Early life and career:
Because of his father's work as a builder and carpenter, Folds moved frequently throughout his childhood. As a result, making friends was difficult. Consequently, Folds became attached to a piano his father brought home when he was 9, the result of a barter trade his father made with a customer who was unable to pay for his work. During this time, Folds listened to songs by Elton John and Billy Joel on AM radio, and learned them by ear. During his years at R.J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Folds played in several bands as the pianist, bassist or drummer.
In the late 1980s, Folds (as a bassist) and longtime friend Millard Powers formed the band Majosha. The group released several locally-produced records. They played their first gig at Duke University's Battle of the Bands in 1988 and won. They played at bars and fraternity parties for a while, and eventually put out a self-produced EP sold at a few local stores called Party Night: Five Songs About Jesus (1988). The record featured only four songs, none of which were actually about Jesus. Gradually, their popularity grew and they played larger and farther-flung gigs. They recorded Shut Up and Listen to Majosha in 1989. It contains, among others, the four songs from Party Night (remixed and/or re-recorded), "Emaline", and "Video". At about the same time, they did a dance mix of "Get That Bug" that was released in Japan.
Majosha broke up in early 1990, and Folds formed Pots and Pans with Evan Olson (bass) and Britt "Snuzz" Uzzell (guitar & vocals). Folds played drums. They only lasted about a month, after which Olson and Uzzell went on to form Bus Stop with Folds's brother Chuck Folds on bass and Eddie Walker on drums.
Folds eventually got a music-publishing deal and moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue it in 1990. He played drums for a short stint in Jody's Power Bill, headed by Millard Powers, Bill Owsley (Owsley), and Jody Spence. Jody's Power Bill was later renamed The Semantics. Folds did not take a creative role in the band. He again attracted interest from major labels. He ended up playing drums there as a session musician.
"In Nashville, I was running eight miles a day, hanging out with my friends, walking around eating chocolate-chip cookies and playing a lot of drums, which I enjoyed. Life was easy. I was never frustrated -- even though I wasn't fulfilling my contract obligations. If you are failing in Nashville, at least your standard of living is nice. Nashville is a nice way to fail."
Folds attended the University of Miami's esteemed School of Music on a percussion scholarship, but dropped out with one credit to go before graduating. He devoted a lot of time to working on piano technique. "I spent maybe six months just running scales with a metronome like a freak," Folds said. "I suppose that did something."
Folds tells audiences about a jury recital while a student at the University of Miami’s music school. A jury recital consists of playing a prepared repertoire (and sometimes unprepared pieces from prior years of training) before faculty members who then apply a grade for the entire semester. Folds, a drummer, showed up with a hand broken from a previous night’s partying, but was required to play anyway. He ended up losing his scholarship, and threw his drumkit into a lake on campus.
After leaving Miami, Folds moved to New York, where he began to act in theater troupes. He had previously done some theater in high school. He enjoyed it in 1993 to the point where he didn't want to keep pursuing a musical career. He also played weekly gigs at Sin-é, famous for being the cafe which had helped start Jeff Buckley's career.
Soon after, Folds moved back to North Carolina. The trio of Ben Folds, bassist Robert Sledge, and drummer Darren Jessee formed Ben Folds Five in 1994 in Chapel Hill. As Folds put it, “Jeff Buckley was being signed at that time by Columbia and I was talking to Steve, his A&R guy, and somehow we knew the same people or something."
Ben Folds Five:
In 1995, Ben Folds Five released their self-titled debut album (songs included "Philosophy" and "Underground"). The debut was followed by Whatever and Ever Amen in 1997, and the odds-and-ends compilation Naked Baby Photos was released in early 1998. Whatever spawned many hits, such as "Brick," "Song for the Dumped," and "Battle of Who Could Care Less." In 1999, the band released their final album, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, which included the hit, "Army."
Folds has described his former band as "punk rock for sissies,"(quoted from a Finnish Magazine) and his oddball lyrics often contain nuances of depression, melancholy, self-conflict, and humorous sarcasm.
Despite its presence on multiple Billboard genre charts, none of the songs reached the Hot 100, though they did show well on both adult contemporary and modern rock charts.
Ben Folds Five reunited to perform its first concert appearance in nearly 10 years on September 18, 2008 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Memorial Hall. The one-off gig was part of the MySpace "Front to Back" series, in which artists play an entire album live. The band played its final album, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner. The concert aired during October and can be viewed at Nowwhat.com. All proceeds from ticket sales benefitted the charity Operation Smile.
As of 2008, Folds has released six solo LPs, including an experimental side project called Fear of Pop, which was released while Ben Folds Five was still together.
Folds's first solo release after the breakup of the band was Rockin' the Suburbs in 2001, on which he played nearly all the instruments, notably guitar, an instrument seldom used during the Ben Folds Five days. Millard Powers, Britt "Snuzz" Uzzell, and Jim Bogios joined him on the promotional tour of the album. A year later, he released Ben Folds Live, a collection of live solo recordings. In late 2003, two solo EPs, Speed Graphic and Sunny 16, were released, and a third, titled Super D, was released in mid-2004.
Songs for Silverman was released in the United States on April 26, 2005. The album featured Jared Reynolds on bass and Lindsay Jamieson on the drums, thus returning to the trio format. This album includes the track "Late," a tribute to the late singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, and also features backup vocals from "Weird Al" Yankovic on "Time." (Folds had played piano for Yankovic's song "Why Does This Always Happen to Me?" on his Poodle Hat album. Yankovic also directed and appeared in Folds's video for the "Rockin' the Suburbs" single).
Folds contributed to William Shatner's most recent album, Has Been, as producer, arranger, musician, and backup vocalist. Shatner also sang vocals on Folds's Fear of Pop song, "In Love," which was performed live on Late Night with Conan O'Brien on January 22, 1999.
Folds' friend and fellow musician John McCrea, lead singer of the band Cake, contributes vocals to Ben's song "Fred Jones, Part 2".
The soundtrack for the December 2005 (L.A. release)/January 2006 (wide release) animated film "Hoodwinked!" featured "Red is Blue", a ballad underlying a montage at the height of the sadness of Red, the main character.
In May 2006, Folds contributed three original songs to the soundtrack of Over the Hedge, a DreamWorks production, as well as a cover of The Clash song "Lost in the Supermarket," and a remix of "Rockin' The Suburbs" with some new lyrics written to complement the script of the film, to which Shatner contributed a spoken rant.
On October 24, 2006, Folds released Supersunnyspeedgraphic, the LP, a compilation of songs that were originally released on the EPs Sunny 16, Speed Graphic, and Super D. He announced on his MySpace blog that he planned to work on his next studio album in October 2006, although recording did not actually start until 2007.
On October 24, 2006, Folds became the first person to broadcast a live concert over MySpace. The concert was complete with pranks staged ahead of time by Folds, including a drunk man falling over the balcony during "Jesusland" and a suicide attempt at the end. The concert is also notable for featuring a "guitorchestra," a group of acoustic guitarists from Nashville who accompanied Folds on some songs, as well as a ringtone orchestra featuring members of the audience playing their cellphone ringtones in unison.
Ben Folds produced The Dresden Dolls' Amanda Palmer's first solo album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer which was released September 16 2008. He also plays on the album.
During a concert at the National in Richmond, Virginia on April 11, 2008, Folds announced that he had completed his newest album, and played four new tracks from this album. He played the first track, "Hiroshima," at the same show in Richmond on April 11. He also debuted new music at an impromptu gig at the Exit/In on December 19, 2007 and at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival on January 25, 2008. Other new songs include "Errant Dog", "Effington", "The Bitch Went Nuts", "Free Coffee", and "Kylie From Connecticut". Folds played The 6th annual Langerado on March 8, 2008 and was a part of the lineup for the 2008 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, where he announced he was playing "Bitches Ain't Shit" for the last time. However he brought this song out of 'retirement' at Glastonbury 2008 telling the audience that a friend of his was getting married and they had begged him to play it at their wedding.
On 16 July 2008, an anonymous user posted what they claimed was a "leak" of Ben's latest album on a fan site (eventually called Way to Normal (Fake)). The file contained nine tracks along with a PDF of supposed cover art, and was a mix of what appeared to be legitimate songs from Way to Normal, pastiches of dry humor and melodramatic pop interwoven with bright, energetic melodies. Ben explained on Triple J radio a few weeks later that in one overnight session in Dublin he and the band had recorded 'fake' versions of songs from the new album. His sources had then leaked them to the public as a light-hearted joke on his fans.
Folds' most recent studio album, entitled Way To Normal was released on 30 September 2008 in the United States and on 29 September 2008 in the United Kingdom. It became Folds' highest-charting album ever in the US, debuting at #11 on the Billboard 200.
Folds also recently announced that he plans to record an album with English author Nick Hornby , with Hornby writing the lyrics and Folds writing the music.
After Ben Folds Five split, Folds's first tour with a full band was to support the album Rockin' The Suburbs. He was accompanied by Britt "Snüzz" Uzzell on guitar and keys, Millard Powers on bass and keys, and Jim Bogios on drums. Powers and Bogios later went on to join Counting Crows.
On a tour of Australia, Folds joined with solo artists Ben Kweller and Ben Lee to travel the country as The Bens, at the suggestion of a fan on Kweller's official Web site. The trio also went on to record a four-track EP together.
In the summer of 2004, Folds co-headlined an American tour with fellow singer-songwriters Rufus Wainwright and Guster. Folds again performed with Wainwright and Lee in the summer of 2005 as part of the "Odd Men Out" tour. In addition, Folds has performed with many other famous musical names, including Weezer and Tori Amos. After seeing The Fray perform with Weezer, Folds asked the band to join him for 12 performances in 2005.
Folds also has shown the intricacy behind his original sound by performing with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra (WASO) in March 2005, and with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) in November 2005. A DVD of Folds playing with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra was released in December 2005. On May 9, 2007, Folds performed with the Boston Pops Orchestra. The orchestra's performance was marred when a fight broke out between two audience members in the balcony, although Folds had not yet taken the stage.
Folds performed with symphony orchestras again in August 2006 during a tour of Australia, which included performances with the Sydney Symphony at the Sydney Opera House, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, Western Australian Symphony Orchestra, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and The Queensland Orchestra.
After his MySpace performance on October 24, 2006, Folds's tour performances began to feature a synthesizer, which he uses in many of the songs when played live. The synthesizer is a red Nord Lead II synthesizer. During his concerts, Folds performs two of his concert traditions: palm-smashing and throwing his stool at the piano. Folds is currently touring the United States with drummer Sam Smith and bassist Jared Reynolds. Former drummer Jamieson was allegedly unable to continue touring due to a ruptured disc in his neck.
Folds toured with John Mayer as an opening act (though his set typically lasted an hour) in the summer of 2007. During this tour, Mayer sometimes joined Folds on the song "Narcolepsy", playing synth.
On March 29, 2008, Folds played the Cage Center Arena at Berry College in Mt. Berry, GA. During contract negotiations, he was asked by the administration to not play one of his songs due to its explicit lyrics. Folds refused, citing artistic freedom.
On May 9, 2008, Ben Folds played his first completely solo show in years at Western Connecticut State University due to the fact that his bassist Jared Reynolds was with his wife who had just given birth to their first son.
From 1987 to 1992, he was married to Anna Goodman, who co-wrote the lyrics to several of his songs, including "Alice Childress" (the character in the song is someone in a mental institution who threw mop water on Anna), "The Last Polka" from the album Ben Folds Five, "Smoke" and "Kate" from Whatever and Ever Amen, and "Lullabye" from The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner.
Folds met Kate Rosen in December 1995. The song 'Kate' was written about her. She was a lighting operator for Ben Folds Five while they toured.
He married Australian Frally Hynes in May 1999 and twins Gracie and Louis were born two months later. Hynes contributed some video footage to two of Folds's music videos, including "Still Fighting It" which also starred Louis. Hynes can be heard on "Root to This" Fear of Pop: Volume 1, and at the end of the track "Dog" on 2003's Speed Graphic (EP). She is also featured on the cover to Ben Folds's EP Super D, released in 2004. They separated in 2006 and were divorced in April 2007.
Twins Louis Francis and Gracie Scott, were born in July 1999. As told to the audience at one of his concerts, Louis is the elder of the twins born on July 22. Gracie was born after midnight; and therefore, her birthday is July 23. He recorded a song for each of his children on two of his albums — the song "Still Fighting It" on Rockin' the Suburbs for his son Louis, and "Gracie" for his daughter on his album Songs for Silverman.
The song "The Luckiest" was originally written for the 2000 movie release Loser (directed by Amy Heckerling) but was deleted from the movie when the scene for which it was written was cut. It re-emerged the following year on the album Rockin' the Suburbs.
Ben and Fleur Folds were married in November 2007 and are based in Nashville, Tennessee where they live with their children.
Work with William Shatner:
According to the track "Meeting Shatner" on the iTunes original album released in 2005, Ben Folds and William Shatner became good friends after he did a speaking part on the track "In Love." This led to them later collaborating on each others' projects including Ben Folds's involvement in Priceline.com and Over The Hedge, and the work on Shatner's album Has Been.
Shatner makes a cameo appearance in the music video for "Landed." Folds produced and arranged Shatner's album Has Been, with most of the songs co-written by Folds and Shatner. Through his friendship with Shatner, Folds appeared in a late-1990s advertisement for Priceline.com, and his song "Landed" was used in a 2006 Hilton Hotels commercial. Shatner later starred in the 2006 animated film Over The Hedge, whose soundtrack features songs by Folds, including a reworking of "Rockin' the Suburbs" featuring Shatner.
In 2007, a ballet Common People, set to Has Been, was created by Margo Sappington (of Oh! Calcutta! fame) and performed by the Milwaukee Ballet. Shatner attended the premiere and had the event filmed. This footage became Gonzo Ballet, a feature film due to be released in 2009, which includes interviews with Ben Folds, William Shatner, and Henry Rollins.