Michael Bluejay's guide to

I made this logo as a gift for the band. It reads the same upside-down as rightside up.
I was proud that when I gave it to Robert at a show in Apr. 1997, he remarked, "That's fucked up!"
Contact  |  BF5 home  |  Michael Bluejay home

Last update: September 26, 2012

This site was selected as the MacroMusic
Noteworthy Site of the day on Feb. 12, 1999.

Ben Folds Five news

Sept. 2012.  The newly-reunited Ben Folds Five releases a new album, The Sound of the Life of the Mind, and launches their first tour in over a decade.  The Magical Armchair has the tour dates.

Stuff on this site

Ben Folds Five FAQ

MP3 of me sitting in with BF5 on "Best Imitation of Myself"

• Order albums and sheet music

Chord charts for some songs

• My lousy MIDI recording of Best Imitation

Similarities between BF5 songs and other songs

• A Who's Who Guide to Ben Folds Five

Interviews with the band from the 1990s

• BF5 Haikus

• Picture of my BF5 tattoo

• The piano market (piano stocks)

• BF5's shows in Austin

• SXSW 1996 concert photos

Other sites

The band's official site

Magical Armchair (well-known fansite)

Wikipedia article about the band

Lyrics at BestLyrics.com

Misheard lyrics

Ragogna interview, Oct. 2012. Excellent interview with Ben; touches on some technical aspects of the music as well as the meaning behind some of the lyrics.

BF5 All Together Now. Japanese fan site, in English & Japanese.  Doesn't seem to have been updated since 2000, but has some cool GIF animations of the band.

The Strangest Thing.  This large fansite died in 2002, but here's the archive.

1997 interview

Hotel Lights.  Darren Jessee's critically-acclaimed other band

ChuckFolds.com.  Ben's brother's site about his own music

Phil's Finest Hour was an Australian band with a BF5-like sound.  Unfortunately they seemed to have disappeared, and I can't find any recordings of them listed anywhere.

Ben Folds Five timeline

1966. Ben born on Sept. 12.

Mid-1980s.  If the song "Army" is truly autobiographical, Ben works at Chik-Fil-A, contemplates joining the army, and plays in an unsuccessful band.

~1987-90.  Ben forms Majosha with Millard Powers.  Band wins a "Battle of the Bands" contest.

1994. Band forms in Chapel Hill, NC, with Folds, Darren Jessee on drums, and Robert Sledge on bass guitar.

1995. Debut eponymous album on Caroline Records. "Underground" is a semi-hit single.

1996. The band gets a large following in Japan, courtesy of a Japanese TV drama in which one of the characters is a big fan, but gets a lot less attention the U.S.

1997. Second album, Whatever and Ever Amen. The single "Brick" launches the band to stardom, and "Song for the Dumped" and "Battle of Who Could Care Less" hits the Top 25.

1998. Ben releases his first solo album, Fear of Pop, though Ben Folds Five is still going strong.

1999. Third album, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner. "Army" charts in the Top 20.

2000.  The band breaks up amicably in October.  The bandmembers' projects post-breakup aren't detailed here; instead see the Wikipedia articles about Ben, Darren, and Robert.)

2005. A remastered and expanded edition of Whatever and Ever Amen is released, including seven new bonus tracks.

2008. The band reunites for a single show in Chapel Hill. (NME)

2011. The band reunites to record three new songs for the compilation album The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective.

2012. The band releases their fourth studio album, The Sound of the Life of the Mind, and begins their first tour in over a decade.

(click to show animation again)
This animation is courtesy of the Japanese site BF5-All Together Now (used by permission).

Ben Folds Five, Four, Three...

by John Allison
Sheffield Electronic Press (UK, defunct)
Nov. 23, 1996

Before their recent show at the Sheffield Leadmill, Ben Folds of the American piano-plonkers, the Ben Folds Five, Ben Folds took the time to talk to Shep's reporter, John Allison.

ShEP: At the Dingwalls gig, the crowd pushed you right to the back of the stage...

Ben: Just a little occupational hazard. The crowd just kinda fell in there a few times...

S: How famous are you now? Do you get recognised in the street.

B: No...no...maybe within 100 feet of the club. I went to the Cardigans show and I got recognised there...

S: Do you get recognised at home?

B: No, well, I come from a college town and everybody's very cool, if they recognise you they won't let on... they look at you, then look away. And there are other bands who are more popular locally than us.

S: One after another, the reviews of your album here were all really positive...

B: I didn't really know what to expect, so I was really pleasantly surprised. I'm perfectly prepared to be smashed for the second album...and the third...

S: You've added a lot of new songs to your live set.

B: We've finished the new album...we were up into the wee small hours working on the artwork.

S: When's it out?

B: February...we're down to two titles...The Little Girl With Teeth and Cigarette. Cigarette's a song on the album, its forty-five seconds long.

S: Not much of a chance of being the first single then?

B: I don't know, radio stations would love it...

(At this point the tour manager, Doug, enters with a folded up piece of paper)

D: It's a message from your drummer

(Folds studies message, drummer Darren Jessee appears at the door)

B: (with traditional one fingered salute) Fuck OFF! (to Doug) Why does he do this?

D: I don't know.

B: All of a sudden he just lashes out.

D: What do you want me to do?

B: What we talked about at the beginning. Now would be a good time to start.

D: Shall I wait until after the interview's done?

B: It doesn't matter, I can do his interview, no-one gives a shit.

D: So what you're saying is I should get rid of him right now...throw him out the building.

B: No...just rough him up a bit.

(Jessee returns)

DJ: I just want some cheese, I only wanted some cheese!

S: Is this the kind of difficult inter-band problems you have to deal with every day?

B: Well read this...

The note read:
I've decided I don't like your attitude, you've made me very sad. I hope YOU realize you are an asshole.
Your ex-whatever Darren

B: You've got to read between the lines, but you can tell he's a little upset. The beginning of the end started right now. No, the drum machine will be fine. It's the beginning of the beginning!

S: Will you become the Ben Folds Four...there's some math involved here...

B: I'll have to think about this. Actually it's an exponential thing.

(We return to the topic of the 45 second single)

B: I was just thinking, seriously, it would be great to write a total hit song that's like, 40 seconds long. Radio programmers would love that because they could just slip in a commercial. MTV could rotate it every ten minutes.

S: Talking of MTV, what was the deal with the video for Underground, you with the ten gallon hat and everybody else looking extremely happy? Was it meant to be a contrast with the miserable theme of the song?

B: We kinda got off track, we had fun with it, but it was like...it was really weird, there's certain things about the video business. But it was an abberation of the industry...twenty people all saying "we want a part of this" and us saying "we can handle it". Then the director split up with his girlfriend. So basically we got half way into it then threw this big fit, we wanted to make the video a certain way. It's good in a way, its like performance art...let's see what happens when we put these people together. The video's not the entertainment, it's like weird that it even exists. The video's not important, its just a three minute commercial.

S: Darren comes out of that video looking like the happiest man in rock...the whole band has a humour value but its not the same as the one-joke thing that bands like the Presidents of the USA do...

B: (The humour) gives you another wall to bounce off, so to speak.

S: Songs like Julianne and Jackson Cannery are presented as funny stories but are in fact quite sad...

B: Well stuff is not real if there's not something funny about it, sometimes...maybe someone falls down and breaks an ankle, and somebody laughs...it shakes it off or breaks the tension. Laughter and humour is part of thinking seriously. It's all that I can do to keep from laughing at funerals. It's not funny...

S: It's the tension off the thing?

B: Yeah...I remember seeing Vincent Price one time, he said there all the horror that he did. And if you look at all the great horror movies, there's always something funny there. But I agree with you about the Presidents of the USA. It's a good laugh, and they know it, but at the end of the day they go home and that's that.

S: Julianne is quite a sad situation, this guy's cracking up and yet the listener can sit there and laugh at him. Did you try to build the songs this way?

B: It's cool that you hear it that way. That's what I like about audiences here, they're hearing what I did. It's not that I don't get that at home but they're crawling out of the woodwork, people understand what you're about. I mean you have your ARRRAMAFUCKINARRR (convincingly mimics lager lout), you've got those everywhere, but it's cool to know that people know why that's as it is, it's meant to be a sad song.

S: You've added an extra dimension to your music that you don't find with, say, Motley Crue. It bears repeated listenings, and there's a sense of place in songs like 'Where's Summer B' and 'Alice Childress', which Anna Goodman helped you with...

B: Yeah...that whole thing is weird because it turns out that Alice Childress was an African woman who was held captive until her death. And people ask me if that's what it's about, and I'm like, nooooo...though its cool that they hear that in there. But Anna helped me with that one, the way that song was written was real weird. I asked all my friends to write a bunch of lyrics, they didn't have to be good, and I would write music to them in five minutes. The lyrics are always a problem, so I thought if someone writes me the lyrics, I don't see why I shouldn't be able to write the music. She gave me these lyrics, and the only thing that I kept was 'try not to think about it/ Alice Childress'...I read these words and it was all kinda poking fun at my style...something about that line just started to do something for me, and I re-wrote all the verses. The idea was that if I had all the lyrics for I could make the album in one day...in the end it took six months!

S: Another poignant song is 'Boxing' (a waltz-time slowie based around a conversation between Muhammed Ali and sports commentator Howard Cosell), and you do that live, which is an unusual choice...

B: That song's an example of something I like to do and occasionally pull off, pushing the boundaries of pop music and just seeing what you can do with it. It's like driving your car at 120 mph, just to see if that works, just what would happen. But I wrote it as a waltz, and instead of it being a love song, which it sounds like its going to be, I built it round that conversation. But it's like 'what if I use that effect...', it's fun to push things. I try to loosen up every once in a while and do something that's just mine.

S: Do you feel you have any specific rivals...

B: Well, there are people that I admire, and that reflects back to me...there are bands that are to me the best at what they do...Rage Against The Machine are the best live band on the face of the earth. They could pretty much tell anybody to do whatever. You see that in small clubs, bands like Ministry. You can keep 300 people pissed off, and they come to be pissed off in the first place. But when your average onlooker comes in and there's five, ten thousand people there, and they can feel the energy coming off them, that's pretty cool. I see them do that and that's amazing. I like Radiohead.

S: Anything you don't particularly like?

B: Bands like Tindersticks, who try to pretend that they're nothing to do with pop music. I'm just not interested in that. If you want to separate yourself from pop music, get some Rice Krispies and shake them about, something like that, wail noises, have shit in tanks, just do it, do something. But when someone decides that they're not going to be in the running, to me that's a little bit of a cop-out. It's just because I'm a competitive kind of person.

S: Should people go down the Michael Stipe solo route, have huge beefcake guys smashing sheets of metal while he smashes a keyboard and howls?

B: Yeah. Why be bound by rules if you've already said you don't want to be bound by rules?

S: Are there any other artists you admire?

B: I think Pulp are really clever...I don't like it all, but I think he's really really onto something...part of a song will be amazing. I like the song where he's creeping into another guy's house and smoking his cigarettes...

S: I Spy?

B: Yeah, that's cool, its totally mean, but why not. People always try to do these jabby things, but he's really pushing.I love Liz Phair. Nirvana, R.E.M, especially.

S: Nirvana had something scary and primal about them...

B: That's an American thing. A lot of English bands don't seem to have their ideas about them yet. I don't know what it is, its really funny, but Rage Against The Machine and Nirvana, its just like...(expressive hand gesture).

S: How has the album gone down in the USA?

B: The album cost $5000 to make, and was expected to sell about 6000, but we did that in the first month and its 100,000 now. On a major label that might still be considered a flop but its different on an indie label.

(Darren Jessee and Doug emerge again)

DJ: Is he going to be here all night.

D: Yeah, he's got to be here man, he...

DJ: Just because he writes all the songs its got to be his name, we're a piano band...

D: Learn to play the piano and then you can be here all night.

B: You need to practise!

And with that Ben Folds retires for his tea.

Ben Folds Five studio albums
1st album
(July 25, 1995)
2nd album
(Mar. 18, 1997)
3rd album
(Apr. 27, 1999)
4th album
(Sep. 18, 2012)

Compilation albums

Naked Baby Photos
(Jan. 13, 1998)
live tracks, alternate versions, obscure covers
The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective
(Oct. 11, 2011)

Sheet Music

Keyboard Signature Licks

Sheet Music

Order for $23.

Expertly written note-for-note sheet music for selected songs from all four BF5 albums, plus commentary, interviews with Ben about the songs, and a practice CD!  Read my review.

Whatever & Ever Amen

Sheet Music

Order for $20

The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner

Sheet Music

Order for $20.

Naked Baby Photos. This is a collection of live & alternate versions and some covers. This is a good source for songs from the first album since the sheet music for the debut album is long out of print. Order for $20.