Tracy Ross speaks with musician Ben Sollee ahead of his performance at Maiden Alley Cinema Saturday evening.
Sollee was born and raised in Lexington. He says Kentucky’s pace and scale broadly informs his music.
“Which is to say, you know, the driving on the back roads, and the particular Kentucky drawl that you hear when people are talking. All that musicality and rhythm and also how that is all folded into this hilly, mysterious landscape of streams and trees and caves. That all is very informative to how I build my stories in my songs as well as how I incorporate the cadence and the harmony,” Sollee said. “I like to think of it as trying to make music from a place and of a place, even though my music is also informed by sounds and cultures from all over the world.”
Sollee’s Infowars album tour starts in Paducah and makes stops in several small towns as well as large cities. He says the experiences he has and people he meets in small towns give him input as an artist.
“A lot of times I’ll discover really interesting things. We’ll have a really good breakfast in a small town or we’ll meet some folks that live real different than we do…. I think in today’s world it’s hard to maintain any type of stigma about any one place or one type of person when you travel around as much as I do,” Sollee said. “Your compassion as a human for how people live just grows.”
There are many references to technology in Sollee’s new album, Infowars. He says those references mean to address how personal relationships are being impacted and informed by the global reach of technology.
“How do you care for your family as a parent when you’re constantly receiving information on how other families and children are struggling in other parts of the world. Like how does that affect how you live?… in that very moment its a really difficult thing to balance and I think its a new challenge for us as humans,” Sollee said.
He says technology shows us just how nuanced in-person communication can be. You can watch a video of a performance, Sollee says, but what is being communicated to the people at the show cannot be shared through a screen.
Sollee and drummer Jordon Ellis recorded a cover of Tom Petty’s “Time to Move On” when they rehearsing for the Infowars tour. Unlike the original jaunty tune, Sollee’s cover takes a somber tone.
“When I started looking at the words and thinking about them in the context of today’s political, social, and even economic environment, I found myself looking at them from a different perspective and when I looked at them from the perspective of loss and grieving and just a need to move forward even when the will isn’t there, the music changed its vibe. And it did become certainly funereal,” Sollee said. “And even the character in the song that we follow, it’s this woman walking through the airport heading back and she’s her own protector now and she can’t quite find the words and that sounded very much like the walk that Hillary and quite honestly a lot of women were having to make in light of the election of president trump who made so many disparaging remarks about women, about other cultures, about other religions. I wanted this song to provide some respite so people could find their legs, find their feet, and start moving forward and do the good work that I know they can do.”