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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Chris Thile On The Mandolin: ‘It’s My Voice’

Chris Thile of the Punch Brothers performs during the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn. (AP)

Chris Thile’s love affair with the mandolin started early in life: at age two he fell for it when he heard the instrument played at a pizza place near his home.

“It was small and high pitched, like me,” the 31-year-old told Here & Now‘s Robin Young. “It was really interesting, especially to a little tiny person.”

As Thile grew, he learned to play the mandolin and at age eight, he formed the band Nickel Creek with siblings Sara and Sean Watkins.

‘It’s My Voice’

The group won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album in 2003. Thile has also collaborated with Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan and Edgar Meyer on “The Goat Rodeo Sessions” and he’s even written a mandolin concerto.

“I play the mandolin, which people don’t often expect great things from,” he said. “But it has it’s charms, and it’s my voice. I feel like I had as little choice in the matter as I do my speaking and singing voice.”

Chris Thile is now touring with his bluegrass band Punch Brothers behind their latest CD “Who’s Feeling Young Now.”

The Rhythm Of Bluegrass 

The group chose to do bluegrass instead of rock — which Thile says wouldn’t have been easy to do with a mandolin.

“The darned thing about mandolins is they’re really hard to turn up as loud as you would need to be to play with a drum set,” he said. “They cease to sound like mandolins.”

But Thile says that bluegrass helped him develop a strong sense of rhythm.

“There’s something about the banjo rolling, the mandolin is the snare drum… it’s such a tight knit ensemble and it exposes any flaws in rhythm so readily,” he said.


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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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