Arts

Piano man Ben Folds adds another string to his bow

North Carolina native Ben Folds - as part of Ben Folds Five - released his first album in 1995, and his first solo album in 2001. He talks to Andy Welch about his new album with yMusic Ensemble - So There - featuring eight chamber rock songs plus his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra with the Nashville Symphony.

Ben Folds releases his new album on September 11

HOW are you feeling ahead of the release of So There?

Very good actually. But then I am expected to say that, right? You'd be surprised if I said: 'It's a total disaster, why have I done this?' wouldn't you?!

But really excited?

Yes, this one feels exceptional.

It's an album of concerto music written with an orchestra. So it's quite a departure for you, isn't it?

Not really. I mean, it all seemed really natural. I am aware that not everyone has a piano concerto on their album this year, it's almost novel, but it feels great, and for me actually, even more natural than anything else I've done.

Why more natural?

Part of what makes it hard to be a commercially successful artist is always finding your voice, or a new voice each time you make a record. It's possible lots of people should just be really repetitive, but they're not allowed to just keep kicking out the same music. It's unusual that an artist finds their thing and sticks to it. So it's hard to know where you should go as an artist. I don't like the idea that if I try something new, I'm experimenting.

You're not experimenting with this album then?

No. If you're doing it right, you're actually just catching up with yourself. This album seems really natural, and it makes me think that if I am guilty of anything, I have been too aware of what's come before in my career, and not just gone with what I wanted to do.

It's rare that an artist at this stage of their career can sound so liberated.

Yes, I think so. It's hard to find this amount of space. The same way it's hard to find the space in life in general. Gravity takes its toll - I've got the saggy man boobs and wrinkly skin. And you get knocked down when you're younger and you just get up. When you're older, you don't like to be looked at as much, so if you get knocked down, you don't get up. I think there's a misconception about getting less self-conscious as you get older. It makes me double-happy that I've made this album. And I've done it by putting myself in the company of fearless people.

How so?

I got a load of recent grads from the Juilliard School of Music to play on the album, and they make me feel like I can do anything. And if I have a mad idea, they don't say 'That's mad', they say 'You can do that? Cool'.

Had you ever wanted to make an orchestral album before?

I think the idea had probably crossed my brain at some point, but I do think a lot. I probably wanted to make a country record at some point, but for some reason this one stuck and here I am.

:: So There is released on September 11. For tour updates, visit BenFolds.com

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