NEW YORK (Reuters) - It may seem an unlikely pairing to fans of singer/songwriter Ben Folds and novelist Nick Hornby. But to them, collaborating on a new album due out this Tuesday seemed like a natural thing to do.
After Folds read a flattering essay written by British author Hornby regarding Folds’ tune “Smoke” from his 1997 CD “Whatever and Ever Amen,” the two developed a friendship based on mutual admiration.
“ centered around the lyrics a lot, which he didn’t realize I didn’t write,” Folds told Reuters. “I sent him a thank you note and told him I didn’t write it, so we had a good laugh. That was the beginning of a real natural friendship.”
The pair first tested their collaborative skills on actor William Shatner’s 2004 album “Has Been,” which Folds produced and worked as a co-writer on many of the songs.
“Nick jumped in and wrote one piece,” Folds said. “It was such a successful collaboration, so effortless, I just thought we’d do this one day.”
That “one day” comes this week with the release of “Lonely Avenue,” an 11-song piano pop album. To write the songs, Hornby e-mailed lyrics to Folds, who created melodies and instrument arrangements, as well as singing the final versions.
“With Nick, they’re his stories,” Folds said. “I feel like I have two or three melodies a day that pop out of my head. But I didn’t know what was going to happen before I opened the first e-mail with Nick’s lyrics. I think Nick’s wavering is ultimately pop, and mine is too.”
In Hornby’s novels such as “High Fidelity,” “About a Boy” and “Juliet, Naked” his characters are typically those with neurotic tendencies in a pop culture world, and “Lonely Avenue” continues down that same path.
“Levi Johnston’s Blues,” for one, looks at the overnight fame and media scrutiny that was directed toward the ex-fiance of former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s daughter Bristol. The relationship between the Palins and Johnston, the father of Bristol’s son, has had numerous twists that spilled out celebrity headlines.
The album’s closing track “Belinda” tells the story of an aging rock star who wrote a song about the love of his life, yet let her get away. His punishment ironically finds him singing about her night after night to a crowd that doesn’t understand the significance.
“There’s a confession in there, and that’s what makes his characters honorable,” Folds said. “They’re weak and they know it.”
While the collaboration might seem odd at first, Hornby and Folds have long steered away from their usual comfort zones and explored different forms of pop culture expression.
Hornby wrote the script for 2009 film “An Education,” which earned numerous honors including Oscar nominations for best movie, actress and adapted screenplay for Hornby.
In 2009, Folds released “Ben Folds Presents: University A Cappella!” where he served as a producer to college a cappella groups covering his songs. Earlier this year, he made news for his “Chatroulette” concert, in which he improvised songs about who he and his fans were seeing on a live Chatroulette feed.
Chatroulette is a website pairing people around the world in random online chat sessions.
Even with these oddball projects, Folds’ career hasn’t stalled over the last ten years; his last three studio albums have combined for a total of 739,000 copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
“If I can give myself excuses to make things I wouldn’t normally make, maybe by the time I get hit by that Mack truck, I’ll have a body of work I’d be proud to have left behind,” he said.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte