Monday, December 13, 2010

Interview: A Conversation With Paul Kowert of Punch Brothers

 photo by Maria Camillo

I feel very honored that Paul Kowert has taken some time out of his busy schedule with Punch Brothers to discuss his experiences as a member of one of the most innovative, and most respected string bands working today.

Paul Kowert is the prodigious, and masterful bass player for Punch Brothers. The band has recently been nominated for two Grammy Awards and their latest album, Antifogmatic has placed highly in most of the "Best of 2010" album lists. The band has been touring extensively, making quite a name for themselves as a stellar live act. 

In addition to his duties with Punch Brothers, Mr. Kowert recently recorded with Mike Marshall, along with Alex Hargreaves, for Marshall's latest album, simply titled Mike Marshall's Big Trio.


photo by Doc Searls

Punch Brothers has been nominated for the Grammy for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals for the song "Pride" with Dierks Bentley and Del McCoury, as well as for Best Country Instrumental Performance for the song "New Chance Blues." Can you talk a little about working with Mr. Bentley and what being nominated for two Grammys means to the band?

Paul Kowert: I really enjoy working with Dierks. He has an easy friendliness that makes playing music with him fun, on stage, in the studio, or anywhere else. Being "Grammy Nominated" means something to a lot of people who haven't heard Punch Brothers before, and will influence some of those people to check us out. It's nice to be recognized by our peers in the musical community.

In addition to being nominated for the Grammys, you have played quite a few shows where you have been sharing stages with some very stellar artists; T-Bone Burnett’s Speaking The Clock Revue, the Newport Folk Festival, and A Prairie Home Companion just to name a few. Is there a singular performance experience that tops all of the rest from 2010?

PK: Our own shows constitute my most rewarding performance experiences in 2010. Playing our own music to an enthusiastic crowd who came to support us is the greatest thrill. However, sharing the stage with such artists as Steve Martin, Elvis Costello, Jon Brion and Fiona Apple is very inspiring.

You’ve all been very busy and involved in individual projects, as well as working together as Punch Brothers. Can you talk about some of your recent projects, and how they influence the playing and/or writing process of Punch Brothers?

Alex Hargreaves, Mike Marshall, Paul Kowert

PK: I feel that having a little variety brings more perspective and energy to everything I do. The practice of writing or arranging with other musicians is one I continue to develop my skill at. Previous experiences of writing with Mike Marshall (mandolin) and Alex Hargreaves (fiddle), and Jordan Tice (guitar) have also familiarized me with the instruments that The Punch Brothers uses.

If you had to name some of your biggest influences, who would make the short list?

PK: Edgar Meyer has influenced me a lot since I began dedicating most of my time to the bass.  I've listened to Radiohead consistently for a long time. My bandmate Chris Thile influenced me musically long before I joined The Punch Brothers. The Band's musical kinship is partially attributable to the fact that we all listened to Thile's music over the years.

What are you listening to right now?

PK: The Band's Greatest Hits, Planxty, and The Louvin Brothers.

As someone who loves living in Brooklyn, I’d like to ask you what drew you to Brooklyn/ NYC? How do like it and how has it influenced and/ or informed your musical experiences?

PK: The band wanted to live in the same town for the first time. This facilitated the collaborative writing of Antifogmatic.  Thile already lived in NY so we all moved there in 2007-08. The amount of great food and drink, artisans and artists, and high cost of living all served as inspiration to do something great. 

Lastly, I am very excited to hear that p-Bingo will be returning on 1/15/2011 at Bowery Ballroom. What a way to kick off the New Year! Can you share any tasty bits or drop some hints of what may be on the itinerary?  

PK: The idea of p-Bingo night is that it's different from our normal show: it's a place to try new things. For instance, we premier (test out, really) new original material and covers at these shows. Some of the originals will change drastically after we play them at p-Bingo night, and some covers will never be performed by Punch Brothers ever again. However, some prove very successful and end up being part of our normal show or even recorded (such as "Pakt Like Sardines in a Crushed Tin Box" and "New Chance Blues"). We also bring guests out if we can. We have a new album in our sights, so we're hoping to premier a new song or two in January.

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