Ben Folds is best known as a solo artist and as the front-man/pianist of Ben Folds Five. He is celebrated for a sound that bridges the worlds of jazz and power rock. Ben Folds Five broke onto the scene as a refreshing break from the 90’s angst rock norm. After the band spilt, Ben’s first major solo album was 2001’s Rockin’ the Suburbs. A year later, he released the live album, Ben Folds Live. In 2005 his next LP, Songs for Silverman, was released to critical acclaim. He followed with a series of EP’s, and most recently his second full-length studio album,
Way to Normal.
On April 7th Ben FOLDS PRESENTS: UNIVERSITY A CAPPELLA! Amazed to discover that many college a cappella choirs performed his music as part of their sets, Folds decided to A&R and produce a record gathering the best of these performances. When word got out, the response was tremendous and resulted in 250 videos on YouTube. Ben would come off stage every night and spend hours pouring over entries, ultimately choosing 15 groups to record. Ben, his wife Fleur, and his engineer Joe Costa packed up their equipment, hopped on planes, trains and automobiles to record these 15 groups. Over two months, they would setup camp in dorm lounges, lecture halls and campus television studios. They even recorded in a Synagogue!
No matter where the recording was to take place, the makeshift studio was simple: six area mics. It was a bold aesthetic choice for the project. In recent years, tools like Auto-Tune and overdub have become as prevalent in collegiate a cappella recording as on major label albums. But Folds wanted to capture what these groups actually sounded like in performance. The team allotted four hours for each session. Most groups nailed the recording in two.
Ben Folds recorded two of his own a cappella tracks: instrument-free versions of “Effington” (from his 2008 album Way to Normal) and “Boxing,” which originally appeared on the 1995 self-titled Ben Folds Five album. About recording his own two a cappella songs, Folds says, “It took f**king longer than four hours. I can tell you that much. I have a greater appreciation now for the university groups.”
Summarizing the coast-to-coast endeavor, Folds stresses, “This is not a novelty. I consider this my new record…I’m incredibly proud of this. If this were Ben World, this would be my greatest hits album. I’d rather this be my greatest hits record than someone collecting my masters and slapping on a photo of me leaning against a piano. This is a better way. I’m a songwriter, and these are my songs.”