The Punch Brothers return to the music scene with the new album ‘Hell on Church Street‘, self-produced by the same band, recorded by Nonesuch Records and released in Italy by Warner Music Italy. In its originality, this new work is first of all a tribute to an artist and a man much loved in world musical history.
This is Tony Rice, who suddenly passed away in 2020, and who has never been able to listen to this album. In the course of a telephone chat, Gabe Witcher (Grammy Award winner and member of the Punch Brothers) told us about the origins of their work, and all its hidden meanings.
You started your musical activity as a band in 2005. What has changed since then? How much have you grown musically speaking?
When we first got together in 2005, we all come from different backgrounds based in American Falk tradition. But we didn’t really push our musical boundaries yet, and we also started playing a more classical and composed quartet music, very complex and very forward thinking and forward looking. We spent several years learning how to play that music and making it better and better. After doing that, we wanted to change more to a song-based type to approach to our music. Over the years, I think we’ve been able to combine both types of music: the very improvised and spontaneous kind of folk music and the more composed classical kind of music.
Yours is certainly a very original musical style: how did you approach this kind of sound?
I think it’s just music as we hear it all varies as individuals: there’s some overlap, but we all have some similar interests and some not shared interests. So, everybody brings something different to the table musically speaking, but we can also share aesthetic. We’re able to kind of put all of our various differing influences through this lens and what comes out.
In January 2022, your new album “Hell on church street” was released: a tribute to the great Tony Rice. What did this wonderful artist leave you and where did the idea of dedicating the record to him come from?
We got the idea for playing the record, and we played a festival in Colorado (United States), and the promoter asked us to play a set of music that is unique like a one-time show. So we thought about it and we thought it would be really fun for that audience, who all know Tony Rice, if we walked out on stage and without saying what our intentions were that we would go and play the whole record in order from top to bottom. We did that and we had so much fun, and the crowd loved it. It’s just a special experience, and we thought there’s something special to this concept. So, we started planning to write new material in an hour in 2020, but those 2020 plans couldn’t happen. We decided that we still wanted to make it a record. We got together in Nashville and over the course of a week or so worked out and recorded this record. And at the time, Tony Rice was still alive when we recorded it and we were planning on hand delivering it to him. But sadly, a month after we finished recording, he passed away. We never had the chance to tell him.
What is the main message you want to leave with this new work?
I think in spirit of what Tony Rice was all about, which was finding your own artistic voice and being adventurous in the kind of music. We recorded this music in that spirit. I think that’s good.
You have recently started a tour in the United States. Are there any concerts scheduled here in Europe or in Italy too?
We would absolutely love to. I don’t know if we’ve had any offers yet, but we absolutely love it.
What would you like to say to our Italian audience?
I would like to say we hope you enjoy this. We can find a way to come live in person.
Are there any future projects planned?
We don’t have anything in the works right now. We’re just playing this new record and I’m sure we’ll have new stuff coming up in the future.
Interview made by Stefania Meneghella