Ben Sollee: Man of Many Cellos

Ben Sollee For a cellist, traveling isn’t easy. Large, delicate objects aren’t made with baggage handlers in mind, so Kentucky’s Ben Sollee has a specially-made case to carry his. “It’s built like a tank,” he says. “There’s videos of us sledding on the case.”

Sollee plays the Parish at House of Blues tonight, and it will be his first appearance in New Orleans aside from one at Jazz Fest, and he’ll be joined by Phoebe Hunt on fiddle and Jordan Ellis on percussion.

The cellist and singer/songwriter from Louisville, Kentucky, Ben Sollee’s music draws on his own life experiences, so it’s understandable that he cringed when he saw his music classified as “Folk Indie Americana.” He thinks of his work as more akin to contemporary folk. “I think there are a lot of ideas about the traditions of folk music,” says Sollee, “that keep people from accepting what contemporary folk music sounds like. If you think about what folk music is, music that people make with the things around them, it could be anything nowadays, because we all live in cities which are dense and cultures from every part of the world are living there.”

His new album, Inclusions, is about just that—including all parts of life in the modern age of big cities and the Internet into one honest, life-defining record. Sollee says the Internet “changed the way I’ve thought about the sensibility of things, and how I fit into the greater scheme of things.” With the blending of cultures in cities and the ease with which we communicate today, Sollee’s album aims to “include everything that’s a part of us and embrace it as if it is just as much ours as the culture who invented it.”

Sollee, a classically-trained cellist, has learned that cellos have very specific properties that work in some space but not in others. “I found my nice classical cello is not the cello for many of these venues,” he says. Despite his training, he has developed a style that is far from classical. Occasionally he will break out banjo finger picks, sounding more like a guitar than a cello, and for this reason, Sollee bought his road cello on eBay for $200. “I put a bunch of work into it, and it’s a fairly modern cello now,” His nicer cello, made of willow wood, is not the right instrument for the road. “It’s like driving a Porsche; you can’t drive a Porsche off-road,” says Sollee.

Ben Sollee plays the Parish at House of Blues tonight with Thousands opening. The show starts at 8 p.m.