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Five Things: Ben Sollee On Coffee, Zelda, And His Favorite Cello


One of the best things about hosting Five Things is talking to people who do a lot of interviews -- a LOT of interviews -- but interviewing them in a totally different way.

My guest this week, Louisville-based musician Ben Sollee, is a good example. He's been recording and touring since 2008, so he's done many interviews over the years. He's good at talking about his music, how he makes it, why he does what he does, and the environmental and cultural issues he wants to advocate.

But this exercise of selecting physical objects is a way to get someone like Ben out of the usual "artist interview" routine, and even if you've heard him interviewed before, this conversation was something different. He’s got a new album called “Kentucky Native,” and a new baby on the way later this fall. And as you’ll hear, he’s taking stock of what’s important and thinking about what’s next. Listen in the player above. 

On his antique, hand-cranked coffee grinder:
"Every morning my activity is literally just to wake up, and just grind my coffee. This thing's well over 120, 130 years old and it still works phenomenally well. And I love the fact that it's human-powered. There's something that feels very tactile about it, and something that reminds me that I'm where I am, when I'm grinding it, which I think -- for me, as a musician -- is a particularly important thing because when you're racing around on planes and trains and automobiles, it's very easy to either let go of caring about where you are or just to forget altogether."

On how playing video games has impacted his composing work:
"I remember spending so much time working on the storyline and fighting all the enemies in this Zelda game, and I had so many folks tell me that I was wasting my time, and what good was that going to be for me down the line. I should be learning how to do woodworking or hunting or anything like that, and of course, they're probably right. But what they were wrong about was the time spent playing Zelda on a video game system and interacting with a screen turned out to be incredibly crucial and important to being a film composer these days.

On his favorite cello, nicknamed "Kay":
"Even picking up Kay, I can feel my blood pressure go down. So I can understand how, you know, knights would feel, like certain swords are imbued with certain powers. And I also feel like, when I sit down to play, it's private time. It's the one thing that I've been doing more than anything else in my whole life. And so even if it's onstage in front of a lot of people, it still feels like private time, because my nervous system feels at home."

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