When we first launched Idol Worship back in AP 194, we asked some rockers whom they’d like to talk to if they were given a hook-up. Yellowcard frontman Ryan Key immediately proclaimed his admiration for sardonic piano-pounder Ben Folds. While Folds was out promoting his recent Songs For Silverman disc, Key was diligently working on the next Yellowcard opus, but was feeling kind of unsure in terms of how the new ’card-rock would be greeted. Folds-who knows something about outside expectation when his band, Ben Folds Five, adjourned five years ago-was more than happy to give Key a pep talk.
RYAN KEY: As a big fan of your work, I feel like you’re just poking your head back up in a big way with your new record. How do you feel about the music world you are coming back into right now? [Yellowcard are] facing a battle of “Do you wear eyeliner or don’t you?”
BEN FOLDS: You guys had a hit record and you’re in a completely different space that you’ll be in as you keep goin’. It’s a weird path, because, in the last three or four years, I’ve have had much more success in my career than I had before. I’ve been playing to 2, to 5,000 people a night in most places, and 1,500 in others where there’s no promotion or airplay. This is the first couple weeks of interviews I’ve done in four years. When we want to do something, we always meet resistance by promoters or press or whoever saying, “We can’t do that because we need something that actually sells.” We sold 50,000 records the first week, which isn’t bad. The misconception in the business is that, all of a sudden, I’ve “come back,” when all it is is an indicator of what I’ve been doing. You talk about coming back into the music business, well, I’m coming back into the music business proper-y’know, the one that sells Swatches-and the business that sells music is almost like a different business. It doesn’t bum me out or anything-it’s just a lot of work. [Laughs.]
It’s the same thing with us: We had gotten to a point before we signed with Capitol in 2001 where, for a while, we were able to play to 4 to 500 people anywhere in the country, just from touring our asses off. The most frustrating thing was the loss of control; not being able to pick and choose exactly which interviews we wanted to do and which ones were going to be positive for our career and which ones weren’t. I don’t have too many regrets. I respect you because you’ve been able to have this longevity in your career. Your fans have been absolutely loyal….
Well, it hurts to do it that way, because you constantly have to feel like you are turning down things or doing the wrong thing. And you feel sometimes the decisions you make are like, “Well, that’s pretty much the end of shit. [Laughs.] I’m washed up now, but I can’t stand doing that fucking shit that has been lined up on the other side.” About three years ago, when I decided to go solo on the piano, everybody around me basically warned me that that was pretty much going to be the final nail in my coffin. The thing is, if I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t be having this conversation right now, I’d be writing music for an indie film or something. Which would be fine, too. The business doesn’t really sell to people, it sells to other people’s business-that’s how they keep their jobs and make the next guy happy. It keeps the machine running, but for me and you, we have to remember that what we do has to make us happy and the audience happy. It’s cliché, but it’s true.
For the rest of the story, pick up AP 209 below…