“There is a certain immortality in the change that another person effects on another person.” This is how singer-songwriter and mandolin player Chris Thile describes the meaning behind new song “Like It’s Going Out of Style,” the coda to the Punch Brothers’ latest album, All Ashore.
It’s something he’s thought a lot about in the past year following the loss of two of his grandparents, who he says “impacted me profoundly in my life.”
“In mourning them, there’s also a celebration of the change they effected in the people around them, myself included,” says Thile, who also hosts the American Public Media program Live From Here. “They are living on through that change. It’s important to allow people to affect you. If we kept that at the forefront of our minds, maybe we wouldn’t be as divided as we are.”
Rolling Stone sat down recently with Thile to talk about the song’s meaning, the group’s live approach to music videos and the confidence that propelled them to record their first self-produced album.
Lyrically, “Like It’s Going Out of Style” seems to be about being grateful for what you have. Accurate?
That’s a pretty good take on it. Finding peace in the struggle or peace in the lack of peace. Coming to terms with the fact that there will always be evil in the world. There will always be something to work on. There will always be something undone. And that’s OK. Working on it is a virtual but it’s also important taking a moment to appreciate each other’s company and admire one’s handiwork. There’s a lyric at the very end of that song, which might be a what have we learned moment on the record: “Our true love is reflected in the change/We embrace for one another/Our true selves live forever in the change/We effect in one another.”
Say you impacted a person and changed the way they move through the world and change the way they think … but then you die. That person goes on living the way they did, but now as part of the change you imparted on them, it would be difficult to say you’re dead. You’re living on through that change.
The video for the song follows previous videos of the band performing live, filmed with Alex Chaloff at Nashville’s Layman Drug Company. Did you want the music to speak for itself instead of being conceptualized in a “traditional” music video?
Yeah. There doesn’t need to be a concept or dramatic element to it. The boys and I believe that music is a very important form of expression in and of itself. It doesn’t really need anything else. It’s nice when it works in coordination with visuals. But it’s not necessary. The power of live music is vast. Live music is a wonderful way to spend some time.
After working with producers Jon Brion and T Bone Burnett, the band chose to self-produce All Ashore. How’d you come to that decision?
We felt like we knew what we wanted to hear ourselves do. I feel like we had learned from [those producers] and from each other what to expect from ourselves. Given the material that the world has presented us with, it was just a very specific sound in our mutual inner ear that we had to go to work plucking from our imaginations and then smearing it all over the tape. We felt like we had it. We had it in the palms of our hands and just had to work on fashioning into something hearable for y’all.
So why All Ashore for the album title?
“All Ashore” became a mantra for us. The title track is a focal point. It’s a feelings generator for the rest of the record. I have a little boy Calvin who is 3 years old. He has become something of a North Star for me. And I think many parents find that their children become a compass or a North Star as far as their activity. It dictates and simplifies. He’s a simplifying force in my life as far as those existential questions of “What should I be doing?” and “How should I be doing it?” It becomes “How do I make sure that I don’t mess this beautiful creature up?” The song is sung from his perspective, like an imagined perspective of a very young child as his parents are striving.
“All Ashore” is going ashore. This is a temporary conclusion to a journey. That could be seen as even just making it to bedtime. That could be seen as an epic voyage in this day and age. There’s an unprecedented unrest. This is the most prolonged period of unrest and the most intense period of unrest politically that I can remember. The record operates in that context.