NEW YORK — Until his epiphany in a photographer's darkroom, Ben Folds used to have nightmares about a reunion with his old group, Ben Folds Five.

Seriously. He'd dream of getting ready for a gig and being whisked away to a theater where Robert Sledge and Darren Jessee were waiting before a big crowd. He'd wake up sweating.

Those days are over, with the combustible trio of singer-songwriter and pianist Folds, bass player Sledge and drummer Jessee a unit again. Their first album since 1999, "The Sound of the Life of the Mind," is out this week and they'll be on tour this fall.

Why they broke up in the first place isn't easy to explain.

"We've never even talked about it," Folds said. "We've been asked together, but when we're asked, we all sort of look at each other because we're not sure. There's a trail of emails that can probably tell you."

They kept an exhausting pace, especially after their 1997 hit "Brick." What was fun became a chore. They were musical collaborators, but Folds was getting most of the attention. Everyone wanted him up front in photo shoots.

"I see pictures of myself standing in the back and trying to look the other way," Folds said. "I wasn't comfortable with it. They weren't comfortable with the jive that comes along with that from the other side."

Folds maintained a steady, eclectic career following the breakup. He had some conventional solo albums and made a disc with a cappella versions of his songs by him and college choirs. He was a judge on "The Sing-Off" and wrote music with novelist Nick Hornby. He lived in southern Australia for several years.

While developing photos one day he recalled times when he acted like an idiot, arguments where he realized upon reflection he was wrong. It was an emotional moment. The nightmares ended. Sledge was taken aback when Folds simply said, "I'm sorry," out of the blue one time when they talked.

Folds called his old friends in 2008 when he was asked to perform songs from their last album live. Any awkwardness quickly slipped away.

"I could really understand how meaningful the work was," Sledge said. "I felt like there was a real point to this band. There's a certain level of intellectualism. There's a chemistry in this band that is not something that I've ever had in my life. It was worth jumping on a plane and flying around the world. And I missed them."

"I didn't," Folds said. "For a while."

The new disc was made in Folds' Nashville, Tenn., studio. Rather than search for a label, they asked fans to pledge money to help them. Sony Legacy is distributing it.

The album contains the rockers and humor that Ben Folds Five is known for, but its heart lies in some of the quieter, emotional songs.

"Away When You Were Here" is about a father who died young and wasn't much of a dad even when alive. Folds sings: "You'd have saved my youth from that bullet of truth, you'd have kept those wolves at bay. But you were away. You were away when you were here."

Folds realizes he owes his own father, who's alive and well, a phone call.

"I know," he said. "It's a weird vibe to put out there."

Both his parents had fathers who died young, he said. Folds realized after writing it that he was thinking about his own fears, too: As a rock musician he has to spend big chunks of time away from home and his children.

Folds is steeling himself for how the reunion will be taken publicly.

"I expect the narrative to be, `Thank God. Guy sucks for 10 years and finally comes to his senses and gets his band back together again and eats crow and does almost as good as they used to,'" he said. "That's what I expect to hear from the corporate media."

But when he's out in the world he hears from fans who say, "This song changed my life," or "I met my wife at your gig." His solo song "The Luckiest" has been the soundtrack for many wedding first dances.

"I've been playing my solo gigs for so long that it means something to me," he said.

___

Online:

http://www.benfolds.com/

Loading Slideshow...
  • Ben Folds Five and Fraggle Rock "DO IT ANYWAY" [Official Video]

    A production of Nerdist Industries: www.nerdist.com Buy the album on iTunes bit.ly Directed by Phil Hodges: philiphodges.com - @philipmhodges Executive Producers Chris Hardwick, Lisa Henson Producers: Nicole Goldman, Seth Laderman, Johnny Wickham & Debi Cohen Special Thanks to Alan Wolmark - CEC Management "Do it Anyway" - ImaVeePee Records/Sony Music See the Behind-the-Scenes here: youtu.be The Official Music Video for "Do It Anyway," the first track from Ben Folds Five's much anticipated album THE SOUND OF THE LIFE OF THE MIND...featuring the Fraggles from Jim Henson's "Fraggle Rock"! Also starring Rob Corddry, Anna Kendrick & Chris Hardwick.

  • Ben Folds Five - Brick

    Music video by Ben Folds Five performing Brick. (C) 1997 SONY BMG MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT

  • Ben Folds Five - Song For The Dumped

    Music video by Ben Folds Five performing Song For The Dumped. (C) 1997 SONY BMG MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT

  • Ben Folds Five - Battle Of Who Could Care Less

    Music video by Ben Folds Five performing Battle Of Who Could Care Less. YouTube view counts pre-VEVO: 350204. (C) 1997 SONY BMG MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT

  • Ben Folds Five - Underground

    Early TV appearance. Maybe 1st ever? Definitely the 1st time I saw/heard Mr. Folds. All my friends jaws were on the floor. Still are.

  • Ben Folds Five - Army

    Music video by Ben Folds Five performing Army. (C) 1999 SONY BMG MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT

  • Ben Folds Five - One Angry Dwarf And 200 Solemn Faces

    Music video by Ben Folds Five performing One Angry Dwarf And 200 Solemn Faces. (C) 1997 SONY BMG MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT

  • Ben Folds Five- House

    Relatively new single by the five. so good. tears happened. I Don't own any of this.

  • ben folds five - "best imitation of myself"

    ben folds five - "best imitation of myself"

  • Ben Folds Five - Don't Change Your Plans

    music video

  • Ben Folds - Still Fighting It

    Music video by Ben Folds performing Still Fighting It. (C) 2001 SONY BMG MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT

  • Ben Folds - Myspace Gig - Bitches Ain't Shit

    Ben Folds performs his cover of "Bitches Ain't Shit" during his myspace gig webcast live from his studio in Nashville, Tennessee on October 24th 2006.

  • Ben Folds Five - Underground

    I was never cool in school I'm sure you don't remember me and now it's been ten years I'm still wondering who to be and I love to mix in circles, cliques and social coteries, that's me hand me my nose ring (can we be happy?) show me the mosh pit (can we be happy?) we can be happy underground Who's got the looks? Who's got the brains? Who's got everything? I've got this pain in my heart that's all Hey you, with the long and lonely face there's gotta be something else let me tell you something else there was a girl who passed me by she gave a smile, but I was shy and I looked down, so down Don't look down no no go go underground now now there's a place to go it's the morning now it's the evening it's everything I click my heels and I'm there CHORUS Underground, underground, ooh Everything's heavy underground you been kicked around did life bring you down here? Everything's heavy underground And we'll be decked in all black slamming the pit fantastic Officer Friendly's little boy's got a mohawk and he knows just where we're coming from it's industrial work it underground get down, get down, get down CHORUS we can be happy we can be happy we can be happy underground oh we can oh we can oh we can be everything's heavy!

  • Ben Folds Five - Magic

    I put some pictures to this great song of Darren Jessee, performed by Ben Folds Five. I really love this song and I hope that they will reunite someday.

  • Ben Folds - Jesusland

    Music video by Ben Folds performing Jesusland. (C) 2005 SONY BMG MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT

  • Ben Folds Five - Twin Falls (Built to Spill)

    From the BFF album Naked Baby Photos. Here is what Ben had to say about it in the liner notes: "This song is beautiful and at the time we'd have been happy to be a Built To Spill cover band, but Japanese audiences had a hard time telling when the song was over, which made for a nice silent board recording." And now, the lyrics: Christmas, Twin Falls, Idaho's her oldest memory. She was only two. It's the first time she felt blue. Cafeteria, Harrison Elementary, beneath the parachute saw her without shoes. 7-up I touched her thumb and she knew it was me although she couldn't see, unless of course she peeked. My mom's good she got me out of Twin Falls, Idaho before I got too old. You know how that goes. That's where she still was the summer she turned 17. 1983, three weeks after me. So last I heard, she had twins. Or maybe it was three. Though I've never seen. that don't bother me.

  • Ben Folds Five - Theme From Dr. Pyser

    This is a video of Ben Folds Five playing the Theme From Dr. Pyser from his performance "The Complete Sessions at West 54th."