Ben Sollee recording in the Mosquito Hut. Prospect, Kentucky. 2013. Photo:PMJ
Ben Sollee spent a few days this past summer trying to capture the songs and sounds that influence his life and music. The makeshift recording studio, a small house nestled in a hollow near Prospect, Kentucky, provided the backdrop for the project, a covers record, including songs by Arthur Russell, Otis Redding, Paul Simon, Harry Belafonte, The Zombies, Howard Finster, Bill Monroe, Fiona Apple, Tom Waits, and Gillian Welch. Screened porches, hallways, decks, and living rooms lend their own particular character to the recordings, and the hollow’s voice can be heard throughout: bugs chirp, birds whistle, water flows, and the wind blows. More collaborators than background, the house and hollow provide the listener with a rich audial scenery and shape Sollee’s voice and cello as he seeks to capture his own versions of the songs that have shaped his development as a musician and songwriter.
The Mosquito Hut. Prospect, Kentucky. 2013. Photo: PMJ
Sollee has been visiting the hollow for years with family and friends, seeking refuge from hectic tour schedules and life on the road. According to Sollee, “It’s a place to recharge and be still between the manic pace of the road. Over the years I have written songs, ballets, and ﬁlm scores while visiting and thought it would be a special thing to share, at least sonically. We really featured its voice on the recordings. It is a magical place and I tried to let it conduct me.”
Oliver Sollee with his bug net and flashlight. Prospect, Kentucky. 2013. Photo: PMJ
I had the good fortune of being in Prospect for the recording session, mostly to take pictures, but managed to cook some veggie burgers for the crew and generally stay out of the way. The weekend had the distinct feeling of a musical hunting trip. I watched as Sollee and drummer Jordon Ellis attempted to catch each of the familiar tracks in one take, allowing little room for error and necessitating lots of starting over. The one-take process was extremely time consuming and must have been exhausting for the musicians, but the result is a brutally honest recording that feels very grounded and rich with place. This is not the geographically non-specific studio recording that has become the norm. According to Sollee, “The best camera is the one you have with you and the best sound is the one at hand. These recordings are not “perfect,” nor was it the goal to make them so. I think of them as little snapshots, old Polaroids of a time, place, and sound. There are so many artists from the past I wish I could hear in this context. Simply as they are, huddled in their little corner of the world being as they are, unmeasured by the phantom ruler of “success” in the music industry.”
Sollee on a night hike. Prospect, Kentucky. 2013. Photo: PMJ
Night Hike, Prospect, Kentucky. 2013. Photo: PMJ
The weekend ended with an impromptu night hike and bug catching expedition through the woods. At one point, we turned off our flashlights and, once our eyes adjusted, continued walking in nearly complete darkness, down into the hollow and alongside a small lake. It was a fitting end to the weekend – wandering through a familiar place but with only our most basic senses to guide us. The forest was full of its own music that night: frogs, birds, owls, cicadas, and dozens of other unidentified creatures large and small. It was those sounds and their makers that originally brought Sollee to this place and that are now forever preserved alongside the musician’s cello and hollow voice.
Sollee recording in the Mosquito Hut. Prospect, Kentucky. 2013. Photo: PMJ
Sollee recording in the Mosquito Hut (2). Prospect, Kentucky. 2013. Photo: PMJ
Sollee recording in the Mosquito Hut (3). Prospect, Kentucky. 2013. Photo: PMJ
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— Reported by Phillip March Jones