Put up your dukes — it's Punch Brothers time.
To say Chris Thile is interested in music would be akin to saying that boxing is reliant on punching. The guy is obsessed. He was born in Oceanside in 1981, and he told the Reader via phone how his upbringing there shaped his musical tastes.
“Southern California is a melting pot of melting pots,” Thile said. “Not having a music tradition of its own was beneficial for a young man of my musical orientation, which is fairly omnivorous.... There’s basically a bunch of people from all over who brought their little corner of the musical world with them and influenced each other. My dad was a part of the jazz scene in San Diego when he was growing up. It was a huge part of his life. It was a jazz scene that was very forward-looking. It had a lot of different kinds of things going on. People were trying all kinds of stuff. The acoustic scene they were a part of when I was growing up was really nontraditional.”
Thile started as a child with the young acoustic trio Nickel Creek. He was 8 years old when he started playing with Sara and Sean Watkins, who at age 12 was the old man of the trio. By their early 20s, the bandmates decided it was time to branch out.
“We’re like a family that gets along really well,” Thile explained, “but that’s still different than the kind of relationship you have with your best friends. Sean, Sara, and I didn’t choose, really, to make music with each other, if that makes sense. I think we would now, but when you’re 8 years old, the choices you make are more instinctual. So, in our early 20s we were becoming adults, and I think the three of us realized, We have to make some choices here. Let’s put this on hold and go make some choices for ourselves.”
Thile’s new best friends are the Punch Brothers, a bluegrass quintet that has played Letterman backing Steve Martin, had their musicianship in film scores as varied as the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis and Hunger Games, and was invited to cover the Cars’ “Just What I Needed” for the Onion A.V. Club’s “Undercover” series.
“We’re rooted in the present with an eye toward the future,” Thile said. “I think a lot of people associate bluegrass music with sort of an eye toward the past...this upholding of a certain standard. What we love most about it is how fiercely creative it was. That’s the standard that we’re trying to uphold.”