As per my last post, I started a column in March that highlighted artists from A-Z that have influenced or shaped who I am today. B is for a guy named Ben.
B is for Ben Folds/Five
Listening to Ben Folds is like listening to one of your best buddies play piano and sing about what they did yesterday. His songs are very literal, straight forward and honest from a lyrical standpoint. Musically, however, he is the modern king of piano rock. He takes an instrument that is traditionally meant for classical and contemporary pieces and turns it into an exciting and modern musical tool. Much like Elton John before him, the piano is not just used for background music, but it carries his songs. While making music with his band, Ben Folds Five, the sound is rounded out with guitar, bass, drums and the like.
Folds has such a vibrant and confident personality and he showcases it in every single one of his songs and his live performances. He can break your heart in two with songs like “Still Fighting It” “The Luckiest” and “Brick”, give you a reality check with “Learn to Live With What You Are” and “There’s Always Someone Cooler Than You” and then he will have you laughing out loud over “The Bitch Went Nuts”, “Rockin The Suburbs” and his cover of “Bitches Ain’t Shit”. Some of his songs seem so literal that they leave you wondering if they are about anything at all. For example, the song “Dr Yang” which seems to be, well, a shoutout to a couple of his doctors and physicians. In reality, there never seems to be a “hidden” meaning behind of his songs at all. He writes a story, then he puts it to piano. Its as simple as that. Don’t mistake this straightforward approach for laziness or lack of skill, because it is quite the contrary. Simplicity allows a universal understanding and a comfortable listening experience.
He takes his music seriously, but he is definitely not a man that you could ever mistake for pretentious. He has something of a boyish charm to him, always joking around, but has such an impressive maturity when it comes to speaking from the heart.
I first discovered Ben Folds when I was working in my first kitchen in Ontario, and my chef started playing his music while we were prepping for the day. I fondly remember him aggressively headbanging and singing along, exclaiming “BEN FOLDS IS THE GREATEST SONGWRITER EVER” to the beat. Ever since then, I’ve made it a point to keep his albums in rotation. His music is the perfect fix when you are looking for a roller coaster of emotions. One song relaxes you, the next makes you think, the next makes you cry, the next makes you dance.
For his fearless songwriting, being an unapologetic geek, and for single handedly making the piano cool again, Ben Folds is the B in my musical influence repertoire.
Listen to: Brick, Still Fighting It, Learn To Live With What You Are, Bitches Aint Shit