound. But nobody has. She knows what the story right
and I didn't say I mean in an interview
I was not. I was not re. I just didn't want talk about it and that's hard
well when you ve sold a million records, of course of six months or whatever, and it's on the base, based on the strength of a single that you won't talk about that. I was really pride heavily about it, but I just made sure I didn't I didn't talk about.
Assistance about talk about yeah, an ethic. The song was trust,
indeed enough by a slightly disconnected from the story. Chorus is probably the only way that-
could have worked if you sing a song about a teenage abortion era and the chorus were to reflect that and an appeal
celebrated yeah that that's a good way to get everyone folding their arms, as it is the feeling I think, sunk in people heard it and felt. I think they felt what my girlfriend and I felt when we were teenagers in this happen. I think the song got that across, but I think to try to take it.
Really and analyze, it's very difficult becomes increasingly so over the decades. I think, because, because politics yet agency, because it
The song was lyric lee with it shredded. It threatens this really fascinating you
It was lyrically precise enough to create a context for anyone listening to transfer their own circumcised.
into it their own moment of sorrow of suffering of struggle and unambiguous enough to allow that
happen also so that I can feel it no doubt those parts of the boot beyond lighting
the melody and everything else that went in the actual music of it lyrically. Those candied genius to allow lay create the space for people to step in and say haha, I'm feeling this feeling that may be Ben and his then girlfriend fell, but I don't know that that's what I'm actually feeling and am putting
However, I'm going through interest, you know that's the beauty of music and songs. It is if you can sit down and explain to someone completely and know that that person is going to walk off from the bar. Where you had your talk, I dunno why you'd write the song. You know you sit down and you'd you'd talk with your friend about it and you would get that across, but there are things that fall between the cracks of our,
you're communication and those can be stumbled upon when you write a song ass. He stumbled upon because the way the sun came about was therein my drummer in their ban, swung through them
but he had discourse for a long time and he did not know what it met and it felt like something to me. It evoked something and I was like what is that evocative of. Ah I can it feels like eleventh grade and then, as I just started, to fill in the verses. The story
thing felt right together now, if I just look at it on face value like a lot of people have like kind of angrily before and said,
you know what she's a brick and she's waiting,
There now she's doing think now. That's
Even if I ever thought about those words it.
everyone sang at an end. It wasn't song like.
It carried emotion with it and I dont know why and then the
stop it. I filled in with just exactly what happened.
Exam they after christmas, the exactly what happened like a folk song like always always love these folk song centred.
like boom there's a story and there's something really powerful about that. You combine that, with the poetic ambiguity of a hit song
chorus and it's an interesting thing. You know I I I think, a lot
sing office had been false. Five is when you actually step up to the microphone, because up until this point, you write you composure. You play like all these different instruments, but you're always the guy who's, like not. Somebody else needs to sing like that. That's not ass out me yet at the same time, the people who are stepping up to the might to sing your
We aren't doing it the way he wants in restart a great demo tapes or I wanted singers that could sing. Of course, I wanted people like that were good at singing, and I would just sing it to them on a cassette tape, and I was not particularly good at the
things that you think you should be good. I was singing like you know,
some soul rifts in some added stuff, and these guys were awaiting a back, but it wasn't satisfying and then I would hear the tapes
and I'll be like here, but the way that I did it is the right way didn't have any for broad. It was just
in tune enough, and they got through an I guess. After all.
I started to realize. You know this is probably what I should do sounds more like the song, but
why I mean I was like looking for singer since I was fourteen years old.
In. I didn't want to sing it myself. I'd find one guy, they could sing a school and at home sing staff, and it wasn't the right one there for
time- you get up on stage, so you had toured a lot by then playing the music playing all the different instruments. First time you get up on stage and you're actually step up to the
to sing do remember, feeling any more nervous are anxious. Her wives, actually you
If I was so nervous every time that
There was a time that I had the saying and sometimes even happening cover ban where they say: ok, let's see as a medley ben,
Rolling, rolling rolling.
donor. I would
so incredibly nervous and never wore off. For me for television, even through my professional career, the same just debilitating
herbs that were so much so that the the issue was. Am I gonna be sick in front of people? No confidence in that at all yeah. It was rough yeah I mean so when the second album comes out, anna and brick hits bag. You also end up on snl yep performing live, which in theory is.
Magical momentum which launches people's giant giant especially back then everybody watch they wanted the moment channels we'll just
turned the moment that you thought it would be. No, it was not good,
I mean I even I reviewed it as I was writing the book just to see. If maybe my perspective was wrong, now is bad, but it was bad for very specific reasons. At the end.
the day and again, it's kind of like you know.
A little mentorship a little help you need think about the beatles and they had Brian Epstein there to be like you're, not dressed right, you're rushed you drag,
You know we going do this way and George Martin is there the whole what the hallway
bans actually have it in the nineties. You weren't supposed to prepare. So we drag its simplest
I was out of tune and was dragging bass. The simple fix of the thing underneath it, though
I was paddling ferociously to stay to not pass out from nerves just miserable, and I
I would channel that by being
levelling down on the melancholy, the song- that's not back to back to formats, and maybe that's not the medium term to to
It's like you're going to die or or or you're suicidal. That's not the medium I made people would call away phone machines in that era, and I had
voicemail on cosette. The next day I have like ten twelve friends and
Emily called society on tv last I am, are you? Ok, that's awful
So I thought we were done, whether we do it, I say
come this far and that moment ruined at all. No one moment ruins at almost
Was this twitter.
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So that that doesn't ruined at all, but
there also surely starts the next. You continue chore you move into you create the third album, like you said what you feel is. Maybe it's really that the best album, but it doesn't get the radio play than on me,
we observe. So when you go on tour like the tortures and get the support that it needs to. So everything can I go south. The arm personally are struggling also, and the ban comes apart, at least for a long time and you're kind of forced to grapple with. Ok. So who am I
like what is my voice and what is my future budget, both as a person and also as an artist like what do I want this next season to look like and feel like, and that's it that's the thing it's like,
We assume, when you're, you look ahead at people who have called made it, and you don't realize that all the problems that your having at this moment
about identity. What do I sound like? What's my sound? Who am I all? The things they come.
Over and over and over again, just as soon as you think, you've got you've got the number. Then then you get thrown off and you have to figure out.
and that was one of my moment semi. My instinct was, let me get a producer that
Does something that I'm very uncomfortable with
didn't say it like that, but that's what it was. So I got a producer who made the slickest pop albums. The things that I was disgusted with, I could name went out in the man had made
but I liked And- and that was that was gonna concerning for people around me. Like you sure you want to use this guy, you actually like what he does, but my thing was ok look. I knew what my identity was them now
feel like. Maybe I have no identity baby out
my songs are sound like everyone else's
it's a rock in the suburbs, was an attempt for me to let the guy use computers.
Reason now takes everything make,
drum machine needs to say the language of brittany spears of that moment and just let it go, and that was that was my theory
now. The record to me, too sounds like another, whom hope beckett's lou, with the benefit of
inside every but at the same time, you're sure like in a new wave of personal stuff, while this is all being recorded because getting that negative, your girlfriend you're you learn,
it'd be actually dad. This was during the same window, right yep, of twins, yup and come the later part of their pregnancy, and there's also have a really be concerned that she might actually lose the baby. So absolutely your back
in the new york, I guess or l a we were in new york, finishing the reinhold messner record and, ah you know things move pretty fast at times hard to delineate these things, and it appeared that she
going to mean that the nurse just said over the farewell, your lose them for sure. We just got to make sure that the actual
it's a case of just get to the hospital. As soon as you can will. Will I that the that you can forget about the the the children and then they ended up being fine.
But yet after that, shortly after that, the ban broke up cost of album didn't work out, we retired of each other
a moment, and I immediately launch tend to rock in the suburbs, which was recorded in written having
just moved to the other side of the world, to Adelaide Australia, so yeah, that's basically the same rate, so you're in this moment again, where you're sort of everything is up in the air. Your your your new dad, again married and trying to figure out like what is my musical life, look like from this moment forward, now doing it on your own and yet with his port of other people, but without the band any more and you do find your way. You know, like the personal stuff stays hard that and that relationship comes to an end, and now your dads we've got kids and musically, even though neil like we had that and the benefit of hindsight now, we know like you've found your way and you started doing all sorts of other things know you got involved in all sorts of different projects, not just solo albums,
military. You can went back your route to a certain extent. Then you, when the complete opposite direction, you doing like symphonic collaboration, you're, doing really cool different stuff. Was there any window in that early sort of like a kid what's happening here? Were you thought? Maybe this whole thing justice and right for me? Well, I thought it was
I assumed it was all over upon waking every day and if I had the opportunity to do something or for before access was cut off, I was gonna. Do it. I didn't assume that that it was going to last. I thought, coming from the nineties, married dude with kids is not cool. Being solo is not cool playing piano is not cool, I'm cool
I was thirty three years old had my a mid life crisis because I saw my life is over and when you see that I have for more of you
life is over. You re, evaluate and
alma re evaluating. Has you doing
not a very selfish things, and, and one of them
Other things was just not getting sleep like I didn't sleep that selfish
did every day I made so many mps and records and the orchestra stuff you're talking about
solo solo things right, glad play piano twelve.
Ro one night off twelve.
row sometimes to a day drove the van and everything just a bit more stuff and crazy, now, eventually down that, it feels like that
both brings you to your knees and too slow
windows, a multiple windows of reckoning, but also brings you back yourself. Eventually,
Here's the thing like we love- and I mentioned this in the book. We we all loved, who, whoever has seen
a behind the music by the age, when we
love to see the trajectory of some one. Doing
exact thing which is being tested being confused far for trade,
is alone in the dark,
go to your knees rise up from it. All these things happen to every person on the planet as an artist, you find yourself beings, seen more e news and
for your life can become symbolic for what other people who you dont know are, and I like to mention that, because
These patterns in her life and the one that yours,
that I had is what we all experience and that, for me, probably happened younger because
as a rock musician near basically like a like an athlete or an answer, you your careers, done, you done your thirty five years old. You are based
we're not theirs, looks statistically it's true but its freeing to feel that you ve lost everything and any kind of bottom. I hit things. It were bottom
me for some people. They would have gone that far. First,
People they would have gone further, maybe they would have become addicted to drugs or they would have gotten sick or something else.
but I did all those things which I am thankful for. I want people to know about him in the book, but I don't want them to feel special because they're not unique. Now do we.
I do love a redemption story. We do, but we all do it. Yeah, though I think who has not done that right and at the end, it's just a matter of like how how the circumstances differ.
yeah and I love document I love here and other peoples.
Every song and movie. That does that, for me, is reaffirming, but
it's like, ok, I'm not doing it wrong there, as we sit here today. Have this conversation
you are at a point where it seems like you have sort of piece together, a whole bunch of things that are giving you. What you need, like collaborations, forms of expression, lay creative opportunities and possibilities that are it. It seems like you've. Kind of like figured out so kisses is a place that feels good to me for this moment of my life, it's interest,
We had this fair on the podcast recently also, and she were of similar age and she saw a stepping back inter this space of creativity,
forming a guy's got a new out loud and dumb literally just last week, s are doing at the beacon right,
Click it unlike ok, if you can do this, I mean there's no end tests are like how lucky you can keep kind of rolling,
It's been the beacon for so many things.
Bob Dylan, has done so many things. Really it suited
We don't have to do them. You know like
just going electric
was tat, I was describing to turn to an audience at the kennedy centre, a show their run for the national symphony orchestra and you ve got people who were there for pop music and you ve got people their and our conscious that are for classical music of a divide is quite a cultural divide, and so I explained to them here is our problem pop music
is, is essentially folk, music and in the twentyth century, folk music. When electorate I went folk, music went electric, it made it very difficult pragmatically speaking to make
work with the symphony orchestra conceived yorkshire is essentially a nineteenth century.
Well oiled machine that doesn't do that and then immediately Bob Dylan comes to mind like he's. He did that, like you know like use at all easy,
was. It was in all these, like even being booed like that that whole air of him being boot is incredible for musician. I find that so inspiring to watch
judge of him get in the car time and time again with like the ban with drivers. In the end, these, like there's still booing me, they're still boeing.
he kept doing what he believed? Thank you bob. I mean, even if
didn't like his music, I would be so, and I saw him playing about five years ago, I was standing on size stage, watch
from behind you play piana, has no idea what is dealing and it's amazing and he was so happy later. He does look.
Happy about he. He he'd start playing some really
Sponsible synthetic I'd die tonic mode out of nowhere changing the keys and the ban would go o o
kay, we're gonna we're going to discover this with you Bob and you just hear mall shifting and morphing around till they just and then everyone was happy. I love that guy death knows every
was amazing and there was a packed house. People were
up and shaken there has. It was everyone from like nine year olds to people when you like, with walkers in their late late. Seventy zero sounds like you, so great keep bring in it. You tell a story which is certainly the opening up your book and will come full circle here about
really it about firefly. But what is this fundamentally at it? It is about finding the thing that is looming.
To you as an individual and then sharing it with other end, and it sounds like that. You ve kind of come to this place where you realize they, like that's kind of what it's always been about for you. That, I think, is what an artist does witches. You see something
That is not the thing that everyone else's, because everyone else sees a different thing. In my dream,
the two year old who was identifying fireflies
Ironing bugs when no one else was paying attention. I bottled them and made him happy now. I think back on that
some of those kids might have been. You know, look into stars. Instead, that's not more or less important than the
our flies. One might have been looking at the blades of grass or looking to traffic of the parents. All kinds of things were happening with all his kids,
not to say that hey, I'm, a gene, somebody always on the fireflies that everyone sees a different thing. The artist is the one that learns. The technique, above all reason, takes all the time tearing the hair out to bottle it right without killing it and then passing it to others, because when something white up in this
I like that. The inspiration is so fast. You don't get to see that again, I write a song. I moved when I think of the sun.
I'm no longer moved after I've applied low light of intellect and technique. In order to do it, I dont get to be moved by the
song anymore. On tv, we see her in a maid for tv musician who, like feels
be playing a song about some. He remembers. Does not my experience, my experiences that I feel it and then I have to go with no option
the longest time and keep that idea alive and then other people get to enjoy it? Meanwhile, if someone,
It's bottled the stars for me. I get to live that moment twice because I only lived at once before now. I live it twice and I just think that
that that the artist or they are the ones that see it and then bonnet and everyone sees It- everything
if you say spaces out of out of lumber here you build houses, and if you see you know
a clean cut, her crazy man with hair cut. Then you caught hair and for me,
you know, I hear little melodies in some people see dead
people whatever it is it you see? That's and that's what I'd feel better.
It was about, and when identified that in the book, I realized I had a title yeah so coming full circle just with us and we're sitting here in this container of good life project. So if I offer up this phrase to live a good life, what comes up, I think
give just enough attention to yourself. Amidst all your other projects and ambitions, the world we live in, I think just taking
twenty minutes even a day for yourself, that's all
That's an this. As you know, I will be that guy, that's what trends treadstone annotation did for me. Was
made me realize that if I didn't water myself just a little bit that that I could
enjoy any the things that I was winning.
Can win all you need to buy a really hard to get up in the morning and say today
to give myself in the middle of traffic in the middle of all
things that are in the middle of feeling, sorry for myself, the middle high five and myself for the size of whatever finally give myself just a little bit of time and take care of myself. There's there's nothing that can be done. So I would. I would put that in the mix, among other things,
Thank you for you. So much for listening, and thanks also to our friend tasks, monsters who helped make this shell possible. You can check them out in the links we have included, intraday show notes and while you're at it, if you ve ever ask yourself what should I do with my life, we have created a really cool online assessment that will help you discover the source code for the work that you're here to do. You can find it add, spark a type dot com. That's s, p, r, K e t why p dot com or just cause
the link in the show notes and, of course, if you haven't already done so, be sure to click on the subscribe button in your listening app. So you never miss an episode and then share share the love. If there's something that you've heard in this episode, that you would love to turn into a conversation share it with people and have that conversation.
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Transcript generated on 2023-06-25.