Spend an evening with US bluegrass quintet Punch Brothers when they tour Australia this July off the back of their latest album, 'All Ashore'.
Released last year in July, 'All Ashore' is the fifth album for Punch Brothers and the first that's been entirely self-produced by the band. Mandolinist Chris Thile says the past ten or so months have been “interesting”, to say the least.
“It's interesting in that I think 'All Ashore' has been a slow burn for us, and I think that it's taken our audience a little while to get used to it,” Chris says.
“Even as those words come out of my mouth I feel that's been the case with each of our records,” he laughs, “and that basically every time we make a new record if my ears are to the ground, which I'm trying not to do anymore because I find it counter-productive, but when my ears are to the ground I always feel like the general consensus is 'it's interesting [but] I don't like it as much as the last record'.
“It feels like that's basically the same thing every time, and so for instance when 'All Ashore' came out and I was wondering what people were feeling about it, all of a sudden I started hearing such nice things about the last record ['The Phosphorescent Blues', 2015] for the first time and I was wondering where all those people were when that record came out.”
Chris has previously described 'All Ashore' as "a meditation on committed relationships in the present day, particularly in light of the current, unsettled political climate”. “The record is loaded, these are loaded times and the record reflects that,” Chris explains.
“All over the world, we're universally in a state of seemingly irreconcilable tension and the record sort of reflects that, and what's being expressed throughout is tense.
“I think now the boys and I have gotten to a place where we really understand what [the album] is and our audience has had some time with it, so I feel like we're starting to come together over that music, and also that that experience is not unique in our catalogue and each time we release something it just takes a while to settle in, not only with our audience but with us.”
The music Punch Brothers make is not the standard bluegrass fare, as they incorporate elements of modern classical in a blend that Stephen Holden of The New York Times dubbed 'American country-classical chamber music'.
Certainly there is an orchestral quality imbued in 'All Ashore' – Punch Brothers create music that requires more attentive listening; it's contemplative and naturally takes time to be absorbed in its fullness.
Though it may not resonate with listeners immediately, when it finally does the impact is real and lasting. “That's my impression of it,” Chris concurs, “that it's a record that requires a little participation; you really do have to get in there and start picking it apart, which ultimately is the thing that lights me up about music.”
The 'An Evening With Punch Brothers' tour has the band performing east-coast theatre shows as well as a spot at the Adelaide Guitar Festival.
Last here in 2016, Chris says the average three-year gap between Australian tours means their shows here are some of the most intense and sincere they play anywhere in the world.
“Because we tend to get down there once every two or three years, the version of Punch Brothers that you see… there's an urgency to that experience; we know we're not going to get down there again for a little while – we might not get down again until we have another batch of music to play – and so when we're down there you'll know that you're listening to five guys who are playing that show like it's the only show they're going to play there for the next three years.”
Punch Brothers 2019 Tour Dates
Sun 14 Jul - Woodville Town Hall @ Adelaide Guitar Festival Mon 15 Jul - The Tivoli Theatre (Brisbane) Tue 16 Jul - Arts Centre Melbourne Wed 17 Jul - Enmore Theatre (Sydney)