Interview: Paul Kowert of the Punch Brothers
By Sarah Jorgensen
In preparation for the Punch Brothers’ show at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles this Saturday, USD Radio Editor Sarah Jorgensen spoke with bassist Paul Kowert about the bluegrass-tinged folk band’s newest album, Who’s Feeling Young Now?, the band’s live experience, and Radiohead. You can still get tickets for the show here.
Sarah Jorgensen: Your new album Who’s Feeling Young Now? just dropped a few weeks ago. What has it been like to bring this new music on the road?
Paul Kowert: At this moment we’ve played twelve shows since the album dropped. We’re energized by the experience of translating our record sound to our live show, and we have more power now than ever before, which the songs really call for. We’re playing our best shows yet, and the audience response has been overwhelmingly good.
SJ: I’m personally a big fan of your cover of Radiohead’s “Kid A” on the new album. What inspired this choice?
PK: We’ve been playing “Kid A” on and off since June 2009. Playing covers is one of our strengths, and Radiohead is a favorite group of ours. Capturing the energy of our live show was a goal in making Who’s Feeling Young Now?, so we recorded an array of material such as you would hear at our shows. The two covers are also the only instrumentals, which gives balance to the album as a whole.
SJ: There are far fewer instrumental tracks on Who’s Feeling Young Now? than on some of your past work. What has led you to pursue more lyrically-based songs on this album?
PK: The fact that the two instrumentals on the album are covers shows where our creative output has been. Songs are just what’s coming out of this ensemble. We all have other outlets for playing instrumentals.
SJ: You’re playing some pretty major festivals this summer – Bonnaroo, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and the Newport Folk Festival to name a few. What is different for you about playing in a festival atmosphere as opposed to a smaller venue?
PK: The chance to reach many people who have never heard us before is stimulating. It’s more fun than a showcase, because we’re meeting new listeners directly. Hearing something new and great live is an incredible feeling, and hopefully many people can experience that at some of those festivals. The Telluride audience is largely familiar with us, and playing at that festival is more like going to a family reunion. But in the best possible way.
SJ: The El Rey Theatre show is near the middle of your tour. Which shows have been your favorites so far, and which are you looking forward to down the line?
PK: We had a massive audience of some 1,600 people in Boone, NC. Montreal was exciting because it was the first time we ever played there, and it was our first headline show in Canada. We sold it out and the audience gave us a lot of energy. And I’m looking forward to playing my best for some of my favorite musicians in Nashville.
SJ: What can fans expect from your live experience?
PK: Our record on caffeine.