Award-winning banjoist Noam Pikelny plays the Wheeler on Friday. Claire Woodcock spoke with him about his new solo album.
CW: Your fourth solo album “Universal Favorite” came out last week, and you sing on this one. What made you decide to sing this time around?
NP: This record was initially conceived as an opportunity to demonstrate the sounds that could emanate from the banjo in a purely solo setting. And, as I started putting the setlist together, I felt like I was teetering on the edge of this becoming a banjo recital and I didn't really want the record or the show to become that exclusively. As an instrumentalist there's really nothing as rewarding as getting to support a great singer and to play to serve the song. Singing and being able to play these songs with vocals was a more kind of honest representation of who I am musically.
CW: Your bandmate, Chris Thile, has taken over A Prairie Home Companion, and you have this new solo record. What’s next for the Punch Brothers?
NP: We’re looking forward to getting a whole batch of new music up and running. We have a bunch of starts to new material and we’re going back out on the road in June, making our way eventually to Colorado to play the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. It’s always been a really healthy thing for Punch Brothers that everybody has so many musical outlets outside of the band. I've seen with other bands people get threatened by various solo projects, and people try to keep that to a minimum because they feel like it could threaten the group. Everybody has such wide-ranging interests.There's no sense of obligation that we have to do it because it's a business or it's a machine. It’s the music that keeps us coming back to each other.
CW: What do you want the audience to take away from your performance at the Wheeler on Friday?
NP: It would be a success if people left feeling like they heard things they hadn't heard before coming from the banjo, or if they were humming one of the melodies from one of the songs or if they laughed more than they thought they would laugh at a banjo show. This is the set I would put forward if I was the last man standing on Earth.