There's not much about Ben Sollee's career that could be described as conventional. The singer-songwriter's primary instrument is the cello, and his work ranges from traditional classical music to Asian folk tunes. Even his preferred method of transportation on tour deviates from the norm; he's been known to travel from one show to the next on a bicycle with his cello strapped to the back.
Sollee is classically trained — and has played in settings more typical of a cellist — but he's also collaborated with My Morning Jacket and Béla Fleck. His experience working within different genres has had a huge influence on his songwriting process, even affecting the techniques he uses while playing his instrument.
"For the longest time, I felt like I was inventing new ways to play the cello to service the songs," he tells World Café host David Dye. "And then, once I really got down to it, I'm doing the same thing with the cello that, you know, composers have been doing for years — they always use the instrument as a pivot point."
Appearing here with a full backing band, Sollee plays songs from his latest album, Half Made Man. It's Sollee's first self-produced record, and he says that — thanks to a helpful suggestion from friend and collaborator Jim James of My Morning Jacket — he deliberately tried to record it with a more live sound, shying away from the meticulous orchestration of his previous efforts.
This World Cafe session was originally published on January 2,2013.