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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Banjo Master Noam Pikelny Tells "How To Beat The Devil", Talks Punch Brothers, And More!

Let's start as far back as it gets: the very beginning. Can you discuss how and when you began playing banjo? What inspired you to learn the banjo?

Noam Pikelny: I started playing banjo when I was 8 years old. My family lives in Chicago, and my brother began taking mandolin lessons after seeing a bluegrass band come and play at his school, as part of an Arts in the Schools program. I think the band was called Buck Stove and Range Company. 

My mom and I would drive my brother to his weekly mandolin lessons in Evanston. While he was in the lesson, we'd play catch in the park. Eventually, I got jealous of his hobby and wanted to learn an instrument of my own. My mom suggested the banjo, thinking that my brother and I would be able to play music together. I wasn't that familiar with the banjo or bluegrass & old time music. I thought, “Why not?” and we rented a banjo for my eighth birthday and I started taking lessons at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago.

Who were some of your early influences when you began playing, then writing music?

Noam: My earliest influences were musicians I got introduced to through Old Town. I started out learning banjo in the clawhammer style. I really enjoyed the playing of Michael J. Miles, my first teacher, Mark Dvorak, and a Chicago Folk Hero named Fleming Brown who had already passed away by that point when I was starting. Fleming had a really great album called The Little Rosewood Casket and Other Songs of Joy.

I was turned on to the music of Bela Fleck by an employee at a Coconuts music store in Chicago. This was around the time that Bela had just launched the Flecktones. I was blown away, and wanted to see with my own eyes how he was getting such modern sounds out of the banjo. I went and saw The Flecktones play at Navy Pier, and actually got to meet Bela and play for him a bit. I was really inspired and decided to ditch clawhammer and starting learning bluegrass banjo in the 3-finger Scruggs style as a pathway towards one day playing jazz and progressive music on the instrument.

Once I started getting into the more traditional playing of Scruggs, and J.D. Crowe, I fell in love with Bluegrass and was consumed with learning the style, not as simply a bridge to more modern music. I started taking lessons with Greg Cahill, of the Special Consensus, and was introduced to a wonderful guitar player and writer named Slavek Hanzlik, who was making his home in both Chicago and Prague at that point.

Slavek's records with Bela Fleck, Tim O'Brien, Mark Schatz and Stuart Duncan were a real inspiration to me at that stage. It was the first time I was able to interface with a player on that level, who was collaborating with heroes of mine. Slavek's records were in heavy rotation back then, along with Bela Fleck's Drive, and countless Tony Rice, Bluegrass Album Band, Lonesome River Band, and Flatt & Scruggs records. I remember the first time hearing the Strength and Numbers record. Casey Driessen, who was a bandmate of mine in our early teenage years, played me a cassette of it, and we thought it was the coolest thing in the world.

(photo courtesy of Drew Beedy)

Considering the same question today, considering where you are in your trajectory, what/ who are some of your current influences and sources of inspiration?

Noam: I've been absolutely obsessed with a pedal steel player named Vance Terry. Sadly, he's not alive anymore, and there are few recorded examples of him. There is a live album called Brisbane Bop, recorded with Jimmie Rivers and the Cherokees that is an amazing showcase of Vance's genius. The album is from the 60's, but right now, there's nobody in the world I'd rather hear improvise.

For a large portion of my time away from working with Punch Brothers and doing my own solo works, I've devoted to learning some of Vance's music and trying to understand what he's doing. It's frustrating trying to transcribe his music for banjo. You have to ditch a lot of the voices, and have to simulate the ideas without sustain and the pedals. It's really been rewarding though for me. Ok, off the Vance Terry soapbox.

I've been listening to a lot of John Hartford lately. Unfortunately, I got into his music only within the last 5 years. It's strange, because my parents had Hartford records in the house when I was growing up. I think I just assumed he was just another Folkie because he existed in my parents’ record collection, so I passed him by. Hartford is really the gold standard if you ask me, as an artist. There's a bootleg recording floating around of John Hartford playing a solo show in LaCrosse, WI in the early eighties. It's one of the most impressive displays of virtuosity, showmanship and soul that I've ever come across.

As far as folks who are living that have really moved me as of late, I'd say Tom Waits, Bill Frisell, & Jesca Hoop. As much as I love instrumental music, there's no more important task for a musician than playing behind a singer, and serving the song. Very few people do that better than players like Paul Franklin, Duke Levine, Stuart Duncan & Jerry Douglas, and I've tried to absorb as much as possible from the records and shows they've been on. 

A lot has happened since you released your last solo album, In The Maze. For newcomers, who may only be familiar with your work with Punch Brothers, can you talk a little bit about writing, recording, and putting In The Maze together?

Noam: I was playing in a band from Colorado called Leftover Salmon at the time In the Maze came out. I had grown up in the world of Acoustic music, and was used to playing for sit-down crowds in more listening-oriented rooms. Leftover Salmon was a real departure from that. I was thrust onto the scene with such a wild group of guys, playing loud, fast, and sometimes chaotically in rock rooms in front of an extremely energetic audience.

It was a real thrill, I was still a student in Illinois before joining the band, and all of a sudden I was touring around the country with a very established band. It was a profound experience. It was an intense introduction to the world of being a full-time musician, but also a master class in showmanship. Vince Herman can move an audience like few others that I've witnessed first-hand. Things were typically loud and crazy, and so In The Maze represented a chance to return to playing more acoustically and tone-fully. I wanted to showcase my playing and had amassed a bunch of tunes, so I figured “Why not?”

What was most significant for you about the writing and recording processes of making that record?

Noam: It was only the third time I was in the studio. I had made a couple records with Salmon. One of them was a collaboration with Cracker. Having the recording session on the calendar gave me a deadline for getting the songs finished.

Those sessions were the first time I met David Grier, Matt Flinner, Todd Phillips and Gabe Witcher. I had looked up to them for years, and felt that the trio of Flinner, Grier, & Phillips were responsible for some of the best instrumental recordings in the genre at that time. It was a crash course in the record making process, and also the first time I had the opportunity to observe the discrepancy between how I sound and how I imagined, or wanted to sound. 

Also, two very significant things were born out of those sessions. One, the relationship with Gabe Witcher, which has become extremely important in my musical life, and secondly my nickname, “Pickles” was handed down by David Grier's official decree. 

Since In The Maze, you have been performing extensively with Punch Brothers. I'd like to dig briefly into your experiences with the group:

Can you describe how you joined Punch Brothers?

Noam: Sure. I had met Chris Thile at Rockygrass in 2003 or 2004. I remember playing with him backstage. Interestingly enough, he has no recollection of this. I was a big fan of his, despite the fact that he had stolen my thunder years before as a pre-pubescent acoustic musician/ Cubs fanatic. What a jerk, he's from Southern California. I had learned several of his songs on banjo, and was really excited to play with him. I played a little bit of “Song for a Young Queen” for him, and that was that.

A couple years later we found ourselves both sitting in with the Yonder Mountain String band at the Sheridan Opera House during one of their late night sets during the Telluride Bluegrass festival. We really hit it off musically. Thile thought it was the first time we had met. We continued to pick on into the night, and then had a little jam session in Nashville a few weeks later.

Greg Garrison, who played bass with Leftover Salmon, was in town for some rehearsals for my In the Maze CD release shows. Thile, Greg, Chris Eldridge and I got together and had an amazing session. Little did we know, that Thile had already been discussing putting a project together with Gabe Witcher, and that jam was a little bit of an audition of sorts.

Soon thereafter, Thile got in touch asking if we were interested in working up and recording this 4 movement string quintet he was writing for the bluegrass ensemble. We started learning and practicing what would become “The Blind Leaving the Blind”. We got together in New York for our first rehearsal, and I think it was everybody's sense that this group of guys was too special for just one album. We decided to pursue making it something more full-time, we put “Blind” on the back burner and decided to go into the studio and record a quick roots-y record, How To Grow a Woman From the Ground.

Would you mind taking us inside the group's history a little and sharing the early stages of the group, and how the band has grown together, both professionally and personally?

Noam: The group was coming together at real turning point in all of our lives, Thile was fresh off of a divorce, and was winding down activity with Nickel Creek, a band that he had been working for over 20 years at that point. I think that Gabe, Critter, Greg and I were all in a similar situation to each other. We were all succeeding playing music in various bands/projects, but we were all hungry to be part of something more meaningful where we could really take creative ownership.

I'm very grateful for my time with Leftover Salmon and the John Cowan Band, but I was looking to start something a new, and wanted to surround myself by people who would challenge me relentlessly, and to have a forum of my peers. This group that became Punch Brothers really seemed like a musical utopia. We had 5 like-minded guys wanting to jump in headfirst, investigating the possibilities of these instruments and create something brand new that's reflective of what collectively moves us.

How has your experience writing, recording, and performing with Punch Brothers personally influenced you with your own solo work?

Noam: I feel like I'm a completely different musician due to the last 5 years with Punch Brothers. The music of the band, especially early on with “The Blind Leaving the Blind” was so ambitious that I was forced to expand my workbox of skills and techniques as banjo player. I was learning parts that were so foreign to me, and a real stretch to execute on the banjo. My musical vocabulary was expanding to such a great degree, that even when I returned to playing more traditional music, I felt like a different player, with something new to say.

There was also a kinship and camaraderie that led to us all coming together as a band, but even more than that, I think it was the potential for what we could become as a unit. This is what drove Thile to make the initial call, and what compelled everybody to drop what they were doing to make this group a reality. 

So much of our music is constructed in a way where the instruments purposefully blend together into a texture, where at times maybe even the individual voices are indistinguishable from each other. Most people are surprised to find out that with the instrumental talents of the guys in the group, the emphasis is not on soloing or constantly trying to showcase one guy or instrument from one song to the next.

In many ways, it's the most selfless musical experience I've been part. Everything is really ruled by the song. At this same time, no other experience has come close to defining my musical identity as my time playing with the Punch Brothers. There's been a certain musical maturity brought upon by our time together, that has mostly to do with what we've set out to do, but also you can't forget that this band has ferried most of us from our mid-twenties into our 30's. An important phase of one's live, whether as an artist or not.

Now that your new solo record is finished, how would you say that this experience of making this album will influence your contributions to Punch Brothers?

Noam: It's all a cycle. I think the experience of playing with Punch Brothers gave me more confidence to set out on my own and make a solo record. Despite the fact that I had Gabe Witcher at my side producing my record, it was still a little jarring to step away from the Punch Brothers brain trust and shepherd a project from start to finish on my own. Succeeding at this was empowering, and I feel like I can come back to the band more sure-footed and with greater eagerness to contribute and pitch ideas.

If you're at liberty to share the news, can you drop some news as to what's coming up next for Punch Brothers?

Noam: We're starting a tour opening for Paul Simon on Friday in New Orleans. We’re incredibly excited to be onboard for this run with such a legend. He's a great role model for an artist who isn't resting on his laurels. He's still creating something new, and pushing himself despite many, many, decades of real success. He could easily choose the easy chair at this point, but he doesn't that's pretty inspiring.

We also just finished recording a new record last month with the incredible Jacquire King. Jacquire produced and engineered the record, and is mixing it as we speak. I think we can expect a release sometime early in 2012. We're all thrilled about it.

I would also like to congratulate you on receiving The Steve Martin Banjo Award For Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass last year. What was it like receiving the award, and can you talk a little bit about that experience and meeting Steve Martin?

Noam: The banjo award came completely out of the blue. It was a true honor, and I was overwhelmed with pride when I got the announcement letter, with signatures from my heroes (Earl Scruggs, Bela Fleck, Tony Trishcka, Pete Wernick, Alison Brown, and so on).

Prizes have been given out in classical music and jazz for years. Steve Martin is not the first person associated with the banjo/Americana with the means to pull this off, but he and his wife, Anne, were the first people to dream it, and actually put it into action. You got to hand it to them. It was a great recognition for me, but it was an even more important turn of events for the banjo and bluegrass music. It will help raise the profile of musicians every year and will help elevate the banjo and bluegrass music as a serious instrument and art form.

Steve is an absolute mensch. He is so passionate about everything he is involved with and has an incredible drive to explore, learn and create. The time I've gotten to spend with him through the award, my record, and the little mockumentary, all has been extremely rewarding. It'd be impossible not to look up to him.

Last year when we were preparing for the Dave Letterman Show, we were relentlessly rehearsing the flying check gag as to ensure there weren't any hang-ups when we were taping in front of the audience. Day of show, the gizmo kept failing. Steve had picked up the gizmo himself and was doing all of the troubleshooting. There was no assistant or magic-tech in the picture, it was all him.

I remember sitting watching him dissect this contraption with a magnifying glass, a needle and a tweezers. I approached him, and said “Steve, it really warms my heart that you're actually doing all of this yourself”. He responded saying, “I know. I can't believe at this point in my life and career, I'm sitting here doing exactly the same thing I was doing when I was 12.”

I treasure that moment, because in many ways, it sums up so much of what is important of being an artist. If you're passionate about something, you'll be doing it when you're 12 or 60, regardless of what success or lack of success has come in between.

That is awesome. Considering that so much as happened,  howdid all of these varied experiences (working with Punch Brothers and your own recent solo/ personal experiences, etc.) influence you when you began working on your new album?

Noam: Punch Brothers has had an enormous impact on my musical identity. It has helped define my voice as a banjo player more than anything else I've been part of to date. But I don't think of Punch Brothers as a showcase of myself as a banjo player. Yes, there are moments, but it's the band is not about showcasing ourselves individually on our respective instruments.

We're trying to create something new and let our contributions snowball into something wholly unique and greater than the sum of the parts. We've made a conscious decision to not over-arrange our new music, the tunes we just recorded. Looking back at what we've done, I think we may have fell victim to over-arranging and making things overly complex just to keep everyone engaged and busy, losing sight of what's best for the song.

There are some moments on the new record where I'm just creating a texture, or looping a 3 note phrase endlessly, creating electric guitar-like soundscapes or noise. At times I'll play percussion by brushing the banjo head. Some of it is a breath of fresh air for me, because in the early days there was a lot anxiety tied up in having to execute these ridiculously complex parts. The music is evolving more organically.

My time with Punch Brothers has spurred what I believe is a real transformation of my banjo playing. What's interesting is that I feel like it required stepping away and doing a project of my own to demonstrate it. I grew up cherishing instrumental albums, but in the last 5 years I think I would tend to lose sight of the importance of the records, or even question the validity of me making another instrumental record. I was finding fulfillment playing with this great group of guys, and in many ways appreciated not having to be in the spotlight.

Tony Trischka would always ask me “So when are you going to do another banjo record?” I kept procrastinating as I was enjoying being able to relax a bit when off the road with Punch Brothers. Also, being part of such a strong team made the prospect of breaking away and doing something on my own a little frightening.

I had complete and incomplete tunes filling up my voice memos on my phone, and then all of a sudden had some attention on me because of the banjo award. I think that turned up the heat a bit. That and I looked at the calendar in February of 2011 and realized if I didn't get into the studio soon, because of the Punch Brothers schedule, I wouldn't have the opportunity to release a record until late 2013. Before all the material was finished, I did a preliminary schedule check with Tim O'Brien, and Stuart Duncan, and there was a week that they were both available, not to mention willing to make a record. When that clicked, I just had to do it. 

Can you discuss the album’s the title? What does it mean?

Noam: Well, “Beat the Devil and Carry a Rail” is an antiquated Appalachian saying that springs from a weird and ancient rural custom of handicapping the clear favorite in a race or competition by making them carry a Rail. So, to Beat the Devil and Carry a Rail is to triumph against odds that are severely not your favor, or rather a clear victory. I found it, and the phrase “Bear Dog Grit”, which I used for a tune, in a book of old regionalisms.

I love the imagery of the saying, and felt it was somewhat relevant to this album in that finally making another solo record after 7 years, and overcoming the trepidation of not having the Punch boys there every step of the way was a small personal victory of mine. If the album was a pop mega hit, Beat The Devil and Carry a Rail would be even a better title, because than I could explain that the rail was a metaphor for the banjo, and also I'd likely be doing this interview on my yacht.

When and how did you begin writing the record? Can you take us through your writing process?

Noam: I write by exploring around on the banjo. It all started by just noodling or improvising, and I would hit something I like. Whenever I stumble upon what I think it is a cool idea or melody, I'll make a voice memo of it on my phone. I've been doing that for several years, so in that sense some of the ideas in these songs have existed for a while.

In the spring of 2010, I started getting serious about not letting these ideas just linger in an incomplete state. I'm starting to realize that the ability to make a quick recording on a cellphone is a great way to prevent something from slipping away into the ether, but it also is an all too convenient excuse for not just finishing something then and there. Maybe I could talk someone into building an app, where you're only allowed 2 voice memos a day, and past that you're screwed.

The first section of “Day Down” is a Punch Brothers reject. I had brought that tune to the band and we ditched the first part, but the second part still lives on in a song we rarely play, called “Friend or No More?” Most of the other tunes came into focus in early 2011, because I was then able to imagine the band booked for the record while working on a song. “Boathouse on the Lullwater” is an example of a song that started as a little melodic idea that could have gone in many directions, but was heavily guided by the fact that Jerry Douglas was committed to playing on the record.

A lot of the material was chosen with the personnel in mind. The prospect of getting to play with my heroes was really exciting, and the concept of making a more straight-ahead record was a real challenge. To me, this record is a bluegrass banjo album. I'm sure many people would disagree with that, but this is “bluegrass banjo” as I understand it. If I was to make a more traditional record with the classic repertoire, it would be so contrived and completely transparent. That's not what I do best. There are brilliant modern day interpreters of Scruggs style banjo, and I am not one of them.

All that said, this record is closer to my roots than what is being explored in Punch Brothers. Despite the fact that it is more familiar to me, it presented some brand new opportunities. While I had recorded and performed the 4th movement of Thile's “Blind Leaving the Blind”, a real instrumental tour de force that really pushed me to my technical limits, I had never had the chance to record a fiddle banjo duet before. And here I was getting to play “Pineywoods” with Stuart Duncan. I don't think I've ever been more nervous in the studio.

One of the lucky things about Punch Brothers is that what we're doing is so far removed from what others have done, that I feel like I'm granted a lot of artistic license. If my noise solo on “You Are” is a little uninspired on some night, it's still the definitive version. Because it's a noise solo on a banjo. I can't say the same thing about laying down solid accompaniment behind a fiddler on a tune like “Pineywoods”. Finally coming to the realization that JD Crowe will always be able to do that better than me, was actually quite empowering. I better just try to be myself and do something different. 

Can you talk about the recording process for Beat the Devil and Carry a Rail?

Noam: Almost the entirety of the album was recorded live, with everybody there. Of course, there were several takes, and editing and fixing, but I wanted everybody to be in the studio at the same time playing off of each other. Very early on, when I was still figuring out who to ask to play on this record, Bela Fleck gave me some good advice. He said I should pick out the guys who will really push me to play something beyond what I'd normally produce. To create an environment of excitement in the studio, that would raise the stakes and bring out the best in my playing.

I had gotten to play with Jerry Douglas, Tim O'Brien and Stuart Duncan before, but always in fairly informal settings, sitting in at a festival, a jam session backstage. I really wanted to have the experience recording with them, getting to know them better, and figuring out what makes them tick. I also knew that these were the types of guys who would force me to rise to the occasion. Being handed a solo after Stuart or Jerry was exhilarating and I think I took more risks because of how inspiring it was to have them around.

So many records are made without everybody in the room, by constantly layering different musicians at different times because of scheduling. I really took Bela's advice to heart, but realized it would only add up if all the players were there simultaneously.  The only true overdub on the record was Jeff Taylor's accordion part on “Fish and Bird”.

Tony Trischka, Noam Pikelny, Steve Martin

You have a number of very impressive guests playing with you on Beat the Devil and Carry a Rail. Can you talk about some of these collaborations?

Noam: I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Gabe Witcher for his involvement on the record. His encouragement was crucial to this record happening. He helped with a lot of the material. If I hit a wall trying to finish a tune, he was extremely helpful in navigating a clear path. For these reasons, several of the songs are co-writes, and we came up with all the arrangements together. I'd have him produce my next record in a heartbeat.

Dave Sinko is another guy who made this record possible. Dave has been the Punch Brothers live engineer from the very beginning, and I trust him more than anybody in the world with my sound. I'm a real freak about tone, and I feel that Dave recorded the album beautifully. I feel truly lucky that he's such a major figure in my life.

The collaboration with Bryan Sutton and Chris Thile was really a treat. We had gotten to play together about 4-5 years ago as “Chris Thile and the How to Grow a Band”, and I missed getting to play with Bryan and getting to be around him. That song was originally imagined as a banjo duet with Thile. I had written the first two parts, with Gabe really helping how to connect them back into each other, and then Thile and I came up with the bridge together. That song, “Bear Dog Grit” was the very last thing we recorded for the album, right after telluride bluegrass festival in June.  As the bridge was coming together, it just became obvious we should expand the tune for a trio and bring Sutton in.

David Grier is another musical compatriot who has been a big influence on me, I wanted to include him on the record and “My Mother Thinks I'm a Lawyer” seemed like the perfect tune for his slithering spontaneous style. I was really happy to bring Alex Hargreaves in for that tune as well, Alex is the best of the best of the new generation players. It just felt right to have one of the new guys on the record, despite the fact that Alex makes me feel old.

Steve Martin and I had found opportunities to play tunes off and on over the last couple years, whether backstage when Punch Brothers was opening for him and the Steep Canyon Rangers, or at the LA Bluegrass Situation, or at picking parties in NYC. It seemed like we'd inevitably play some old timey tune with him on clawhammer banjo.

I've always loved the sound of bluegrass and oldtime banjo together. Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn have used this to great effect in recent years. Steve and I played the melody similarly, but I think because we didn't play it exactly alike creates a really neat effect. A melody note will line up here and there between the two instruments, but then will be displaced for a moment and then they'll meet up again. I really like how that works out.

“Cluck Old Hen” was the very first thing we recorded for this record. Punch Brothers were out in LA for Ed Helms' bluegrass situation festival, and Gabe, Dave Sinko (engineer) and I went out a day early to record with Steve. I really love how rhythmic Steve's playing is. He laid down a really solid groove to improvise over. The whole track was very spontaneous, we had a great time recording and in some ways it set the tone for the rest of the recording process.

I would like to ask you about the Tom Waits tune you recorded with Aoife O' Donovan. She mentioned in a recent interview I just did with her that you played John Hartford's banjo on the track. I'd love to hear about your experience recording this tune and how it all came together.

Noam: Aoife and I are good friends. She lives right around the corner from where I used to live in Brooklyn. I got to know her well when I filled in for Greg Liszt (who was out with Bruce Springsteen) in Crooked Still in 2005. Aoife and Tim O'Brien are my two favorite singers in the world and I was honored that they agreed to sing on the record.

I was first introduced to “Fish and Bird” by some good friends late night at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 2010. We were unwinding at about 5 in the morning after Punch Brothers played the late night Sheridan set, and my buddy Jake put Alice on the stereo. I honestly wasn't familiar with Tom Waits' music. I was blown away, and have fallen in love with Alice and a lot more of his music. I think “Fish and Bird” is a truly beautiful song, and the tune came up in conversation with Aoife in the winter of 2010.  She knew the words and I had my banjo nearby so we played it right then and there. When I started planning the record, I remembered that experience and thought it would have a place.

I experimented with various tunings/positions, and ultimately decided it would be best to tune down my banjo Hartford-style and play out of open Eb. Bela Fleck owns some of John Hartford's personal banjos, so I built up the confidence to call him and ask if he would loan me one to use on “Fish and Bird”. Bela graciously agreed, and said that he thought John would have wanted to people to still be making music and recording with his banjos. It was an incredible honor to be able to use it. It's one of the most magical instruments I've ever picked up. I've fallen in love so much with that sound, I went and bought a new Deering John Hartford model so I can have that sound full time in my arsenal. I ended up using that banjo on 4 songs on the new Punch Brothers record.

How important is collaborating with other artists to you? What's your own philosophy on collaboration? What has been most rewarding for you through these experiences?

Noam: In my opinion, collaborating with other musicians is the most rewarding endeavor as an artist. There's no better way to further yourself than to surround yourself with people who are better than you or have a different approach and understanding. The philosophy behind putting the cast of musicians together for this record was not based entirely on chops or studio prowess. I wanted to put guys in the room who inspire me not just as musicians but also as people.

All the folks who are involved with this project have such generosity of spirit that it made being cooped up in a studio a real joy. I wanted the experience getting to play with them, but also wanted to hear more stories, learn more about their background and just understand them better. All of these guys are world-class musicians, but you can't underestimate the importance of vibe and how crucial it is assemble people who are compatible with each other.

Tim O'Brien is one of my favorite mandolin players in the world, but I don't think of him as a technical wizard. But he did bring so much soul to the project, and played things that no one else in the world would have come up with. The vibe just wouldn't have been the same without him. Tim's singing is so astonishing that I think people forget what a wonderful and unique mandolin player he is.

How has living in Brooklyn influenced you?

Noam: Living in NYC has really afforded the Punch Brothers and opportunity to dig deeper than was previously possible when we were spread out around the country. When we're off the road, we'll get together 4-5 days a week to work on music, whether it's for a recording or to prepare for a tour. It's a real luxury to have everybody in the band in the same place finally.

New York has been really inspiring for me, I've gotten to see so much incredible music, and it's the most creative environment I've ever existed in. At times, it's a little overwhelming how many brilliant people are working within such a small geographic region. I feel like I've only barely gotten to scratch the surface of what's out there as far as music and art. Hopefully at some point we'll be home more regularly so I can make it more museums and study with some of the ridiculous who call New York home.

Can you talk about the upcoming shows you have scheduled for promoting the album? What are your plans for the tour?

Noam: This is actually the first time I've ever done a tour of my own. I went on the road with David Grier 6-7 years ago doing some small duo and trio gigs. I played a set of my own at Rockygrass in 2004 when In the Maze came out. I'm excited to get out there and play the music from this album live for the first time.

The band consists of Chris “Critter” Eldridge, Mark Schatz, Aoife O'Donovan, with Gabe Witcher playing fiddle, and Jesse Cobb on mandolin. People can expect special guests at our New York and Nashville shows. We're going to play almost all of the music off of Beat the Devil and Carry A Rail, and a few things off of my previous record. Other than that, the plan is to feature this crazy wonderful band.

We're also going to work up some of Aoife's original music. Gabe and Critter will sing some. I’m very excited to hear Jesse's interpretations of the tunes. Mark may play some clawhammer banjo and even do some dancing too. We're playing two sets most nights. My record will fill about 45 min of the evening, leaving lots of opportunities to feature everybody and work up some new music. I'm really looking forward to it.

Thanks again for taking the time to do this interview Noam. I really appreciate it, and as an admirer of your work, I'd like to wish you the very best of luck with the new record and tour dates.

Noam: Thanks so much Chris, and my apologies for my long-windedness!

No apologies necessary! Thank you for being so generous with your time, and sharing so many of your experiences and providing so much insight into your work. I think readers will really dig it. I know I can't wait to catch your set at Rockwood in December. Cheers!


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