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I Remixed A Ben Folds Album

I was (and still am) obsessed with the first Ben Folds Five album. For a couple of years I drove around listening to it constantly until one day I was lucky enough to end up working on a package tour that Ben Folds Five appeared on for a couple of weeks. We stayed in all the same Howard Johnsons, picked at the same craft services, and most importantly I got to sit in the wings at eye level to Ben and watch the show each day.

At the time I had a Minidisc recorder and Ben let me record the shows, I would give him a copy, and we would discuss them the next day. When the tour got to New York I borrowed my mom's camcorder and made a video from my point of view because it was a unique thing that I knew probably wouldn't happen again.

Which brings us to the other day when on a strange weekend I ended up finding that video in a pile of home movies. I was looking for something else entirely. As I was digging through my bookshelves this strange CD I had no memory of appeared...

I'd lost touch with anyone I knew in the Ben Folds organization sometime in the early 2000s. I remember going to the Bowery Ballroom show where he went solo for the first time, then I was in the front row at Roseland for the solo show, and a couple years later in Albany at The Egg. That was the last time I saw Ben until my sobbing divorce mess at the Billy Joel NYE 2014 in Brooklyn (As part of a reunion tour BFF opened). I haven't seen him since.

This CD was from around 2008 and apparently it's signed but I've never seen it before in my life. After going back to my family movies thing for a while I went and read the wikipedia page about this album.

It's a pretty strange story. Ben released "Way To Normal" (another album I have no memory of) and apparently wasn't pleased with the way it was mixed. He put out this CD with new mixes and a DVD with stems of the album so you could remix it yourself.

Spotify had "Way To Normal" so I listened to it for a few minutes but couldn't really get into it, presumably why I'd kind of lost track of Ben's output.

If I had to guess I would think this was one of those things that I grabbed and thought to put away for someday when maybe I'd understand what mixing really was or how to do it.

The stems are unfortunately not dry (meaning they have effects on them already, and in some cases they are stereo tracks), but they are clearly labeled and relatively easy to import into Garageband 2019. I don't think the tempos are correct because I tried to replace the drummer with a virtual drummer a couple of times and it was a disaster.

Having no memory of these songs I decided to go into remixing the tracks blindly.

For each track I began simply by soloing the lead vocal and piano. Most of the songs on the album play pretty well with just these two tracks although there are awkward delays for the intros.

The songs are mixed down into a handful of faux stems but there are parts that still feel overproduced. On "The Frown Song" it seems like someone was too in love with the synthesizer and so I deleted a third of it and brought it down in the mix. I couldn't really move it because it was a stereo track with panning.

By starting with just the piano and vocal I gradually added things back in, but only what I felt was necessary to bring out the song in a way that was consistent with the kind of Ben Folds material I'd grown up with as a teenager. Quickly I found the songs took on a new meaning with the change in production.

For example on "Cologne" I removed the chorus entirely and brought up the strings. The strings were emoting better than the chorus was.

After I finished the mixes I went back and listened to both the original and the remixed (seeds) versions. It seems like when they went to remix it they also went back to the core of the song but I still made some very different choices.

I've posted the whole thing on YouTube for anyone interested in this project. It was a lot of fun and a happy accident to find these discs in my collection. I'm glad that I had the opportunity to do this. It's the first time I've tried to mix anyone else's tracks.

You can listen to my version of the album here:


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