In 1997, The Ben Folds Five was at their peak. Whatever And Ever Amen came out, demonstrating the craftsmanship, depth, versatility, and pop sensibilities of the band with hits like the heartbreaking “Brick” and the piano slamming screw-off anthem “One Angry Dwarf And 200 Solemn Faces.” But we all know what happens after you hit a peak: The band broke up, Folds went solo, took on a series of sonic adventures with a long list of unlikely collaborators, got back together with his bandmates Robert Sledge and Darren Jessee, and then went solo once more. But now, Folds is on the cusp of a new thrill — exploring Cuba and its music with a group of fans.
This week, I had the chance to speak with Folds, a noteworthy photographer as well, about why he wants to learn more about Cuba before trying to capture its majesty, his penchant for keeping himself open to new experiences, never being all the way happy with a song, and why Whatever And Ever Amen feels timeless as it passes its 20th anniversary.
With the Havana Getaway, are you more excited about going and experiencing the culture and playing with new musicians or is it the chance to just see Cuba, the architecture, take pictures, and feel the history of the island?
We’d have fun photographing [Cuba]. But I think that requires a little more history of myself with the place. It’s possible that there may be, you know, some sort of photographic study I find myself interested in once I understand the place. But until you understand a place, you tend to go in and photograph what’s attractive to you as an alien, and those don’t really stand up. After awhile, you realize, ‘Oh man, I took a bunch of pictures of some cool cars. And guess what, every motherf*cker that goes to Cuba takes a hundred pictures of some cool cars.’
It’s not that special unless you understand the place, and understand the people in a place a lot more.
I don’t weigh many things that I do in my life as more than the other, and I don’t know if that’s unusual. I just kind of step into the next day, so like, what’s today? ‘Oh sh*t, we’re going to Cuba. Well all right, lets go!’
I have that kind of view for these sort of trips, I don’t play it down like they’re not important. I just take every day as sort of like… if I go play f*cking Birmingham, Alabama, that tends to just… I’m like, ‘Oh, wow, today I’m in Birmingham!” and the next day is, ‘Oh sh*t, I’m in Cuba!’