Ben Folds was as surprised as anyone else that his songs were popular fodder for the repertoires of college vocal groups -- which gave him the idea for his new album, "Ben Folds Presents: University A Capella!"
The 16-song set features 14 of the groups -- including the Spartones from the University of North Carolina, one of the schools Folds himself attended -- performing intricately arranged renditions of Folds songs such as "Brick," "Magic," "Evaporated," "Fair" and "Army." Folds, who became aware of the phenomenon via YouTube, selected the groups and songs and produced the album, which comes out April 28, and also recorded two of his own a capella tracks, "Boxing" and "Effington."
The songs, Folds tells Billboard.com, "are definitely built for" the a capella group treatment. "My songs have all the things you'd hope they'd have, because they're classical structured. It's pop music, but they're built to be interesting in their voicing and chord changes. They're kind of made for elaborate arrangements, so it makes sense to me they would appeal to these (groups)."
Producing the tracks while flying to and from gigs on his tour to support 2008's "Way to Normal" was "exhausting," Folds says -- but worthwhile.
"I'm a songwriter first," he explains, "and yet I've never really been covered. In a funny way, I still always think of the (recordings), when I do them, like demos. I figure they're going to be covered by somebody important one day. So of course I was thrilled. I got to hear the songs actually take flight. These are the songs doing what they're supposed to do."
Folds has been incorporating some of the a capella groups on his latest batch of live dates as geography allows. But he's also hard at work on his next album, which will be a collaboration with British writer Nick Hornby, who's penning lyrics.
"I write around his lyrics, which I do easily 'cause he's written these great lyrics," says Folds, who has June blocked off for recording. "Right now we're up to 18 (songs) that I think are really good, but I think he'll be inspired when he starts hearing them finished and will start to write some more -- like a creative second wind or something."