Sollee closer to whole with “Half-Made Man”

By GARY POPP

Kentucky’s own Ben Sollee will perform at Louisville’s Headliners Music Hall in early October for two shows during a national tour for his latest album “Half-Made Man.”

The University of Louisville graduate and Lexington resident released his third full-length album Sept. 25. The 28-year-old singer/songwriter/cellist self-produced the album, which he said allowed him to pay special attention to virtually every aspect of the creation process.

“I have an interest in the whole process of the record,” Sollee said. “I am interested in what mics are being used, what the signal chain is. I am interested in who is playing on all the stuff, why they are playing on it and what kind of food they are eating.”

Often noted for his skillful cello styling, Solllee said he used the album as a platform to expand to new territories.

“I incorporated a new instrument into this project that I will be playing a lot called an octave mandolin,” he said. “I will be playing that a little bit live, and it makes a big appearance on the record, and gives me the opportunity to move around a little bit more than I can on the cello.”

Sollee said fans have already commented on the apparent void of his trademark cello in “Half-Made Man.”

“Some people have been saying, ‘Hey where is the cello on the record?’” he said. “There is a lot of cello on this record, it is just interpreted in lots of different ways.”

Sollee also took a unique approach in how he obtained funding for album. Sollee reached out to fans by accepting donations through pledgemusic.com, which allows people to seek out projects they want to support and make financial contributions.

“The special thing about this record is that it would not have been possible to collect these amazing musicians, have them sit around in the studio and play for two weeks without the amazing support of the fans though Pledge Music,” Sollee said. “It kind of creates a team effort to get this out.”

Through the financial support of his fan base, Sollee was able to show another side of himself.

“I was able to get that live rocking, very present sound,” he said. “On other records I have not been able to really get that live thing, just because I hadn’t had all the ideas, knowledge or the capital to get all the musicians there at once.”

Sollee said the album also broke from the mold of his previous works in the way he included other musicians, which includes Carl Broemel of My Morning Jacket, bassist Alana Rocklin, formerly of STS9, percussionist Jordon Ellis, Jeremy Kittel, formerly of the Turtle Island String Quartet, and vocalist Abigail Washburn.

Sollee said he first envisioned how he wanted the creation of “Half-Made Man” to develop before selecting the musicians.

“I recorded the demos of the songs and thought about the kind of band I wanted to put together and thought about the people I have worked with in the past and how I was able to speak with them and how I was able to collaborate with them,” he said.

While other artists have sat in on previous albums, Sollee said he has never worked so inclusively with other musicians on a past album.

“This was new for me on a record, to not just have someone come in as a guest, but to actually share the whole ranging process with the musicians at hand. And that made it important to choose people that were also collaborative minded and also had distinct musical ideas,” he said.

He said interacting with fellow musicians is part of his growth as an artist.

“I have always loved creating collaborative projects,” Sollee said. “I think it is a big part of my musical health,”

It was the group environment that allowed Sollee to create a “more live, more raw sound,” which he said he was inspired to produce.

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“Half-Made Man” was created in a Louisville studio over the course of two short weeks.

“Everything was recorded right there, live in Louisville, Kentucky,” Sollee said.

While Sollee was born and raised and continues to live in Lexington, he said Derby City is a special place to him, and not only because he lived in Louisville while attending U of L.

“Louisville is a very, very important town to me and has been a big supporter over the years,” he said. “Louisville is where I kind of found my own musical self. It is where different team members of my business really jumped on board and where I started performing in the coffee shops in and around town.”

Sollee said the support of Louisville and the quality of musicians in the area have both played a role in his development as a musician.

“Louisville as a community, is a place that [I’ve] really embraced by, that has given a lot to me, but I have also been able to give back quite often,” he said. “I think Kentucky is a wonderful mix of performers and styles, as well as the Southern Indiana region.”

Louisville is the only city on Sollee’s tour schedule where he is scheduled to perform two shows.

“We were looking for a venue where we could have a rocking sound, but still have a somewhat intimate show, so Headliners was the right place,” he said.

In his relatively short, but rich musical career, Sollee has incorporate his other passions, which include bicycle riding and living an environmentally conscious lifestyle.

“We do a big portion of our touring by bicycle, however, we can’t do it all by bike and keep the business running and afloat,” he said. “Over my three years we have done about 3,600 miles of touring by bicycle.”

Along the way, Sollee realized he make a larger impact by giving incentives to his fans.

“Even though we were riding to shows, there were still a lot of people showing up to shows by car. I am fine with that,” he said. “I love having people come to the shows, but it also occurred to us, ‘Well, we just worked our butts off to ride here, but nobody else did.’ And really, the biggest impact you can make, at least from an environmental sustainability standpoint, is getting the audience to get to the show in a more sustainable way.”

Throughout his tour, Sollee is offering $5 merchandize vouchers to anyone who arrives to his concerts by walking, biking or taking public transportation.

Sollee also uses reaches his fans using social media to gain support for environmental causes. In a letter to his fans posted on pledgemusic.com, Sollee credited their efforts of raising awareness of the environmentally degrading coal mining practice of mountain top removal in Appalachia.

Sollee said his journey as a prospering musician, dedicated family man and advocate for the environment are all elements he considered when naming his new album, “Half-Made Man.”

“It comes from the idea that I am 28 years old. I am crossing a really wonderful bridge of becoming more of who I am than who I think I am,” Sollee said. “It is a recognition that there is still a lot to do and still a lot of room to grow.”

Ben Sollee will be in concert at Headliners Music Hall Friday and Saturday, Oct. 5 and 6. Ticket prices are $20 – $35.

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About hoosierhits
The music blog of the News and Tribune, Jeffersonville & New Albany, Ind.

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