“I think my attention span is probably somewhat like Elvis Costello’s – I’ve been told that before.” Ben Folds said this to me in 2016 just prior to kicking off an Australian tour alongside chamber music ensemble, yMusic. It was a reference to his continual desire to change things up over the course of a 25-year career.
Folds’ debut album came out in 1995, the first of three records he’d release that decade leading the Ben Folds Five. The band’s name was a clue to Folds’ idiosyncratic MO – they were a trio, not a quintet, who rose to fame during the alternative rock heyday. The Folds Five stood out for the absence of a guitarist, but they were more than capable of reaching rocking climaxes on par with their contemporaries.
The band split in 2000 and Folds moved straight onto a solo career. This nominal shake-up not only gave Folds enhanced artistic freedom but also the opportunity to display his multi-instrumentalist capability.
His release history hasn’t been torrential in the two decades since, but he’s approached each new project with deliberate purpose. He’s made earnest singer-songwriter records along with more pop-oriented undertakings. He’s also collaborated with author and screenwriter Nick Hornby and a variety of symphony orchestras and chamber ensembles.
Throughout it all, Folds’ dorky, nasal voice and rhythmic piano playing have been unmistakable, likewise his ability to swerve from tongue-in-cheek barbs to stark confessionals. Here are ten Ben Folds essentials.
to perform live with the Melbourn Symphony Orchestra on Sunday, 31 January and Monday, 1 February.