The Austin Chronicle

ACL Music Fest Sunday Interviews

By Doug Freeman, October 2, 2009, Music

Ben Sollee

4pm, Wildflower Center stage

As a member of the Sparrow Quartet, Ben Sollee has benefited from an expansive musical education supporting Abigail Washburn and Béla Fleck's adventurous spirits, and the 25-year-old cellist's own work pushes similar boundaries. Last year's debut, Learning to Bend, mused beautifully through an impressive sweep of styles. Sollee's soothing croon resonates in his folk and pop like a more soulful and contemplative Langhorne Slim while he employs his cello with the eclectic dexterity of Andrew Bird's violin.

"Playing with Béla, of all the lessons I've learned from him, maybe the one that sticks with me the most is that you can make pretty much anything you want work musically if you justify it," explains Sollee. "If you want to bring in operatic influences to a song, you have to justify it to, say, certain folk elements. That word 'justify' doesn't mean to explain why you're doing it; 'justify' means almost like a carpenter or engineer, to really make things stand up against each other. Just putting the pieces together, justifying it."

In addition to an upcoming Jim James-produced collaboration with fellow Kentuckian Daniel Martin Moore, to help raise awareness against mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia, Sollee's sophomore effort promises to extend further across his wide-ranging influences. For the album, Sollee has called upon jazz musicians and DJs to forge new sounds with his cello.

"I'm really just continuing the line of thinking on Learning to Bend, but with sort of an expanded language, to explore all the sounds that I've grown up with and that are a part of my musical training," he offers. "The fact that my grandpa was listening to Bill Monroe and chasing people off the property with a shotgun while I was listening to Lauryn Hill, that kind of contrast, to me, is what I'm trying to explore."

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