Q&A: Pianoman Ben Folds
On writing with Nick Hornby, recording guerilla-style in Dublin and Captain Kirk
Man-lit darling Nick Hornby (on right of picture) wrote the lyrics for your new album. Now, that's outsourcing in style!
What Nick gave me was another life. I could sit inside his lyrics. He is so good at getting inside other people's heads. Nick is a very emphatic person. That's why his books are so popular. That's what he was doing, being his normal, empathic, Nick Hornby self. His characters really aren't at the high point in their lives when he begins a novel or a song. They are pretty weakened by something. They are also very transparent about it. That makes you think, 'God if I had just admitted this -- been more honest or open about these things...' It makes you think about yourself.
There's a hilarious song on the record called Levi Johnston's Blues, about Sarah Palin's on/off himbo of a son-in-law.
I didn't notice the guy myself. I saw the Republican National Convention on television and my jaw dropped in horror when they got into this 'drill, baby, drill ... ' stuff. That kind of thing works me up. I don't know what to do. I'm watching these people go down that path and then you get in a car and you see them and they try to run you off the road. It's a scary place. So that's what I was thinking about.
Whereas Nick was drawn to the awkward teenager squirming over Palin's shoulder.
Leave it to Nick to find the dude in the back row. It's his empathy again. His take was, 'God, growing up is really hard. This guy was on his motorbike last week, living a normal life, probably going to get a very modest job, and suddenly he's thrown into an international arena and he's having to get married for the theatre of American politics'. He's right in the fucking vortex. And Nick felt that for him.
And now Johnston is a reality star and tabloid fodder.
It's unfortunate Levi has become a celebrity. Certainly it will promote the song and promote the album. In some way, I'm sure that effect might be felt on some level. As for the song ... now it is relegated to satire. It was intended to be some poor fucking kid ... you know, 'isn't life tough when you're growing up'. I thought we captured that pretty well. All of a sudden Levi is famous and now people go, 'that song is hilarious'. It's not hilarious!
In 2008, you spent 24 hours recording a 'fake' album in Dublin. Why didn't you just visit the Guinness factory like all the other tourists?
I really like Dublin. I've always really loved the feeling there. It's a breath of fresh air. There's an intellectual level that makes me comfortable. At the same time, it's not pretentious. People are tough and smart and unpretentious all at once. It felt like a really natural place to come in and knock something up.
Sorry to turn into a gushing fanboy, but what was it like working with William Shatner on his Has Been record?
He's a bigger-than-life person. He's a mysterious person. He's a smart cat. he's aware of what he's doing. And then he goes totally Shatner on you in a quiet, intimate moment. And you don't know if he did that for a TV camera or for you. Or if he would be doing that for himself, if nobody was there. I think he's great.
Lonely Avenue by Ben Folds with lyrics by Nick Hornby is released next Friday