After a summer spent touring throughout the country from the damp Pacific northwest to the sunny southeast, cellist Ben Sollee is ready to return to his old Kentucky home. The Lexington-based musician is on the cusp of releasing his latest project “Infowars” which once again turns the perception of the cello upside-down by jumping outside the barriers of classical music.
Sollee’s live performances are intimate and guided not only by Sollee’s music, but also the background on his music and life that he delves into between songs in a conversational format as if he’s reconnecting with a long lost friend in the audience. According to Sollee he grew up in a theatre background which has led him to taking part in documentaries, theatre productions and ballets when he’s off tour, but his open book personality on stage hasn’t come without its hurdles.
“Learning to tell my own story over the years has been a bit of a challenge,” Sollee said. "Stories are messy, and getting them to a place where they’re interesting to hear on stage and can move along in the short time you have with an audience is a bit of a challenge. I’ve gotten better at it over the years. I have a lot of stories to share, especially about my identity of being from Kentucky."
When Sollee’s compositions don’t dive into his personal life the artist oftentimes likes to shine a light on environmental and social issues. “Cajun Navy”, the most recent single revealed off his upcoming album “Infowars” pays homage to first responders of hurricanes and other natural disasters. Sollee first performed the song live Oct. 7 in Asheville, North Carolina just as Hurricane Matthew began pounding the southeast.
Another of Sollee’s songs, titled “A Change is Gonna Come” touches on how war rarely brings peace for everyone involved, elaborating with the lines “More and more weapons means less security” and “I’m trying to find it, a better place / where having a big gun ain’t some kind of race.” According to Sollee, he sees no signs of music slowing down as a driving force for political, social and economic change.
“There’s a profound need in the world for being able to share perspectives and struggle from person to person, and you need to be able to do that beyond racial, economic or social lines,” Sollee said. “Certainly music can still fall within those lines, but as far as technology goes when you compare it to a video, picture or book, music forces the listener to experience a timeline and a rhythm and a heartbeat that can can create, maybe even generate more affection around the topic.”
Sollee will celebrate the release of his fifth studio album “Infowars” in Lexington on Friday, Oct. 21 at Christ Church Cathedral. The show will feature Jordon Ellis on drums along with many special guests as Sollee and company navigate through the cellist’s catalogue of music, both old and new.
According to Sollee, “Infowars” is the embodiment of years of collaborating with Ellis, adding that Ellis often joins him along with other musicians in studio, but for this project Sollee opted to focus solely on the sound he and Ellis could produce together. Most of “Infowars” initial tracking was completed at Ellis’ studio in Frankfort and incorporates field and show recordings along with complex drumming techniques by Ellis where he drums both the baseline and the drums at once.
“The truth is when you sit down in the studio in that sterile environment which is great for capturing clean audio but not always great for capturing the human spirit you need that inspiration, so we would literally put on recordings from the field and our shows and play with them, as in literally play along to them with headphones on,” Sollee said. “It created a performance that we might not otherwise have been able to capture in studio."
IF YOU GO
What: Ben Sollee, Jordon Ellis and special guests
When: Friday, Oct. 21 at 8 p.m.
Where: Christ Church Cathedral - 166 Market St.