Ben Folds was literally in the dark in regards to the idea of reuniting with bassist Robert Sledge and drummer Darren Jessee and bringing their beloved irony-laden, piano-pop trio Ben Folds Five back to life. (The band had amicably parted ways in 2000.) "At some point it just occurred to me that that's something I would like to do," says singer-pianist Folds, 45, who recorded three solo albums in the decade BFF disbanded. "I do a lot of black-and-white printing, and I think I was in the darkroom jiggling a tray or something and I thought that we should get back together." A one-off show with his old pals for MySpace in 2008 pushed the idea of a full-on reunion closer to reality. "After that, it was just about clearing the calender."
That took four years. But now the band is full-in. After playing gigs at the Mountain Jam, Bonnaroo, and Summerfest music festivals, Folds, Sledge, and Jessee are prepping for the release of their first new studio album in 13 years, the partly fan-funded The Sound of the Life of the Mind, on September 18. Though the business model may have changed, Folds says that the core of the band's music has remained steadfast. "We don't necessarily play the way we used to," he says, "but we're smart enough to realize that we're not trying to relive anything we already did. We can just be ourselves and still have the personality that we always did. From the first take, it was just, 'Oh God, this sounds like us.' " Though, he adds, the new music "is pretty heaving sounding."
The time away from each other also benefited the current dynamics of the band. "I think there was some perception that toward the end I was having a harder and harder time working in a group," says Folds. "Being solo for ten years, I have a level of confidence that I didn't have before. If someone makes a suggestion about cutting two bars, I can say, 'Awesome, let's try that' instead of being a Nazi about it."
Another bonus of the long lay-off is that the bandleader has so much extra material to test out with his pals when they hit the road starting September 13 in Holyoke, Massachusetts. "I actually am interested in playing some of the songs I've recorded in the last ten years with Darren and Robert," Folds says. "They'll bring something interesting to that. I don't want to just go out and play old Ben Folds Five songs." Additionally Folds is curious to see how different segments of his fans will respond to the group's return. "There's part of my audience that only started following me after [2001's hit single] 'Rockin' the Suburbs.' And then there are people who stopped paying attention to me after I went solo. There's going to be something neat about playing for that mix. I can't wait."