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Words by Nick Hornby, music by Ben Folds

April 23, 2010 | 10:40 am


Writer Nick Hornby and musician Ben Folds have teamed up on a new album, scheduled to be released later this year. The division of labor between music and lyrics isn't uncommon in rock and pop -- the words to many of Elton John's biggest hits were written by Bernie Taupin -- but rarely do novelists get in on the action. Hornby, of course, is not just any novelist; he's known for his music fandom, and rock music plays a big role in his books "High Fidelity" and "Juliet, Naked."

The two came up with the idea over dinner (rumors of the album date back to 2008), but that was the only time they were in the same room while working on the project. Hornby sent Folds lyrics, and then the musician set to work. Sometimes there was back-and-forth, over the phone or via e-mail. This week, Folds talked to Paste magazine about composing the music:

If the lyric was loud enough by itself, then it just didn’t need help. Then, I had to be real selfless about it and go, “Well, I could look at this as Ben Folds and Nick Hornby, and I could make sure that my music is going to get some attention,” or I could just go, “This really needs to tell a story.” And, if someone wants to say, “God, that song made me cry, but man the music was stupid. It was so simple, it was just boring,” great. That’s awesome. If they cried, or they laughed or they were moved by the lyrics, even if it’s thankless sometimes, I did what I thought it took. Other times, it required a lot of music, so sometimes I found myself going back to music school and doing things that I haven’t felt the need to do in a long time, which were very intense musically, contrapuntally ... [laughs]. So, I kind of ran the gamut between being as simple as I’ve ever been, and sometimes having to go [Russian composer Dmitri] Shostakovich on some of them.

"It was my mission to make sure his words spoke," Folds said in the interview, "and not always the way he wanted them to speak." Which should make for an interesting collaboration.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Left photo: Ben Folds performs in Japan in 2008. Credit: Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images

Right photo: Nick Hornby at a Beverly Hills Oscar party in March. Credit: Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images