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Punch Back

Punch Brother Chris Thile's been busy

By Jim Caligiuri, 12:42PM, Wed. Nov. 2, 2011

Punch Back

When the Punch Brothers headlined Bass Concert Hall last September, Chris Eldridge got so sick the band was forced to perform as a quartet. Mandolin player Chris Thile recalls they didn't have time to rehearse as a four piece beforehand. “We really had to improvise the show that night,” he says. “It was fun to try and let on that you’re not missing something.”

The young acoustic quintet returns Saturday opening for Paul Simon at the Cedar Park Center, part of a run that highlights tunes from a just completed new album for 2012. Produced by Jacquire King, the Nashville-based engineer who's worked Kings of Leon, Modest Mouse, and Tom Waits, the new material flourished under the collaboration.

“Together we ended up with some music that I feel is definitely the most clear, concise, and direct statement from the Punch Brothers so far,” claims Thile. “We’re trying to distill what we do. At times the band can wax cerebral and the balance is delicate between that and the visceral side. I feel like the greatest music has it all in equal measure and we want this music to do that."

Besides working on something new, the Punch Brothers have been busy on projects outside the band. Noam Pikelny, the banjo player, just issued a solo album, Beat The Devil and Carry a Rail, and Thile's been promoting The Goat Rodeo Sessions with Yo Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, and Edgar Meyer.

“I love working. But I think this last year has been a little too crazy for me,” admits Thile. “But there were opportunities that I simply couldn’t turn down despite the fact that I really didn’t have the time. So I’ve been just trying to make it work. The band is definitely the primary focus, but I have a lot of energy. I try to work some things into the cracks and end up with some things that I’m very proud of.”

Meyer’s classical connections led to The Goat Rodeo Sessions, a congregation Thile found thrilling once all four musicians came together as a band.

“We’re not a group of odd collaborators,” he explains. “Ma is a spectacular human being and an amazing musician. His greatness stems from his ability to understand people and use that understanding in the music he’s playing. He plays everything with his whole heart.

“He’s not much of an improviser much in the same way I don’t sight read. I can read music, but you don’t want to hear me sight read. It’s the same kind of thing and there’s different strengths and weaknesses in the band.”

Starting this week the Punch Brothers are Thile's focus again. He says Paul Simon's a fan of the band, which led to them opening this leg of the tour.

“It’s good opportunity for us to start woodshedding some of the new material. We want to keep it fresh for us. I think the new material is great and I’m really excited to play some of it in front of people.”

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