Ben Sollee Learns To 'Bend' Ben Sollee just wants us to get along. On his debut, full-length release, Learning to Bend, the Kentucky-born singer offers an inspired collection of acoustic, folk and jazz-flavored songs, filled with hope and the earnest belief that the world is good.

Ben Sollee Learns To 'Bend'

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Louisville-based artist Ben Sollee is only 24 but he's already thinking about his final wishes.

(Soundbite of song "Bury me with my car")

Mr. BEN SOLLEE (Artist): (Singing) When I'm gone, bury me with my car. When I'm gone, bury me with my car because if anywhere is wherever I end up when I'm gone, I'm going to need my ride to get around in. So, please, please, bury me with my car…

SEABROOK: You wouldn't know it from this fiddle-heavy tune but Ben Sollee is a classically trained cellist. Strings of all sorts strum on his second album. It's called "Learning to Bend." There's the viola, the banjo, and even the harp.

Sollee came to the national scene with the Sparrow Quartet where he plays with Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn. He joins me now in the studio. Welcome, Ben Sollee.

Mr. SOLLEE: Hi, Andrea.

SEABROOK: So, what kind of car are you going to be buried in?

Mr. SOLLEE: I've been thinking about this. I think one of those old steel ones like an old Buick or maybe an old Cadillac.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: You go on to sing in America they'll bury us with our car.

Mr. SOLLEE: Yeah. I went on a whim to a lecture at the University of Louisville where I attend school. And it was this Egyptologist that was talking about Cheops's boat. The legend was that Cheops had been buried with eight or nine boats. And they were buried with these boats so that they could either get into the other world or to actually get around on the other side.

And so I did some research and I found some Romans were buried with their chariots, Roman warriors. Chad (unintelligible) was buried with that whole terra cotta army. And I just thought about in our culture what would we preserve ourselves in if we needed to get around on the other side.

SEABROOK: I'm telling you, mine's going to be a minivan.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SOLLEE: You'll have plenty of room.

SEABROOK: I want to hear a track from the CD that shows off the talent that Ben Sollee, you're most known for, which is…

Mr. SOLLEE: Oh dear.

SEABROOK: …playing the cello. Let's listen to - this is called "A Few Honest Words."

(Soundbite of song "A Few Honest Words")

Mr. SOLLEE: (Singing) If you're going to lead my country, if you're going to say it's free, I'm going to need a little honesty. Just a few honest words, it shouldn't be that hard. Just a few honest words is all I need.

SEABROOK: Ben Sollee, you're plucking this cello.

Mr. SOLLEE: Yeah. When I started playing cello, I started in public schools. Um, I was the only cellist in my orchestra for two years so I didn't really have anybody sitting next to me being like this is how it's played. And my dad was a guitarist and I was always trying to play fiddle tunes with my grandfather. Really my classical training didn't really happen 'til college.

SEABROOK: There's wide range of styles that you play the cello and songs that you write on this album. Let's listen to "It's Not Impossible."

(Soundbite of song "It's Not Impossible")

Mr. SOLLEE: (Singing) I can't change the way you left. All I wanted was to say goodbye. I was scared, you know, and I was mad, you know, but boys don't cry, boys don't cry.

SEABROOK: This is a pop song.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SOLLEE: Yeah. It needs to be a little poppy because it's a popular thing for boys to be tougher, to not cry. I mean, there are so many times when I was younger it was just, like, why are you crying? Well, because, okay. I'll stop. And after a while of that it's not even about feeling bad about crying. It just becomes ingrained in us and we lose that outlet of expression and we end up letting it out in other ways, like tuning cars or taking things.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SOLLEE: And breaking things. None of which I've done.

(Soundbite of song, "It's Not Impossible")

Mr. SOLLEE: (Singing) It's not impossible for me to cry, it's just the hardest thing I've ever done.

SEABROOK: Ben Sollee, how do you write a pop song for the cello?

Mr. SOLLEE: I don't know.

SEABROOK: I mean, to me I can imagine some guy with a guitar kind of picking around in his basement or in his room working on a song. But when you have the cello, how do you imagine all the pieces coming together of a pop song?

Mr. SOLLEE: Well, that's a bigger thing. I mean, it's the consciousness of how people think of the cello. If you think of a cello, you think of it in what setting. It's probably with an orchestra. What kind of music is it playing? It's playing classical music. Who's playing it? Some guy in a tuxedo.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SOLLEE: You know, it's like this part of this bigger stigma of the cello. And it's really just a wooden box with strings on it. If you write a song and want to have an expression and you want to the cello to be a rhythm instrument to help drive it along, you should be able to do that with a little bit of time and just ingenuity. The old American way - you should be able to do it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: The one cover song on the album is Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come."

(Soundbite of song, "A Change is Gonna Come")

Mr. SOLLEE: (Singing) Well, it's dark in the city, I've lost my pride. The life in the streets hide the stars from my eyes. It's been a long, long time coming but I know a change is going to come. And it's too hard living but I'm afraid to die because I don't know what's up there just beyond the sky. It's been a long, long time coming but I know a change is going to come. And I miss my fairy, my little girl. She is my princess, I'd give her the world. It's been a long, long time coming, but I know a change is going to come.

SEABROOK: You changed some of the words.

Mr. SOLLEE: I changed some of the words. I really resonate with what he's saying in the song. It's an inherent belief and an inherent good of human beings. And I share that conviction but I didn't really feel like as a white boy from Kentucky I could totally understand and take further what a black man was feeling in the 60s. And so I took it the way I could and it's just - I took it the direction of trying to find some peace in this world.

SEABROOK: My favorite song on this album is called "Panning for Gold."

(Soundbite of song, "Panning for Gold")

Mr. SOLLEE: (Singing) I saw God by the river panning for gold. I saw God by the river weary and old. He said, son, I used to know where I put things, I used to know…

SEABROOK: It's such a melancholy idea of God losing track of things.

Mr. SOLLEE: This song isn't so much about religion and spiritualism as much as it is just about aging. Both of my grandparents are dealing with dementia right now. And they're just sort of forgotten all that they created and did. I simply use the character of God and the idea that if we created everything we could potentially forget that he created it and that it would be up to us to show the beauty that he created.

(Soundbite of song, "Panning for Gold")

Mr. SOLLEE: (Singing) I saw God in the forest teaching tai chi to the trees in the wind and bowing to the sea. He said, son, I used to know where I put things, I used to know.

SEABROOK: Ben Sollee's new album is called "Learning to Bend." Thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. SOLLEE: Absolutely, Andrea. Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

SEABROOK: To hear more of Ben Sollee's work, check out the Music section of our Web site at

(Soundbite of song, "Panning for Gold")

Mr. SOLLEE: (Singing) I saw God on a mountain tearing at the sky. I saw God on a mountain with tears in his eyes. He said, son, I used to know where I put things, I used to know. I could have shown you all the beauty in the world but now I need you to show me. Yeah. Show me…

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