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Ben Folds Five bassist Robert Sledge talks to Roofdog

If soul is the new rock then Ben Folds Five are the new Aerosmith. Bassist Robert Sledge spoke to Roofdog last summer about Star Wars, fan mail and delicious drinks...

What's the Star Wars thing like over there in America?

I'm kind of a Euan McGregor fan, I think he's great, but it's like "damn it, does Euan McGregor have to be in everything?" you know what I mean? He gets the girl, he gets the money, he gets the big cars; he's totally like an L.A. guy now. I was really him being a Scotsman, I thought he was a badass, but it turned out good for him anyway. If I were him, I wouldn't worry about it, I'd do the next twenty Star Wars films.

What sort of music do you guys listen to at the moment?

Aw man, lots of stuff. The new Beth Orton records really nice, yeah, but, I don't know; God, this new Built To Spill record's really good, I like the new Blur record. Shit I've bought lots of new stuff, but I can't remember them once I'm on the spot.

Do you get time to stop between gigs and see where you are?

You kind of need to be hand led in a way coz otherwise you end up in the wrong shop, and like, you know how it is you have your favourite record shop that stocks all your favourite stuff, and you have to find that in every town.

What's your favourite cover song?

You know what? I really want to do Tattoo by The Who, you ever heard that song, it's on Live at Leeds. We're not doing any covers right now, we used to do a shit load of covers, we used to be like, we'd do country songs, and like one time we opened and we did about four or five country songs in a row. We were in like Western Pennsylvania and Travis were on tour with us. It was like their first night with us and they were like "what the.. fuck, who are these guys we're on tour with?" We used to be a lot more into it but, I would like to do Tattoo it'd be like a fun song.

Are you trying to push the others into it?

I'm gonna, yeah.

Who gets the most fan mail?

Who gets the most, oh Ben gets the most. "Ben, you understand about pain?", that's the most common one.

What about hate mail?

Hate mail? I think that's edited out. This girl Josie, um, who's a friend of mine, a friend of my girlfriend's too, and she's like the band mail stuff. She's so nonchalant about it, she should move here. She hands the stuff over and she's like apologetically like (lethargically) "I don't know what you want to do with this, this person has cancer" and she rolls her eyes, and " I thought it'd be nice you know, to autograph pictures for them" you know, that sort of stuff.

What's your favourite childhood memory?

I don't know, they all seem kinda bad, but, you know, what was like my most triumphant childhood time, like when I knew I was gonna be a big guy like everybody else. I rode my bike all the way down the hill without crashing. I had a series 3 spirit bike and I thought I was just as big as every other kid, I could play football.

How many times had you crashed before that?

Like a hundred times. I just kept going like ten feet and then land on my butt. And I didn't want to use training wheels, and then eventually I stayed upright, I only had like a foot and a half to fall, but there.

For your new album, did you consciously decide to make something a bit more mellow, or did it just happen?

Yeah, we wanted to make something really pretty you know. It's like a lot of people are pushing their pop formula on everybody, dance has a formula, and everything, and um we didn't really have a point of view, we just wanted it to be pretty, that's the main thing; and then there's a lot of by-products to that. So it ended up largely that. it's kind of a living room record, that's kind of what we wanted it to be. You should have heard it before we even got the strings on it, it was even more mellow. It was even more pretty.

What was it like working with the other musicians?

Well it was like, instead of spending three days on it, we spent two weeks trying to get it right, coz the band played so well, we played so well on the songs, we played it so deliberately, like really playing emotionally, and so if you just get some hack string players to come in and play a chart, it ruins it you know? And people can hear it. So we spent a lot of time on the strings just getting one or two songs right. But I know them all, I know them all from other sessions, so it's all right.

Do you guys play when you're drunk?

We got smashed in New York, wrecked. I got the picture in The Village Voice, I was rolling around with Ben. I was like a whale, they had to peel me off.

What's your favourite drink?

I'm sort of a Vodka and tonic guy, or wine, if all else fails and the local beer isn't looking good enough.

Have you guys ever thought of writing a soundtrack or even a musical?

There's a lot of thought about that, a lot of our stuff I know it tends to sound that way, coz it sounds biographical. Ben's got a couple of really kooky ideas about stuff. I've got a lot of textural ideas that I think would be really neat.

I have friends that make short movies, with little hand held cameras, any camera they can find and piece it all together, and make this crazy thing that you can't understand, it's just fun. I'm really like into setting moods with music, just because I've been taking out a little bit of the 'writer guy', you know, I used to kind of be that guy, try and be real emotional with the instrument, you know? Conversational like jazz is, there's a lot of that. I'd like to do it. But I think it's like once you decline as a pop star, that's when you kinda start doing that. I don't know. It sounds great, it sounds glorious like you've really achieved something, and it's really odd, but it's kind of equivalent to declining as a rock star.

I've been listening to Mark Honey, his western stuff. Like one of the guys who works for us has just everything that guy ever did. He did all of the spaghetti westerns that they shot in Italy, and they're like B-grade western action movies. The Good, The Bad And The Ugly with Clint Eastwood, that was the most famous one, with the big whistle in it. Everything is like "Hoo! Ha!" (meandering whistle). When you hear it it's like the cheesiest soundtrack music you ever heard in your life, when you dig into it it's like "this guy was a genius". There's all these bells and whistles going on in there, there's some really interesting stuff. It's absolutely got nothing to do with like anything before the 20th Century began.

Who would play you in a movie of your life?

Tom Cruise. Euan McGregor whatever. Somebody really up there.

Would it be an interesting film?

Na. You ever seen a movie called Gummo? probably not. It's this guy Harmony, he works in New York. He made this ridiculous film, it's so abstract and cut and really weird, but there's a lot of congruent characters in it, it carries on after a while even though the pace is really strange; and it would be a lot like that. It's really rural, Ohio, rednecked, like hamming it up for the camera, and they're not actors but he's making them act. But then they forget to act and they're actually being themselves, which is really creepy but perfect. And I think I would like a movie about myself to be like that. Kind of scare you every now and then, like a couple of guys get in a fight, like "that's real blood! I didn't mean it".

Like Ed Wood?

Yeah, like they'd forget to pull the punch and he keeps it. Cool.

Interview by Bob Budd

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