The Piano Man

I caught up with famed singer/songwriter Ben Folds recently and chatted about the ten-year anniversary of the release of Ben Folds Five's landmark album Whatever and Ever Amen and his current tour with John Mayer. It's not surprising that the guy is a total cynic.

Outtakes: Looking back, what are your thoughts about that record? Do you even look back, since you still play some of the songs live?

Folds: Maybe I'm delusional, but I don't feel like [Whatever and Ever Amen] is even from another era to me. It has some markings of what I would say, "Oh, that's the '90s," but it's not extreme. It's not like I have this record that's about the flower children — and then ten years later we're making a disco record. Which would kind of be more exciting in a way, if things would change like that. I play a few songs from that record live probably every night, two or three, and they don't really seem out of place.

1997 was just before MP3s and Napster and the Internet started to really take off.

But that's it. That was the innovation in music: the way we sell it. Now it's on the Internet. I'm not saying that nothing new has come out. [But] you think, like, "What's the most exciting new thing right now?" Someone might say Arcade Fire. Well, that's great — they made a couple of good records. I can't see how those records couldn't have come out in the '90s, though.

People who only know the song "Brick" might have the wrong impression about you guys. Even on [Whatever and Ever Amen], listening to it, it's a really diverse record. You really have to dig into it.

I would hope that was something that influenced people. But I doubt that it did. It may have opened the door for bands like Keane. [Coldplay's] Chris Martin, I met him one time, and he said, "Thank you for opening the door for other bands like us." Like, he could go out and play piano now and not be ashamed of it, because of Whatever and Ever.

That's a really bold statement. It's so funny that your fan base has stayed the same age. It makes me happy to see 15-year-olds listening to piano music. How did that happen?

I don't know! I've got theories, but I'm starting to think that the entire rock audience is just [ages] 18 to 25. Now I'm opening for John Mayer on the road, and his audience is probably older — which is funny, 'cause the guy is ten years younger than I am.

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Annie Zaleski
Contact: Annie Zaleski