Published Sep 27, 2010Nick Hornby has finally made the transition from overly opinionated music geek to actual songwriter. The British novelist (High Fidelity, Juliet, Naked) and sometimes music critic provided the lyrics for piano-pop maestro Ben Folds' latest record, Lonely Avenue. The collaboration was inspired by a fake album Folds recorded and leaked in 2008. Written and recorded in a single day, he was emboldened by the fast pace and quickly emailed Hornby. "I said to Nick, 'We should do this," Folds recalls. "We were writing bad words on purpose. If you wrote good words on purpose I could move quickly and have something really wonderful.'" While not an obvious first choice to play Bernie Taupin to Folds' Elton John, Hornby did contribute lyrics to the William Shatner record Folds produced. "I can't think of any other novelist where I've read everything they've written," he says. "And I'm lucky enough to know him as well and he's really familiar with my work as well."
In stark contrast to the speedy release Folds had envisioned, Lonely Avenue ended up taking 18 months to put together. "The gravity of the lyrics being really good, suddenly I'm not going to move quite as fast," says Folds. Still, once the lyrics were in hand, he was turning tunes around in 24 hours, taking special care not to revise Hornby's words. "It's a different song if I change his words," he says. "There's a reason he wrote them that way and I wouldn't work with someone I didn't have complete trust in." In fact, Folds found working with someone else's words to be a relief. "I'm burdened with the task of finding the words that are supposed to be in the song, which is really difficult for me to do, so I prefer to do this," he says. "But I do have to get back to my own words, because that's part of why I'm here."