Ben Folds' Music Defies Labels (Especially the Kind You Have to Sign To)

Categories: interview
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Autumn De Wilde
Nearly 13 years after their break-up, Ben Folds Five will be returning to Orange County tonight to play the House of Blues. The piano driven-rock of the band's namesake made them a fixture on alt rock radio at the end of the '90s, and though he's success as a solo act, the time was right for Folds and company to reform. After last year's release of The Sound of the Life of the Mind, the band has hit the road, playing shows across the globe. We caught up with Folds to hear all about the reunion and how the biz is different from when the band last made an album.

OC Weekly (Daniel Kohn): Was the impetus for the full-fledged reunion releasing the three-disc anthology after the seeds were planted after the 2008 reunion show?

Ben Folds: I think it kind of went like that. As I back off of explaining why, it makes sense more in terms of time. It sort of just evolved. Over the years I've done things that I've wanted and needed to do artistically that required me being a free agent. After all these years now, we feel like we're going into the studio with not a hell of a lot to prove.

Was the material for the comeback album culled from earlier, reworked, snippets or parts that the band had previously worked on but never turned into anything or was it all new songs?

Those were all new.

Without any major label pressure or timetable, did you take more time than you would have before to get the album done on your own terms?

Once the label is not there, the pressure becomes your own financial pressures since you become the label. You ask yourself "Can we finish this fucking record before we're out of money?" (laughs) It wasn't that different really. Technology has changed, it was still analog when I made my last record and now it's digital, all of which happened after the band split. There was that difference but we didn't really change our process, we just pretended like we had more tape.

What was it like making this album with both the time difference between the last one as a group and the incredible changes the industry has gone through during that time as well? Did that change end up helping or hindering the band since you had to be on top of external, non-musical elements that you didn't have to aware of before?

It's not that industry came around to the way we were thinking then, we felt restrained by the system and at the same time, we came long at the time when the system was wealthy. We had the kind of money put into us and the development that doesn't happen anymore. We could definitely feel that while we were making the new record, since we're doing this all grassroots now. We recognize the fact that we've sold millions of records and it was done with millions and millions of dollars of promotion. You can do a grassroots campaigns on Pledge or Kickstarter a lot easier if your CDs are littering garages, trash bins all over the world! You see the name so many times that it's helpful and it ends up needing a lot less money to be put into the promotion.

Did the pressure of a major label contribute to the band's demise?

It was one of many reasons, especially when there are too many cooks in the kitchen. When you put money into something, there's a lot more pressure. It definitely made things not fun, but it was also propelling the career we were having. We had the opportunities we'd never dream of now. If we were going to have that kind of push on a song off this new album, it may work out a little differently. It's just a really different world. I think there's something healthy about what's going on in the music business, and it's also very traumatic to people who are losing jobs and shit. It's not pretty, but there's also something good about it. Changes bring out cool stuff even if it doesn't seem like it at the time.

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