He's Only the Piano Player

Ben Folds wants you to floss

Jul 20, 2005 at 4:00 am
Ben Folds has a rather simple take on how he creates music.

"My job is to take the feeling of the time that I was creating this stuff," he says, "and translate it into a record in hopes that someone else was having the same kind of day that I was having."

That everyman approach has served the piano man well throughout his career -- first with his trio, Ben Folds Five, and now as a solo performer. In fact, Songs for Silverman, Folds' second solo full-length studio album, resembles a series of snapshots of everyday life. There's a song dedicated to his daughter, a lyrical eulogy to the late Elliott Smith and a tale or two about divorce.

With such meaningful subject matter, it's no surprise that sonically it's also the quietest album he's ever released. Although his Elton John and Todd Rundgren influences remain intact, Silverman seems better suited for sit-down audiences at a cabaret, rather than patrons at smoky bars.

"This is the most scared I've been on the release of an album," he says, "because I was just all of a sudden thinking, 'Oh man, I've gotta go back and make this stuff big and crazy and loud so it'll work.'"

Those who only know (or appreciate) him from wacky tunes like "One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces" or "Rockin' the Suburbs" -- or his recent deadpan cover of Dr. Dre's "Bitches Ain't Shit" -- might not appreciate such an even keel. Folds isn't too bothered.

"The longer I live with the album, the happier I am that I actually stuck by my guns," he says. "I know that people wanna hear louder, more animated, more fluorescent shit, loud stuff. But I'm really happy that I didn't do that, because the album means more to me because of that."

His biggest fans don't seem to mind. Despite Silverman's intimate nature, Folds notes that the album has so far translated well to arenas.

"A place like Germany, where I'm just starting to break," he says, "if I paused I would hear them singing [in a German accent], 'You can't be trusted!' They were just singing the hell out of these songs like they were big, hairy, coliseum songs."

Indeed, no matter how serious he sounds on disc or in conversation, Folds' wry sense of humor is never far from the surface.

"[There's] increasingly more and more static between people that make music and people that hear the music," he says. "There's just a lot of rumble and static. That's one of the reasons why I made the record so chill. I just wanted a quiet record that wasn't trying to compete and be heard above the static stuff.

"Tell [people] that. Or tell them to floss. I just started flossing and man, it's a good thing. Forget all that music preaching -- tell them to floss."