When double bassist Edgar Meyer started playing professionally, Chris Thile was four years old. But it didn’t take long for the future mandolinist to catch up — less than 10 years later he released his first solo album, and a few years later he released his first album with Nickel Creek. The young group went on to win a Grammy for 2002’s This Side.
While Thile, now 27, was doing his child prodigy bit, Meyer established himself as a bassist without equal — in classical music as well as more traditional American folk and bluegrass. He’s performed with Béla Fleck, Amy Dorfman, Yo-Yo Ma, Zakir Hussain, Sam Bush, and many other musical luminaries in various genres. In 2002, he won the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius” grant, and over the years he’s won three Grammy’s.
Thile looked up to the bassist, going so far as to call him his hero.
But Meyer, 47, also had his eye on the young fan, from the time he was 5 years old (the same age that Meyer picked up the bass). It was evident to him from early on that Thile had a special gift. They shared a mutual interest in working together for many years, until they finally collaborated on one of Thile’s albums in 2000.
After years of playing together off and on, the duo released their first album together for Nonesuch Records Sept. 23. The no-frills Edgar Meyer Chris Thile combines elements of classical, jazz, folk, and bluegrass, and was recorded in Meyer’s home studio. For Thile, it was a dream come true.
“Edgar is one of the biggest influences on my musical life, and now I’m in a duo with him and writing songs with him,” Thile said in a recent press release. “This was my dream. I always wondered what it would be like to be playing music this hard.”
Meyer notes, however, that such comments are a little misleading.
“I learn a lot from him, and honestly a lot of the time I wish that I could do the things that he can do,” Meyer says. “He’s a very remarkable musician. I think the one thing is that because he grew up very aware of a lot of the music that I was involved in, we had a lot of common ground, and are able to get places faster sometimes without having to talk about it.”
Both hearing and seeing the virtuosic duo’s quick repartee is an amazing experience.
“Mandolin’s my favorite instrument to play with, and I think we have a lot in common in terms of a multi-faceted ambition musically,” Meyer says, his normally thoughtful tone growing animated as the conversation turns to the technical aspects of his music. “I like the way that it complements the bass. I bow the bass a lot and it’s a more sustained sound. The mandolin is a lot more percussive or plucked, and so those two contrast each other by nature. In terms of register, one is high and one is low. Dynamically, they’re not that different; neither one of them are terribly loud, so they blend well easily, whereas piano or drums would feel kind of wiped out in comparison.”
Their writing process is both organic and carefully collaborative.
“It’s always the same, in different times,” Meyer says. “Usually one person has come in with some kind of beginning to something, and then we work on it together. Sometimes we’ll collect different ideas and put them all together. The one thing about Chris and I is that we have tried to do all the writing together, which has given the music a very definite sound as opposed to it being a mix. A lot of times people want to keep ownership of their own things so it’s nice to be able to share.”
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