Q&A: Ben Folds On The Ben Folds Five Reunion And Taking A John Lennon-Like Approach To Life

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The last Ben Folds Five record, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, released 13 years ago. To give some perspective, that same year—1999—the Euro debuted, Bill Clinton sat in the Oval Office, and Monica and Chandler had just fallen in love on Friends.

Our world might be a bit different these days, but the new Ben Folds Five record, The Sound of Life and Mind (out Tuesday), picks up right where the band left off. It's a 10-track blitz of classic Ben Folds-style piano rock: cheeky lyrics, flashy melodies, and a whole lot of honesty. After recording it in January, the band turned to a crowdsourcing campaign for its release in May, quickly raising 200 percent more than their goal. Folds has mentioned briefly in interviews that they ended up with enough material for at least two records, so who knows what's in store for the future. Sound of the City chatted with the 46-year-old back in August over the phone about the pressures of a band reunion, why college kids love his music, and getting older (but not sitting down when he pees).

What has it been like touring around this summer?

We enjoyed it, but it was a little unnatural because it was for audiences of 10, 20, 30 thousand people at festivals, and it was only four shows. I think we rehearsed for two hours before.

That's a lot of pressure.

It was exciting, you know? It was kind of cool. It was probably slightly out of control, I suppose, but it was really awesome if you were there. And if it was recorded, god forbid, probably was a little out of control. But it was exciting. It makes you feel good to see that many people who are interested in even our obscure stuff. You never know if someone is going to remember something, even in two years, so that was pretty awesome.

Those are big crowds, but were you able to tell at all who was showing up? New fans? Old fans?

Those things are hard to know, but I would say it ran the gamut. I've been playing consistently in front of audiences that seem to remain 20 to 25 years old, but that's just because that's rock audiences. But I think it's difficult to rouse older people into action, you know? Because when you're aging, there is so much responsibility. No one really feels like going out and listening to a bunch of loud shit. I noticed more people from back in the day, I suppose. But it was still a little of both. The last few years, I've had kids—I say kids, but my parents were like 20 years old when they had me, so they're able to reproduce, but they're still kind of kids [laughs]—come up that are like, "I was, like, eight years old when 'Brick' was out and my parents were big fans." And it's neat that they're grown up, going to concerts, and having a conversation with me. It's pretty bizarre. There's those people, too. It's a trip.

What do you think it is about your music that's so attractive to 20 to 25-year-olds?

I don't know. I think some of it is that I put a lot of time and thought into what I write. I'm not sure that my peers or contemporaries have the time to think about the things that I've thought about.

What kind of things?

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11 comments
BullhornPR
BullhornPR

@ericsundy great interview, man! Saw them here in Nashville last night and the show was incredible!

KelseaStahler
KelseaStahler

@ericsundy @BenFolds I refuse to read this unless you asked him about the Fraggles.

afd252
afd252

Loving “Do It Anyway”! So glad Ben Folds Five is back! 

 

zusieque
zusieque

Such a revealing article. I admire you, Ben, for baring your soul. Whether or not someone likes your new music better than your solo work, or visa versa, or might love one album and hate another, is more a reflection of their own personality. They have to be open minded. 

 

I come from the: If it's quality music, stirs the soul or impresses me, I'll like it, no matter the unique idiosyncrasies or genre.

 

I've followed your music since the 1980s, even before BFF/BF5. I'd say 99.99999% of your music, solo or in collaboration with others, to me, is extremely great! Of course, my tastes range from the Beatles to Molly Hatchet, from the Escape Club to Elton John, and from my current obsession with Americana to my old favorite: 80s pop. But, I look at the charts and millions of people agree with me, so I don't feel I'm fickle. I liked Adele's demo... look how that turned out!

 

In a nutshell -- it's not you, it's them. These listeners who only like one type of record you produce, but not the other type, probably have tastes which are just as finite and limited in the rest of their lives. Maybe they only drink Pinot Noir and won't consider Magic Hat's Wacko micro brew, or only like Bud Light or Jack and Coke. Maybe they only shop at Dillard's or Macy's, but won't shop at Sears or God forbid, Walmart. They are losing out on some great things in life by being so closed-minded. But, maybe that's a comfort level for them -- maybe they can't handle so much creativity and diversity in their lives. Some people are like that. Some people hate all change.

 

The other day, I drove around with a woman, a really sweet great person, who chain-smokes menthols and refuses to like any music newer than 1989. No way she'd like your music. Her loss. I don't want to sit beside her at your outdoor concert on Sunday, breathing 2nd hand menthols, so there's a silver lining to that. 

 

shelbywcmr
shelbywcmr

13 years later and they are still incredible. "Do it Anyway" is such a good indication on how awesome this album is going to be

ericsundy
ericsundy

@KelseaStahler @BenFolds I talked to him before that existed!

KelseaStahler
KelseaStahler

@ericsundy @BenFolds You should have discovered it early, through like, journalism, okay? I *guess* I'll still read it...

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