Published on theMusic.com.au, Jan 2017
Ben Folds Shares What We Can All Learn From ‘Trapped In The Closet’ By R Kelly
Classical music can learn a lot from R Kelly’s Trapped In The Closet, an affable Ben Folds tells Daniel Cribb.
Most fans of pop and rock would admit to rarely listening to classical music, let alone going out to experience it live – except for the rare occasion when a band enlists an orchestra to perform alongside them, which, as Ben Folds comments, is “not that good most the time”.
Few acts that embark on such an endeavour have enough time to workshop the dynamic in a way that truly complements the insane talents of the classically trained musicians backing them.
Flashback to 2016 when Folds last visited Australia with acclaimed New York ensemble yMusic and we put forward that there were times when audience members almost forgot the headline act was even there. “I totally understood that and that’s kind of what I wanted, so you’re on it,” Folds tells.
His latest album, So There, was a collaborative effort with yMusic, and while he was preparing for certain sectors of the classical community to turn their nose up at the idea of a pop musician releasing such a record (he’s been performing with orchestras for years), it was met with wide acclaim all ’round, even going to #1 on the US Classical Music chart. “There was a formula that proved, after the fact, to be very effective, which is sort of specific to that album,” he says.
“If you listen to the record, it’s mostly a pop record and it’s in the voice of a guy who’s been selling records in the pop world. Now, selling shit in the pop world is still topping the charts in the classical so, when they called it classical and my crowd bought it – then suddenly I’ve got the number one Billboard Classical record for a long time, but it’s not really an indication of my going in and taking over the classical world.”
Although Folds is now firmly planted in that world – currently National Symphony Orchestra’s artistic adviser – he’s not looking to repeat the So There formula again. “I definitely lose a lot of opportunities by jumping off something when it starts to work,” he admits, a statement that is backed by his eclectic back catalogue and countless projects. For Folds, it’s more about doing what enjoys as opposed to cashing in. “It’s like, ‘Okay, the iron’s hot – time to strike.’ And I go, ‘Oh, I think I’ll do something else’.”
Frequently jumping between genres over the past few years, he’s noticed correlations and interesting (and bizarre) influences between pop, folk and classical music. “R&B and hip hop have encouraged us to look at the beat differently, and what plays the beat, and I think that actually opens up a lot of opportunities for classical music,” he says.
“Remember that ridiculous Trapped In The Closet by R Kelly? It’s good shit, right? It’s 45 minutes of the same song and he’s telling this crazy-ass story, but it’s actually kind of brilliant. The beat is a water faucet drip – that’s all it is.
“It’s not a drum, it’s not anything that we’re used to – this kind of reimagining of groove textures is really exciting because they can be done by all kinds of crazy shit in the orchestra and the rock bands are stuck with their drums.”
Folds’ Paper Aeroplane Request tour hits Australia in February, with the US muso going back to his roots and performing in solo mode. The show will see punters writing song requests on pieces of paper, turning them into paper planes and then hurling them onto the stage, which should make for an extremely memorable evening given his comedic wit and improv skills.
With touring duties and his artistic-adviser role, Folds has had little time to think about his next studio album, but he’s still found time to add credits to his IMDb page, proving even further he has worthy comedic value by playing himself on US comedy You’re The Worst at the end of last year. “I really enjoyed it,” he laughs. “I have so much fun with that stuff.”