NASHVILLE, Tenn.—The word bluegrass weighs heavy on Chris Thile.
Thile and his band The Punch Brothers look the part, playing acoustic instruments sans drummer. But listen closer to the group's second album, "Antifogmatic," and you'll find there's something different going on here.
"We're out there attempting to make new music, not rehashing the past," Thile said in a recent phone interview.
"Antifogmatic" has more range than your average bluegrass album. There's an old-time feel to some songs. But several songs have a progressive feel that rises above genre limitations.
The former Nickel Creek member and revered mandolin player took the lead on the Brooklyn-based band's first album, "Punch," an ambitious breakup record of sorts. This time around, the band's other four members -- Chris Eldridge on guitar, Paul Kowert on bass, banjo player Noam Pikelny and fiddler Gabe Witcher -- contributed heavily to the songwriting, leading to that varied sound.
The Associated Press: Was it hard to let go in the songwriting process or liberating?
Thile: It's really both, but I think in this case I had so much confidence in both their ability to bring fresh ideas to the table and their ability to augment my ideas in a very helpful way. It was ultimately less painful to give up control than it normally is for someone like me. I think the boys would have to remind me on occasion like, 'Hey, let us figure some of this out." ... For this band I think this is the way we're going to tackle it now. I really feel like we've hit our stride as a creative entity.
AP: This album has a lot of different textures and tempos in a time when speed seems to be the theme in bluegrass. Is that something you were thinking about during recording?
Thile: There is no loud and fast without slow and quiet and to me a lot of modern bluegrass runs that risk just the same way as death metal bands. That music is not hardcore because they don't give you another option. If someone's screaming at you all the time, you turn them off, you don't listen to them any more. What they're saying has no impact.
AP: After Nickel Creek went on hiatus you could have become a solo act. Why did you decide to put a new band together?
Thile: I had something very comfortable in Nickel Creek, something that was rewarding musically and professionally and it sort of really took meeting and playing with these guys to want to put that on the shelf and try something else. ... Every human being is looking for transcendence, they're looking for an experience that elevates them, that elevates their existence. And I think it's very difficult to do that just by yourself or in the act of dictating, imposing your will on your fellow musicians. To me it's that beautiful propping up that happens.
AP: Do you expect to play with these guys for the foreseeable future?
Thile: Yeah, definitely, these guys, it's an interesting time for us. We've finally made a real band record and we feel like our live show right now is very representative of who we are as a quintet, and that the record is a great calling card for us. We're ready to attempt to provide that service that great bands provide, which is an alternative lifestyle you're inviting every member of your audience to appropriate. My favorite bands, for me, they're like Radiohead or The Strokes, people like that. They provide this transcendent experience that they have spent their lives cultivating. They're giving it to you for the cost of a record. I think it's a very noble cause.