Ben Folds is widely regarded as one of the major music influencers of our generation.
He’s created an enormous body of genre-bending music that includes pop albums with Ben Folds Five, multiple solo albums, and numerous collaborative records. His last album was a blend of pop songs and his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra that soared to #1 on both the Billboard classical and classical crossover charts.
For over a decade he’s performed with some of the world’s greatest symphony orchestras, and currently serves as the first ever Artistic Advisor to the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center.
In addition to solo rock and orchestral touring, Folds has recently written his first book – A Dream About Lightning Bugs – described as a collection of interrelated essays and anecdotes about art, life, and music.
He is also no stranger to television, having been featured for five seasons as a judge on NBC's critically-acclaimed a capella show "The Sing Off," continues to appear in cameo roles on cable and network TV shows, and composes for film and TV.
An avid photographer, Folds is a member of the prestigious Sony Artisans of Imagery, completed an assignment in 2017 as a photo editor for National Geographic, and was recently featured in a mini-documentary by the Kennedy Center's Digital Project on his photographic work.
An outspoken champion for arts education and music therapy funding in our nation's public schools, in 2016 Ben held the distinction as the only artist to appear at both national political conventions advocating for arts education, has served for over five years as an active member of the distinguished Artist Committee of Americans For The Arts (AFTA), and has been appointed to the Board of AFTA’s Arts Action Fund. He is also Chairman of the Arts Action Fund’s ArtsVote2020 national initiative to advocate for a greater commitment to the nation’s creative economy through improved public policies for the arts and arts education, and hosts a podcast series of interviews on arts policies with current 2020 presidential candidates.
Hailed by NPR’s Fred Child as “one of the groups that has really helped to shape the future of classical music,” yMusic is a group of six New York City instrumentalists flourishing in the overlap between the pop and classical worlds. Their virtuosic execution and unique configuration (string trio, flute, clarinet, and trumpet) has attracted the attention of high profile collaborators—from Ben Folds to Dirty Projectors to Jose Gonzalez—and more recently inspired an expanding repertoire of original works by some of today’s foremost composers.
In 2014, yMusic released Balance Problems, the much-anticipated follow-up to 2011’s Beautiful Mechanical (Time Out New York’s #1 Classical Record of the Year). The record features stunning new compositions from Nico Muhly, Sufjan Stevens, Andrew Norman, Mark Dancigers, Jeremy Turner, Marcos Balter, and Timo Andres, all realized through the ensemble’s striking performances.
In addition to performing its own repertoire, yMusic serves as a ready-made collaborative unit for bands and songwriters. Their most recent collaboration is with Ben Folds, with whom they co-arranged and recorded “So there,” available September 11, 2015. Recent joint performances include The Royal Opera House at Covent Garden and CBS Saturday Sessions. At the inaugural Eaux Claires Festival, curated by Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner, the group performed with The Tallest Man on Earth, S Carey and The Staves in the afternoon, then joined Bon Iver for three songs in its evening set. Other recent collaborations include a recording with Antony & the Johnsons for the Red Hot Organization, opening for and performing with Blake Mills, and upcoming shows with José González including Los Angeles’ Disney Hall.
Since their inception in 2008, yMusic has striven to bring a classical chamber music aesthetic to venues outside the traditional concert hall. Its members have individually toured and recorded with artists such as Bon Iver, Paul Simon, Bjork, The National, Meredith Monk, Antony & the Johnsons, David Byrne, The New York Philharmonic and Sufjan Stevens.
In search of inspiration for his album, Dotan retreated to the living room. Not just his own living room, the enigmatic singer-songwriter also visited the dens of complete strangers. The result is ‘7 Layers’, a magical album performed by a singular talent.
“I suffer from stage fright,” Dotan admits, “and I decided the best way to overcome this, was to test my new songs in people’s living rooms. Unplugged, on my own, with nothing to hide, in a room full of strangers; I couldn’t think of anything scarier.” He posted a message on Facebook, asking people to invite him over to their homes. The response was overwhelming and he ended up playing over 100 solo gigs; from packed flats and tiny bedsits, to houseboats, farms and even castles. “Remarkable things happened”, he fondly remembers. “Sometimes, during an emotional song, I’d find myself in a room full of crying people. It was an amazing learning experience.”
To find the origins of his unorthodox career move, we have to go back several years. Like so many of us, this shy young man found himself following a professional path others expected of him. “To the outside world it may seemed as if I had a good job, but I never aspired to that; all I ever wanted to do, from my earliest memories, was to just make music.” When he overcame his timidity and swapped the day job for his musical passion, his early achievements were impressive: he worked with international producers, recorded in London and Los Angeles, enjoyed plenty of airplay, and played some major stages. But along with this the pressures grew, and once again Dotan felt he was fulfilling other people’s expectations, rather than his own.
The living room shows remedied all that, and helped him rediscover himself. They inspired Dotan to write honest and personal songs. Finally he felt free to create the album he always wanted to make. Building on the intimate experience of these small gigs, he decided to record his album in the trusted surroundings of his own living room. “We installed microphones, put down mattresses to reduce the noise, and started recording.” What he likes most of all is how the sound developed, despite the modest studio surroundings. A song like ‘Let The River In’ starts humbly but gradually grows to epic proportions. At the same time, the record is rough around the edges. Background noises, including trams outside his window, survived the final mix. “I didn’t want to make a perfect, clinical record”, he explains. “The exterior sounds add to the authenticity of the recordings. It’s an album that lives and breathes.”
Central to the record’s lyrical theme is water. In his brief but already eventful career, Dotan has recorded, performed and composed all over the world; from Amsterdam, London, Los Angeles, Norway and Israel, to the coastal beauty of the English county of Devon. What always struck him in all of these places was his love for the sea. The coming and going of the water calmed him. He even recorded the sounds of the tides and found that they helped him sleep. The many magical qualities of water meander like a stream through his album.
The title track is based on the seven layers of skin that we humans are supposedly protected by. An apt title, as with each song Dotan is peeling away layer after layer of skin, in order to find his true self. “I found the seven layers theory a beautiful description of what I was trying to do with this record: getting closer and closer to my core, really examining myself.”
‘7 Layers’ is a typical singer-songwriter album only in the sense that most of the songs started with just Dotan, his voice, and his guitar. But after recording the basic tracks, he would start building on the foundations, adding backing vocals and percussion. The album has a dynamic, bare-boned and sometimes unnerving sound. Silence contrasts with erupting sound, small acoustic songs with big, expansive compositions, everything anchored by Dotan’s voice and acoustic guitar. He didn’t shy away from experimenting. “I never thought about commercial potential; I just went in, recorded my album and then came the scariest part: waiting for the response.” He didn’t need to worry. Reviews were generous, with people praising the album’s authentic beauty.
And now it’s time to take these songs to new audiences, way beyond those cosy living rooms. Although he sometimes describes himself as a bit of a loner, you can expect Dotan to bring a full, six-piece live band on tour. On stage his songs take on different lives, as festival-sized crowds can already testify. In the hands of his bandmates the compositions he so carefully shaped himself, suddenly acquire a new dynamic. Far from having a fixed set-up, the musicians switch instruments and take turns vocalising. “Rather than having a traditional band with prearranged tasks we just go out and play music together. Again, it’s all about leaving your comfort zone.” Which is exactly what Dotan does best.
"But "Capable of Anything" feels like a 5-Hour Energy drink on tightly wound strings — the arrangement is brilliant, with yMusic performing in deft ways where guitars and bass might fall into mediocrity and cliche." – NPR Music