No one asked for it, so I made it... A Punch Brothers Iceberg Meme. Iceberg memes are such a guilty pleasure of mine and after realizing I know way too much random trivia about Punch Brothers than is healthy, I knew I had to do it. Explanations for everything are below, if you Keep Reading.
“Ahoy!”: At the Telluride Bluegrass Festival many moons ago, someone in the excitable crowd called out “Ahoy!” while Punch Brothers were playing, and the word tickled Chris, leading to him doing an impression of Bill Murray shouting “AHOY!” in the film What About Bob? This apparently caught on to the extent that people kept yelling “AHOY!” at Chris throughout the rest of the festival. Eventually Chris adopted it as a way to address the audience during Punch Brothers shows, and much later it became his catchphrase on Live from Here. Punch Brothers also named their first EP Ahoy!
All Ashore: Best Folk Album 2018: Probably the band’s crowning achievement is their Grammy win in 2018 for Best Folk Album, beating the likes of Joan Baez in the process. It’s certainly the moment I was the most proud to be a fan.
Chris hosting A Prairie Home Companion: Most likely what the general public knows Chris for, if they know about him at all. In 2015, longtime host of APM’s (American Public Media) A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor, stepped down and named Chris Thile as his successor. Thile went on to reinvent the show with a heavier focus on music and current events. After Keillor was fired from APM, taking his copyrighted name with him, the show became Live from Here and proceeded to serve as the public radio entertainment variety show we never knew we needed for two more seasons, until the pandemic in 2020 forced it to shut down for good. And my heart was broken forever.
Chris’ faces/gyrating: The other thing that the general public likely knows Chris Thile for. When Chris plays mandolin, he often contorts his body oddly, making weird jerky movements and facial expressions that have to be seen to be believed. He claims his movements are 100% involuntary and once labeled them as “involuntary convulsions.” Some newcomers to the band find it odd, but as a longtime David Byrne fan, I’m pretty much thoroughly desensitized to it.
Inside Llewyn Davis: A film that the Coen Brothers wrote & directed, starring Oscar Isaac in his first major role as a folksinger in 1961 Greenwich Village, loosely inspired by the life of Dave Van Ronk... and most importantly, featuring Punch Brothers on the soundtrack as the backup band for the actors. Besides their support roles on the tracks “Dink’s Song,” “The Shoals of Herring,” and “Five Hundred Miles,” they also recorded an awesome, a cappella close harmony version of “The Auld Triangle” with Marcus Mumford & Justin Timberlake, and supposedly were asked to appear in the film singing it, but their schedules didn’t work out with the filming dates. However, that didn’t stop Critter from making an appearance in the film as Llewyn’s old singing partner Mike Timlin (though he’s only shown in photographs).
Chris looks like Jude Law: No matter what YouTube video you find of Chris Thile, there’s always going to be that one comment: “He looks like Jude Law.” At first, I didn’t see it at all, until I was browsing my library’s DVD section one day and had to do a double-take because Chris Thile was in a movie?!?!... oh.
Braces Chris: Chris wore braces for a time in 2015 to correct dental issues from his childhood. His most notable appearance with them was Punch Brothers’ Tiny Desk Concert, which also took place on his birthday, which resulted in a cake presented by Bob Boilen with an image of braces and the words “BRACE YOURSELF CHRIS” written across it in icing.
P-Bingo Nights: Sometime in the late 2000′s/early 2010′s, Punch Brothers had an on-and-off residency at The Living Room in New York City, which was dubbed P-Bingo Night. One such show was filmed and released as a live concert video on iTunes, which brings us to...
iTunes bonus tracks: Both Punch and the deluxe version of Antifogmatic feature iTunes-exclusive bonus tracks. The Antifogmatic tracks are instrumentals, while the Punch track, “I Know You Know,” is one of the best songs in Punch Brothers’ oeuvre and it kills me that I can’t include it on their Best Of playlist I made on Spotify.
Original band members (Greg Garrison, Bryan Sutton): Greg Garrison was Punch Brothers’ original bassist, who recorded How to Grow a Woman From the Ground (which I somehow completely failed to mention on this iceberg) and Punch with the band, and went on tour with them, before leaving to spend more time with his family (and, I suspect, because his creative vision clashed with Chris’). Bryan Sutton’s inclusion in the band came way before that, when he played several live shows with Chris, Noam, Gabe, and Greg as Chris’ new band post-Nickel Creek. Originally the intention was to form two different bands, one with Bryan as the guitarist and one with Critter as the guitarist, while Critter was still committed to his old band The infamous String Dusters, which brings us to...
How to Grow a Band/The Tension’s Mountain Boys: After making several solo albums post-Nickel Creek, Chris decided to form a new band with several bluegrass players he had met over the years, with himself serving as the lead musician and the others as support. This incarnation of Punch Brothers, the one with Bryan Sutton, was dubbed “Chris Thile and the How to Grow a Band.” Apparently not content with one pun, Chris then decided to name the second incarnation, the one with Critter, as “The Tension’s Mountain Boys.” Nowadays, all of Punch Brothers are relieved that they didn’t choose this name. How to Grow a Band also ended up being the name of the documentary about Punch Brothers’ formation.
Band nicknames: Each member of Punch Brothers has their own nickname (that they came up with for each other, not ones that the fans came up with). Noam is “Pickles” for his last name, Pikelny. Chris Eldridge is “Critter,” which apparently was also Chris Thile’s nickname as a child. Paul is “Arko,” which I always thought was a reference to the musical termf or using a bow on an upright bass, arco, until I discovered that it’s actually short for his full nickname, “Arkansas Jones.” Seeing as how Paul is from Wisconsin, this nickname has never made sense to me. Gabe has two nicknames, the first being “Gabbers,” which seems simple enough to understand. His second nickname, “The Judge,” is more inscrutable. And Chris, for whatever reason, is known as “Hole.” This confused the hell out of me in the How to Grow a Band documentary, where Critter referred to reading “an interview with Hole” and I thought he meant the band Hole. Also in the documentary, it’s shown that the word Hole is inscribed on Chris’ old mandolin (the one he doesn’t use anymore). I have no idea if that’s a brand name, or if Chris had it specifically inscribed for him.
“Jungle Bird” was a Song of the Week: Punch Brothers’ song “Jungle Bird” from their 2018 album All Ashore began life as a Chris Thile original, “Music For Leaves That Are Changing Colors And Not Making Me Think About My Mortality,” composed for a 2017 episode of Live from Here. Despite being a Song of the Week junkie, I actually didn’t realize this until someone pointed it out because I wasn’t too big on instrumentals at the time.
Chris’ first meeting with Noam was actually his second: Whenever Chris tells the story of how Punch Brothers formed, he mentions that he thought he met Noam at Telluride in 2006, but Noam actually informed him that they had met three years prior at the Rockygrass festival- and to this day, Chris has no memory of that first meeting. Noam is always quick to remind him, though...
Noam butchering Nickel Creek classics: In the early days of Punch Brothers, perhaps when Chris had a somewhat rebellious attitude towards his former band, the band would sometimes perform slowed-down versions of Nickel Creek songs with Noam “singing” lead (sorry, it can’t be called that, I still love you Noam). His version of “The Lighthouse’s Tale” if a gift unto this world.
Mohawk Gabe: Back in the early 2000′s, Gabe had a mohawk. He also, in the early 2000′s, played bass for Eve 6 on tour. I have a vague suspicion that these two facts are related.
Gabe’s film score work: Gabe has done a lot of work on film soundtracks, my personal favorite being his contributions to Kingsman: the Golden Circle (listen to that fiddle in “Tornado in a Trailer Park" and MARVEL) and to the video game Red Dead Redemption 2 (his tweet about it was actually how I discovered the game series and that led to a deep infatuation with it for several long months so I’m pretty grateful to him for that).
Paul went on tour and forgot his bass: I feel like this has no business being on the iceberg but I needed more stuff about Paul and Critter and also this story cracks me up. When Punch Brothers were interviewed for what used to be called the Nerdist podcast, Paul revealed that once, when Punch Brothers were scheduled to fly to Germany for a tour, he forgot to bring his bass. Which, considering how massive an instrument an upright bass is, and how he as a bassist was going to need one if he expected to go on a goddamn tour, completely boggles my mind. Fortunately, he was able to rent a bass in Germany that used the exact same setup as his own bass, so the moral of the story is to never worry about anything ever.
Last-minute lyric change in “I Blew It Off”: Also as mentioned in the Nerdist podcast, the opening line of “I Blew It Off” used to be “the sun licks the back of my neck through a crack in the window pane,” not “the sun hits the back of my neck...” This was written long after the original line had been recorded and the new vocals needed to be flown in, but by that point Chris had already gotten braces, which significantly changed his singing. But, not wanting to let one line stand in the way of releasing an album, Chris went ahead and re-recorded the line anyway, braces and all. Chris claims that the difference is obvious, but honestly, if you weren’t looking for it (which I was and now I can’t unhear it), you wouldn’t be able to tell.
“We will be dead dogs, Critter!”: One of Noam’s notable quotes from the How to Grow a Band documentary. After Noam, Greg, and Critter talk about how Chris’ preference for complex, challenging music as opposed to more standard bluegrass and recognizable song structure makes it occasionally difficult to work with him, Noam likens it to a dog that needs to be given a treat every now and then, and then tells Critter in a weird Slavic accent that “We will be dead dogs, Critter! We need treats!” Later in the documentary, Chris also uses this accent when he addresses Noam as “Pickles” right after Noam lets him see the CD version of Punch Brothers’ latest release. I’m really not sure what all of that was about.
The Hokes: This should maybe be pushed up the iceberg a little, since it’s now been revealed who the Hokes are, but I’m keeping it down here because it’s still a somewhat obscure track. The Bright Siders released an album of children’s music in 2021, featuring several guest musicians, including Punch Brothers. Except they weren’t billed as Punch Brothers, but rather “The Hokes,” aka a fake Strokes cover band, and the song was their first electric song ever recorded. I lost my mind when I heard it, especially because very few people seemed to be aware that it was Punch Brothers. Their November 2021 email newsletter revealed the truth, however.
Uncle Johnny: At the one Punch Brothers show I went to, Critter revealed that his guitar is named Uncle Johnny. None of the other bands offered to reveal their respective instruments’ names, but I refuse to believe Chris’ mandolin doesn’t have a name that’s not a bad pun.
Chris Thile Disney commercial: Chris recorded a short mandolin piece for use in a commercial for Disneyworld sometime in the 2010′s. Probably one of the most obscure things he’s ever done (although ironically, recorded for a major studio/company)
Stuff I left out (oops): Chris’ story about seeing The Strokes live, “Dark Days” from The Hunger Games, Chris’ appearance at the 2018 Academy Awards actually being performed by Sean Watkins, “A Literary Nightmare,” the How to Grow a Band documentary and its various quotes (”hot bluegrass show,” “maybe we can make a living stateside...”), Chris’ wife’s comedy webseries which he did the music for (another strong contender for the most obscure thing he’s ever done), their many other collaborations which could probably take up an entire iceberg, and probably a lot more that will come to me later and I will kick myself over not including.