Taking bluegrass out of the swamp with their indie and modern classical sensibilities, the Punch Brothers are returning to the Guitar Festival and Adelaide where leader Chris Thile hopes to get reacquainted with some of our famous wines.
Thile, the Punch Brothers’ mandolinist and singer, says the five piece’s last visit to Adelaide was an “amazing experience” that “kindled a total wine obsession”. “I’ve gotten into full-blown wine geek mode,” Thile says from his current base of Portland, Oregon, where his wife (Claire Co ffee) stars in the popular NBC show Grimm. If you’re an American who loves Australian wine it is a problem, according to Thile, as the Aussie wine he gets over there “doesn’t hold a candle” to the local wines available here. “It’s a real shame,” he says. “It’s very frustrating, so I look forward to not just going back and playing music – although that would certainly be enough, the last time we played the Adelaide Guitar Festival we had a blast – I’m also looking forward to getting to drink some real killer Australian wine.” Since their last visit, the Punch Brothers released their most ambitious album to date, the Grammy nominated The Phosphorescent Blues, a meditation on modern technology and communication, which includes the epic opening track Familiarity, a 10-minute opus that mixes Americana with classical movements and peak Beach Boys harmonies that proves the Punch Brothers are one of America’s most eclectic and talented out fits. While Thile says the band are thinking about the next album, it de finitely will not have technology and communication as an overriding theme even though he thinks it’s a central issue in today’s life. “I certainly often feel like I’m a slave to my phone and that it’s like the dark side sucking me in, ‘I’m just going to check Twitter one more time. I’m just going to take a picture of this real quick and share it with my friends.’ Yet as a travelling musician, there are so many positive aspects [of modern technology]. I get to see my little boy when I’m gone. I can FaceTime my wife and all of a sudden I’m seeing my little boy and he can see me. I wouldn’t trade that for the world. I don’t think I could have the same kind of vibrant musical life I have now without the phone. “I love going to Australia. I get to go every other year. If I didn’t have the phone I couldn’t go that much, it’s so far away from my family. It really helps to stay in touch. So there are good things about it. Phosphorescent Blues is a meditation on all of those things. It doesn’t provide answers but it’s just an opportunity to trot out all those issues and think about them.” Thile has just recorded a Bach record with Edgar Meyer and Yo-Yo Ma that will be released next year as well as a record with pianist Brad Mehldau, also due for release in 2017. Then there is a project with fellow Guitar Festival headliner Béla Fleck, which they are due to start working on soon. Aside from that and “hammering out what the next Punch Brothers record is going to be”, Thile will take over hosting duties of the legendary live radio variety show A Prairie Home Companion (also the basis for Robert Altman’s last film of the same name) from Garrison Keillor. “I was raised with it,” Thile says of the show that has around four million weekly listeners. “My family would listen to it every Saturday and then to a certain degree I was raised on it; I played the show for the first time when I was 15 or 16. The opportunity to help see it into its next phase of life is mind boggling to me. I feel very honoured. I think it’s a huge responsibility and I will do my best to give the show a reason to exist after Garrison’s involvement. Of course he will still be involved in a certain way. But he won’t be hosting anymore. The show will change to re flect the fact that the new host is a musician and not a writer. But it will still be a fair amount of spoken word, hopefully funny as well. I’ll do my very best to make it a source of wonderful music that’s made with love and skill. We’re still working out the nuts and bolts of what it will be but it’s a tremendous opportunity for me and one that I take very seriously.” Punch Brothers Adelaide International Guitar Festival, Adelaide Town Hall Thursday, August 11 adelaidefestivalcentre.com.au/guitar-festival