'I tell honest stories'

'I tell honest stories'


Cellist and singer-songwriter Ben Sollee has many a story to tell. From cycling across America with his cello to protecting land from environmental degradation, there is enough and more to keep him inspired. Add to that the charm of Kentucky, where he lives, and you have a poet guised as a musician.

Ben recently returned to Bangalore for the second time in a year with percussionist Jordan Ellis to do a residency programme at Windmills Craftworks, where the two performed recently.

“It feels saner this time because we’re more familiar with the people and place. This is all an experiment in which we’re trying to collaborate with different musicians and go to schools and expose them to different instruments. We also took some wonderful lessons from TAS Mani and Ramamani, who will influence us in our music,” shares Ben. He proudly adds that they each got a haircut at ‘The Amazing Men’s Salon’ in Malleswaram.

The cello came into Ben’s life when he was nine and his teacher brought different instruments to the classroom. None impressed him as much as the cello, which made him the only kid playing it in the school orchestra. “I never saw it as a classical or folk instrument. The more I played it, the more I discovered that it would play any sort of music I wanted it to. So it was a really utilitarian instrument in my eyes. But it has been nice to have it set me apart from the guitar-playing songwriters in the world,” shares Ben, who has named his cello ‘Kay’.

Coming from a musical family with a fiddler for a grandfather, singer for a mother and R ‘n’ B guitarist for a father, made it easier for Ben to choose this profession. But the ‘professional hazard’ he faces is the time he is away from family. “I’m gone for about half the year. So while it would be great to spend another week going around India, it’s more important for me to go back to my son,” says Ben, whose only private time is when he is on stage.

There is an honest, almost vulnerable form of storytelling that comes through strongly in his music, be it a folk tune or jazz rendition. On his songwriting process, Ben replies, “As a storyteller, I tell honest stories. So if I meet someone or experience something, that’s what makes a song. We sit at a global table these days and the most unique story you can tell is not the one you can think of but the one you are coming from.”

Having worked on film soundtracks like ‘Maidentrip’ and ‘Killing Season’, he adds, “Film scoring is a detailed and collaborative process. Writing an album could be very private. But often, my favourite thing is collaborating. It really works for my musical health.”

Cycling is another passion of Ben’s and unlike most bands that hit the road in vans, his band does it on wheels. “We sometimes do what we affectionately call ‘Ditch The Van’ tours. We carry the equipment on the bike and ride from show to show, usually about 40 to 50 miles a day. They are like a gift to ourselves after a year of crazy touring,” he informs.