Ben Folds Has Time Alone

Ben Folds Has Time Alone
When Ben Folds announced the dissolution of his band the Five last year, it seemed the natural end after six years, and three albums that increasingly strained at the limitations of piano, bass and drums. Folds was clearly ready to break out on his own, having already test-driven the solo route with 1999's Fear of Pop. But fans of the piano pounder need not fear that experimental project's Volume 2 — Rockin' The Suburbs is a pure pop confection sweetened to slick studio perfection. And its close resemblance to the Five's last effort, the smooth, produced sounds of The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, demonstrates that Folds has been pulling in this direction for a while.

At the time, the band considered the two months recording Messner monumental — then Folds spent six recording Rockin' The Suburbs, getting deep into his "little perfectionist nerd shit" and playing every instrument, save the occasional violin. "I got into things that I would normally let go with the band. That was the nature of what made the band good — that's enough, let's move on. With this, I was like ‘Nah, we can get that better.' I wanted to make a modern record, something that, to my ear, sounded like it was made this year and not in 1975. You leave the rough edges on it and it's more organic and that's nice too. But I didn't want this to sound like a demo tape."

While in high school, Folds played bass in North Caroline sensations Majsha, and he has contributed drums to Eric Bachmann's Barry Black project, so he has plenty of experience — with everything but the guitar, that is. "Everyone in the studio was rolling their eyes because Folds had never seen a guitar amp before," he jokes. "‘Man, this is cool! Turn it up! I'm rockin! I'm rockin now!' They're like ‘Yeah, whatever, so did the last four bands, you asshole.'"

Six months in the studio were spent examining the intricacies of tuning drum heads and what gauge bass strings to use, but not necessarily writing lyrics — Folds' perfectionist tendencies definitely favour the music side of things. "We had the whole thing tightly recorded, and there were three songs that I wrote the lyrics and recorded the vocal in the last two nights of the process — that was for things that had already been mixed and everything. I'm constantly writing in a notebook, as a backup. When I hit a point that I don't know what the hell I'm doing, I just start tossing stuff into a verse to see if it will get you out of a hole. It's like playing solitaire — turning cards and grabbing what you're given. Writing songs is a weird process and sometimes you've got to try some weird voodoo shit to make it happen. Especially when you have to get the vocals done by tomorrow because the engineer is going to be mixing it and moving on to the next record."