Biography
Though best known as drummer/harmonizer for beloved piano-rockers Ben Folds Five, Darren Jessee makes more subdued, textured singer/songwriter fare both as leader of Hotel Lights and as a solo artist. After releasing three albums with "the Five" in the mid- to late '90s, he made five Hotel Lights records between 2004 and 2016, a period that also saw a fourth LP from a reunited Ben Folds Five (2012's The Sound of the Life of the Mind, their debut in the U.S. Top Ten). In 2018, Jessee issued the more delicate -- and drums-free -- The Jane Room 217, his first official solo album.

Born in Houston, Texas in 1971, Darren Michael Jessee was raised in North Carolina, attending high school in Charlotte before spending much of his twenties and thirties in the Chapel Hill area. It was there that he joined songwriter and drummer-turned-piano shredder Ben Folds and bassist Robert Sledge in the impishly named Ben Folds Five as drummer. With Folds labeling their highly melodic, often wry music "punk rock for sissies," the trio released its self-titled debut via Caroline in 1995. It led to a contract with Sony, a pattern of relentless touring, and two more albums, 1997's Whatever and Ever Amen and 1999's The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, before the band abruptly (albeit temporarily) disbanded. The last two albums were critical and commercial successes, landing in the Top 50 in the U.S., Canada, U.K., and Japan, and reaching the Top Ten in Australia. Their best-known single, the earnest ballad "Brick" from Whatever and Ever Amen, was co-written by Folds and Jessee.

As Folds pursued a solo career and Sledge went on to play with groups such as Tom Maxwell the Minor Drag and International Orange, Jessee founded Hotel Lights. Switching from drums to guitar, piano, and vocals, he hooked up with guitarist/producer Alan Weatherhead, guitarist/keyboardist Chris Badger, bassist Roger Gupton, and drummer Mark Price for the band's eponymous debut album. It was released in 2004, then reissued on Bar/None Records in 2006. By 2007, Gupton and Price had been replaced by longtime Tift Merritt sidemen drummer Zeke Hutchins and bassist Jay Brown, and the group began recording material for the follow-up at Butch Vig's Smart Studios in Madison, Wisconsin. After finishing the album, Jessee relocated to New York City. Hotel Lights' sophomore effort, Firecracker People, arrived on Bar/None in August of 2008. Girl Graffiti followed in 2011, the same year Ben Folds Five unexpectedly reunited for 2012's The Sound of the Life of the Mind and a subsequent world tour and live album. Jessee also toured as part of Sharon Van Etten's band in 2014, and played drums on some of her 2015 EP I Don't Want to Let You Down. Never abandoning Hotel Lights, he compiled material during breaks between other commitments that would become Get Your Hand in My Hand, released in March 2016. Again featuring Weatherhead and Brown, but with Jessee taking over on drums, the album included a rearranged, more rustic version of the ballad "Sky High" from The Sound of the Life of the Mind, a song Jessee wrote. That year, he joined MC Taylor's indie-folk outfit Hiss Golden Messenger, contributing to their 2017 LP Hallelujah Anyhow. He was also one of the drummers featured on the War on Drugs' Grammy-winning 2017 release A Deeper Understanding.

In August of 2018, Jessee returned with the hushed The Jane Room 217, his solo debut on Bar/None. Featuring Jessee on acoustic guitar, piano, and light keys, but no drums, it was recorded in his apartment in New York City, with strings later added by Trey Pollard in Richmond, Virginia. Weatherhead mixed the album. ~ Marcy Donelson, Rovi




 
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Darren Jessee - Letting You Go (Live Session)
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Darren Jessee interview 1997 - Ben Folds Five
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The Unauthorized Biography Of Darren Jessee Of Ben Folds Five
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