Ben Folds Reunion Focuses on the Fans

Reunited band's new album is funded by fans

Ben Folds, Darren Jessee, and Robert Sledge -- collectively, Ben Folds Five -- are reuniting for an all-new album and abridged tour of the U.S. and Europe.

The group, which hasn't recorded an album together in 13 years, reunited in the studio to finish some tracks for Ben Folds' retrospective collection, which lead to collaboration beyond the three tracks that were featured on the "greatest hits" collection.

We talked to front man and band namesake, Ben Folds, about reuniting the band and how they're using the Internet for fund raising and communicating with the group.

Did you think, prior to recording the retrospective, the band would reunite for a full album?
"When we got in the studio, we were going nuts. We were really kicking out a lot of ideas, but they were very much sort of the future and very much not retrospective material. It didn't sit with the other stuff. So that let us know that that was new album material. And that told us we work together well, now, and that we should go ahead and go for it. But even when we were making the record, we hadn't decided if we would tour until it really felt right."

Do you think the feel of this album is close to the feel of the band's previous albums?
"Yeah, in many ways it's a lot like the early stuff, in that, we're taking the same approach. Very much three-piece, rock band -- it's kind of like that. But we're in a different place and we're really not trying to emulate what we did. I think that's always important. When you did your first record you weren't imitating anything, you were doing what you do. Our feeling was that it would be the most honest thing to do to just play and record it, instead of adding a lot of stuff to it."

How do you feel the experience has been with crowd-sourcing some funds to support the record with Pledge Music?
"So far, so good. It's feeling pretty good, but we don't really know what to expect of it. We hit our goal before we woke up in the morning, so we can breathe a sigh of relief. We know we can pay for studio time now when we really want to make a record, but you've still got to manufacture it, promote it, and get it out there, and all that other stuff. We will see, note by note, how difficult it really is. I also think the traditional music business will be involved in all of this. We're still looking at any kind of outlet way to get this stuff out to people the best. The Kickstarter thing is just -- they kickstart it -- they start the process, but they're over in 60 days or 90 days or whatever. You've still got sell the records, you've still got to pay for promotion and stuff. It is a kick in the ass to the traditional system. If the traditional system will adapt to it, and I feel the more enlightened members of the system will, then it'll just be morphing, it won't be as big of a revolution as we think."

How do you think the Internet has changed some of the ways you communicate with fans?
"You learn stuff that you never thought of. Someone says to me, "Ben, you've got half a million Twitter followers, you can really get some stuff out there." Maybe. I mean, you can tweet out to those people, and one thing will reach a lot of people, the next one won't reach anyone. I still have people Tweeting me, "OMG, you guys are making a new album, I had no idea," after I've been talking about it everyday for the last week. That just goes to show that engagement on the Internet is a real art form."

Do you think this is a one-off project and everyone will go their separate ways?
"It could be. Or, we could do it again. We certainly from this record will have starts to another album, maybe album and a half. We really jumped into quite a bit. I haven't put the final touches on the current record, we have to finish that. We'll go out there and tour and see how it feels. We've always been really big on "how does this feel?" and that's why we quit suddenly. It didn't feel good. It was a runaway train. We were tired of it. We phoned it in a couple days after we decided, and that was it."

What projects have you wanted to work on, but maybe haven't gotten a chance to doing?
"I think there's a lot of people who'd like to see a musical. There have been people who've suggested I write a book. Those are two projects that are a little bit scary to me. I feel like, in some ways, I write musicals all the time, it's jut not a long one, and I write books all the time, I just kind of send them out in other forms. I've started down the musical thing quite a few times, once with Michael Stipe, and we didn't do it, and, actually, the last one I worked on with Stephen Ramis and he musically directed Book of Mormon. The fact he and I didn't work together meant he ended up working on something else, which was that. [Laughs] Right now, I'd just like to take a vacation. While I'm disappointed that we won't be doing The Sing Off, I have to say, I don't have any time."

Would you like to see The Sing Off return?
"The concept should, if nothing else. The people who were involved in that show, those of us who've been doing it, did it because it's a real important musical movement. A capella doesn't cost anything at all to open your mouth and sing, people are working together and showcases the talent in a very not diva/ego oriented way. It's just magical and very impressive. We were out there to push that forward and we certainly did. After three seasons of it, people started shutting up about the "dorky" part of it. People were saying, "You're not actually going to take that gig are you?" and I was like, "Actually, yeah, I think it's alright." If it can get back up, then that's awesome."

We've heard in the past about you and some of the other guys pranking the press by giving out conflicting information -- is there anything we talked about today just to keep fans guessing?
"No, not really. We were really overworked back in the day. We did a lot of promoting to people with interviews all day long. Maybe eight hours long, and seven of those hours were people who might have just listened to our first record 10 minutes before they walked in. So, you start to have fun with them after a while. They ask you really stupid questions, you're going to give them a stupid answer, 'cause like, "What's the point?" We did a lot of that, and I don't remember what we said. So now we're just talking to people who care rather than people who don't."

So "Brick" isn't about construction material after all?
"No, no, it is. We just basically took a couple of words from The Commodores song and moved the melody around a bit."

Visit the Ben Folds Five Pledge Music page for more updates on the album.

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