Sometimes it ain’t easy being a bicycle activist/indie rocker. Last fall, Ben Sollee and his crew (which included Xpress’s own Clubland Editor Dane Smith) were forced to cut short the last leg of their southern bike tour thanks to some pretty dicey Mississippi and Alabama highways. Not to mention the not-so-bike-friendly drivers flying down them.
“Yeah, the epic bike tour!” Sollee says with a groan. “It was just too dangerous down there. I mean, we don’t ride our bikes necessarily to save the world, we ride them to just be a part of the world in a more compelling way. The cars were driving really aggressively, and there was no bike infrastructure. So we canceled it before anybody got hurt.”
But a guy like Sollee doesn’t give up easy. Even though the multi-instrumental songwriter (think of a more soulful Andrew Bird) won’t be biking into town with a cello strapped to his back this time around, he’s got some other sustainable tricks up his sleeve.
“We’re offering a $5 voucher to anyone that rides a bike, walks or uses public transit to get to the show,” he says of Saturday’s gig at The Orange Peel. “That will get them a free gift at the merch table or $5 off of whatever they want. Because that’s really where the big impact of the show is, of course. It’s not how we get there, but how everyone else gets there.”
The Kentucky native is also teaming up with local advocacy group Asheville On Bikes to set up a bicycle valet right outside the doors. “People will be able to ride their bikes up, drop them off, walk in with their helmet, get a voucher, then rock it,” he says.
And rock it is right. Sollee’s third and latest album, Half-Made Man, is easily his rawest and catchiest to date, but still packed with the odd time signatures and highly-literate narratives he’s become known for.
“It’s a collection of self-portraits, all these little pieces of who I am,” he says. “And we tried to illustrate those with live performances in the studio. For the first time, I put together a band of musicians that really had all distinct voices (including My Morning Jacket guitarist Carl Broemel). We worked out the arrangements as an ensemble, then played the songs live and tried to capture more of a vibe rather than a pristine execution of the song. I just let the direction of the album go where the strengths of the musicians were, rather than, as I’ve done in the past, arrange everything and compose most of the parts and overdub everything. I think it came out with a little bit more of a rock ‘n’ roll, live, raw feel.”
Ben Sollee performs at the Orange Peel on Saturday, Sept. 29. 9 p.m. $15/$17. Luke Reynolds opens.