An Interview With Ben Folds

by Molly Gilmore for OLY ARTS

Ben Folds—he of the clever and oh-so-revealing lyrics and piano skill that’s earned the respect of Billy Joel and Elton John—will perform Oct. 26 in Olympia.

And he’ll take requests.

“People have been throwing paper airplanes with requests on them for the second half,” Nashville, Tennessee’s Folds said in recent a phone interview. “That’s a wild ride. I just have to pick up what’s on the floor and play that.”

Folds, known for such hits as 1997’s “Brick” (with the Ben Folds Five) and 2008’s “You Don’t Know Me,” has had a career that is nothing if not varied. His last album, 2015’s So There, includes a piano concerto, and he’s thinking about working on a Broadway musical.

Do people ever request songs he didn’t write?

Yes. Someone requested John Lennon’s “Imagine,” and he did his best, though he said he’s never really tried to learn other people’s songs.

“I don’t want to encourage it,” he added. “I don’t want it to feel like a piano bar.”

Of his own songs, he estimates he has 150 or so at his fingertips. If that’s not enough, he creates a new one at each show. Both the melody and the lyrics of that song are different every time, but it does have a consistent title, which can be discreetly paraphrased as “Rock This (Female Dog).”

“That’s a weird tradition,” he said, explaining it began with a man who yelled the unedited phrase at a show in Chicago.

“I said, ‘Well, I don’t know that one,’ and I just made up one,” he said. These days, audience members routinely yell that phrase to request an original. Perhaps on the 26th, someone will write it on a paper airplane.

“It’s silly,” he said. “It keeps me on my toes.”

What: Ben Folds and a Piano

Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts,
512 Washington St. SE, Olympia

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 26

How much: $16-$259

Get tickets: 360-753-8586 | Washington Center