Five-less Folds Finds Solitude In 'The Suburbs'

During the late '90s, Ben Folds Five established itself as a purveyor of intelligent, piano-based pop on the strength of singles like "Song for the Dumped" and "Brick." Now, founder Ben Folds explores

During the late '90s, Ben Folds Five established itself as a purveyor of intelligent, piano-based pop on the strength of singles like "Song for the Dumped" and "Brick." Now, founder Ben Folds explores poignant, sarcastic, and sometimes humorous themes on his own via "Rockin' the Suburbs," due Sept. 11 via 550 Music/Epic.

Folds says the decision to strike out on his own came from a need for a little creative solitude.

"It was good to record with a band, but we [Folds, ex-Ben Folds Five bassist Robert Sledge, and drummer Darren Jessee] were together 24 hours a day for six years. We just couldn't do it anymore. Bands that stick together for a long time either really don't know what else to do and have some kind of serious co-dependence going on, or they're in it for the money."

In recording "Rockin' the Suburbs," playing all instruments was among the challenges Folds happily tackled. "To not have other musicians to bounce the sounds off of is a difficult thing," he says. "I have to play it, and then have a conversation with myself. It can take days instead of minutes. Ultimately, it ended up with a little more style this way."

Folds likens writing the set's material to writing a term paper. "I only write songs to make an album," he says. "I don't enjoy the process. Some of the best thoughts you can have come when you're writing a term paper or something at the last minute. [Pressure] gives me a boost."

The album's title cut isn't lacking, even with Folds' expedited writing process. Its almost kitschy sound is accompanied by playful, self-deprecating lyrics: "Let me tell you all what it's like being male, middle class, and white," and "I'm rockin' the suburbs just like Michael Jackson did ... except that he was talented."

Ben Goldman, Epic's senior VP of A&R, hopes that "people will get [Folds'] sense of humor with the first single. With the type of music radio plays these days, I think people should find it funny. Listen to Weezer, Cake, the quirky stuff that's happening. It's commercial, yet honest."

Response from radio has already been positive. Buddy Rizer, program director for WWDC, Washington, D.C., says that the single has been a top-10 request since the station began playing it. "It's funny and catchy, and it just seems like the kind of song that people want to hear. [Folds] writes really good pop/rock music."

Perhaps the set's most thought-provoking song is its planned second single, "Still Fighting It," a track that delves into the difficulties that everyone faces as they grow older.

Folds says that when his twins were born two years ago, he was inspired to write about this theme. "When the first one popped out, I was like, 'Ah man, that sucks.' It just looked like a shitty process. All of a sudden it occurred to me how it doesn't get any easier. It sucks when you're a 0-year-old, it's tough when you're 10, it's tough again when you're 50. Then you're 80 years old, and all you have to look forward to is wetting your bed and dying. This isn't a negative song. All said and done, it's worth doing."

A "Weird Al" Yankovic-directed video for "Rockin' the Suburbs" has already been shot, and a clip for "Still Fighting It" will also be completed prior to the album's release.

Folds says he isn't nervous about how this album will be received and that he doesn't "need to explain anything or worry about it. I think it's going to find its place."

Given that his previous works have continually attracted a fan base -- Ben Folds Five's breakthrough 1997 album "Whatever & Ever Amen" has sold 946,000 copies in the U.S., according to SoundScan, while the group's 1995 eponymous debut has sold 195,000 copies, and its last project, 1999's "The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner," moved 229,000 copies -- a Folds solo project has what would seem to hold a built-in consumer appeal.

Folds will make promotional tours of Australia and the U.K. in August, including performances at the V2001 festivals in Staffordshire and Chelmsford, England. A six-week U.S. tour kicks off with two shows Sept. 7 and 8 in Carrboro, N.C., just outside of his hometown of Chapel Hill (Folds currently lives in Australia). That trek will run through an Oct. 15 finale in Los Angeles, and will be followed by dates in both Japan and the U.K.