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Chris Thile talks about performing ‘Live From Home’ and ‘losing yourself in a little bit of music’

Chris Thile at The Current, 2018. (Nate Ryan/MPR)
Chris Thile at The Current, 2018. (Nate Ryan/MPR)

by Sylvia Jennings

March 24, 2020

Throughout the week, Morning Show host Jill Riley has been hopping on the phone and checking in with different musicians throughout the country. On Monday she chatted with Chris Thile, a member of Nickel Creek and the Punch Brothers, and the host of Live From Here, an American Public Media Group radio show that features live performances from musicians, comedians, and more.

Thile called in from Hudson, New York to talk about his perspective on how New York is reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic, how it has changed the reality of being a musician, and Live From Here's new #LiveFromHome project.

Jill Riley: Chris, how are you doing?

Chris Thile: I'm doing fine, Jill. How are you?

Not bad, not bad. How are things in New York?

My wife and I came up to Hudson, New York from our place in Brooklyn two days ago. It was very eerie to see people still out. Of course in New York, maybe people haven't touched more space than in Brooklyn. The spaces we live in are small, and you are always grateful for the city. That's one of the reasons you live in a city like New York. The neighborhood that you live in is your extended living room. Right now, being told to be in that extended living room as seldom as possible, and to not congregate and all of that is truly surreal.

As we were doing our last errands and putting some things in storage, seeing the businesses trying to seek out a few more dollars so that they can make rent, knowing that they were going to be obliged to shut their doors imminently, was both inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time. Going to the coffee shop with my rubber gloves and mask to order another couple pounds of coffee was very, very strange.

What are you doing in the meantime? I've heard of something called "#LiveFromHome."

My colleagues at Live from Here came up with this idea and presented it to me. It was the quickest "yes" of all time. All of my musician friends and I are just waiting with bated breath to see if we can do anything. I've never really been good at anything but music, so I've just been waiting to see how I can help. For my colleagues to say, "What if we did a thing where you play some music on an Instagram video and then you ask other people to play music?" Instantly, that was my new mission.

Basically it's a virtual open mic. We can't congregate because we can't play shows, and none of us can go hear live music right now. Being in the room with people who are making music in real time is so exciting. We're being deprived of that right now, but that doesn't mean that all the people who make music are ceasing to make music. We're doing it. We're just doing it in our houses. So the idea that we would try to turn that into a stage is basically what #LiveFromHome is all about. I keep submitting things, and inviting other people. It's become quite a boisterous open mic. In the backdrop of all the fear and anxiety that we are all feeling, it's nice that we can still all work with that urge that we all have to make something and share it with people.

Before you got out of Brooklyn and went to Hudson, I understand you did a CBS This Morning Saturday Session — but you didn't go to the studio, and you weren't in front of a live studio audience, but you were still in Brooklyn. What was that like?

Oh, that was so bizarre. That was one of those moments where it dawned on me how crazy this all is. It's one thing when you are in the comfort of your own space. When I went and actually did a work thing, where there were these cameramen, and everyone with masks and rubber gloves sanitizing microphones, it was very surreal. Then you start playing the song, and there were three cameramen there, and that's your audience. It's still that magical thing. For three minutes and 55 seconds, or however long your song is, you're able to lose yourself in a little bit of music.

We really appreciate you checking in with us from New York. From Minneapolis-St. Paul, we send our best to New York. You take care, and we hope to hear you on the radio again soon. 

Thank you so much. We're working on something for you. We'll see if we can pull it off.

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This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.