Chris Thile’s Laysongs is his first truly solo album: just Thile, his voice, and his mandolin, on new recordings of six original songs and three covers, all of which contextualize and banter with his ideas about spirituality. Recorded in a converted upstate New York church during the pandemic, Laysongs features the three-part Salt (in the Wounds) of the Earth, which was inspired by C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters; a song Thile wrote about Dionysus; a selection from Béla Bartók’s Sonata for Solo Violin; “God Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot” based on Buffy Sainte-Marie’s adaptation of a Leonard Cohen poem; and a Hazel Dickens cover.
Mandolinist, singer, and songwriter Chris Thile’s Laysongs will be release on Nonesuch Records on June 4, 2021. The album is his first truly solo album: just Thile, his voice, and his mandolin, on new recordings of six original songs and three covers, all of which contextualize and banter with his ideas about spirituality. Recorded in a converted upstate New York church during the pandemic, Laysongs’ centerpiece is the three-part Salt (in the Wounds) of the Earth, which was inspired by C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. The album also features a song Thile wrote about Dionysus; a performance of the fourth movement of Béla Bartók’s Sonata for Solo Violin; “God Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot” based on Buffy Sainte-Marie’s adaptation of a Leonard Cohen poem; a cover of bluegrass legend Hazel Dickens’ “Won’t You Come and Sing for Me;” and an original instrumental loosely modeled after the Prelude from J.S. Bach’s Partita for Solo Violin in E Major.
Thile, who was raised in a Christian household, explains the inspiration for Laysongs, from a backstage conversation with Nonesuch’s Chairman Emeritus Bob Hurwitz, who told him, “‘You should do a God-themed record of some kind, it’s all over your work.’ It is a lifelong obsession of mine, even post-Christianity, what the impact of that kind of devotion to any organized religion is.” When the world went into COVID lockdown in the spring of 2020 and the public radio show Thile had hosted, Live from Here, ended its run, he finally had time to seriously contemplate this idea. Again, Hurwitz supplied a nudge, encouraging him to make a “snapshot” of his experience of the pandemic.
Thile’s wife, the accomplished actor Claire Coffee, served as Laysongs’ co-producer: “She has incredible taste and narrative intuition. She was able to help me weave the original and non-original material together.” During the summer of 2020, the family was temporarily living in Hudson, NY, where they found a recording studio, Future-Past, in an old church. “I went in there to look at the space and instantly felt so at home,” Thile recalls. “I loved the amount of sound around the sound. I had two sonic collaborators on this record: the tremendous engineer Jody Elff and that church.”
Thile realized—and illustrates in these songs—that his greatest spiritual sustenance comes from communion with others. “I was more than ever before craving that thing—singing with people, making music with people, but particularly that very selfless kind of music making that happens in church. At best you aren’t thinking about yourself or even about the people you’re making music with. You’re all just doing it together and it’s about something else. It’s really beautiful. And it’s maybe the only thing about organized religion that I miss.”
MacArthur Fellow Chris Thile is the founding member of Punch Brothers, which a Boston Globe reviewer has called “the tightest, most impressive live band I have ever seen.” The group’s five Nonesuch albums are Punch, Antifogmatic, Who’s Feeling Young Now?, The Phosphorescent Blues, and the Grammy-winning All Ashore. Thile’s other Nonesuch releases include a duo album with guitarist Michael Daves, two records with bassist Edgar Meyer (one of which won a Grammy), a Bach album with Yo-Yo Ma and Meyer, a duet album with jazz pianist Brad Mehldau, and the T Bone Burnett–produced soundtrack to the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis. As a soloist, Thile has released six albums—most recently an album of his songs of the week from Live from Here called Thanks for Listening. He spent his formative years as a member of the Grammy Award–winning, multi-platinum selling band Nickel Creek, which reunited in 2014 for its highest-charting album to date, A Dotted Line, and an extensive tour. For four years, Thile hosted public radio favorite Live from Here with Chris Thile (formerly known as A Prairie Home Companion).
Produced by Chris Thile and Claire Coffee
Recorded and Mixed by Jody Elff at Future-Past Studio, Hudson, NY, August 2020
Mastered by Greg Calbi and Steve Fallone at Sterling Sound, Edgewater, NJ
Design by Jeri Heiden at SMOG Design, Inc.
Photography by Josh Goleman
Chris Thile, vocals, mandolin