Singer-songwriter Ben Folds responded to the inevitable leak of his forthcoming album Way To Normal in a unique way: he leaked it himself. Only the songs weren’t real — he spent eight hours recording “fake” versions of six tracks during a late-night Dublin, Ireland session in early July, then let friends work their magic on the Web.
“You see so many rock bands in the studio and it’s serious, serious business,” the 42-year-old singer-pianist tells Rolling Stone. “They got the making-of camera up their ass the whole time and they’re on the BlackBerry the other half of the time. I just think that we all need to remember how to have fun.”
The self-leak idea came during an early July flight to Europe with drummer Sam Smith and bassist Jared Reynolds (the trio were traveling as part of a year-long tour that includes 15 dates in the fall; Way To Normal hits stores September 30th). Folds says the group rented studio time with nine joke songs in eight hours as the goal. They finished six at the pace of Sixties studio musicians and had a blast.
“The word ‘fake’ came up when we started doing it and it takes all the responsibility out,” he explains. “You can just be free to write and let it go.” Some of the session went a little too well, though. Folds really likes “Bitch Went Nutz” — a song told from the narrative perspective of an ignorant ex-boyfriend — and is now hosting it on his MySpace page.
“They sound like roughs because they haven’t been worked over and ruined like everything else that gets released these days,” Folds says. “I figured a lot of people would get it and a lot of people wouldn’t, but that’s the way it is with my music in general.”
Folds’ friends leaked the six tracks in late July, bundling them with real singles “Hiroshima,” “You Don’t Know Me” featuring Regina Spektor, and a piano-and-orchestra version of real song “Cologne.” A week went by without a response. “Fan sites would delete it,” he says, explaining Webmasters were afraid of being sued. If people must scrutinize new Folds files for authenticity, Folds says, “I’d be happy with that.
“I may be on crack, but I think if that was half the real record, it’d be good,” he adds. “Everyone I know keeps wanting to put it in and play it. We’re all not honest these days about the way we listen to music. It all has to have context. I think some people hate it because they were told it was a joke. In the end people got free songs and we had something to do on July 11.”
Keep reading for Folds’ track-by-track comparisons of the leaked and real songs from Way To Normal.
Real: ” ‘Brainwashed’ on the record is actually a response to someone I know writing an extremely judgmental and mean song about me. I wrote this song back suggesting we have a dance-off. It’s just silly. It’s actually sillier than the fake one.”
Fake: “We thought it be funny to think, ‘How would a 13-year-old write that song?’ If you’ve been brainwashed then you’ll know all about how it feels to be messed with until your insides fall out. My drummer wrote those lyrics. I sat down, I found a riff, he sang the lyrics over the riff and it was done in about 45 minutes. We’ve got it on video, it’s just us laughing the whole time.”
“Way To Normal”
Real: “The album is called Way To Normal, there is no real song called that.”
Fake: “I thought if we’re writing really bad songs, we got to have a ‘way to normal’ theme song and it has to be slightly, half-assedly political. It’s about saving the starving children and how it’s not the president’s fault. When Sam writes bad lyrics, to me they’re funny and I forgive him. When I write the bad lyrics they’re really bad ’cause they sound real somehow. The line that I had trouble singing without laughing was ‘All these corporations poisoning our air/the children are angry and hungry and they don’t even care.’ Something like, let’s get this thing together, people, before we don’t have a planet at all or something. I’d like to write for South Park.”
Real: “That real version is titled ‘Dr. Yang.’ On the record I was thinking, ‘I’m really not a big fan of the doctor songs like, ‘I went to the doctor with my problems and he couldn’t solve my problem.’ And so I thought, ‘It seems like everyone that’s got a problem goes to about five different doctors now and they’re all like eastern doctors and chiropractors and a psychic.’ We’re pretty self-obsessed, so that’s what the real one’s about.”
Fake: “When I wrote the lyrics it thought it’d be funny if ultimately he was going to the doctor so he would call his girlfriend for him, supposedly because his number’s been blocked and she’s got a restraining order against him. So that’s what that means, Could you call my girlfriend from your phone number and tell her I’m going to kill myself if she doesn’t come back?”
“Free Coffee Town”
Real: “Jared came up with ‘Free Coffee.’ “
Fake: “I changed the title to ‘Free Coffee Town.’ They were really horrible words. He writes these really earnest lyrics from the point of view of someone who’s really short on brain cells. Like, ‘In Jared Reynolds’ free coffee town utopia the dirt is chocolate, beer flows from the ground and every woman you see makes out with you right there in the chocolate dirt.’ It’s just so dumb. I’d be thrilled [if it went to Number One.]”
“Bitch Went Nutz”
Real: “The real ‘Bitch Went Nuts’ is about a girl in college who stabbed my friend’s volleyball. That song is about when men and women break up, the girls all have different versions of why the breakup might’ve happened and the guys, you ask them and they go ‘oh, bitch went nuts.’ ”
Fake: “That’s one of my favorite songs I’ve written, lyrically and everything. This is what the fake lyrics allowed me to do — completely write earnestly from the point of view of a Republican ex-fratboy guy who’s trying to make it at his law firm and is horrified ’cause his girlfriend has left, liberal views and it’s fun. It’s about a girl who’s my hero. She’s like Jane Fonda and goes and does too many drugs at some lawyer’s party and the last line says she shouted ‘Fuck Dick Cheney’ and puked on floor.”
Real: ” ‘The Frowne Song’ on the record is about how fashionable it is to be nouveau riche and walk around town bumming people out. Like if you go to a spa or a high-end fashion store in one of those malls. You see these people kinda barking orders and being rude and frowney. The chorus is meant to be sort of an anthem, kinda like, go around town and frown and bum ’em all out and spend your money and be an asshole and do your yoga and get it all wrong, and bum everyone out.”
Fake: “This is what happens when you don’t think. It’s awesome. That’s Sam lyric. He took the political cue of bad ‘Way To Normal.’ We had 45 minutes left, it was eight or nine in the morning.”
Semi-Real: ” ‘Cologne’ is actually on the album, but when you load it up from Ass Pirate or wherever you download it from you hear a piano orchestra with 10 pianos and that’s what I recorded for the DVD. The budget for the video all got spent on one song, which isn’t the single. It’s not only not the single, it’s not the right version of the song, so everyone’s confused, including me, because I didn’t plan to do it that way.”
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Real: “It isn’t even really a single, we’re just calling it a single and putting it out there for a couple days but it’s not really being serviced real heavily.”
“You Don’t Know Me” (feat. Regina Spektor)
Real: “We knew was coming out as a single. It’s real simple I just called her up and we went up and did it. I had a part I wanted her to sing it, but she added a lot. There’s stuff that just came out of her mouth that wasn’t the plan, which is great. That’s kinda what I wanted. The song chords were so simple there wasn’t much room for that, but she’s one of those talented people. When she works it’s scary good. She’s just all talent.”