Fresh off their first Grammy win a couple of weeks ago, the Punch Brothers return to Portsmouth on Sunday, March 17 for a show at The Music Hall in support of their latest, award winning record, “All Ashore.”

Edge caught up with Noam Pikelny to discuss the win, the record, and why Chris Thile still has a ways to go to catch up with the rest of his bandmates.

EDGE: All ashore! Let’s talk about the latest record which is aptly titled “All Ashore.” We’ll get to the reception in a moment, but to start, tell us about how the record came to fruition. What were the goals behind this effort?

Pikelny: So, Punch Brothers has stayed relevant for us over the years – has remained something we’re drawn to – because there’s still so much music that we’re interested in exploring with each other. There’s a familiarity with each other as a band as kind of a fraternity. There’s a comraderie that exists that fuels a necessary thing in our lives in a way that I really try not to take for granted. We’ve been doing this now for over a decade – it’s a project that, at first, seemed like it was going to be a band that put together one record, but it’s snowballed into something more fruitful and with a whole lot more longevity as the years have pressed on. A lot has changed in our lives since we first started playing music with one another. This band, in its infancy, was a group of single guys in their early to mid-20s running around New York with very little responsibility. A lot has changed in our personal lives since then, and also culturally and socially a lot has changed in this country.

We had finished the “Phosphorescent Blues” tour and a lot had changed since we had said goodbye to each other after we wrapped the tour – mainly the Cubs winning the World Series and Donald Trump being elected – two major watershed moments in American history ... (laughs). I think we were drawn to each other to make another record after being away doing our own individual projects. There was an urgency to get back together and navigate these changes in our personal lives and in the macro-scale in this country as well. When things are disoriented, you want to be around people who are family; this band has become family to us all. So, this album was a chance to get everybody back together in a room talking collectively about our observations of what was going on in the world, and parse through all our personal changes. “All Ashore” is the result of that.

EDGE: Is it harder to make Punch Brothers material happen with all the other projects you guys have going on, or is Punch still the primary focus?

Pikelny: The will is always there. Once enough time passes, there’s always a feeling of “checking in.” After a couple years of doing other things, it seems like clockwork for us to get back in the studio. There’s kind of this feeling of when the holidays roll around each year that it’s “time to go home.” It doesn’t happen on a yearly basis, but it’s the same kind of recurring desire to make music with each other and be around each other. It is difficult from a logistical standpoint – there are three guys living in Nashville, Chris is in New York, and Gabe is in LA, so geographically there are some challenges. But the biggest hurdle to clear is everybody’s schedule. Everybody’s filling up their calendar with myriad interesting projects, so it’s definitely a balancing act. We have to be surgically precise in our scheduling, but we make it happen. And we want it to happen. That’s the important thing. It’s always something we return to.

EDGE: What’s the songwriting process like in the band? Does someone bring in a blueprint and you all riff on it, or is it collaborative from the ground up?

Pikelny: It’s usually at the tail end of a tour cycle that new ideas start percolating and we start using soundchecks to fool around with these new things we’ve come up with while on the road together. Soundcheck becomes less of a rehearsal and more of testing grounds for “the next record” when that time comes. That’s where we’re at right now.

The music is group composition, for sure. The final ingredient is Chris – he’s the lyricist for the band exclusively, so it’s a critical ingredient. That said, we all do edit lyrics together. Most of the process is done with all five of us in the room. We’ll schedule writing retreats where all five of us will meet up somewhere in the country outside of our own hometowns to kind of get away from everything. We’ll spend four to six days in a cabin just working on music – starting to get the ball rolling on a record. Everybody in the band brings in little pieces with them and we bounce the ideas off of each other and try to start sketching everything with all of us in the room. Occasionally Chris will run off and arrange an instrumental counterpoint for a tune and bring it back to the band, and occasionally certain sections of tunes will come in more fully fleshed out than others, but those are usually the only exceptions. I think that’s what’s interesting about the band – most all of the instrumental components of our songs are created with all of us in the same space at the same time – it’s a painstaking process that oftentimes is led by Chris because he moves so quickly when composing, but there’s a group sentimentality with all of us there. We have an unspoken agreement between the five of us that if something doesn’t excite everyone in the band, or “pass the test,” then it’s not for Punch Brothers. So that’s a tall order ... Pleasing everybody can certainly slow things down, but it leaves the end result kind of definitively a Punch Brothers statement.

EDGE: How’d the Punch Brothers come together? Why’d the Punch Brothers come together.

Pikelny: So the first project that we convened for was an album that ended up becoming “Punch,” which was the first record put out by Nonesuch under the Punch Brothers name. Chris had been working on this piece called “The Blind Leading the Blind,” which was an idea of his to write a four-movement string quintet that was kind of a marriage of folk and formal music. Kind of a compositional mix that people wouldn’t expect from a string quintet, but with moments of idiomatic playing under everyone’s own instruments – moments of improvisation on these instruments that are considered more folk or intuitive styles. That was his vision for that piece. He called the four of us in to bring it to fruition with the thoughts that maybe we’d do an album release tour and that would be that. But everyone ended up having such a good time, and the results seemed to exceed everyone’s expectations so we decided it should be something more than just a record. We started touring more, named the band Punch Brothers, and started working on music with ideas stemming from everyone in the band as opposed to “Blind Leading the Blind” which was strictly Chris’s idea.

EDGE: Do you ever exchange punches (from time to time) as brothers do?

Pikelny: (Laughs.) Are we ever physically violent with each other? In the early days there were a few wrestling matches, but, um, we’re all getting older and more rickety and we can’t afford to break a wrist. But definitely in the early days there were times when the only way to settle an argument over a setlist was to tackle somebody when they weren’t expecting it in a hotel lobby ... (Laughs.) For the record, I’m undefeated.

EDGE: Speaking of excitement, I recently saw a pictures of your lady, Caitlin, jumping for joy at the Grammys. You won! Describe that moment. What was it like? Also, congratulations!

Pikelny: Well, it was a profound shock that’s still something we’re completely surprised by. Joan Baez released an amazing record and we were all convinced that she was going to win. Chris Thile and Paul Kowert weren’t even there because they were so sure of the fact that we wouldn’t need to be there to make an acceptance speech. I was of the same mind as them but decided to go to LA anyways because there was John Prine tribute concert that we were able to be a part of which was something I wasn’t going to turn down. So, we were out there, and we figured we’d go watch Joan Baez pick up her award and strangely we won. It’s an honor. We’re extremely proud of “All Ashore.” It’s something we worked extremely hard on. And, I have to admit, after being nominated several times, it feels great to have finally gotten that nod, to have, after 12 years of doing it, finally some sign that what we’re doing is worthwhile. Yeah, it feels good (laughs).

EDGE: As you mentioned, you beat out Joan Baez – so perhaps this means you’ll be voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame soon.

Pikelny: Yeah. Well, the phone hasn’t rung yet today, and it’s right by my side. I clearly have service, so I’m not sure why I haven’t gotten the call…

EDGE: Where’d they seat you guys? Next to Alice Cooper? Jay-Z and Beyoncé?

Pikelny: The pre-telecast of the Grammys happens in the afternoon; the majority of the categories don’t happen in the primetime broadcast, so the afternoon ceremony is not assigned. It’s general admission seating. I was sitting next to Gabe Witcher of the Punch Brothers along with our spouses.

EDGE: You guys are headed back to New Hampshire for another show at The Music Hall here in Portsmouth. What can folks expect this time around? What keeps you coming back?

Pikelny: Well, it’s exciting to still be playing this music for new people. That’s the best piece of the puzzle when it comes to writing and recording albums, is getting it in front of an audience. The beauty of a live performance is in the community connecting with each other and, for me, as a professional musician, this is the most rewarding experience. The performance is definitely influenced by the audience – it’s not like there’s this forcefield between the stage and the audience – and so, it’s been too long since we’ve been to Portsmouth, and we’re excited to come back with this music from “All Ashore.”

EDGE: Final question: How many strings have been harmed (all-time) during the making of Punch Brothers music?

Pikelny: You know, that’s a good question. I have no idea what the actual tally is. I will say that Chris Thile breaks more strings than anyone in the band. I chalk that up to him having the worst technique out of any of the band members. He has the furthest to go to get to that professional level on his instrument. It’s an inspiration to him to keep practicing mandolin while having these other four virtuosos surrounding him – it’s something to aspire to.

Go & Do

What: Punch Brothers in concert

When: 7 p.m., Sunday, March 17

Where: The Music Hall, 28 Chestnut St., Portsmouth

Admission: $35 to $50, available at or in person at box office or by calling (603) 436-2400

More info: Visit