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  • Interview: Chris Thile

    Fri, 24 Aug 2007 16:06:34

    Interview: Chris Thile - Folk wunderkind talks about band family and transcending musical stereotypes

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    As part of acoustic bluegrass act Nickel Creek, Chris Thile racked up gold-selling records and a Grammy win before he turned 25. His latest solo release, How to Grow a Woman From the Ground showcases his virtuoso mandolin skills with a mix of darkly delicate songs and complex instrumentals.

    ARTISTdirect caught up with him after his solo tour to talk about Nickel Creek's decision to split and his plans with a new band.

    You've been part of Nickel Creek since you were eight‹over seventeen years now. Is it different working with your new band?

    It's kind of like the difference between hanging out with your family and hanging out with your friends. That's one of the reasons we're putting Nickel Creek to bed; we've got to the point where we're taking it for granted a little bit, and it's time to go out and do something else because it's not as exciting as it once was. This is a much smaller enterprise, so we're not touring on a bus, we're in a van—which is way less comfortable!

    How would you describe the style of your new material with The Tensions Mountain Boys?

    We're going to be on the fence between being pop musicians and formal folk musicians. It's sort of folk music that transcends the boundaries that folks put between themselves. I think the very best music that's made transcends all boundaries, between pop and formal and folk. Everybody can just love it. There's a truth about it. The fifteen year-old mall-rat has Mozart as her ringtone, and the world's greatest classical thinkers have "Love Me Do" on their iPods, and that's the way it's always been. And for every musician, that's the goal. We don't ever really expect to achieve it, but we're going to give it a try. Why the hell not?

    Do you worry that your old fans won't find the new material as accessible as your last solo record, Deceiver, or even the Nickel Creek records?

    Some of them will follow. Not all of them, because some of them will get uncomfortable with the new material, and that's fine for me. I can get by making strange music, which is an enviable position to be in. If you can sustain yourself by being a musician, then you've won! But I do think that people are getting sick and tired of music that's easy to listen to. Very soon, music fans are going to want something that challenges them a little more, and I'd love to be the person to do that.

    The new record has covers of 'Dead Leaves in the Dirty Ground' by the White Stripes, and also 'Heart in a Cage' by the Strokes. How do you pick which tracks to try?

    It's usually just me hearing a song and feeling we can shed some light on it, offer a different perspective. We have a great bunch we like to do live, Radiohead's 'Morning Bell', as well the ones on the record. We'll come up with another round when the band kicks off full-time and starts touring again in January.

    What kind of music are you listening to right now?

    Lately I've been listening to Bach's Third and Fourth Symphonies, over and over again. Also, the new Of Montreal record 'Of Hissing Fauna's'‹it's a really interesting record, I like it a lot. I find it very provocative. I don't love everything about it, but I find myself listening to it all the time. I want my music to be compelling like that; a lot of the time, the music I listen to most is really disturbing to me in some way, but I love that in itself. We've been pulling out cool stuff in the van, old records that meant a lot to us. I got out Bela Fleck 'Tales From the Acoustic Planet' the other day, the first volume, and it was really cool to hear that again and still think it's a great record.

    —Abby McDonald

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