Louisville’s Ben Sollee and Madison’s Andrea Davidson in concert Saturday
A whole mess of music
Thursday, March 30, 2017 3:03 PM
In the modern world Ben Sollee finds his music hard to define. This weekend he’ll bring his cello to Madison and let audiences decide for themselves.
THE KENTUCKY CELLIST: Ben Sollee said he first picked up a cello in elementary school and the two haven’t parted since. Along with several solo records, Sollee’s songs have been featured on soundtracks for both screen and stage.
Sollee will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Ohio Theatre. The concert will include music from Nashville artist, Andrea Davidson, originally of Madison.
Rather than assign his music to a specific genre, the 33-year-old said defining his blend of folk, R&B and classic influences is messier than picking a category on iTunes.
“It’s a story about who’s the human and what do they care about,” he said. “It’s more real.”
Growing up with a father who played R&B guitar, a mother who sang and a grandfather who played the fiddle, Sollee had a well of influences as a young man.
Sollee said he began a “relationship with the cello” at 9-years-old in public school. It was there that he chose the instrument for its versatility and variety of sounds it could produce.
Eventually, Sollee went on to study cello performance at the University of Louisville where he continued learning about classical music that has also influenced his sound.
The Lexington, Ky. native made his solo debut in June 2008 with his “Learning to Bend,” LP and his since released eight full-length albums or EPs. Last October, he paired with percussionist Jordon Ellis for the 19-track album “Infowars.”
In those eight years, Sollee’s work has been recognized with mentions in The New York Times, multiple write-ups and performances on NPR and American Songwriter. He has performed at festivals including Bonnaroo, SXSW in Austin and the Telluride Bluegrass festival.
His music can be heard in episodes of ABC’s “Parenthood,” HBO’s “Weeds,” the John Travolta and Robert De Niro movie “Killing Season,” and the score for the 2014 documentary “Maidentrip.”
In the way his musical influences are nuanced, Sollee said his inspirations for writing cover a wide scope. Usually, he’s “responding to something that gets me excited” whether it’s news on television, someone he meets on the street or a random thought.
Sollee described his songwriting process with the beginnings of “The Long Lavender Line,” a song on his latest album.
While stuck in Los Angeles traffic, he said, he watched the GPS in the car as it tried to offer directions every three feet of the long drive.
“This confused creature,” he said. “Trying desperately to please us.”
And so, it led to a song about “all this guidance and still being confused about the right way to go.”
Again, it may be a messier, wordier and less-nuanced way to think about his inspiration, but it’s somehow simpler to him, encapsulating the moment as it was experienced.
For his weekend performance, like many of his shows, Sollee said he wants to share with the audience as if they were in his own home. Storytelling and song are paired together in moments both improvised and scripted.
Sollee said he hopes listeners leave feeling encouraged about things they’ve been pursuing in their own lives and imbued with the playful energy he still finds performing.
“I still get excited about the sounds that come out of the cello,” he said. “I discover it every time.”
Admission for Saturday’s show is $12 and tickets can be purchased the night of the show if tickets are remaining or in advance by visiting www.riverroots.org/music-series.html.
To learn more about Sollee, visit www.bensollee.com. To learn more about Andrea Davidson, search for her on Facebook.