Ben Folds says that an "instinct to collaborate and make music with people who aren't necessarily musicians" led to "Lonely Avenue," an teaming with Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and author Nick Hornby that's due out Sept. 28 on Nonesuch.
"There's such a wide world of things you can do with music," Folds tells Billboard.com. "I feel like I can get a football player and have him tell his life story and turn it into music and I think it would be unique. With Nick, my biggest fear was he would send me great lyrics and I wouldn't be able to do anything good with them. I had complete confidence in him."
Folds, in fact, already had songwriting experience with Hornby, who's used music as a basis for novels such as "High Fidelity," "About A Boy" and "Juliet, Naked." He had recruited Hornby to write lyrics for "That's Me Trying," a song that appeared on William Shatner's 2004 album "Has Been," which Folds produced.
Over dinner last year the two men hatched the plan for "Lonely Avenue," wherein Hornby would write sets of lyrics and send them to Folds to put to music. The singer would susbsequently record the songs onto two-inch tape for better vinyl audio quality, and with string arrangements on several tracks by Paul Buckmaster.
Folds says Hornby sent him about 30 sets of lyrics, from which "Lonely Avenue"'s 11 tracks were chosen -- including fictional stories and songs about or inspired by Doc Pomus and Levi Johnston, the father of Sarah Palin's grandson. Folds chose the analog recording process, meanwhile, simply due to digital burnout.
"It's precisely nine years since I started working on ProTools," he notes, "but after the experience of the last record (2008's 'Way to Normal'), I just asked myself, 'Digital recording, is that helping my records?', because it was not fun. If it's not fun and it's making them better, great. But it's not that fun, and I don't think it's improved (the records). So I'm coming back to analog simply because I really gave digital a full go and I appreciate it, but I like rewind time and I like making choices on the fly...and that's what you do when you're working with tape."
Folds plans to integrate the "Lonely Avenue" songs into his concerts but doesn't foresee any kind of performance concept with Hornby, who wrote four short stories to accompany a deluxe edition of "Lonely Avenue." Meanwhile, Folds has a number of other projects he's working on, including another season of judging NBC's "The Sing Off," putting together a coffee table book of photos he and his wife have taken, and a musical theater piece that he isn't speaking specifically about yet.
Folds also says he'll record "a conventional album at some point," though he'd also like to do something with "a big band, Capitol Records-style orchestra," as well as another project with four acoustic guitarists.