A mere six months after the dissolution of the Ben Folds Five, singer/songwriter/pianist Ben Folds has finished a new album, Rockin’ the Suburbs, which will arrive at your neighborhood CD outlet on September 11th. The album is in truth Folds’ second solo effort, but while 1998’s Fear of Pop was a largely experimental tinkerfest, featuring William Shatner among other guests,… Suburbs follows somewhat closer to the BFF trademarks: hooky piano pop, scrapbook nostalgia and character sketches.
Recorded with producer Ben Grosse ( Fuel, Filter, the B-52’s) at Krell Studios in his adopted home nation of Australia, Folds played all the instruments on Rockin’ the Suburbs (including the BFF no-no: guitar). Cake frontman John McCrea lent harmonies to the track “Fred Jones Part 2,” one of many numbers with a name in the title (“Annie Waits,” “Zak & Sara,” “The Ascent of Stan,” “Losing Lisa” are others). Folds says only one of the album’s tracks, “Carrying Cathy,” was written with his former band in mind, originally intended for a fourth album the North Carolina trio would never record.
“There were so many of those for a while,” says Folds of the first-name motif, “that the obvious choice was making the whole album a character album, which it actually kind of is anyway. Sometimes the songs are a little portrait of someone real and sometimes they’re just cooked up from a few different people. Most of it comes from something real somewhere, I suppose.”
According to Folds the breakup of the BFF was a surprise only to those who hadn’t been paying much attention. “You could have predicted it from a mile away,” he says. The threesome – Folds, bassist Robert Sledge and drummer Darren Jesse – followed 1997’s breakthrough Whatever and Ever Amen (which spawned the smash “Brick”) with the denser, deeply personal The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner in 1999. The album sold well below expectations, as Folds grew anxious to move on.
“There was a working formula going with the band and it was like, ‘but look what’s up my sleeve,'” Folds says of the… Messner album. “That record was very sincere, but it had a lot of those ‘last record’ undertones to me. I didn’t give a shit whether we sold a single copy. We played together for as long as made sense,” he says of his former band mates. “Obviously, if we’d been getting along wonderfully, we’d have stuck together. We weren’t really fighting or anything; it just wasn’t a comfortable situation musically, or otherwise.”
Folds has most of the pieces of a new band in place and plans to hit the road in mid-July, beginning somewhere along the West Coast. Among those onboard are former 24-7 Spyz drummer Anthony Johnson and Folds’ longtime pal bassist Millard Powers. The search is on for a permanent guitarist/keyboardist, and Folds says, mood permitting, he’ll play some BFF material on the coming tour. “If any of those songs are relevant and I feel ’em, then we’ll play ’em. They’ll be some obvious crowd-pleasers, and I’ll have to make a decision on if we’ll play those or not.”
Folds expects Rockin’ the Suburbs’ title track of to be the disc’s first single. The song, a guitar-driven kiss-off to the current crop of new metal bands (“I’m rockin’ the suburbs/Just like Michael Jackson did/Except that he was talented”), comes complete with a hip-hop breakdown (“Y’all don’t know what it’s like/Being male, middle class and white!”), and he hopes to film a sufficiently huge video to accompany it. “The video has to be very legit,” he says. “I’m gonna get whoever makes Korn’s or Limp Bizkit’s videos. Maybe I’ll get Fred to do it. In fact, I put in a request for Fred Durst to do it if he’s got the time. Weird Al could probably do it if Fred can’t. Weird Al or Fred Durst or [Sugar Ray lensman] McG. Anyone who does super-saturated white man videos would work.”