At 57 years old, Ben Folds has this physical status:
In the late 1980s, Folds (as a bassist) formed the band Majosha with longtime friends Evan Olson, Millard Powers, and Eddie Walker. The group released several locally produced records. They played their first gig at Duke University's Battle of the Bands in 1988, and won. They played at bars and fraternity parties, and self-produced an EP called Party Night: Five Songs About Jesus (1988), which they sold locally. The EP has four songs, none of which are about Jesus. They recorded Shut Up and Listen to Majosha in 1989. It contains, among other tracks, the four songs from Party Night (remixed and/or re-recorded) and "Emaline" and "Video", which Folds would later record with Ben Folds Five. The song "Get That Bug" from Party Night was released as a dance mix in Japan.
After Majosha broke up, Folds played drums in a band called Pots and Pans with Evan Olson on bass and Britt "Snuzz" Uzzell on guitar and vocals, but the newly formed band lasted only about a month. Olson and Uzzell formed Bus Stop with Folds' brother, Chuck Folds, on bass, and Eddie Walker on drums.
Folds eventually got a music publishing deal with Nashville music executive Scott Siman who saw Folds open for musician Marc Silvey, as well as playing bass for Silvey's band Mass Confusion, and moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue it in 1990. He played drums for a short stint in Power Bill, headed by Jody Spence, Millard Powers, and Will Owsley. Power Bill was later renamed The Semantics. Folds did not take a creative role in the band. He attracted interest from major labels. He ended up playing drums there as a session musician.
Folds moved to Montclair, New Jersey, and began to act in theater troupes in New York City. He enjoyed it in 1993 to the point where he did not want to keep pursuing a musical career. He also played weekly gigs at Sin-é, famous for being the café which had helped start Jeff Buckley's career.
Folds moved back to North Carolina and formed Ben Folds Five in 1994, with bassist Robert Sledge, and drummer Darren Jessee in Chapel Hill. As Folds put it, "Jeff Buckley was being signed at that time by Columbia and I was talking to Steve, his A&R guy, and somehow we knew the same people or something." In 1995, Ben Folds Five released their self-titled debut album. The debut was followed by Whatever and Ever Amen in 1997, and the odds-and-ends compilation Naked Baby Photos was released in early 1998. Whatever and Ever Amen included many singles such as "Song for the Dumped", "Battle of Who Could Care Less", and the band's most successful song, "Brick". In 1999, the band released what was to be their final album for over a decade, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, which included the hit "Army".
Folds has described Ben Folds Five as "punk rock for sissies", and his lyrics often contain nuances of melancholy, self-conflict, and humorous sarcasm, often punctuated by profanity.
They gained a strong following in the United Kingdom and Australia early in their career. Like many other 'alternative' American acts, this was largely due to consistent support from national broadcasters in those countries, the BBC in Britain and the ABC's Triple J youth radio network in Australia (and ABC-TV's music video show Rage). The group's first chart breakthrough came in the UK, when "Underground" made the lower reaches of the Top 40, peaking at no. 37. Britain was the band's strongest territory in terms of chart success, with five singles making the national Top 40 there—"Underground", "Battle of Who Could Care Less", "Kate", "Brick" and "Army"—although none managed to crack the UK Top 20. In Australia, "Underground" likewise broke the band locally and while it did not make the ARIA chart, it came in at no. 3 on the 1996 Triple J Hottest 100 poll (broadcast on January 26, 1997). The 1998 single "Brick" became the group's only major chart placing in Australia, reaching no. 13; it also came in at no. 53 in the ARIA Australian Top 100 for that year and earned a Gold Record award while its parent album Whatever and Ever Amen peaked at no. 9 and charted for 32 weeks. Following their tour in support for The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, the band decided to amicably break up, with each of the band members pursuing different projects.
Folds' first solo album after the breakup of the band was Rockin' the Suburbs in 2001, released on the same day as the September 11 attacks. He played nearly all the instruments, most notably guitar which was an instrument seldom used during the Ben Folds Five days. The Luckiest was written for the Amy Heckerling movie Loser, but the scene it was meant for was deleted. Millard Powers, Britt "Snuzz" Uzzell, and Jim Bogios joined him on the promotional tour of the album. "Weird Al" Yankovic directed and appeared in Folds' video for the album's namesake song, "Rockin' the Suburbs". Folds' friend and fellow musician John McCrea, lead singer of the band Cake, contributed vocals to "Fred Jones, Part 2".
A year later, Folds released Ben Folds Live, a collection of live solo recordings. In late 2003, two solo EPs, Speed Graphic and Sunny 16, were self-released on Folds' label Attacked by Plastic. The last EP, Super D, was released in mid-2004.
Songs for Silverman was released in the United States on April 26, 2005. The album returned to the trio format, featuring Jared Reynolds on bass and Lindsay Jamieson on drums. This album includes the track "Late", a tribute to the late singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, and also features backup vocals from "Weird Al" Yankovic on "Time". Folds had played piano for Yankovic's song "Why Does This Always Happen to Me?" on his Poodle Hat album.
On October 24, 2006, Folds released Supersunnyspeedgraphic, the LP, a compilation of songs that were originally released on the EPs Sunny 16, Speed Graphic, and Super D. He announced on his MySpace blog that he planned to work on his next studio album in October 2006, although recording did not actually start until 2007. On that same day, Folds became the first person to webcast a live-by-request concert over MySpace. The concert was complete with pranks staged ahead of time by Folds, including a drunk man falling over the balcony during "Jesusland" and a "suicide attempt" by Folds at the end. The concert is also notable for featuring a "guitorchestra", a group of acoustic guitarists from Nashville who accompanied Folds on some songs, as well as an impromptu ringtone orchestra made up of audience members playing their cellphone's ringtones in unison. A DVD of the performance, "Live at MySpace", was released on February 20, 2007.
During a concert at the National in Richmond, Virginia on April 11, 2008, Folds announced that he had completed his newest album, and played four tracks from it. He played the first track, "Hiroshima", at the show. He also debuted new music at an impromptu gig at the Exit/In on December 19, 2007, and at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival on January 25, 2008. Other new songs include "Errant Dog", "Effington", "Bitch Went Nuts", "Free Coffee", and "Kylie From Connecticut". Folds played The 6th Annual Langerado on March 8, 2008, and was a part of the lineup for the 2008 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.
On July 16, 2008, an anonymous user posted what they claimed was a "leak" of Folds' latest album on a fan site (eventually called Way to Normal (Fake)). The file contained nine tracks along with a PDF of supposed cover art, and was a mix of what appeared to be legitimate songs from Way to Normal, pastiches of dry humor and melodramatic pop interwoven with bright, energetic melodies. Folds explained on Triple J radio a few weeks later that in one overnight session in Dublin he and the band had recorded 'fake' versions of songs from the new album. His sources had then leaked them to the public as a light-hearted joke on his fans.
Ben Folds Five reunited to perform its first concert appearance in nearly 10 years on September 18, 2008, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Memorial Hall. The one-off gig was part of MySpace's "Front to Back" series, in which artists played an entire album live. The band played The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner. All proceeds from ticket sales benefited the charity Operation Smile, of which Folds' uncle, Jim Folds, is on the board of directors for the North Carolina Chapter.
Way to Normal was released on September 30, 2008, in the United States and on September 29, 2008, in the United Kingdom. It became Folds' highest-charting album ever in the US, debuting at no. 11 on the Billboard 200. Fan reception of the album was rather mixed, with several citing the heavy use of dynamic compression as a major downfall of the album. Folds responded, releasing a more "traditional" mix of the album entitled Stems and Seeds, featuring various bonus tracks such as the entire "leaked" album and providing stems that allowed fans to create remixes.
On April 28, 2009, Folds released Ben Folds Presents: University A Cappella!, an album consisting of college student's a cappella arrangements of his music performed by some of the country's best college a cappella groups.
In March 2010, a video Folds created titled "Ode To Merton" went viral on YouTube. In the video, Folds improvises several songs about people that he sees on the social networking site Chatroulette, in the style of "Merton", a YouTube creator who many initially thought was Folds himself.
Folds' final solo album before his reunion with Ben Folds Five, a collaboration with English author Nick Hornby, was entitled Lonely Avenue and was released on September 28, 2010. Announced shortly before the release of Way to Normal, he idea of the collaboration came out of the "fake" leak of the album released in July 2008. "(We will) write and record it in about three days, just like we did in Dublin with the fake record," Folds said. As schedules began to misalign, the plans for the album began to change and take on the form of a more major release. On June 14, 2010, Folds released the official album art via his Twitter account. "From Above", the first single from the album, premiered on Richard Kingsmill's new music show 2010 on Triple J in Australia on July 18, 2010. "From Above" features Australian singer Kate Miller Heidke on backing vocals. Folds also recorded a video song with Nick Hornby and Pomplamoose. As well, English YouTuber Charlie McDonnell was commissioned to create the music video for Folds' song "Saskia Hamilton", which was uploaded on October 1, 2010.
The band reunited once again in 2011 with a subsequent release of the album The Sound of the Life of the Mind, leading to a tour of their new work throughout 2012 and 2013.
In March 2014, Folds premiered a commissioned piano concerto he composed with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. This was followed up in 2015 with So There, an album by Folds and the yMusic Ensemble, released on September 11, 2015. The album includes eight chamber pop songs and the piano concerto performed with the Nashville Symphony.
In September 2018, Ben Folds released the song "Mister Peepers" as a single commissioned by The Washington Post. The song depicts former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's conflict with Republicans during the Russia investigation, with the name coming from President Trump's nickname for Rosenstein.
In June 2020, Ben Folds released the song "2020", describing the difficulty of living during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2021, Folds was reported to be appearing on the podcast Storybound.