Q&A with Chris Thile

Chris Thile is a very busy man. Known for his skill as a mandolin player from a young age, he’s fronted newgrass outfits Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers, worked alone and with a wide variety of musicians, and most recently collaborated with cellist Yo-Yo Ma on a record titled The Goat Rodeo Sessions.

On Sunday, Thile performs solo at Durham’s Carolina Theatre. He talked to Assistant Diversions Editor Allison Hussey about his many musical endeavors and how he stays sane with it all.

DIVERSIONS: How did you get involved with the Goat Rodeo Sessions project?

Chris thile in durham

Time: 8 p.m. Sunday
Location: The Carolina Theatre, 309 W. Morgan St., Durham
Info: carolinatheatre.org

CHRIS THILE: Well, I’ve known Edgar (Meyer, double bass) for about 15 years now, and we’ve worked together a lot over those fifteen years. One of the things we did together was a little trio for a Yo-Yo Ma holiday record, and the three of us had so much fun that we decided we needed to make sure it happened again.
Edgar and I came up with the idea of adding Stuart (Duncan, fiddle) into the mix and Yo-Yo said, “Well, that sounds great!” and off we went.

DIVE: What are you most proud of on that record?

CT: Edgar and I have worked a lot over the years, and I feel like one of the things that we’ve tried to do over the course of our collaboration is sort of propagate the idea that musicians like Stuart and Yo-Yo are not really that different. I think that this project is like our doctoral thesis on the question, and it became a four-headed doctoral thesis as Yo-Yo and Stuart became the proof and started to become the coauthors of the thesis.

It was so rewarding to be a part, a quarter of a project that blurred the lines between informal and formal music that should never have been there in the first place.

DIVE: What can people expect from your solo shows?

CT: The solo show is kind of an opportunity for me to be as schizophrenic as I am musically. I go all over the place and do so at the drop of a hat, it’s really fun for me. I have no one to consult. Whatever comes into my head at any given moment, I can chase it, and that’s what I like to do.

It’s an opportunity for me to just go crazy, and hopefully it’s not too self-indulgent, I try to keep tabs on how indulgent I’m being and stop just short of being overly-indulgent. But it is an opportunity for me to be as crazily diverse as I enjoy.

I’ll definitely be playing a good deal of Bach, but also I’ll work in some totally traditional bluegrass and some really aggressive punk music or something. It’ll be all over the deck.

DIVE: How is it difficult to balance so many different projects?

CT: I’m tired. I’m tired, but I’m satisfied. I’m tired, but I feel that I’ve worked hard enough that I deserve to sleep at night. That’s what I’m going for. I’m jittery, and I need to do stuff before I start feeling useless, and so I work, and I love it. I absolutely love it, and I love feeling drained at the end of the night.

DIVE: What has been the most rewarding part of making music?

CT: I think when you’re playing music with people, it’s a sense of communion with your fellow man that you rarely experience in any situation. Sometimes when you play music by yourself, the same thing can happen with people who aren’t even alive. Like, when you’re playing Bach or something, there’s this sense of communion with something far greater than yourself.

I think that’s the most rewarding part of all of this, that sense of — to me, it’s just being able to play music with people, or even just by myself, it’s like a heightened sense of being. It’s what it means to be alive to me, it’s kind of to transcend the cares of daily life like getting enough oxygen, getting enough food, getting enough sleep, trying to be productive — transcending all of those things and just delighting in the sense of mutual creation. That’s what I get out of this.

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