Plenty of musicians pour into Los Angeles each day (a number of former Ashevilleans among them), but singer-songwriter and cellist Ben Sollee can’t seem to get out fast enough. “I like a lot of things being created in L.A.,” he says. Among them a practice session with former Sparrow Quartet bandmate Abigail Washburn, captured on Instagram. Before that, Sollee was in the San Francisco Bay area for the premiere of a new dance collaboration with choreographer Ben Needham-Wood. The score was commissioned by the Smuin Ballet. Speaking to Xpress from the airport on his way back to his native Kentucky, Sollee says, “It’s all about pace and scale. The pace I’m moving at in my career is more sustainable for me as a husband and father.”
Not that Sollee, who’s played many shows in Asheville in the past (including a stop on his Ditch the Van tour by bicycle), is moving slowly. Current projects include the next installment of his Steeples recording project, to be released as a series of EPs. He’s working on that around film score commissions, the design of “The Vanishing Point” virtual reality musical experience app (a collaboration with game developers Woodpenny) and the ground work for a music residency pilot program through the Carolina Theatre of Durham. For that, Sollee has already toured schools and worked with Beat Making Lab. But more immediately, Sollee and his band are embarking on a tour with Mother Falcon, a 15-plus-member collective from Austin, Texas. The two groups perform together at The Grey Eagle Friday, Oct. 16.
That collaboration evolved out of a shared show years ago, followed by a joint cover of Daft Punk’s “Lose Yourself to Dance.” “We said, ‘We should do a tour sometime,’” says Sollee. “Saying that is one thing, but doing it is another considering it’s a small army of musicians. It took some time.” But they’re excited to be able to set up onstage as one big band. The show promises fresh music and creative, collective arrangements of each other’s material. Much of that has been hashed out through email and shared demos.
“It’s all of us musicians who were sitting in the back of the orchestra goofing off with musical ideas,” says Sollee. “We’re uniting now. The back of the orchestra takes the front of the stage.”
Mother Falcon was born out of the after-school jam sessions of a group of teenage orchestra members. Led by vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Nick Gregg, the indie-orchestra (instruments range from violin and viola to bouzouki and tenor sax) recently released its third album, Good Luck Have Fun. Half of the album is made up of “experimental instrumental soundscapes composed as the score to an upcoming documentary about competitive gaming,” according to a press release.
If the path from high school band to South by Southwest darlings and in-demand touring outfit seems like the road less taken, Mother Falcon has found a kindred spirit in Sollee. The cellist has used his talent to draw attention to environmental causes, such as mountaintop removal in coal mining, and his September collaboration with the Smuin Ballet was not his first foray into composing music for classical dance. The cellist’s work with the North Carolina Dance Theatre in Charlotte includes an original score for the company’s performance of Dangerous Liaisons.
Sollee went to the School for the Creative and Performing Arts in Lexington, Key., where he got involved with theater, including two years of studying dance. “There’s not a wealth of young male dancers in Kentucky, for some reason,” he jokes. He chose to focus on music in college, “but I promised myself I’d do what I could to bring live music to dance, because, budgets being what they are, dancers often have to dance to canned music. And that’s no way to dance.”
The cellist is also interested in bringing live music to less obvious places, such as the wilderness. As part of his work with the Carolina Theatre, Sollee recently performed a Hike-In Concert at West Point Park. “I’m finding [inspiration] more and more in nature these days,” he says. “I like the sound of acoustic music outdoors. You don’t have the reflections of being in a building, and people can gather and do their thing. It’s more of an unscripted play.”
He continues, “There’s a fine line with polluting the environment with sound and just being another bird in a tree.” It’s been a bit of a moral dilemma. “I don’t want to take music into one of the few places where people can get quiet,” he says. “I might be heading down the path of just capturing the natural sounds that are already there.”
Or maybe not. Sollee’s upcoming shows with Mother Falcon promises to be a study of refined and unbridled sonic expression. “There will be impromptu moments,” he says, along with an effort to maximize the various talents among the musicians. “It’s going to be the type of show that people don’t see very often.”
WHO: Ben Sollee with Mother Falcon
WHERE: The Grey Eagle, thegreyeagle.com
WHEN: Friday, Oct. 16, 8 p.m. $14 advance/$17 day of show