1703936669 Ben Folds a master of Chekhov pop

Ben Folds, a master of Chekhov pop

Ben Folds (Greensboro, North Carolina, 1966), the discreet architect of a very personal power pop with more than three decades of history, says that the stories of Anton Chekhov, the Russian writer, author of Uncle Vania and The Lady with the dog, could be considered songs. That they are short and elusive, that they have a clear melody, and that they point to a deep place within the reader. They are mysterious. “They create the same effect as songs,” he says. As he crafts his fifth solo album – and perhaps the tenth of his career, including those he released with the trio Ben Folds Five and his collaborations with Regina Spektor, Neil Gaiman and Nick Hornby, among others – the eclectic and luminous What Matters Most, Folds eagerly reread the Russian genius. “Everything shines in Chekhov’s stories. No matter how many times I read them, I always find something new that triggers something different,” he says.

He's somewhere in Tennessee when he answers the video call. On tour, he says. No, this time it won't go through Spain. Although it may not be long, because perhaps the time has come. “In all this time, in these 30 years,” his career officially began in 1993, although he has been part of indie bands since 1988, “no one has ever interviewed me in Spain,” he says, surprised. He repeats it more than once, as if he can't quite believe it. He repeatedly points out that “What Matters Most” is about what the title suggests, namely “the things that really matter.” “While I was writing it, one of my best friends suddenly died. And I thought that the things that really matter aren't always the same. That sometimes you are not at all clear about what really matters. And you have to be very attentive to give them the importance they deserve at all times,” he says.

“There are many other things that you do or agree to do that mean nothing to you at all and that prevent you from being happy.”

The album's title track, an impeccable pop midtempo with Folds on piano that builds a powerful, soaring ballad from a sad smile, is dedicated to this friend. And in the lyrics themselves there is an attempt to push aside everything that didn't matter at the time and that didn't allow him to see what he had, or that, precisely because it was there, should have allowed him to do so . “The artist communicates with himself through his art. You ask yourself a question to which you are looking for an answer. And yes, it has to do with the changing state of the things we care about. It's not as easy as quitting a crappy job because it's consuming your life. That's the most obvious thing. What you see most. There are many other things that you do or agree to do that mean nothing to you and that prevent you from being happy. They prevent you from enjoying what is really important at that moment. ” he insists.

As a musician, as an artist, Ben Folds wants to be honest. It has to be you, he says. “There is no other obligation than the obligation to yourself. You have to be honest and take off your armor every time you sit at the piano or write a song. He takes it off for a while and then puts it back on to continue his life,” he adds. He says he becomes extremely “sensitive” while composing. “You become fragile, but it's important that you do it, because without that fragility, nothing you do would make sense,” he says. One could say that the album protects itself with a beginning that is as powerful as it is ironic and celebratory, almost a loop of promises – the perfect momentum for something that does not stop growing and that, ironically, calls it as if we were there, him to let down: “But wait, there’s more” – and progresses through a small collection of moments that sometimes become fascinatingly narrative, as happens in the meaningful “Moments.”

“I never understood why a sad song that sounds sad also says something sad. What would happen if a sad song had funny lyrics?”

“Everywhere on the album there is an attempt to experiment with form. Actually playing with the background and the shape. I've never understood why a sad song that sounds sad also says something sad. “What would happen if a sad song had funny lyrics?” he asks. That's exactly what happens in Kristine From the 7th Grade. “There's a huge amount of irony in this song, it's a funny song! But it sounds like something that could go down, and isn't the contrast fascinating?” he asks. Plays, folds, pizzicatos and black keys – and impeccable pop songs that even include a street harmonica and a figure feeding the birds: “Back to Anonymous” – to a binomial – that of joy and sadness – which is not the case must be a dead end, but something in constant motion, something full of nuances, all of which are contained in the percussive and charmingly naive “Paddleboat Breakup”.

It seems Folds is more aware than ever of the ground he walks on. “The truth is that yes. Before, the songs just came out. Now I know exactly what I want from each of them. I know where they're going. And I love it. Because when I have a goal, the result is always better,” he admits. He can't believe people get married to one of his old songs, “The Luckiest,” even though he didn't even know what he was thinking when he wrote it. “It’s very strange,” he says. Now every song is like a canvas “to which I add things intuitively.” Like the cello in “Fragile.” “I don’t have any other artists in mind or specific sounds of songs that I like, but I think they’re there,” he adds. Because he won't stop listening to music. All kinds. Although he also reads. He reads a lot and always comes back to Chekhov.

Think of “Vanka,” the story about the boy who writes a letter to his grandfather telling him how terribly unhappy he is and how much he misses him, and then innocently drops it in the mailbox with no address and just writes a “for Grandpa,” and that night he goes to bed, convinced that it will naturally reach him. “Doesn’t it sound like a song?” he insists. Before he hangs up, he notes that the album cover – an elderly couple wearing yellow hats in the middle of the sky – is by a Spanish artist he discovered on Instagram: Sensetus. And it was the cover that made him give the album that title – incidentally his first solo album in eight years. He believes it perfectly reflects how he feels that “the most important thing is always moving.”

Cover of “What Matters Most” by Ben Folds

Ben Folds

The most important
New West Records

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