I reached guitarist Chris Eldridge at his home in Brooklyn, N.Y., during a break from a tour that will eventually bring Punch Brothers to St. Louis and the Sheldon Concert Hall on January 25.
Eldridge noted that it was nice to have a break from the road, to see friends and to sleep in his own bed, so I began by asking if being the son of a very successful musician — Ben Eldridge of the Seldom Scene — had prepared him for what life would be like as a professional musician.
Chris Eldridge: Despite being very successful at what [the Seldom Scene] did, they were never a band that toured. They were always guys who had regular, white-collar jobs that went to work from 9 to 5, and then they played, basically, on the weekends, or they’d take a couple days off work and they got to be successful despite that.
So, I think I had a bit of a wacky view of what it was to be a musician. And the thing is, I love doing what I do and feel extremely grateful. There aren’t a lot of people who get to do what they love and make a living at it. Despite some of the craziness that goes along with not being at home for months on end, I feel very lucky.
Glen Herbert: Perhaps despite the craziness of the road, nevertheless, whenever you are on stage or on TV, it seems that the five of you [in the Punch Brothers] are having an absolute ball. Is it really as fun as you make it look?
Yes! I think it is. Especially when we get to actually be on stage. We all like each other, we get along really well. And I don’t mean that it’s some great relief to get on stage, but it really is the best part of the day, when we actually get to play and to be there with the people who come to the shows and are ready to have an experience with us and we’re ready to have an experience with them. It’s a joy to get to do that.
There was a video I saw that you did, and you were playing in a trailer, an Airstream trailer of some sort, and it looked like any one of you was about to laugh at any point. It seemed that it was a joy that was coming directly from the music you were making.
Yeah, that was an on-air streaming thing. Yes, we love playing music and we like each other and we’re very lucky. It can be easy to take it for granted and to get dark about being on the road all the time or being away from home, but there’s definitely a flip side to that.
It seems that you play to a pretty unique audience. Do you get a sense that that’s true? How would you characterize the people that come out to see the shows?
Our audience is really great. We’ve been around for a while now, and we’ve kind of built our audience slowly, and as a result it’s a pretty varied audience in terms of stages and backgrounds. I don’t really know — it would be funny for me to try and identify what the common thread is — but the development of our audience wasn’t a flash in the pan.
So the cool thing for us is that we’ve developed our fan base over a long time, and therefore we have a longer-term relationship with them. I think it’s cool that when they come to a show that they’re very willing to let us lead them someplace. Part of their expectation is that we might take them someplace they may not expect, but they’re totally prepared to be along for the ride.
What kinds of plans are you hatching for the year ahead? What can we expect from the Punch Brothers in the near future?
We’re doing a tour that carries through mid-February, and then we’re going to take some time off from touring. We’re still going to play shows here and there, but our priority is going to shift to writing the next Punch Brothers’ record, which is something that we’re all really excited about.
There have been some really interesting and exciting sparks for songs when we were on the road last year, some stuff that feels just really good and slightly different than what we’ve done in the past, but I’m really excited about it.
So there’s some writing that we’re going to do as a band, but it’s also good that we have time as individuals this year to do other things. I’ve just finished working on a score for a little independent film. I’d never done that before, so that was a cool project for me to embark on. I did a little project with Julian Lage, a great guitar player.
So those are two things I have on my immediate horizon, and I know everybody else is doing similar things in their downtime from the band — which is, I think, really important. It’s important to be able to step away from something like that and rejuvenate your creative energy; to put yourself in a different context where you really have to quick on your feet. I think doing that and having those experiences you bring them back to the band.
The “Ahoy” EP has been getting some attention, and it has some material that is a bit different, too. Is it true that those are tracks that didn’t make it onto “Who’s Feeling Young Now?”
It is. Those are all things that we cut for the record. And, actually, as individual songs, some of those tracks were some of our favorites, like “Another New World.” But they were misfits. Those songs didn’t really belong on the full album that we trying to make. They weren’t a part of that album, and they would have taken away from [the creative vision for that album]. So, it’s actually kind of fun that they still got to see the light of day. That’s the nice thing about over cutting for an record, you get to have little treats like that afterward.
88.1 KDHX welcomes Punch Brothers to the Sheldon Concert Hall on January 25.