Ben Folds Five was a somewhat revolutionary group, originating in the environs of Chapel Hill, North Carolina--somewhat known for being a vanguard of the underground music scene, the area turned out some notable bands in the early 1990s. Pianist Folds met drummer Darren Jessee and bassist Robert Sledge when they were involved in different projects. After forming a mutual rapport--and the subsequent dissolvement of their respective bands--they decided to create Ben Folds Five in 1994. Early on, they played mostly to apathetic bar crowds--alluded to when, in 1997, the Five appeared on the PBS series "Sessions at West 54th." Folds said, "We're not used to performing around sober people and cameras." Gaining support and acclaim throughout the Southeast, BF5 caught the attention of Caroline Records, who were impressed with the promise of the Five's piano-driven rock sound. Caroline signed BFF in 1994.
Ben Folds Five immediately went to work, recording the fairly successful album Ben Folds Five, released in 1995, which established their national audience. The eponymous album produced semi-hits "Philosophy" and "Underground," and was greeted with positive reviews in the press. However, it appears that Caroline regarded the band as a novelty act, and gave the band less and less credence. The band was finally forced by circumstance to jump ship to Sony's 550 Music division, where, in a very short time, they would make music history.
Ben Folds Five was followed up by 1997's Whatever and Ever, Amen, which spawned some memorable hits that charted well--"Battle of Who Could Care Less," and "Song for the Dumped." However, "Whatever and Ever" will always be known for its landmark single, "Brick." The somber song struck a chord with music fans and won Whatever and Ever--and the Five--widespread acclaim and popularity. Appearances on "Saturday Night Live," Conan O'Brien, National Public Radio's Anthem program, and MTV's 120 Minutes followed. This period is considered to be the apex of the band's career. Maybe the biggest surprise during this time was the acceptance of Whatever and Ever by the mainstream MTV crowd. Through the early 90s, the channel's video rotation was heavy on Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and a host of other grunge and metal acts, leaving piano-pop by the wayside. The success of "Brick" and other singles indicates that perhaps music fans were tiring of the "Seattle sound" emanating from most radios and TVs in the mid-90s.
Coincidentally, about this time, Caroline realized it had sealed its own fate ignoring the band. Wanting to cash in on Ben Folds Five's success, they released Naked Baby Photos in January 1998. The collection of live tracks, rarities, and unreleased studio tracks filled in some gaps in the early history of the group, but was also a blatant attempt to capitalize on the BF5's new found glory (no pun intended).
After the success of Whatever and Ever, Amen, the Five recorded The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, an artistically bold record, but weak in retail. According to Folds, the idea was to write a serious Messner-style concept album, and then write a more lighthearted Whatever and Ever-style record. However, before BFF could write a new, more fun LP, they decided amongst themselves to disband, feeling they had done all they could musically, and decided to persue solo interests. Ben Folds Five officially split in October 2000, ending one of the most inventive periods in modern rock.
Of the trio, perhaps Ben Folds has kept busiest since the breakup. He has released two full albums and two EPs since 2000. His new album is slated for release in the summer of 2004.
Darren Jessee has a new band, Hotel Lights, which recently recorded some demo tracks, presumably in preparation for a debut album.
Robert Sledge has a new group as well, International Orange, and toured small venues along the Eastern Seaboard in the winter of 2003. They, too, have some demo tracks available, but no word ono a full debut album as yet.
Much more info can be found at Sony's official Ben Folds Five website and Ben Folds' new site, in addition to the sources listed in the "links" section of this site.