Christopher Scott Thile is an American musician, best known as the mandolinist and a singer for the progressive acoustic trio Nickel Creek and acoustic folk/progressive bluegrass quintet Punch Brothers. He is a 2012 MacArthur Fellow.
The three members of Nickel Creek met in Carlsbad, California at That Pizza Place in 1989, listening to weekly bluegrass shows with their parents. Soon they were taking lessons and then playing festivals, and even recording albums. Their first, “Little Cowpoke”, was released in 1994. Nickel Creek went on to record several more albums, including their self-titled debut album and “This Side”, which went platinum and won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album. In 2005, Nickel Creek released “Why Should the Fire Die?”, which received massive critical acclaim and sold 250,000 units.
Chris Thile has released other solo albums, including “Not All Who Wander Are Lost”, released in 2001, and “Deceiver” in 2004 (in which he wrote, composed, sang, and played every part). In 2008, Thile released a collaboration album with bassist Edgar Meyer, and also plans to release a collaborative album with Hilary Hahn.
Chris Thile’s earliest memories of music are listening to Stan Getz's recording of "The Girl from Ipanema" before he even turned one year old. When he was two, his family started going to That Pizza Place, where he listened to John Moore's band Bluegrass Etc. When Thile was four, his family moved to Idyllwild, California. Thile began playing the mandolin at the age of five, taking occasional lessons from John Moore. At age eight, Thile's family and the Watkins family formed Nickel Creek. The band performed at many California bluegrass festivals, and as a result Chris had to be home-schooled. At age twelve, he won the national mandolin championship at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas.
That same year, 1993, Thile made a demo tape and sent it to the Sugar Hill and Rounder record labels. Both labels showed interest, but the Thiles went with Sugar Hill. The next year Chris Thile released his first solo album, “Leading Off”, featuring mostly original compositions.
In 1995, the Thile family moved to Murray, Kentucky where Chris' father Scott Thile accepted a position at Murray State University as a musical instrument technician. In 1997, Chris released “Stealing Second” and Nickel Creek released “Here to There”. Chris went on to attend Murray State University for a few semesters, where he was a music major (1998-1999).
Following the major success and platinum accreditation of the album Nickel Creek, Chris Thile released “Not All Who Wander Are Lost” in 2001. The album featured guest appearances from several well-known instrumentalists such as Stuart Duncan, Béla Fleck, Edgar Meyer, Jerry Douglas, and Bryan Sutton.
In 2003, Chris Thile teamed up with mandolinist Mike Marshall for the duet album “Into the Cauldron”, which included original pieces as well as pieces by Charlie Parker and J.S. Bach. Also in 2003, Thile joined Mark O'Connor for his 2-CD set "Thirty-Year Retrospective" which was nominated for a Grammy. In 2004, Thile released “Deceiver”, an experimental album on which he recorded every track himself. This included electric guitar, piano, drums, violin, viola, cello, and bass. Deceiver demonstrated some pop/rock songwriting in addition to "newgrass."
In August 2006, Nickel Creek announced that at the end of the year they would no longer be recording together as a group, and their tour scheduled through 2007 would be their last for an indefinite period of time. Thile was a judge for the 5th annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists' careers.
In 2006, Chris Thile formed the How to Grow a Band, with whom he recorded “How to Grow a Woman from the Ground”, Thile's 5th album. The band consisted of Chris Thile (mandolin), Gabe Witcher (fiddle/violin), Chris Eldridge (guitar), Greg Garrison (bass), and Noam Pikelny (banjo). Bryan Sutton has also filled in on guitar when necessary while Eldridge played out commitments to The Infamous Stringdusters. In 2007, the band officially changed its name first to "The Tensions Mountain Boys" and then "Punch Brothers."
On March 17, 2007, at Carnegie Hall, this group debuted Thile's ambitious The Blind Leaving the Blind, a 40-minute suite in four movements that Thile told NPR was written in part to deal with his 2004 divorce. Punch Brothers released its first album, “Punch”, February 26, 2008, on Nonesuch Records. The album featured Thile's suite The Blind Leaving the Blind, as well as other original songs. To promote “Punch”, Thile and Punch Brothers planned a year-long tour in 2008, as well as a February 29 appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. In late 2008, Paul Kowert replaced Garrison on bass. Punch Brothers released Antifogmatic on February 15, 2010, and continued to tour. On November 5, 2010, the band performed Rye Whiskey on the Late Show with David Letterman with Steve Martin guesting on banjo. The Punch Brothers released their newest album, “Who's Feeling Young Now?”, in early 2012.
In August 2008, Chris Thile and bassist Edgar Meyer announced the release date of the duo's planned debut album. The album was released on Thile's label Nonesuch Records on September 23, 2008. The duo toured in September and October 2008 to promote the album.
Chris Thile is featured in the documentary Bluegrass Journey, along with the rest of Nickel Creek. He has also appeared on a number of other artists' recordings, including Béla Fleck's “Perpetual Motion”, playing arrangements of Baroque, Impressionist, Classical and other styles of music with Fleck and Edgar Meyer, the CD "Jam Session" with Mark O'Connor Frank Vignola Bryan Sutton and Jon Burr, the Dixie Chicks' “Home”, Kate Rusby's “Awkward Annie”, Julie Fowlis' “Cuilidh”, Dolly Parton's “Little Sparrow”, Dierks Bentley's “Up on the Ridge”, and Sarah Jarosz' “Follow Me Down” Thile has performed as a duo with guitarist and vocalist Michael Daves since 2005. They released their debut album "Sleep With One Eye Open" on May 10, 2011. Recorded at Jack White's studio, the album consists of 16 classic bluegrass duets. Jack White also produced and played on the duo's 7" vinyl record "Man in the Middle" on Third Man Records. Thile and Daves met in 2005 at a bluegrass jam at NYC's Baggot Inn.
In 2009 Chris Thile completed a mandolin concerto entitled Ad astra per alas porci. The work was commissioned by a consortium of orchestras including the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Oregon Symphony, Alabama Symphony Orchestra, Winston-Salem Symphony, Delaware Symphony Orchestra, Portland Symphony Orchestra, and Interlochen Center for the Arts. Thile performed the world premiere of the first movement with the Interlochen Arts Camp World Youth Symphony Orchestra under director Jung-Ho Pak, and premiered his entire concerto with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra on September 17, 2009. In 2011 he recorded “The Goat Rodeo Sessions” with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, bassist Edgar Meyer and fiddle player Stuart Duncan. On October 25, 2011 he appeared on the Jay Leno show as a member of the Yo-Yo Ma and Friends musical act.
Awards and nominations:
1997 - Won Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album for True Life Blues: The Songs of Bill Monroe
1997 - Nominated for Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance for "Scotland" from True Life Blues: The Songs of Bill Monroe
1997 - IBMA award for Album of the Year for True Life Blues: The Songs of Bill Monroe
2001 - IBMA award for Mandolinist of the Year
2002 - Won Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album for This Side (with Nickel Creek)
2005 - Nominated for Grammy Award for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical for Deceiver
2006 - Nominated for Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance for "The Eleventh Reel"
2007 - BBC's Folk Musician of the Year
2007 - Nominated for IBMA Mandolinist of the Year
2008 - Nominated for Americana Music Association Instrumentalist of the Year
2012 Nominated for Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album for Sleep with One Eye Open (with Michael Daves)
2012 - MacArthur Fellowship ($500,000 'Genius Grant')
2013 - Won Grammy Award for Best Folk Album for The Goat Rodeo Sessions (with Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, and Edgar Meyer)