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Ben Folds Five Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) v3.5H (03/02/98)

Table of Contents

0. Legal Disclaimer

1. General
     1.1 Who is in the band
     1.2 Origin of name
     1.3 Side-projects and other involvement
     1.4 Recording and touring equipment

2. Albums/songs
     2.1 Short discography
     2.2 D-Tox Jackson Cannery 7"
     2.3 Eponymous
     2.4 Alice Childress
     2.5 Boxing
     2.6 Whatever and Ever Amen
     2.7 WAEA song meanings
     2.8 Brick
     2.9 Weird background noises
     2.10 Kate
     2.11 Naked Baby Photos
     2.12 Covers and unreleased songs

3. Live performances
     3.1 What to expect
     3.2 Tour-mates
     3.3 Recording and photographs
     3.4 What does Hannah wear to bed?

4. Merchandise/media
     4.1 Songbooks and sheet music
     4.2 T-shirts
     4.3 Videos and TV appearances
     4.4 Bootlegs and trading

5. Internet resources
     5.1 Official contacts
     5.2 The Magical Armchair
     5.3 Newsgroups
     5.4 Web sites and other information

6. Conclusion
     6.1 Submissions
     6.2 Newest version
     6.3 Acknowledgements
     6.4 Disclaimer

 

   

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0. -Legal Disclaimer-

The Ben Folds Five FAQ is copyright (c) 1996-98 by Scott A. Schneider.  It is freely distributable online through Usenet, e-mail, and FTP.  It may not be used for commercial purposes, nor may any charge be imposed for it's distribution.  Mass distribution or otherwise non-personal use prohibited without consent.  If you wish to use part of this in any article or publication, please CONTACT me first, or at least include my name as a reference for where you found the information - it does take work to compile and maintain this information, and I'd like to be credited as such if you decide to use it.  Links to the main URL are welcome, and I'd prefer that copies not be kept on other sites, so that the most current version is always the one available.  Overall, though, give credit where credit is due.

1. -General-

1.1 Who is in the band

Ben Folds: piano, lead vocals
Robert Sledge: bass, backing vocals
Darren Jessee: drums, backing vocals

1.2 Origin of name

According to Ben, Ben Folds Five received it's name (despite the fact that the band only consists of 3 members) because it "sounds better than Ben Folds Three."

1.3 Side-projects and other involvement

Ben: Began in a band called Majosha, which later evolved into Pots & Pans. Gillmer Derge sums up the whole Majosha/P&P controversy:

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Around early 1988 Majosha formed and played their first gig at Duke University's Battle of the Bands. They won.  At that time, Majosha was Ben on bass, Millard Powers on guitar, some guy named Dave on drums and a fourth guy (Rob?) who was never heard from again.  For the purposes of historical completeness, it should be mentioned that at that time, Majosha was spelled with an accent over the o.  At some point that was dropped, mostly because people were too stupid to
realize that the accent didn't mean it was Muh-joe'-sha (it's Muh-jah'-sha).

They played bars and frat parties for a while and eventually put out a self-produced EP sold at a few local stores called "Party Night: Five Songs About Jesus."   There were 4 songs, and none were about Jesus.  I think the 4 songs were: Get That Bug (Outta Your System), Kalamazoo,
Where's Bohemia and Cool Whip. I'm not so sure about Where's Bohemia.  Gradually their popularity grew and they played larger and farther flung gigs.  Some time in 1989, they recorded "Shut Up and Listen to Majosha."  That's about the time Dave got the boot and was replaced with Chris (Hound).  They also borrowed Evan Olsen from Chuck Folds' band, the DT's
at about the same time.  Various tracks on Shut Up feature Dave, Chris or Ben on drums and/or Evan, Ben or Millard doing vocals.  Shut Up contains, among others, the 4 songs from Party Night (remixed and/or re-recorded), Emaline and Video.

At about the same time they did some sort of dance mix of Get That Bug that was released somehow in Japan.  As a promotional CD?  At some point, Hound got sacked as well, and was replaced by Eddie Walker, who I think was also in the DT's with Chuck and Evan (all 3 of whom eventually became Bus Stop with Snuzz).  In early 1990 Majosha broke up, and Ben formed Pots and Pans with Snuzz and some other guy.  Ben played drums.  They disappeared soon after.

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Ben's name also appears on the band Barry Black's debut album, along with Darren's, playing either piano or drums on 9 out of 14 of the tracks.  Barry Black's music is a serene, jazzy-style; mostly instrumental.  Ben also plays drums on a few tracks on Fleming and John's debut album, "Delusions of Grandeur.".  He makes a cameo appearance in the video for "I'm not afraid" as a drummer atop a huge cake.   His name also appears in various places on CDs by his brother Chuck's band, Bus Stop.  As a side project, Ben has reportedly been working with producer Caleb Southern (who produced their first two albums) on an instrumental album under the name Fear of Pop.

Robert: Used to be in a band called Toxic Popsicle.  Their album is still available from D-Tox Records.  Robert is also featured on the Gladhand's most recent album, "La Di Da," providing bass and backing vocals for a few tracks.

Darren: Besides the aforementioned Barry Black appearance, Darren was in a band called In Limbo, based out of Greenville, NC.  It was a decidedly pop band, in which Darren came on in 1989 to replace another drummer who "didn't work out".  They released a CD entitled "What?".

1.4 Recording and touring equipment

Information courteousy of Musician Magazine:

Ben plays a Baldwin 5'5" baby grand piano through vintage Helpinstill and Barcus-Berry pickups into a Marshall stack.   He does his own mix onstage with a Mackie CR1202.  Robert played a Hamer Explorer bass on the first (eponymous) album, and a new Fender Jazz bass with an old sixties bridge for Whatever and Ever Amen.  At home, he has an Epiphone Les Paul bass, a Maison P-Bass copy that he bought in Japan, and an 1965 Carl Hoffner upright bass.   He uses Emo strings (medium light gauge) and Dunlop picks.  The bass is pumped through an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff distortion pedal, through a Trace Elliot amp into two stacks of four 12s with an additional 15 inside.  Darren plays a minimalist set of 1967 Ludwig drums; 20" bass drum, floor tom, mounted tom, snare.  For heads he uses coated Remo Ambassadors, and has assorted Zildjians for cymbals.  He uses Vic Firth 5A sticks with wood tips, and uses "whatever's around the house" for brushes... wire, not plastic.

Whatever and Ever Amen was recorded through two Mackie 1604 consoles onto two TASCAM DA-88s with an RC-848 remote locator.   For mic preamps, they used a Neve 1073 and 1272, and a Telefunken V72 and V76.   Vocals were recorded with a Neumann U48 for Ben, a Sony C-48 for Darren, and an AT 4033 for Robert.  Ben's Steinway was miked with a Neuman U48, an AT 4033, and a Shure SM7.  Drum mics for Darren included a Shure SM7 and five SM57s, three Sony C-48s, and two AKG 460s.  Robert's accoustic bass was recorded through a C-ducer pickup and an AKG 460, and his Fender through an AM-7, an SM57, and a Stewart active DI.  For vocals, they carry three Shure SM58s and plug them into the club PA system.

 

2. -Albums/songs-

2.1 Short discography

Jackson Cannery 7" (D-Tox, 1994)
Eponymous (Caroline, 1995) - singles for Underground, Where's Summer B?
Whatever and Ever Amen (Sony/550, 1997) - singles for Battle of Who Could Care Less, Kate, One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces, Brick
Naked Baby Photos (Caroline, 1998)

Several soundtracks and compilation CDs also have unique tracks.  For more information, check out the complete discography at:

http://bff.home.ml.org/bff_disco.html

2.2 D-Tox Jackson Cannery 7"

Track listing:

1. Jackson Cannery
2. Eddie Walker, This is Your Life

Recorded by Caleb Southern on March 25th, 1994.   Jackson Cannery is a different recording than on the eponymous album, and Eddie Walker is a different recording than found on Naked Baby Photos.

As of April 1996, this limited edition one-time pressing is out of stock.  D-Tox has no plans for a re-pressing.

2.3 Eponymous

Track listing:

1. Jackson Cannery
2. Philosophy
3. Julianne
4. Where's Summer B?
5. Alice Childress
6. Underground
7. Sports & Wine
8. Uncle Walter
9. Best Imitation of Myself
10. Video
11. The Last Polka
12. Boxing

Released on Caroline Records and produced by Caleb Southern.

The Japanese version of the album contains the bonus track, "Tom and Mary," which can also be found on the UK "Where's Summer B?" single.

The tape copy varies from the CD copy in that on track 8 (Uncle Walter), the line "well fuck you!" is omitted from the CD version.

The talking/band comments at the beginning/end of tracks are due to the nature of the recording.  The recording of the tracks were done in a "live-show" style, sans-audience.  Fewer re-takes pushed a faster release date for the album.

2.4 Alice Childress

Despite rumors, the song "Alice Childress" is not referring to the author/playwright Alice Childress, or the songwriter Alex Chilton.   The name was evoked from a mental patient in a hospital where Anna Goodman (the song's co-writer) worked.  Alice supposedly threw mop water on Anna.

2.5 Boxing

Boxing is, indeed, written about a made-up conversation between Howard Cosell and Muhammad Ali.

2.6 Whatever and Ever Amen

Track listing:

1. One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces
2. Fair
3. Brick
4. Song for the Dumped
5. Selfless, Cold and Composed
6. Kate
7. Smoke
8. Cigarette
9. Steven's Last Night in Town
10. Battle of Who Could Care Less
11. Missing the War
12. Evaporated

Released on Sony/Epic 550 Records and produced by Caleb Southern.

The Japanese version of the album contains the bonus track, "Song for the Dumped", as sung by Ben in Japanese.

The talking/band comments at the beginning/end of tracks are there for the same reason as on the first (eponymous) album.  However, these comments have mysteriously vanished from all newer pressings of the CD.

2.7 WAEA song meanings

The following are explanations of the songs by Ben himself, taken from the Song/550 web site:

One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces: "This is basically a portrait of a guy that has to succeed so he can tell off everyone who used to pick on him.  It's a revenge anthem."

Fair: "It's a 'dig-me-and-all-my-pain' type of song.  Definitely for the self-destructive romantic person.  It came from a newspaper article concerning a domestic dispute which wound up in a death."

Brick: "It's really self-explanatory."

Song for the Dumped: "Darren, our drummer, just got dumped and scratched out some angry lyrics and gave them to me.  It was a joke, but it was coming from a real place.  I put the music to it in minutes.  It's a satire on the obtuse male anger of being dumped, but still caring about the girl who dumped you."

Selfless, Cold and Composed: "It's kind of about your average middle-class white guy?  The kind of guy that can't express his emotions and has a hard time caring about others.  He's the antidote to the guy in 'Dumped.'"

Kate: "Really, it's a song that's just cute and adoring.  I felt it was time for a song like that from someone.  From our generation.  It's a crush song."

Smoke: "I co-wrote this song with someone else, so I couldn't want to speak for her, but what it means to me is that you can't escape from your memories on your past."

Cigarette: "It's a weird vibe song."

Steven's Last Night in Town: "A guy came to visit us in North Carolina and he hung out for a while, but then he wouldn't leave.   We must have thrown five or six going-away parties for him.  So I wrote him this song and gave it to him."

Battle of Who Could Care Less: "This is like the notion that the more you care about something, your cat or whatever, the less they care about you.  It's the same way in the world of rock n' roll a lot - I wanted to get that across."

Missing the War: "This is a song left over from the first album.  It's really the sister song to 'Last Polka' on the first album."

Evaporated: "It's about loss."

2.8 Brick

It's been argued to the point of exhaustion, and people still seem to disagree on this one.  The bottom line is (and yes, Ben has said it himself), it's about a trip to the abortion clinic.

Of course, Ben's joke of "this is a song about taking your dog to the vet" is an amusing idea to throw around, as well...

2.9 Weird background noises

If you listen carefully, you can hear a phone ring at approx. 2:54 in Steven's Last Night in Town.  Coincidence?  Actually, according to Ben, yes.  It was a friend calling from Minnesota, but it came at such a perfect timing, they decided to leave it in.  You can hear Robert laugh slightly after it rings, as well.

...and if you turn up the volume loud enough on Cigarette, you can hear crickets chirping away in the background!  As to whether or not they are chirping to the tune of the National Anthem depends upon what you've been inhaling...

2.10 Kate

Who is Kate?

This question has a couple of different answers.   Kate Rosen (whose father, Frank Rosen, directed the Warner Brothers classic "Watership Down") was married to Ben in December of 1996.  They have since separated.  The song however, according to Ben, doesn't really have much at all to do with her.  The name is the same, but it wasn't written for her.

And for the question of "is that really Kate [Rosen] on the [UK single] cover?" -- the answer is no.  The picture is of a secretary in the UK office of Sony Music who was working on a temporary assignment from an agency.  They needed a model for the cover and she happened to be in the right place at the right time.  Ben said he doesn't remember her name.

So what is this "Bhagavad Gita" thing mentioned in Kate?  To quote Adam DeLisse, from the Magical Armchair:

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The Bhagavad Gita, once and for all, is an ancient Indian text in which Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu, takes earthly form to teach Arjuna the Archer his duties as a warrior, and he ends up having to kill all of his evil cousins to save his wife and brothers.  It pertains to the Hindu faith and was written to teach moral lessons on performing the duties of your societal class without looking at the consequences.

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If you are interested, more information on The Bhagavad Gita can be found at:

http://www.prabhupada.com/~btg/gita/welcome.html

2.11 Naked Baby Photos

Track listing:

1. Eddie Walker
2. Jackson Cannery (demo)
3. Emaline (cut)
4. Alice Childress (KCRW)
5. Dick Holster
6. Tom & Mary (cut)
7. For Those of Y'all Who Wear Fannie Packs
8. Bad Idea (demo)
9. Underground (live)
10. The Ultimate Sacrifice (live)
11. Satan Is My Master (live)
12. Julianne (live)
13. Song for the Dumped (live)
14. Philosophy (live)
15. Twin Falls (live)
16. Boxing (live)

Released on Caroline Records and (mostly) produced by Caleb Southern.

Naked Baby Photos is a collection of early demos, b-sides, rarities, and live recordings.  The versions of Eddie Walker and Jackson Cannery found here vary from any other releases (including the D-Tox 7").   Emaline and Tom & Mary also vary from their live counterparts found on UK singles (Emaline even features Ben on acoustic guitar!).

For Those of Y'all Who Wear Fannie Packs, Bad Idea (demo), Underground (live), and Satan Is My Master (live) can all be found on various UK singles.

Twin Falls is a live cover of a beautiful song, originally written and performed by Built to Spill on their album "There's Nothing Wrong With Love".

2.12 Covers and unreleased songs

The band is notorious for doing on-the-spot situational songs; recorded examples of these include Satan Is My Master and For Those of Y'all Who Wear Fannie Packs.  Cover songs done in concert include Built to Spill's "Twin Falls", The Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star" (which has since been retired, so don't ask them to play it), Liz Phair's "Chopsticks", Jimi Hendrix's "Crosstown Traffic", Elvis Presley's "All Shook Up", and the list continues to grow...

 

3. -Live performances-

3.1 What to expect

Well, the band no longer drive themselves around in a yellow U-Haul; they've since moved on to Crest toothpaste-colored tour buses.  They do generally still lug around the same piano that Ben has been using since the first tour, but there are certain (overseas comes to mind) occasions when the need for a rented piano does arise.

The miniature keyboard-looking thing that Ben plays in Steven's Last Night in Town and Smoke actually has two names; depending on who you ask, it's a "melodica" or a "clavinet".  Another (less commonly accepted) name for it is a "hooter".

Concerts tend to be very high-energy, with Ben leaping at his piano, throwing his stool javelin-style at the piano, lots of jumping around, and general, well... fun!

3.2 Tour-mates

Ben Folds Five have toured along with Neil Young, Jewel, Counting Crows, Gin Blossoms, September 67, Lollapalooza second-stage, HORDE, Robbie Fulks, and Komeda to name a few.

3.3 Recording and photographs

Are soundboard plug-in recordings allowed?  What about hand-held bootlegged recordings?  Cameras?

It all depends on who you ask.   Soundboard plug-ins are not allowed.  Discreet hand-held boots are alright by the band; Ben has mentioned that it can be distracting to be playing and see thirty microphones being held in the air.  Cameras all depend on the venue rules, and whether or not you will be able to obtain a photo pass from the band and/or the management.

3.4 What does Hannah wear to bed?

Hannah wears pink and white plaid pajamas to bed.

 

4. -Merchandise/media-

4.1 Songbooks and sheet music

A limited-edition Japanese songbook containing transcripts from all of the songs on the first (eponymous) album was available for order at one time off of the Sony/Epic 550 official web page.  Because this was limited edition, it sold out quickly and is no longer available.  No official plans from Sony/Epic 550 have been made to begin publishing re-prints of the songbook.  A songbook for Whatever and Ever Amen is, however, supposedly in the works.

4.2 T-shirts

The navy blue "Cool in School" t-shirt is no longer available.

Other shirts which ARE available are the "Middle C" ringer-T, another black ringer-T with "BFF WAEA" in blue on the front, and the three hand-drawn instruments on red on the back, a baby-T version of the black ringer-T, the "Farewell Tour 1981" Doobie Brothers look-alike long-sleeved, the burgandy "Kiss my ass" (yellow writing), and a few unliscensed t-shirts (there are too many to mention them all).

4.3 Videos and TV appearances

Videos have been made for Underground, Uncle Walter, Battle of Who Could Care Less, One Angry Dwarf, and Brick; all of which have premiered on MTV's 120 Minutes (which the band has also hosted a few times).   The band has performed live on Late Night with Conan O'Brien twice, been featured on ABC's "In Concert" and PBS's "Sessions as West 54th", and have performed on the Jenny McCarthy Show, Late Nite with David Letterman, the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Saturday Night Live, and the Keenan Ivory Wayans show.  A video for Kate was recorded in Japan in Ben's hotel room before a show.  It will probably never see the light of day on MTV in the states.

The band is used constantly for MTV background/intro music, and Ben lended his voice for an episode of "Space Ghost: Coast to Coast".

UK coverage included an appearance on the BBC show "Later... with Jules Holland" in which they only played one song, Philosophy.  The video for Battle of Who Could Care Less has appeared on the Chart Show (ITV), Top of the Pops 2 (BBC2), and the O Zone (BBC2).  They were also interviewed on the O Zone.

Japanese coverage include a sitcom having some strange fixation with Ben Folds?  Details are sparce...

4.4 Bootlegs and tape trading

The Ben Folds Five trading station can be found at

http://members.aol.com/qualitease/bfftrade.html

and contains links to people who'd love to trade material, as well as an index of all known bootlegs in existance.

 

5. -Internet resources-

5.1 Official contacts

The OFFICIAL Sony/Epic 550 Ben Folds Five web page can be found at:

http://www.bffweb.com

This page contains information on ordering merchandise such as T-shirts, and there is a place to sign up to be placed on the band's mailing list (in which you will receive information via e-mail and through the U. S. Mail).

The band also has an America Online e-mail address, and can be reached at bffmail@aol.com.

5.2 The Magical Armchair

The Magical Armchair is an Internet listserv mailing list.  It is where the bulk of the information in this FAQ was found, and offers an in-depth look at the band through the eyes of it's fans.

To subscribe to the Magical Armchair, send an e-mail message from the account you would like subscribed to:

armchair-request@maillist.il.ft.hse.nl

The Subject: field can be left blank.   In the message body, put the word:

subscribe <e-mail address>

You will receive a confirmation message and further instructions.  To receive more information on the Magical Armchair without subscribing, send an e-mail message to:

majordomo@maillist.il.ft.hse.nl

The Subject: field may be left blank.   In the message body, put:

info armchair

Majordomo will send you a description of the mailing list and information on how to subscribe.  If you have further questions, Mark Piper maintains a page on "Sitting Comfortably: A guide to the Magical Armchair".  This is available at:

http://www.geocities.com/SunsetStrip/5430/listguide.html

5.3 Newsgroups

The Usenet newsgroup alt.music.ben-folds-five is being carried on more servers every day, and can be a useful and informative forum to discuss the band.  If your news provider does not carry this group, it can be read via DejaNews (http://www.dejanews.com).

5.4 Web sites and other information

Most significant Ben Folds Five web sites are on the Ben Folds Five webring.  A list (probably the most complete) of web sites can be found at:

http://www.webring.org/cgi-bin/webring?ring=benfolds5;list

 

6. -Conclusion-

6.1 Submissions

Do you have a question that hasn't been answered?  Do you have anything to add?  Let me know!  Send e-mail to Scott at:

sschneid@gdinet.com

6.2 Newest version

The newest, most up-to-date version of the Ben Folds Five FAQ can ALWAYS be found at:

http://bff.home.ml.org/bff_info.html

 

6.3 Acknowledgements

This work could not have been made possible without the generous contributions (information and otherwise) from the following people: Frank Maynard, Mark Piper, Kathryn Yu, Alex Torrance, Gillmer Derge, K. V. Sutton, Adam DeLisse, Frank Davis, Erik Lyons, Scott Klass, Scott Hess, Hannah Kuhlmann, Robert Doerschuk, Eric Agnew.

6.4 Disclaimer

Any additions, corrections, suggestions, or comments are greatly welcomed.  I'm not always great at getting back to people through e-mail, but I do read every message that I get.  If you have anything to offer, drop me a note at sschneid@gdinet.com.