After twelve years, Ben Folds Five is making another record….or, at least that’s what my mom told me.
It was weird. Only hours earlier, my bass-playing friend Jake Thro and I were having our age-old discussion: why doesn’t Ben Folds Five get back together? We’ve re-imagined this music-nerd fantasy almost every time we hang out, so I guess it wasn’t that much of a coincidence that I got the news mere hours later. With a phone call to mom to let her know we were driving semi-close for the Northern Virginia show, I got the coolest news I’ve heard in a while (my mom is my finger on the pulse of music news and good bands…..).
Jake and I usually hit on the same points: “There was just this….magic with that band.” “The harmonies are just so good….the production is so raw….” “Rheinhold Messner was the album that really got me….and it’s still my favorite.” “Really? I love that album, but Whatever And Ever Amen is just so….perfect…..” “The first one though…Jackson Cannery….Underground…” “Jesus, I know. How did they write that stuff? I just can’t write like that.” “Ben Folds has gotten so diatonic….he used to be so chromatic.” “Look at the chords in Battle Of Who Could Care Less..” “WHAT? It’s like the whole-tone scale! That’s so insane….but it sounds so natural.” “Eddie Walker is the best…..there’s this rawness that Robert Sledge brings to the bass….” “Darren Jesse…he was the perfect drummer for that band….those fills….”
I remember the first time I heard Ben Folds Five. I was a kid. I was a weird kid. Since five or six, I was obsessed with jazz and blues on the piano. All I did was play the piano. All I wanted to hear was jazz. It annoyed me that people even listened to anything else. But then when I was 13 or 14, this red-haired rich girl my brother knew burned me a CD (they had one of the first CD burners ever made…we couldn’t believe it…it took hours…weird right?) of Ben Folds Five. My brother was into all these great “alternative” bands, but Ben Folds was my gateway drug. The CD was a mix of their first and second album, mostly in order. I remember putting headphones on and listening to the whole thing. I can see the couch I was on, the window, the shadows moving across the carpet as I listened to the whole CD once, and then twice, and then again. I couldn’t believe how good this music was. I can remember every detail, the smell, the texture of the living room table, the moment that probably changed my life’s path forever.
I went downstairs and for the first time, I tried to sing while playing piano. My mom came downstairs and said, “what are you doing?” It was embarrassing. I don’t think I tried it again for a few months.
Since then, I’ve written almost two thousand songs, by my rough count. I’ve opened for Ben Folds to a few thousand people, talked to him in all his kindness and intelligence a couple times (no help to my career, thanks), and I’ve also opened for Robert Sledge’s brief side project, International Orange. Snuzz (Britt Harper Uzzell – check out his incredible music here….and you can tell who inspired Mr. Folds, can’t you?) was playing guitar and singing. After the show, he said that he saw great potential in me, and since he was Ben Folds’ teacher and mentor, that meant a lot to me. He said he saw the same thing in me that he saw in Ben Folds. I swear I’m not making this up. It was like hearing Yoda telling me the Force is strong with me, in some kind of lame piano-rock Star Wars.
Here it is: my ultimate Ben Folds Five playlist: Cigarette / Underground / Redneck Past / Jackson Cannery / Eddie Walker / The Last Polka / Narcolepsy / Air / Selfless, Cold And Composed / Fair /Lullaby /
And I know this doesn’t count, but this is one of my favorite songs of all time. In Love. Is it a song? What is it? It’s incredible.