As I mentioned in a previous blog post, Chris Thile is one of the greatest musicians on earth. If you’ve ever listened to either of my radio shows, you’ll know that I’m prone to hyperbole - but I really mean that one.
In fact it’s been said about Chris that “Chris Thile can do things on the mandolin that most people can’t do on any instrument”. I got a chance to sit down and talk to Chris and his band Punch Brothers a little before their gig at Lee’s Palace in Toronto (which was awe-inspiring). This whole interview will be spread out over a few blog posts, but in this one - we talked a little bit about their new record Who’s Feeling Young Now, and how it feels to be leaving bluegrass behind.
Tom: Punch Brothers are notoriously prolific. You’ve released four albums in just five years. What’s the progression been of your sound through that time?
Thile: When we started the band, it was sort of a brainchild of mine. It started life sounding like that, the infant of one particular guy. As we’ve grown, it’s become more truly collaborative. Eventually I grew up and realized everything was going to be better if I didn’t try to micromanage everyone’s parts. So now the music forms very naturally and the lyrics that I write are subjected to everyone’s approval - and as a result I hope it sounds like a more cohesive project that sounds like it’s coming from the five of us.
Tom: I saw you guys recently down in Columbus, Georgia, and you just did what you do -- progressive music being played on instruments typically associated with bluegrass. But never a "bluegrass band." Still when it came time for requests, people called out old bluegrass standards like "Salt Creek" or "Pike County Breakdown." What’s your relationship with the bluegrass community now?
Thile: I think at this point; those members of the bluegrass community for whom preservation of a sacred Bluegrass tradition is the most important aspect of music making; I think they’ve pretty much written us off. I’m not interested in them at all. but I’m not interested in what they think of music because it’s not in line with that I think is important. Good music preserves itself. Great music is wrapped in a thick layer of salt and will stand the test of time. And it certainly doesn’t any help from contemporary artists, except for people who might not already know about the music - we can say “Hey, you should check out stuff like Bill Monroe circa when Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs were in the band.” That music is already made, it’s awesome, and it can only be made less well. You can’t do it again.
To see a little bit of Chris playing - check out this video: