The Wisdom: Musician Ben Folds

Categories Lifestyle


The man who wrote and sang “Brick” and former Adelaide resident discusses music, love and an end-of-day Scotch.

A wise man knows… is that a complete sentence? It sounds like a complete sentence. But the opposite is true. A wise man doesn’t know. But a wise man should know… not to buy small-ass shoes.
A foolish man… hangs onto beliefs without thinking.
What makes me laugh is… a surprise attack. I laugh hardest at something that involves the element of surprise.
Growing up I thought I’d be… a musician. But, really, I didn’t look that far ahead.
If I could tweet my teen self I’d say… “Relax: chill… the… fuck… out.”
Growing up, my heroes were… Muhammad Ali, Andy Kaufman and the cartoon character Underdog.
My role models were… I really didn’t have that gene. Not that I didn’t look up to people but I think I was too much in my head for role models. I never looked at someone and said, “I wanna be you.” It was only parts of them –  “I wish I had that voice” or “I wish I looked like that”.
My best quality is… interest. I’m interested when I see and hear about someone.
If I could quit doing one thing it’d be… the goddamned gambling addiction! No, anything I’ve wanted to quit I’ve quit. Okay, maybe I’ve got a reflex that’s a not-relaxed reflex. People see something and go, “Yeah… that’s cool.” I see something and say “Motherfucker!” initially and then a bit later I’m like,  “Okay… that’s cool.” Maybe I’m a bit more wound up than I’d like to be.
Success is… so in your head. You can make any amount of success seem like a fucking drag. So I’m pretty sure that it’s not external. I’ve been having a career for 25 years and I think longevity is success. But I guess if it had ended and I was happy with that, then that could’ve been success, too. It really is in your head.
Failure can… teach you not to fear it. You need to have it in order to have any measure
of success.
When I’m in doubt I… try to remember the last 10,000 times I was in doubt, that it’s part of the process and that it does pass. It’s like when you’re driving and you hit snow: you need to let off the gas, the brakes and the steering wheel, just go with it for a moment. If you try to change course in that time, then whatever has created the doubt is probably going to produce a bad decision.
Music is… tension and release and some form of Morse code that tells you something. It’s communication that’s probably a little deeper than metaphor.
The sweetest sound is… dependent on what it’s set against. Like, some hairy dude that you don’t want to see might actually be the sweetest sight if you were drowning and you needed some big hairy dude to come save you. That’s the way I look at music: even screeching can be a lovely sound if you know how to set up the context where it’s welcome in that way. So the sweetest sound is the key of undrowning major.
If a song could play whenever I arrived somewhere it’d be… the 20th Century Fox theme.
I measure my work by… the value of music is absolute. You’ve either been valid, honest, direct, or you’ve fallen short. It becomes all about feel. If the impulse that I had to compose, write, whatever, has been seen through, then it’s worked and that’s good.
After a hard day I unwind with… old man shit. I pour a little bit of Scotch and I sit down and read a book. Or I work on my photography.
Real style is… a limitation of vision so that things keep coming out similarly. It’s being happily boxed in and not being frustrated about it.
Looking at the stars I think… about the atmosphere. I think stuff like, “It’s hazy – there’s a lot of pollution today.” Or: “Wow – it’s not hazy but fuck, it’s cold, let’s get back inside.”
Love is… absolute acceptance.
My epitaph will read… “Ben Folds was an Eagle Scout”. I wasn’t an Eagle Scout, but I’ll put it on anyway.