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as anything…” Chris says. “…as Louis Armstrong said: ‘It’s all folk music, I ain’t never heard no horse making any music.’ We look like a bluegrass band and play bluegrass instruments. That is what we know and what we grew up with. We can feel our way into innovating with these instruments we know, and love what they have come from. We are proud to come from that; a bluegrass band sets us up uniquely for development of material that has both feet firmly planted in the present and not the past—looking forward not backwards.” “We are inspired by, but not beholden to, what’s happened


I


before. We exist now. It’s happening now. File it under bluegrass, and a lot would associate that with an eye that’s looking backwards.” On hearing their latest album, many bluegrass purists may set


their alarm clock to get up earlier, so they have longer to dislike Punch Brothers’ music! Noam comes in on that thought: “We are marketing a clock designed just for that; it plays Punch Brothers’ tracks so the first thing you hear when you wake up is us, and you can then start cussing at it.” I’ll have 10. I tell the boys I genuinely have never heard anyone who


sounds like Punch Brothers. “My favourite description of what we do is ‘other worldly roots.’ How do you determine roots music? Bill Monroe was trying to use all his influences and his roots were in Scottish, Irish, Celtic traditions and he was influenced by black blues musicians.” Noam continues. “He was drawing upon all of that. We draw upon Bill Monroe, but also everything else that has come along since then, and what came along before Bill Monroe that he may not have had access to.” “There are some who get so obsessed with that sound, they


want the music to be what it was in 1946 and would take offence at what we are doing, if you called us bluegrass. But we are coming from the same place.” “What we want to do is far more similar to what Bill Monroe


did, than if we just did what he did.” Chris chips in. “He was a brilliant, innovative creator and we want to be like him. I’d love to be like him, but we can’t because he didn’t sound like anything else. If we are to truly respect and appreciate, and embody the spirit of a creator like Bill Monroe or like Thom Yorke from Radiohead, or Bartok the composer, hopefully we won’t sound like any of them, because they don’t sound like anyone I can think of. They would never have wanted to sound like anyone else.” The difference between this latest CD and their previous


two is, as Chris says: “…clearer and more concise. We hit on a collaborative process that is more natural and more liquid, resulting in material that stretches us without losing the identity. Previous projects, someone would come with an idea and we would eventually cover up that original idea with a bunch of things.”


met up with Chris and Noam in a bar, (sadly, it was early and closed) in London. So how do they describe their own music? “You could file under folk, which is as good


The band who now all live in New York, have been together


six years and touring for five of those, and this record marks a turning point that they say makes them more sure footed as an ensemble. Maybe they feel the previous records were more of a vehicle for Chris and his mandolin and not a unit. This one is 100% about the band. It seems the mandolin is part of the rhythm section and not out there as virtuoso all the time. They tell me the songs dictated that approach: “We write the things we are not hearing, that we want to hear.” Chris says the latest songs called for a more rhythmical


style of playing from him, as if he was a drum set; being more percussive. This album avoids the predictable structure of a song, where there are solos galore. “None of us got to hear it back and said: ‘Oh my God, where are the mandolin solos?’” Noam tells me. Chris laughs loudly, adding: “When you are composing a piece of music, it is almost like there is a code in that idea. If you want to write a good song you have to adhere to that code in the original idea. That code dictates the form the song takes.” “On the song Movement And Location, Chris [Eldridge] unlocked


the code from the original idea. I misread the code of the original idea and had this elaborate, geeky idea of how it should develop. He heard a simple thing at the root of it and played it with the bass player….Critter [Chris] unlocked it. A lot of the stuff on this CD is about being true to the nature of the original idea.” “It is a language you develop. I started out thinking at


everyone; my ideas coming at people, but started to learn how to speak a language together. Now when someone has an idea, we all instantly understand what they are saying. It is like our own think tank … ” They admit that WHO’S FEELING YOUNG NOW? is not the


‘lightest record’ and there is a ‘heaviness to a lot of the music.’ For me, in the playing, the production and the arrangements, I’d say there is a deft lightness of touch, where the songs are really stripped back so they aren’t buried under playing and production. “It is like we are at a table in a quiet dimly lit bar, telling


stories to a group of close friends; swapping stories that don’t necessarily paint you in a positive light, but we all need to hear to learn how to take the next step,” Chris explains. They’re full of praise and admiration for what producer


Jacquire King brought to the party. He’s worked his magic with Tom Waits, Modest Mouse, Kings of Leon, and Josh Ritter. Punch Brothers cut the new CD at John McBride’s (country singer Martina’s husband) Blackbird Studios in Nashville. He’s the man they call the sixth Punch Brother for his contribution to this project, as Chris says: “He gave us a more clear presentation of the material and helped so much with that. He’d say: ‘hold on fellas, this was a lot better two hours ago. Strip it back, it wasn’t broken.’ He pulled us back and knew when to tell us to stop.” To the horror of the bluegrass purists, they used amplifiers and effects on the tracks.


Maverick 43


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