Welcome to another installment of Reissue Theory, where we reflect on notable albums and the reissues they could someday see. As a modern-day piano man starts digging through the archives, we take a look at one of his steps on the path to critical acclaim.
Exciting news seems to be developing for fans of singer/songwriter/pianist Ben Folds: he recently tweeted a picture taken at his Nashville home of what appears to be the beginning of some research for an archival project. Folds' wife, Fleur, elaborated that the artist was digging through tapes that would stretch all the way from Folds' childhood to his days with beloved band Ben Folds Five.
One wonders if this archiving process will cover the first professional band Folds was ever a part of: the indie outfit known as Majosha. Though the band remains woefully obscure to all but the most hardcore Folds fans, the brief output of the group was in fact a strong hint of the talent Ben had, and the enduring listenability of his future commercial output.
The Majosha story begins after the jump.
Benjamin Scott Folds' life in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, would forever change when his father, a carpenter, came home with an unusual item: a piano. Apparently, a customer couldn't afford to properly pay for a job the elder Folds had done, and instead bartered the instrument away. Ben was nine at the time, a fan of the popular songs by Elton John and Billy Joel on AM radio, and soon learned to pick the songs out on the keys. By the time he entered high school, he had added a number of instruments to his repertoire. Although popular culture has recognized him as a piano player first and foremost, he arguably showed the best prowess on rhythm instruments at the time, and would in fact enter the University of Miami on a drum scholarship. (According to a story Folds has told in concerts, he dropped out after losing his scholarship, having broken his hand defending a friend in a fight the night before his jury recital was scheduled. Unable to play, he dejectedly flung his kit into the waters of Lake Osceola.)
Folds would become a presence in his hometown, with a burgeoning local music scene starting to take shape. Ultimately, he formed Majosha with several friends, including guitarist Millard Powers and vocalist Evan Olson. (There never seemed to be a consistent drummer; several people, including Folds, would play on the band's studio efforts.) Nonetheless, the band developed a pretty considerable local following, ultimately winning a Battle of the Bands at Duke University in 1988. Hot off that success, the group self-released an EP to local record stores entitled Party Night: Five Songs About Jesus. (As if one needed to guess, none of the songs were about Jesus.) Those tracks were ultimately remixed or re-recorded for a full-length release, Shut Up and Listen to Majosha.
Although Folds was, again, not primarily a pianist for the album (playing bass in concert and on the album, with some piano accompaniment appearing throughout in the studio), his contribution to the sound of Majosha was major. He co-produced the record with Powers and wrote every track on the record. A lot of them bear the kind of wordy, snot-nosed, smartass wit that's made Folds a cult hero (standouts from that crop include "Clueless" and "We Know (What's Right for You)"), and many of them were included on Folds' 1990 Nashville publishing demo tape and, later, the first Ben Folds Five record in 1995 ("Video" was included on that LP, while "Emaline" was cut during the same sessions and released on outtakes compilation Naked Baby Photos in 1998. It remains a concert favorite to this day.) Another track, "Kalamazoo," was put to tape by Folds years later for his 2004 EP Super D. (The arrangement changed dramatically between recordings: the Majosha original was a kind of cross between funk and The Police, while the solo version was awash in strings and much more prominent piano.)
Unsurprisingly, Shut Up and Listen to Majosha was not a major success, and the band broke up by 1990. (The only indication of its existence outside of the local scene was a strange dance remix of album cut "Get That Bug" which turned up on a compilation in Japan.) Latter-day copies of the album (only ever released on vinyl and cassette) bore a huge sticker advertising Majosha follow-up Pots & Pans, which featured Folds on drums, Olson on bass and Britt "Snuzz" Uzell on vocals and guitar. The band quickly broke up, but - as immortalized on Ben Folds Five's "Army" - reformed without him a month later, under the name Bus Stop. (Further insult to injury: the band added Folds' brother, Chuck!) Ben would try his hand writing songs in Nashville before forming Ben Folds Five with bassist Robert Sledge and drummer Darren Jessee, and the rest - as they say - is history. But Folds didn't entirely abandon his memories of the band; when Folds embarked on a tour for his first proper solo LP in 2001, he recruited Millard Powers as his touring guitarist.
While Shut Up and Listen to Majosha has never been released on compact disc, it is relatively easy to find online. Nonetheless, this fan (and many others) would surely not mind seeing some of the Majosha tracks included in whatever archival project Ben Folds is working on.
Majosha, Shut Up and Listen to Majosha (originally released as Fresh Avery no cat. #, 1989)
- Where's Bohemia?
- Deal with It
- Get That Bug (Outta Your System)
- Everyone Else
- We Know (What's Right for You)
- Cool Whip