Not My Job: Nickel Creek Frontman Chris Thile Gets Quizzed On Nickelback The new host of A Prairie Home Companion has fronted the popular bands Punch Brothers and Nickel Creek — so naturally, we asked him about the much derided Canadian band Nickelback.
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Not My Job: Nickel Creek Frontman Chris Thile Gets Quizzed On Nickelback

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Not My Job: Nickel Creek Frontman Chris Thile Gets Quizzed On Nickelback

Not My Job: Nickel Creek Frontman Chris Thile Gets Quizzed On Nickelback

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And now the game where people who are geniuses at what they do prove how good they can be doing something else entirely. It's called Not My Job. Chris Thile asked his parents for a mandolin when he was 2 years old. When his parents asked why, he said 'cause I'm not going to get a MacArthur genius grant for my finger-painting. He got one of those grants, plus he sold millions of records with his various bands. And next month, he will be the new host of "A Prairie Home Companion." Chris Thile, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.


CHRIS THILE: Oh, thank you very much.

SAGAL: So is that story true, that at the age of 2, you knew what your instrument was?

THILE: I did. My folks started taking me to this pizza place in Carlsbad, Calif., called That Pizza Place. And the fellow who led this bluegrass band that played there every Saturday night, he was super charismatic. And I always gravitated towards, you know, the pitcher in baseball or the quarterback on a football team, and since he played the mandolin, I wanted to play the mandolin. And also it was small and high-pitched, and that's exactly what I was at the time.

SAGAL: Right. So it was scaled to you as a 2-year-old.

THILE: (Laughter) Exactly.

ADAM BURKE: So you're saying there was a bluegrass band at a pizza place?


BURKE: So it's like, it's not DiGiorno, it's "Deliverance?" That sounds...


THILE: Oh, (unintelligible). That was very, very good.

SAGAL: Yeah.

BURKE: Sorry. I couldn't keep it in. Sorry.

SAGAL: That was very good.

THILE: That was very good.

SAGAL: So as you grew up, you - now you're an adolescent, you're well-known as a mandolin player, you're getting some fame. I got to ask, how'd that set you up with the ladies, the mandolin?

THILE: (Laughter) Oh, man, not great. Peter, of all the instruments, mandolin wouldn't make your shortlist of most masculine, would it?


PETER GROSZ: Hello, I play the smallest musical instrument there is.

SAGAL: Yeah.

BURKE: I play the mandolin, the man is I run (ph).

ROXANNE ROBERTS: Wait, wait, how small - OK. How small are mandolins? I thought they were...

GROSZ: You can probably fit, you know, three or four of them into a...

BURKE: Tote bag?

GROSZ: ...Regular size guitar?

SAGAL: They're small.

GROSZ: They're - I mean, it's like - it's a little smaller than a violin, wouldn't you say?

THILE: They're about the same size as the violin, but the violin has this illustrious Don Juan history. I mean, cast your mind back to "The Red Violin" and, you know, the sorts of things that violinists are up to. It's very sexy.

SAGAL: Yeah, yeah. A mandolin is kind of like a pretentious ukulele. Would you agree, Chris?


THILE: I - you know, I...

GROSZ: Wow, that is a compliment and an insult at the same time.

THILE: I 100 percent agree.

SAGAL: All right. We are all ready to welcome you to the Pantheon of public radio hosts as you take over from Garrison Keillor in "A Prairie Home Companion" next month, right?

THILE: Next month.

SAGAL: Right.

THILE: October 15.

SAGAL: And how are you - are you ready? Are you - you got your game face on? Have you done all your training?

THILE: I'm still a little concerned about how few pairs of red socks I have.

SAGAL: That's a problem. And...

THILE: Garrison never stepped on that stage without red socks, to my knowledge, and I only have one or two pairs. And I don't have great laundry habits.

SAGAL: That's true. However, I understand that Target is based in Minnesota so you should find one there.

THILE: Oh, it's going to be good. They have all kinds of red stuff in there.

SAGAL: Now, Garrison Keillor, as everyone knows, especially everyone here, founded, created "Prairie Home Companion," did it for more than 40 years, and you were selected by him to host the show. How did he give you the news?

THILE: (Laughter) So I was on a tour bus in Ann Arbor, Mich. I was practicing, playing with the bassist, Edgar Meyer, and Garrison's name shows up on my caller ID. It takes up the whole screen. And I was right in the middle of practicing and also had this sense that he wasn't just going to ask me to be on an episode, you know, next week, which he would do.

SAGAL: Yeah, you've been on the show many times.

THILE: And so I let it go to voicemail and then checked it and he said, oh, Chris, I have something I think might be of interest to you or maybe it won't be, but call me back. Let's talk. And so I call him back, and he starts outlining this plan that we're now in the middle of.

SAGAL: Of you taking over the show.

THILE: Of me taking over the show.

GROSZ: These Garrison Keillor impersonations, by the way, you could just do these and people wouldn't think he went away.

SAGAL: Yeah, I know. That's one option. You're a very good singer. Do you think that the "Prairie Home Companion" audience is going to be able to adjust to that?


BURKE: Zing (laughter).


THILE: (Laughter) You're very kind.

SAGAL: Ah, yes, I appreciate that. We've heard that you're not going to do the News from Lake Wobegon, but can you tell us any more? I'm genuinely excited to find out about what the Chris Thile "Prairie Home" is going to be like and how it's going to be different from the Garrison Keillor version.

THILE: I won't tell you the News from Lake Wobegon because I don't know what's happening.

SAGAL: Right.

THILE: And I won't do Lives of the Cowboys or Guy Noir but will continue to do scripts and the fake commercials. I mean, you know, you'll be hearing from the Ketchup Advisory Board, certainly, and it may occasionally be a good time for Rhubarb Pie.

ROBERTS: So does, like, Lake Wobegon just disappear?

SAGAL: Poof, like Brigadoon.

ROBERTS: Really?

SAGAL: Yeah, it's gone. Sorry.

GROSZ: It wasn't real, Roxanne.


SAGAL: Well, Chris Thile, we are delighted to talk to you. And we have asked you here this time to play a game we're calling...

BILL KURTIS: You're the most hated band in the whole world.

SAGAL: We are guessing that sometimes when you tell people that you are part of a band called Nickel Creek, they recoil in horror because they thought you said Nickelback.


SAGAL: And that, of course - Nickelback is the Canadian band that some believe is the worst rock 'n' roll band of all time. So we're going to ask you three questions about these Canadian super rockers. Answer two questions correctly, you will win our prize for one of our listeners. Bill, who is Chris Thile playing for?

KURTIS: John Hornick of Lincoln.

SAGAL: All right, well, here's your first question about Nickelback. Now, they haven't won many awards or much critical acclaim, but they did win this honor. What was it? A - in 1998, they were voted Canada's third most important export after maple syrup and Mike Myers; B - they were named the single biggest dating turnoff on a music-based dating site; or C - they served as the 2003 brand ambassadors for Axe body spray.

THILE: Oh, good lord. I'm going to go with A.

SAGAL: You're going to go with A, they were voted Canada's third most important export after maple syrup and Mike Myers?

THILE: I am.

SAGAL: All right.

ROBERTS: Oh, Alex Trebek it.

SAGAL: Sadly, it was B. It was B. They were named the single biggest dating turnoff on the music-based dating website Tastebuds FM. So if you're on that dating site and you're trying to find somebody to listen to your music to, do not tell them that your favorite band is Nickelback. Now, despite their reputation, Nickelback has done some good in this world, as in which of these examples? A - in their contract writer for their concerts, they stipulate that their leftover backstage Red Bull and vodka must be donated to nearby homeless shelters...

THILE: (Laughter).

SAGAL: ...B - in 2015, a man was able to raise $36,000 for charity by agreeing to listen to Nickelback 24/7 for a week; or C - they participated in a public awareness campaign warning young men against using flammable brands of hair mousse.

THILE: (Laughter) I'm going to go with B this time.

SAGAL: B, the man who raised $36,000? You are right.


SAGAL: He said, if you donate to this charity, I will listen to Nickelback 24/7 for a week, and it worked. He raised all that money. He said, quote, "when you're listening to this much consecutive Nickelback, it feels like one week is seven weeks." Last question - Nickelback, like so many other successful musicians these days it seems, have been accused of plagiarizing their music - in their case, from whom? From A - John Cage; B - Rob Zombie; or C - themselves.

THILE: Oh, I know this one. It is themselves.

SAGAL: You are right, yes.


SAGAL: In 2005, a listener was enjoying the new Nickelback song, "Someday" and realized it sounded a lot like the old Nickelback song, "How You Remind Me," so he played the songs on top of each other in kind of a splice. And, yup, it is the same song. The mash-up...

THILE: (Singing) I've been down, I've been (unintelligible), in the bottom of every bottle.


SAGAL: Was that the song? I don't know Nickelback.

GROSZ: I think he's having a seizure.

THILE: I think that was (unintelligible).

BURKE: These Garrison Keillor impersonations are unbelievable.


SAGAL: The mash-up became known is "How You Remind Me Of Someday." Bill, how did Chris Thile do on our quiz?

KURTIS: He got two out of three, so you're a winner, Chris. Good luck.


SAGAL: Chris Thile is an award-winning musician with the bands Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers. This fall, he will be the real host of "A Prairie Home Companion." Chris Thile, thank you so much for playing with us and good luck.

THILE: Thank you so much for having me.


SAGAL: In just a minute, Bill makes up a batch of his famous prison matzah ball soup in our Listener Limerick challenge. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us on the air. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR.

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