Hive Five: Ben Folds Plays Well With Others

Ben Folds at the Fuji Rock Festival, Japan, July 2008. Photo: Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images

Quirky pop piano-pounder Ben Folds is clearly the kind of guy who got “plays well with others” comments on his grammar-school report cards. The new Folds collection, The Best Imitation of Myself, is his first-ever comprehensive anthology, documenting a decade-and-a-half of mixing the snarky with the sweet; besides solo hits and Ben Folds Five cuts, it includes collaborations with the disparate likes of Regina Spektor (“You Don’t Know Me”), Nick Hornby (“From Above”), and even the West Australian Symphony Orchestra (“Smoke”). But Folds has been freely tossing his talent into other artists’ territory from the beginning — here’s a Hive starter guide to Folds’ most memorable partnerships.

1. Majosha: Shut Up and Listen To Majosha (1989)

Years before the Ben Folds Five’s debut, Folds was slugging it out with his partner-in-power-pop, Millard Powers, in this short-lived trio that made the most of both men’s songwriting prowess. Powers went on to form cult faves the Semantics, and eventually became the bassist for Counting Crows.

2. The Bens: The Bens EP (2003)

What else would you call a band consisting of three guys named Ben? The Holy Trinity of rock & roll Bens found Folds joining forces with former teen grunge prodigy Ben Kweller and Australian indie-pop darling Ben Lee for a lone four-track EP of hook-heavy alt-pop pearls.

3. William Shatner: Has Been (2004)

When William Shatner set out to record the long-awaited follow-up to his 1968 kitsch-classic album, The Transformed Man, he knew exactly who to call. Folds’ wry sense of humor was a perfect fit for Shatner’s tongue-in-cheek, uber-dramatic delivery, with the multitalented Folds producing, co-writing, and playing (and probably proposing the cover of Pulp’s “Common People” that helped put Shatner’s declamatory tones on the pop charts).

4. Ben Folds/Nick Hornby: Lonely Avenue (2010)

As the guy who wrote the ultimate music-geek novel (High Fidelity), Nick Hornby was bound to cross over to the other side of the fence sometime. He was presumably just waiting for the right partner to put the proper amount of musical muscle to his lyrics. For a start, it’s difficult to imagine any other pair besides Hornby and Folds crafting an ultra-catchy pop ode to contemporary poet “Saskia Hamilton.”

5. 8in8: Nighty Night (2011)

It seems Folds just can’t keep from starting up unlikely supergroups. 8in8 is a foursome featuring British fantasy author/graphic novelist Neil Gaiman, erstwhile Dresden Dolls frontwoman Amanda Palmer and OK Go singer Damian Kulash alongside Folds. Their six-song, digital-only release is a high-concept/low-budget affair, written and recorded in a single session that was filmed for the internet, with the resulting sextet of tracks quickly thrown up online for immediate – and inexpensive – consumption.

RELATED POSTS