Folds-Hornby team does it the old-school way
Contemporary writers often use music as a means to evoke mood or pinpoint an era. No one does this better than Nick Hornby, the British author of novels including “High Fidelity,” “About a Boy” and “A Long Way Down,” books that sprinkle references to popular songs throughout the texts.
So, it’s not really a surprise that he collaborated with Ben Folds on the new album, “Lonely Avenue,” writing lyrics that he sent to the musician, who then created the music.
“I’m such a fan of Nick’s, and that he likes my music has always been a huge compliment,” Folds says in advance of his show tonight at Club Zoo in the Strip District. “His knowledge of popular music — maybe not how it’s made — is a lot broader than mine or most musicians I know. … We were supposed to sit down and talk about music for an interview once, and I didn’t know any of the bands or singers or writers or producers he was talking about. I just sat there and listened.”
The collaboration, which yielded one of the year’s most compelling albums, is akin to the way Elton John used to work with lyricist Bernie Taupin. Folds thinks there is an aspect of the partnership that strips away a lot of other chores required of contemporary musician.
“There’s something very pure and one-cell organism (about it),” Folds says, singing “the musician’s sad” as an example, then laughing. “There can be something very childlike about that. But when you put in lyricist, producer, touring musician, interviews, all those thing, then that part of the musician is pretty well buried within bigger things. What was nice about this, and what I think Elton always enjoyed, was being a little bit closer to that one-celled organism, just the expressive nerve-ending. It’s nice just getting a set of lyrics … It’s nice having something to respond to.”
The Folds-Hornby tandem is a throwback to another era. While contemporary music almost always requires performers to be both composer and lyricists, there’s a history of assigning specific roles to create a song.
“There’s a big emphasis in our era of the songwriter who wrote everything, sang it,” Folds says. “It’s all part of the package post-Beatles, or maybe Buddy Holly or Muddy Waters. But the era where there was a composer, a singer, an arranger and a producer, and they all did different things, that was pretty powerful, too.”
Nor is it necessary to buy into the lyrics 100 percent. Folds has read Hornby novels where he doesn’t agree with the perspective of a character, but still feels an emotional tug.
“Nick’s characters aren’t perfect by any stretch, but they all have a sense of honesty and honor,” Folds says. “And that integrity is between the listener or the reader and that character Nick’s created. No one else gets to say that.”
Folds points to the song “Belinda,” about a musician who has written a song about a woman he doesn’t love anymore. The audience expects, demands the song, even if the singer no longer feels its emotional resonance. He’s forced to perform it because without it he’s “a one-hit wonder with no hits is what he is.”
“I can nuance lines, I can nuance things to make sure that’s obvious,” Folds says.
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Admission: $32, $30 day of show
Where: Club Zoo, Strip District
Details: 800-745-3000 or website