Ben Folds talks orchestral work, Kesha and Confederate statues ahead of his show at Tulsa's Cain’s Ballroom 

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Those who missed Ben Folds’ Oklahoma Gazette cover-warranting April 2016 concert appearance at Chevy Bricktown Events Center now have another chance to catch the master pianist and superb songsmith’s trademark wit and candor with a drive up the Turner Turnpike to Tulsa’s Cain’s Ballroom.

Folds, who turned 50 last September, is set to perform Monday at the historic venue, 423 N. Main St., in Tulsa.

The North Carolina native and longtime resident of Nashville, Tennessee, (he now lives in southern California) is best known as namesake founder of the popular ’90s alternative rock band Ben Folds Five and for a wealth of solo albums, including 2001’s seminal Rockin’ the Suburbs, that have at times delved into the worlds of rock, pop and even classical — sometimes simultaneously.

Folds’ most recent album was 2015’s So There, a collaboration with New York chamber sextet yMusic. The singer-songwriter frequently works with symphonies around the country, including the Oklahoma City Philharmonic in 2011.

In May, Folds was named artistic adviser to the National Symphony Orchestra. He will serve a three-year term with the national orchestra that makes its primary residence the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Folds has also been making contributions to some notable pieces of music to come out in recent months. He has a duet with Regina Spektor on 2016’s The Hamilton Mixtape, a star-studded soundtrack to the immensely popular Lin-Manuel Miranda Broadway production.

Folds also produced the title track on Kesha’s new album Rainbow, released in July. The mature and eclectic release is her first album in five years and the first in the wake of her many lawsuits (some related to sexual assault) against record producer Dr. Luke.

The Gazette spoke with Folds about his work with the National Symphony Orchestra, Kesha and his thoughts on raging Confederate statue protests across the country.

Oklahoma Gazette: How has your week been? Anything exciting?

Ben Folds: Ah, just life stuff. Nothing terribly exciting. I’m not complaining because I’ve got a lot of stuff coming up, so I’m just trying to prepare for that. A lot of Kennedy Center-related stuff, which takes quite a big of organization and keeping up with things.

OKG: Speaking of that, when did you hear the news about National Symphony Orchestra wanting you as artistic adviser?

Folds: I’m not exactly sure. We’ve been sort of working with them and talking concepts and shows for a little while. I know it was formalized recently this year, but there’s been some talk about it before, so it was certainly an honor for it to be formalized. I enjoy that kind of working contribution, and those guys down there are just all about art and music, and it’s a really great place.

OKG: It’s definitely a natural fit now, but early on, could you have seen your career trajectory taking you to this kind of position?

Folds: I mean, I could not have foreseen anything. I was not in the foreseeing line of work; I was just going. I don’t think it would have been a terrible stretch if you had written out, “OK, this is where Folds may go in the next 10 to 20 years.” It certainly would have been a realistic turn for me because I started my whole music trip as a child playing in orchestra.

OKG: You were involved in the new Kesha album Rainbow, which is fantastic. What was it like working with her on the title song?

Folds: Well, she’s really good, you know? She started off her career really young. She’s really good, but she, of course, had a lot of fortunate success really fast doing a certain thing. I think it’s occurring to her, “Oh shit! I can do things this way; I can do this,” and she’s discovering. I think the cool thing about that record is that it’s all over the shop — it’s all over the road.

OKG: It seems like that’s usually seen as a negative thing.

Folds: Yeah, but I think in this case, it’s just exactly what we want to hear out of her. It’s kind of like listening to a short-attention-span playlist or something. I think that’s really cool because there’s a genuine discovery in everything she’s doing. All these songs, like the one with the incredible horn section (“Woman” featuring The Dap-Kings Horns) and the one with Dolly Parton (“Old Flames [Can’t Hold a Candle to You]”) — these are things she’s like, “Holy shit! I’m doing this? This is fucking great.” You can feel that inside it. Even though you might look at the veneer and go, “Hmm. I’m not sure. I think that record feels a little bit unglued,” I think it actually is pretty brilliant.

I haven’t listened to it enough to really digest it yet, but my guess is it will succeed long-term as a record because you will start to realize a certain classic nature of the actual songs. I heard the record the other day — I hadn’t heard it yet. I would have liked to have heard it because I would have liked to know how “Rainbow” fit into the record, adjusted accordingly. Unfortunately, this was a very secret project because of all the you-know-why. So I didn’t really hear anything [before the album was released] and then I’m listening to the record recently in sequence and going, “OK, this is crazy and really interesting.” Then the next day, I walk up and someone is playing it down the street. And I heard the first song (“Bastards”), and it sounded like a classic already. I thought, “Well, that’s pretty bizarre.” I went from one night being like, “Hmm. I’m not dead sure,” to the next day and it sounds like it might be a classic coming from down the street, so I think that’s what we’re going to find about it.

OKG: You’re from the South. Do you have a take on Confederate statues?

Folds: It’s not the South. That’s the main thing that I have to say about it. You’re not taking down some part of history that’s the identity of the South — it’s not. I think that’s the overwhelming thing I see after all the Charlottesville[, Virgina,] stuff. All of that’s terrible.

Another thing I always want to point out to people when we start having this conversation is that you’re taking it out of the main town square. This is like saying, “The most important thing about this great city and this great state is this guy.” And it’s not like you’re trying to erase that he existed. Eh, he’s probably a great tactician or good at something; that’s fine. Put him in a fucking museum somewhere with a whole bunch of other people, but he doesn’t need to be the main thing.

It upsets enough people and it’s divisive, so of course the shit should come down. There’s no question about it. Put fucking Ronald McDonald up in the fucking square instead — everyone likes him. We have a clown representing the U.S.; maybe we’ll have one representing Charlottesville.

Print headline: Key words, Singer-songwriter and pianist Ben Folds returns to Oklahoma with a date at Tulsa’s historic Cain’s Ballroom.

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