by Lauren Rosier
Some of the best music comes from bands and solo artists who are willing to break the mold and work outside the box. The Punch Brothers are one of those so-called bands. The band that has been categorized into multiple different genres is now back with their fourth LP, The Phosphorescent Blues, and currently out on tour in support of it.
I recently had the honor of speaking with the band’s banjo player, Noam Pikelny, about the making of the record and how everything came together.
Since the band formed in 2006, the members have gone through many changes and heartache, yet have continued to rally on to make beautiful, inspiring music. With three LPs and one EP under their belt, they’ve had the ability to draw from that experience and use it as a means for inspiration and improvement.
Pikelny adds, “The benefit of hindsight [is that] we know what we do best and what types of music we should do on this record. How we incorporate what that has been in there since the very beginning and make it an emotional experience.”
The band was able to work with legendary musician and producer, T Bone Burnett, on The Phosphorescent Blues. “T Bone is a larger than life character. His resume speaks for itself. He has a very deep understanding of what makes great music tick. He enabled us to feel comfortable in the studio. He kept it explorative and helped maintained the perspective of diminishing returns. He always gave us the opportunity to play again, but would give his opinion if he thought we got it right,” Pikelny explains.
Upon the introduction to the beginning of The Phosphorescent Blues, I was truly blown away. First, the lead single, “I Blew It Off”, one of the more poppier songs on the record, is so catchy, yet touches upon one of main themes that the band had on their mind when entering the studio: the disturbing correlation between technology and the decrease in human interaction. It was a theme that anyone can truly relate to in this day and age of technology.
“People tend to escape each other’s company. [It’s] such a common experience where we see people on our their phones or the five of us on our phones. We do so much people watching. We see people more and more on their phones,” Pikelny admits. “The theme of this record is longing for a more personal connection, sharing life experiences with friends and family, being aware of other people’s experiences. A lot can be appreciated with what’s in front of you.”
Upon listening to the opening track on The Phosphorescent Blues, “Familiarity”, I knew this was probably going to be one of the best records I would hear all year. “Familiarity” is very coherent and similar to the band’s debut LP, Punch. “Familiarity” in its essence and core is a very beautiful, haunting, and multi-faceted song. The purpose of “Familiarity”, according to Pikelny, was to be “a communal experience and a direct call for reflection.”
The roots of American music can be traced back to bluegrass, country and folk among many other genres. Though they are important for describing and making comparisons, they sometimes can be an unfair way to pigeonhole a band or solo artist into a single style of music.
Pikelny explains, “People need descriptors for what they’re enjoying and what they’re not enjoying. We’re not very concerned where we’re placed or how we’re described. Our goal is not to be genre hoppers, just to to make great music.”
The Punch Brothers are focused on breaking that mold and celebrating the importance of recognizing that genre is just a category and, for them, the purpose of creating music is to create an emotional experience. The Punch Brothers will play at Union Transfer on Wednesday March 4th.