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Technology Influenced 'The Phosphorescent Blues'

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Friday February 20, 2015

From The Rolling Stone

Punch Brothers’ Chris Thile on How Pitfalls of Technology Inspired New Album
By: Nancy Dunham

Punch Brothers’ latest album, The Phosphorescent Blues, is a fine piece of art. The genius of Thile and bandmates Paul Kowert, Noam Pikelny, Chris Eldridge and Gabe Witcher is the artistry with which they mix bluegrass, roots, rock, pop, jazz and classical to create a unique, contemporary sound. On the T Bone Burnett-produced LP, that sound ranges from the 10-plus minute “thesis statement” of the new album, “Familiarity,” to their rendition of the traditional “Boll Weevil.” Those, and all the songs in between, easily fuel an array of personal ruminations.

Q. This record explores how technology has caused communication to shift. How have you experienced that change in your own life?

The boys and I have been a band now for eight or nine years and have experienced the rise of the smart phone together. When you sit down in the room with these same five guys and take stock of where your life is and where life in general is . . . We travel all over the place and we interact with people, and [we see] person after person experiencing life through phones.

As the boys and I start marrying ourselves off — I got married [on December 23rd, 2013 to actress Claire Coffee], and we have a baby on the way — even as I fear all the change that we have foisted on ourselves with smart phones, they are invaluable tools, especially for someone who is gone from the people he loves so much of the time. I don’t know if my wife and I could do what we do if it weren’t for these things.

Q. Did you start with that theme, or did it manifest itself?

A. We definitely didn’t go in with a theme. The theme kind of tackled us as we were working on the music, as our conversations would drift toward that kind of thing at the end of the night.

Q. How exactly does the songwriting process work for the Punch Brothers?

For me, music always leads. Lyrics are only about how they sing. It is wonderful if they read well, too. In the very best scenario, sometimes a lyric will pop out with a melody, simultaneously. That’s a lovely thing, but you can’t rely on that. So much of the time I will be working on an idea and syllables will come out of my mouth. The boys will make fun of me. It sounds like we’re in Dr. Seuss-land. They will look over and say, “What did you just say?” I can remember working on a lyric and I just kept singing the words, “Day old farmer. Day old farmer.” I have no idea why.

Read the rest of the interview here