Collections > Electronic Theses and Dissertations > Chris Thile, The Punch Brothers, and the Negotiation of Genre

Chris Thile and his five-piece supergroup the Punch Brothers have a complicated relationship with the genre of bluegrass. Their rhetoric has grown increasingly resistant to the idea that the concept of genre is a useful framework for interpretating their music. However, the band's output complicates this narrative by consistently referencing bluegrass even while the band members deny engaging with it. Fans of the band value this precariously balanced relationship to bluegrass, giving each perceived transgression of the genre's boundaries value as "progressive." This thesis analyzes the Punch Brothers' engagement with genre through their public rhetoric, the sound of their music, and their gendered representations of self through performance. It first summarizes the band, its output, and its use of narratives and genre-resistant rhetoric. It then interrogates how they have carefully crafted a bluegrass lineage in their presentation of identity, derived their sound from a bluegrass-oriented foundation even while disguising it with interpolations from the avant garde and other genres, and constructed a performance of gender that taps in to non-musical means of claiming cultural authority. Through this analysis of a band and its output, this thesis seeks to illustrate the cultural power of conflicting identities, when representations of self appear to be at odds with musical performance.