CHRIS THILE: GROWING IN MY TIME

 
After playing with these guys I don't remember what it's like to think that something's impossible.

-Chris Thile on How To Grow A Band

 
Photo of How To Grow A Band by Tobin Voggesser

I like how your records hang together. They're fully fleshed albums in the classic sense. This one in particular has a narrative that carries all the way through.

I didn't want to hit people over the head with the narrative. I wanted it to be a malleable narrative you could approach on your own terms. One thing that helps with that is instrumentals. When you have instrumentals on your side they can do any number of things for you. They can propagate a storyline or they can defuse any unwanted narrative intensity. I'm always in danger of presenting art that's too intense. I'm pretty intense myself. You don't want to be so much yourself. There's an art to keeping people in the dark to a certain extent. Sam Bush told me something Jethro Burns told him, which is never show everybody everything you've got, always hold something back. Now, I'm really bad at that. I always feel like I'm just throwing up on my audience and hoping for some strange reason they like it. As I get older, I'm getting better at it. For one thing, while there's some virtuosity present on the record it doesn't go all the way. When you see us live you're gonna be surprised at what these boys are capable of.

No kidding, man. There's some serious muscle and imagination to the How To Grow A Band band. Shifting gears, I really love your instrumentals. On Deceiver, it was "Waltz For Dwayne Pomeroy" that entranced me. With the new album it's "The Beekeeper." It's just the perfect intersection of acoustic music and modal jazz.


Noam Pikelny
Thank you so much! The C-section or development section, whatever you want to call it, where it actually sounds like a bunch of bees, was definitely influenced by that kind of thing. It's funny because that part didn't exist until we were in the practice room. I wondered, "What would happen right here if we went into this different kind of thing?" Of course, these guys are never scared of anything hard. So, Noam just started trying to learn it. I said, "Oh jeez, I don't think it's a banjo lick." Next thing you know he's working on it. You should see him play it on the banjo! He kicks that lick off! It is the most ridiculous thing you've ever seen to play that figure. Then Gabe [Witcher, violinist] started to do it, and I realized we could play this lick in three-part harmony [laughs]. Hallelujah, we're gonna do it! My life with these guys is kinda like that.

It's great when you have companions that rejuvenate your interest in the thing you already love. They expose a new aspect of it to you.

It sounds really really cheesy to say but after playing with these guys I don't remember what it's like to think that something's impossible.

That's so awesome. It's weird, too, because that dynamic seems at odds with the lyrics that often times struggle to find things to believe in. That's one of the things I really suffered in my divorce, that awful lack of faith in things – not just in God but in everything.


Chris Thile
Yeah, everything. I totally understand. That was my experience exactly, wondering what is good? What I came out of it with was a knowledge I could count on music. And that's another part the instrumentals play is that idea and abstraction, that you can take solace in human ingenuity. Religion is so difficult to pin down as a source of comfort and inspiration. Often times it's so vindictive

It's great for providing a general super-structure to hang things on and give some sense of your position in the universe but on a day-to-day basis you're often shit out of luck [laughs].

You're right, and particularly when something goes wrong like a divorce. That's just not supposed to happen, and none of it is good after that. You're trying to figure out what to do with the leftover love. You're trying to do something productive with the hatred, the actual hatred that's there...

...the resentment over wasting thousands of kisses on this person...

...having wasted all that energy and love that you thought was valuable, which now feels like it's been chucked in a dumpster, and trying to re-ascribe value to that love, trying to find someone who will help you do that without hurting them in the process. It's so difficult and through it all art shines forth this honest side, this good side of humans that you begin to doubt during a divorce.


Chris Thile
I also found myself reattaching myself vigorously to baseball and things like it that helped get me away from me and care about something else. So, when the Cubs lose I lose but I liked that. I don't have control over it. And that's one of the beautiful things about relationships, we are forced to let go of control. It is dark but what you can verbalize during that time tends to be dark. But an intelligent person doesn't totally give into those feelings. For me, there's always been a feeling that things will be okay and always have been. But those feelings are so ambiguous during these huge moments that they came out for me in the form of instrumentals. There were no love songs or happy endings to be written.

I'm not sure your love songs are ever happy, Chris [laughs]. I've spent a lot of time with Deceiver, which is problematic at best on the subject of love.

It's true but so is love. Love is this amazing, epic thing that will always be flawed. And it's all the more upsetting for it to be flawed because it's so wonderful. It's something we have to live with. Life is flawed and love is flawed but there's all this good floating around. For instance, the joy I have being able to play music with these guys and having an audience that cares to hear me. It's an amazing thing.

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[Published on: 5/29/07]

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Comments

BHK starstarstarstarstar Tue 5/29/2007 06:10PM
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BHK

Chris Thile and How to Grow a band was the best intimate acoustic show I have ever seen in LA and probably anywhere else in the country. DO NOT MISS THEM!

Marcsmall Tue 5/29/2007 06:13PM
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Marcsmall

Chris Thile is the man...I've been seeing him since he was about 13 years old.. I cannot believe how he's matured...One of the best mando players on the face of the earth

Climb To Safety starstarstarstarstar Tue 5/29/2007 07:35PM
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saw him at stagecoach festival in california. great time, played on the same stage as yonder.

kaiserbun starstarstarstarstar Wed 5/30/2007 07:42AM
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best mandolin player i've seen. i know a lot of people that don't like nickel creek. this project is extremely different, its fully bluegrass based. check it out. i thought bryan sutton was the guitar player? anyone know what's going on there?

snappy Wed 5/30/2007 07:50AM
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snappy

Chris played on the album and tours when his committments to the Stringdusters allow. When he can't make it Bryan Sutton plays guitar.

soulgrass Wed 5/30/2007 07:58AM
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Great article! snappy, you mean Gabe Witcher played on the album, but with the Infamous Stringdusters the majority of the time. Bryan Sutton fills in, and rather well. Get "How to Grow a Women from the Ground" if you don't already have it. It is a fine, fine album.

chrisprice Wed 5/30/2007 08:31AM
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This was an excellent article. I have often thought that Thile lacks the soul and emotion that many musicians have. As far as technical skills, he is one of the best mandolin players around. It was interesting to read that even he admits struggling with virtuosity and controlling it to make it easier for an audience to digest. The times I have seen Chris play he blows your mind with highly technical solos but there seems to be little soul to the music. He seems to be struggling with this himself and getting better at it everyday. I love the HTGAB album and the other musicians on the album are all amazing as well. Chris is definitely experiencing changes in his life and I look forward to seeing how these changes manifest in his music over the next few years.

snappy Wed 5/30/2007 08:41AM
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snappy

No, I was talking about Chris Eldridge not Chris Thile in the comment. Eldridge plays guitar for The Infamous Stringdusters, which he was part of before this band formed. And thanks for the good word on the article. Always appreciated.

soulgrass starstarstarstarstar Wed 5/30/2007 08:43AM
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Damn, I totally f-ed that up, sorry man. Yeah great article though!

kaiserbun Wed 5/30/2007 10:30AM
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thanks for clearing that up, i'm not sure why i thought sutton was a full-time member.

amashhoo starstarstarstarstar Thu 5/31/2007 06:05AM
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I never really liked Nickel Creek 'til I saw them live at Merlefest a couple years back. I was totally ignorant to the whole bluegrass scene at the time but I kept thinkin' "Damn, this mandolin dude is freakin' rockin!" Since then I have learned a lot about bluegrass and Thile. Saw him and the HTGAB in Atlanta and in San Francisco. My friends who came with me to the SF show had never been to a bluegrass show, and to this day still won't shut up about how phenomenal the show was. The most exciting thing for me, is what he will come up with in the years to come. There are no boundaries for this guy.

Whoopster Thu 5/31/2007 10:28AM
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I enjoyed the story!
Go Cubs!
Go Greegor!

OysterDead starstarstarstarstar Thu 5/31/2007 11:41AM
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OysterDead

Diggin' the album....is an understatement!

Robusto Sun 6/3/2007 02:49PM
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Robusto

Best interview I've read on Jambase. Kudos.

aronsylvan starstarstarstar Mon 6/4/2007 05:20AM
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Just saw these guys last night at The Iron Horse... Amazing!! The article is spot on, don't miss them if you get the chance.

gr8fulsj starstarstarstarstar Sat 9/8/2007 06:17PM
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gr8fulsj

Heard of Nickel Creek, could take 'em or leave 'em, not really bluegrassy enough for me,but always thought Chris should venture out...saw them at High Sierra this year...AMAZING...haven't listen to much else since. What they did with Heart in A Cage just blows me away. Noam plays great with LoS, but I like much better with HTGAB.