After all these years, singer-songwriter pianist Ben Folds is still putting it all out there.
Folds, who’ll perform Wednesday in Olympia, has been writing and singing deeply personal lyrics for decades. Though he thinks of himself primarily as a songwriter, Folds also plays a mean piano. None other than Elton John introduced him at the 2014 Bonnaroo music festival as “a fantastic piano player.”
One of Fold’s biggest hits, 1997’s “Brick,” recorded by the Ben Folds Five, is about a high school girlfriend’s abortion. And on his most recent album, 2015’s “So There,” he confesses to throwing a “Phone in a Pool.”
The incident happened in Los Angeles in 2010. Folds was working as a judge on NBC’s a capella competition “The Sing-Off.”
“I was frustrated with people leaving angry messages because I wasn’t getting back in touch with them,” he said in a phone interview this month. “I was filming all day.”
He didn’t think anyone was around when he threw the phone, but singer-songwriter Kesha was there. “She jumped in the pool with all her clothes on and got it out,” he said. “I thought it was funny.”
Being impulsive doesn’t always work out, he admitted. “Phone in a Pool” includes the lyrics, “Seems what’s been good for the music hasn’t always been so good for the life.”
“I’ve had a very kamikaze way of dealing with everything,” he said. “It’s extraordinarily hit and miss. In art, the misses are of no consequence. You’re supposed to fail in your art along the way. But in real life, a colossal miss while dressed as a kamikaze is not an enjoyable thing to live with.”
While reality often inspires his music, Folds doesn’t feel compelled to stick to the facts. (One tiny example: “Phone in a Pool” sets the scene in New Orleans.)
“You have poetic creative license to make a spaceship land in the middle of the song if you want to, which I’ve never done, but I’ve done the equivalent,” he said.
He’s applying some of his kamikaze approach to this tour. In the first half, he decides what to play. In the second half, the audience gets its turn, sending paper airplanes flying onto the stage.
“The airplanes are launched at the same time, and you’ll see the stage filled with planes,” Folds said. “I pick one up. I play it. I pick another one up. I play it.
“I never know what the set’s going to be.”
That, he said, is the most honest way to approach a show — and it gives fans a chance to hear their favorites from among more than 150 songs Folds has at his fingertips.
It seems likely that at least one plane will invite Folds to play an ever-changing song called “Rock This Witch,” but with a slight change to the last word.
The name began with a fan who yelled that out. “He wanted it to be more rock and roll, I guess,” Folds said. Instead, he pretended it was a request for a song by that name, and he made one up.
It’s since become a tradition.
“I’ve done it thousands of times now, and it’s always a different melody,” he said.
The song might include lyrics about Olympia, or Folds’ day, or whatever else is on his mind. And sometimes the improvisations later become songs. Again, “Phone in a Pool” is an example.
“It’s a good exercise in ‘If I turned on the faucet, what would be the music that would come through?’ ” Folds said. “When you write, it’s a little like that.”
Ben Folds and a Piano
What: On a solo tour, the singer-songwriter-pianist will be taking requests via paper airplane.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia.
Tickets: $32-$52; $29-$47 for seniors, students and military; $16-$26 for youths; $159 and $259 for special packages including premium seating, attendance at a sound check and other perks.
Information: 360-753-8586, washingtoncenter.org.