Collegiate a cappella groups cover Ben Folds about as often as they do John Mayer. Which is to say, early and often! Guess what? The indie rock God has noticed. And he's pleased. Here, in an interview with the Pitch Perfect blog, he addresses the a cappella-ification of his catalog.
When did you become aware that so many collegiate groups were covering your music?
Years ago on the road, people would hand us CDs with a cappella versions. But I didn’t know that the culture existed or that it had ballooned—until I saw loads and loads of a cappella groups on YouTube. That was about a year ago. My bassist sent me the first link, I think.
Were you flattered? Confused?
First of all I was impressed. And then I was moved. Some are better than others. But some of the interpretations are just so—I don’t know—just so genuine. We’re so inundated with music made by certified platinum-selling rock stars, which is fine, that’s cool too. But there’s really something to be said for smart music. Some of the a cappella interpretations of my songs—on a lot of levels, they're better than the way I did them. They're better than the originals.
I think so. They couldn't come first. Or maybe they could. I don't know. But it highlights something pure about the songs. These groups have to be inventive. They have to figure out a way to arrange these songs and these harmonies. In an age where music education is just going to down the shitter, on college campuses maybe you expect karaoke or a wet-shirt contest night. You don’t expect kids to get together, breakdown the arrangements, rearrange, reinterpret and then practice.
Or record them in professional studios. The Beelzebubs recorded Code Red at Long View Farms—where the Rolling Stones rehearsed for the Tattoo You tour.
As music is eroding popular music, the record industry is in depression, and what’s being spoon-fed isn’t necessarily working. It’s interesting that people have to make music. They don’t just accept that music is dead. They make it themselves.
Why do you think your music works so well a cappella? College groups also do a lot of Guster, too. Any comparisons?
I think the music is built well. My music has worked really well with symphony orchestras. Guster and my music are pretty dorky. It’s also put together. It’s got some integrity. It seems to work a cappella. It might be hard to put a lot of bands to that. Sufjan Stevens’s music would work well.
Is there one a cappella version you remember that really moved you?
There were a few versions of “Brick.” And one of “Still Fighting.” And then there was this one—and it’s not up anymore.—of a little high school kid singing the song “Gone.” This little red head kid with braces on. And he was singing the shit out of it.
Here's Hyannis Sound singing Ben Folds's "Not the Same." Link via Bojangles. Thanks!