Ben Folds Five Biography

Formed in North Carolina, USA, Ben Folds Five took their name from leader Ben Folds (Benjamin Scott Folds, 12 September 1966, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA; piano/vocals). However, the band turned out to be a trio rather than the quintet that the name implied, the line-up completed by Robert Sledge (b. 9 March 1968; bass) and Darren Jessee (b. 8 April 1971; drums). A rock band without a lead guitarist is certainly something unique, but Ben Folds Five fitted the bill so well that most listeners failed to notice the absence of the guitar. Immediately it was apparent that Folds intended to create something a little different from the usual perception of the pianist/singer-songwriter: ‘The one thing I knew when I started out was that I didn’t want to be the singer-songwriter at the piano. Everybody wants you to be like Billy Joel or Elton John or somebody, and that just doesn’t interest me.’ Folds formed the trio after originally working as a percussionist on Nashville sessions for Christian pop artists. He also spent time playing bass in a Broadway production of Buddy. After returning to North Carolina and recruiting local musicians Jessee and Sledge, the Ben Folds Five made their debut with a fine self-titled album for Caroline Records in 1995. This displayed the band’s offbeat, ever-inventive style, and captured the imagination of critics throughout Europe and the USA.

The major label follow-up Whatever And Ever Amen used wry humour to temper its sad tales of broken relationships. Tracks such as ‘Brick’ and ‘Song For The Dumped’, meanwhile, presented contrasting viewpoints from both sides of the gender war. The independent release Naked Baby Photos collected unreleased and live material. In 1998, Folds collaborated with the band’s producer, Caleb Southern, and John Marc Painter on the side project, Fear Of Pop. Ben Folds Five returned in 1999 with The Unauthorized Biography Of Reinhold Messner, another challenging but rewarding collection. This was an album that, aside from the typically catchy single ‘Army’, demanded concentration and was less successful than its two predecessors. The trio announced the end of the Ben Folds Five at the end of the following year, with Folds pursuing an acclaimed solo career.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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