The three members of Nickel Creek met in Carlsbad, California at That Pizza Place in 1989, whilst listening to weekly bluegrass shows with their parents. Soon they were taking lessons from the same instructor, playing festivals, and even recording albums. Their first, Little Cowpoke, was released in 1994. Nickel Creek has gone on to record several more albums, including their self-titled debut album and This Side, which went platinum and won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album. In 2005, Nickel Creek released Why Should the Fire Die?, which received massive critical acclaim and sold 250,000 units.
Thile has released other solo albums, including the intricate Not All Who Wander Are Lost, released in 2001, and Deceiver in 2004 (in which he wrote, composed, sang, and played every part). In 2008, Thile will release a collaboration album with bassist Edgar Meyer, and also plans to release a collaborative album with Hilary Hahn.
Thile began playing the mandolin at the age of five, taking occasional lessons from John Moore. At age eight, Chris' family and the Watkins family formed Nickel Creek. The band performed at many California bluegrass festivals, and as a result Chris had to be home-schooled. At age twelve, he won the prestigious national mandolin championship at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas.
That same year, 1993, Thile made a demo tape and sent it to the Sugar Hill and Rounder record labels. Both labels showed interest, but the Thiles went with Sugar Hill. The next year Chris Thile released his first solo album, Leading Off, featuring mostly original compositions.
In 1995, the Thile family moved to Murray, Kentucky where Chris' father Scott Thile accepted a position at Murray State University as a musical instrument technician. In 1997, Chris released Stealing Second and Nickel Creek released Here to There. Chris went on to attend Murray State University for a few semesters, where he was a music major.
In 2003, Thile teamed up with mandolinist Mike Marshall for the duet album Into the Cauldron, which included original pieces as well as pieces by Charlie Parker and J. S. Bach. In 2004, Thile released Deceiver, an experimental album on which he recorded every track himself. This included electric guitar, piano, drums, violin, viola, cello, and bass. Deceiver demonstrated some pop/rock songwriting in addition to "newgrass."
In 2006, Thile formed the How to Grow a Band, with whom he recorded How to Grow a Woman from the Ground, Thile's fifth album. In an interview with the Nashville City Paper, Thile described the formation of the band:
"We got together one night just to drop a ton of money, drink too much wine, eat steaks, and commiserate about our failed relationships. We had gotten to play together a few days before and we had said that we needed to do something musical together. With our hearts smashed to pieces, it became more urgent — our lives had gone the same way for so long. I knew I wanted to have a band with Gabe [Witcher], but I didn’t know if it would be a rock ensemble, an ambitious acoustic classical thing or a bluegrass group. We played, and there was a serious, instantaneous connection. Then I knew I wanted to put together a bluegrass band — one with a lot of range, but aesthetically a bluegrass band."
The band consists of Chris Thile (mandolin), Gabe Witcher (fiddle/violin), Chris Eldridge (guitar), Greg Garrison (bass), and Noam Pikelny (banjo). Bryan Sutton has also filled in on guitar when necessary. In 2007, the band officially changed its name first to "The Tensions Mountain Boys" and then "Punch Brothers."
On March 17, 2007, this group debuted Thile's most ambitious work to date at Carnegie Hall: "The Blind Leaving the Blind", a forty minute suite in four movements. Thile says the piece was written in part to deal with his divorce of 2004.
In August 2008, Thile and bassist Edgar Meyer announced the release date of the duo's planned debut album. The album will be released on Thile's label Nonesuch Records on September 23, 2008. Commenting on the collaboration, Thile said "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. This was my dream. I always wondered what it would be like to be playing music this hard.
He can frequently be seen playing in New York City, NY at The Baggot Inn and Parkside Lounge's bluegrass jams alongside Tony Trischka, Greg Garring and Michael Daves.