I was a big fan of Chris Thile when he was the lead singer for the bluegrass-ish band Nickel Creek. In the video below, you can see that he has recently teamed up with Yo-Yo Ma on a new single titled “Here and Heaven.” The song is part of a larger project called “The Goat Rodeo Sessions.”
I once heard Chris Thile and Nickel Creek perform live here in Louisville, Kentucky. It was a very secular venue and a very secular crowd, yet the band closed the show with one of the most beautiful renditions of “Be Thou My Vision” that I have ever heard. The band (including Chris Thile) appeared to be committed Christians.
That was then, this is now. I was sad to read recently that Thile no longer calls himself a Christian. In an interview with The Register-Guard, Thile says that if believing in Jesus as the only way to salvation is a part of being a Christian, then he is not a Christian. If you are interested, you can read the full interview here.
First, this is an excellent record. The tight harmonies of “Here and Heaven” will stick in your mind for days. Chris may be the best mando player I’ve ever heard. I’ve seen Mike Marshall, Sam Bush and most of the rest of them live and nobody compares to the creativity that Chris Thile puts into the instrument.
Chris’s story is sad and interesting.
He grew up in a Christian home where his father was an adult convert to the faith. His father, who is an impressive person himself, even has something of an apologetics website from an Anglican/mainline spin: http://campus.murraystate.edu/staff/scott.thile/Christian/. Chris paints them as fundamentalist in some interviews, but they were (and are) mainliners who are hardly fundamentalists.
Let me confess that I’ve been to a LOT of Nickel Creek shows. I started to suspect that something was up whenever he started singing different lyrics to “Doubting Thomas.” The recorded form ended up being pretty dark, whereas previous live versions were more hopeful. While struggling as a person in his early 20s and suffering through a failed marriage, drinking issues and the like. When playing with Nickel Creek he was more tame, but his solo shows started to present a person who was miserable and drinking a lot of Scotch.
By late 2007 it became clear that he had left the faith of his upbringing and wanted to figure things out on his own. From interviews at the time he struggled to believe in any sort of god and was struggling with depression. He has actually come around a little bit, but not much. He’s something of a believing agnostic. Nowadays, he seems to believe in a god, but is agnostic about the specifics.
Sara and Sean remain committed Christians and Sean continues to collaborate with Jon Foreman as “Fiction Family.” Thile’s is a sad but interesting story.
Thanks for the backstory, Ranger. I saw them play circa 2002 and really haven’t kept up with them since. I didn’t know any of that. Do you know of any one article that tells Thile’s story?
First, I’m glad to see that I’m not the only die-hard Chris Thile fan who frequents this blog. I’ve also seen a tremendous amount of Nickel Creek/Chris Thile solo/Chris Thile+Mike Marshall/early How to Grow a Band/recent Punch Brothers shows. (In fact, he’s the only artist for whom, no matter how much the concert costs or where the venue’s located, I’ll always go see him if he comes to my city.) Having also seen Mike Marshall, Sam Bush, et al., I think you’re absolutely right that Chris is a step above. God has given him a natural talent that is simply unmatched, especially for his age.
Second, I think your observations about the evolution of songs/lyrics in live shows is spot on. For me, one of his most memorable shows was during his tenure with Nickel Creek. It was 2004 and a week or two before his solo album, Deceiver, was released. As the encore for the show, they played “Locking Doors” and “The Believer.” It’s the first and only times I’ve ever heard him play either of those songs live, (with Nickel Creek or any other band), and it was obvious that the direction of the solo album was going to be very different from Nickel Creek’s other material.
Even though Chris tries to distance himself from the album now, I still think it’s an impressively open and raw endeavor. While some songs obviously shouldn’t be taken too literally, (e.g., Chris stated specifically that “Locking Doors” was inspired by Jack Nicholson’s character in As Good as It Gets), the album as a whole serves as the perfect example of Chris’s later years with Nickel Creek and his transition into his more recent material.
(For anybody interested in the evolution of his music, I would highly recommend that album. However, some of the material/lyrics are not kid-friendly. Finally, the new Goat Rodeos album is absolutely phenomenal. While Chris certainly shines through on the album, it’s Edgar Meyer’s genius that hits it out of the park for me.)
Duke Performances in Durham, NC recently presented Chris Thile. Here are two other interesting article about him–from our blog, “The Thread”:
“The Many Muses of Chris Thile”: http://thethread.dukeperformances.duke.edu/2011/11/the-many-muses-of-chris-thile/
“Live Review: Chris Thile’s Original S-I-N”: http://thethread.dukeperformances.duke.edu/2011/11/live-review-chris-thiles-original-s-i-n/