As we said, way back at the beginning of this story, the Ben Folds Five guys like to goof around, not only in interviews, but also on stage and in the studio. But just as their absurdity begins to bubble over the top, and fracture into inextricable bedlam, one – or all – of them manages to whip out an astounding lick, or texture, or style, or sentiment that, in its utter incongruity, lends complete credibility to their sound, elevating them miles above other “jokey” bands, like, say, the Presidents of the United States of America (remember them?).
Chemistry is paramount to the creative process. “Robert and I are very competitive,” Jessee says. “It may not always be apparent, but if any of us get a chance to show off or stick our head out, we’ll do it. We get along great, he’s a great friend, an amazing musician. I was a much lighter player before I met Robert, he really got me to rock out more. He plays with a lot of distortion sometimes, and fills in a lot of areas. The lack of guitar makes it so he can come in with the fuzz bass and vocal so you hear that high-end thing. Sometimes the sizzliness of a cymbal can get into that high-to-mid range and we’ll back off a bit.”
And what of Mr. Folds himself, the chair-throwing, headfirst-diving pianist/ songwriter/lead vocalist? “Ben’s a fantastic drummer,” Jessee concedes, “He more or less is a piano player to me, because he writes songs and performs on the piano. He doesn’t really practice on any instrument. I think piano is what he’s best at because it’s what he’s been doing for four years. But when I first met him, I would have thought he was as good a bass player or drummer as he was a piano player.”
We’re sitting backstage at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. Jessee is due to go on stage in a couple of hours to play the headlining spot. A drag on his cigarette, and he ponders, “It’s really exciting thinking about the third record, because we are really coming together as a band. I think it’s going to be our best record yet.”
This time, it’s fairly obvious that he isn’t kidding.