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Published: 1999/07/15
by Benjy Eisen

24 Questions – Russ Lawton on Trey Tour, Jam Bands, and Jewel

9. You’re in Trey Anastasio’s band now, do you feel like you have free reign with it?

Yeah, I don’t feel restricted at all man. I mean he’s got an agenda that he’s working with. And I’ve come into the thing ‘to do the best job’ and I remember on a couple of things you make little mistakes and you’re really like ‘Oh man! I don’t want him to…’ You know, ‘cause some leaders are really hardcore.

We go for a certain feel. And for me, if you’re bringing a song to the table then you’ve lived with that song a lot longer than I have and you’ve got this vision. Because I know that when I write songs, I’m walking around thinking about them, demoing them and I mean if someone brings something to the table that’s better, then great but…you know, it’s very open. It’s song to song. I don’t feel uptight about it if I don’t do it exactly but there is a feel we’re going for.

Things have grown. It’s been fun because we did two shows – we did a show and I didn’t see him for a year and then six months in we did a show. Now we’re doing this tour and things are just like…it’s so fun to see it find its own little thing.

I mean I don’t play any junk – I like to believe that I’m a fairly refined drummer, so it’s not like Trey would turn around, ‘What the hell was that fill’? We all make mistakes and stuff but I mean, you know, I feel that it’s very open. With Gordon too.

10. When you’re in an improvisational jam, with any band, do you as a drummer let the lead instruments take control, even for tempo changes, or do you sometimes take control?

I go both ways. I know with Trey it’s funny, because he was saying that Neil Young really liked Phish because they wait for things to happen. They don’t force it. And that’s kinda like what we’ve been doing. Like with this thing ‘Sand.’ It’s almost some kind of house mix or acid jazz – it switches ever so slightly. Not every song is like that, but… So he dictates that way and some songs I’ll react if Trey’s doing a solo or a guitar player I’m playing with is doing a solo – I react. I really listen, man, and I really try to react to the solo. And then if things, you know…whatever. I try to let it play itself. And that’s when it’s the best, you know?

11. How did you guys prepare for, for this tour? With most bands, you start off by forming as a band, and it takes a little while to build material, and then maybe you do a gig as an opener and then, a month or so later, you open again and maybe do a show of your own on a Monday night or something and it takes time. This seems more like, ‘Okay we’re going to do this’ and suddenly it’s like a legitimate project now, even selling-out every night of a theater tour. How did you guys prepare for it?

Well you see what we did, when he called well over a year ago, we’d go up and do like a Tuesday/Wednesday rehearsal. Tuesday all day, Wednesday ‘till like two or three. I’d go back home and do gigs with Gordon or whatever. We did that two or three times. Then we just had tapes so I’d work really hard at home.

But then when we did that one show, he called me and – it’s amazing, I remember I just got back from doing all these gigs in New York with Gordon and January 2nd the phone rings. And I’m like, ‘I’m home for the night. I have no gigs this week. I’m going to stay home and do my thing.’

And Trey called, ‘What are you doing this Thursday?’ and I’m like, ‘Hey what’s up, man?’...And then I’m like, ‘Well honey, I guess I’m going back up to Vermont this weekend.’ Heh!

And so we did like the same thing. We did two days and he goes, ‘Hey I’ve got this gig February 15th. You wanna do it?’

And I’m like ‘Sign me up, man!’ So we did that. So we’d get together three times like that, back to back. I think we did like three or four. We worked really hard – get up there and drink coffee and pound it out, you know? And that first day, we all stayed up at the rehearsal space. We just crashed there, and we just were working on stuff twelve at night still, so… but just working hard, you know? Then I would come home. And then after that I remember I went to LA to hang out with some friends and I got a message, and he’s like, ‘Let’s do a tour, man!’ And I’m like, ‘Okay! Let’s do it!’

So then – same thing: We went up to the barn and I think we did like six rehearsals – the back-to-back kinda thing. And then we did it.

12. I know with Phish they practice a lot, even on the road. They’ll work on stuff at soundcheck and even on days off they’ve been known to go into a studio. Have you guys done any of that?

We haven’t been doing that that much. We do soundcheck and learn a song or work on some things but we’ve just been kinda hanging out, you know? I used to have my drum pad out during the day but I’m trying to like mix it up a little bit, appreciating being in some different places and getting inspiration that way too. I feel kinda guilty – I’m like ‘I should be practicing right now.’ For years, two hours before the gig I’d practice and I’m just trying to see the sights a little bit more.

But we’ve been working on…we added some songs. Like we played ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ for Trey’s friend the other night; this woman Marriette and her husband. They’re from Atlanta. That was cool.

I was excited when I saw that on the setlists the other night.

Yeah, that was great! I grew up with that. And we’ve been raging ‘Live at The Fillmore’ on the bus, so we’ve been cranking that up.

Band of Gypsies -That’s a great album.

Yeah, it’s an amazing album!

13. Is there any talk of continuing this thing at all, or at some point maybe doing an album, or another tour?

Yeah, as long as…yeah. I mean I know that even with the crew, everybody’s really psyched on it. And when we started, Trey was like, ‘Get ready for the crew cause they’re going to give their opinion. ‘Cause they always give their opinion.’ Which is cool – which is great. But everybody’s been amazing and I would like to believe that we’ll still do it. Who knows, you know? I think everybody’s having a great time – Trey, Tony and myself. And I would love to do it. You know, when Phish is off the road. I know that they’re taking a month to rehearse but they’ve been off since January so it’s like, he wants to keep busy and he’s a hard working man. I have so much respect for that fact. It’s like so cool! You don’t rest on no laurels man.

So I mean, we talked. We said, ‘Let’s keep doing this!’ Whatever. But who knows man? I take it a day at a time. I don’t mean AA either but that’s the way I look at it. And I like to believe that we’ll keep doing it, but whatever man. He’s reaching all the time and I totally respect that.

14. Phish fans when they go to a Phish concert like to get down. Has it been that type of vibe at these shows?

Oh yeah! You’ll see for yourself tonight, but people have been getting really into it and that’s just so great!

15. With the Gordon Stone Band, you guys get to play with a lot of the younger jam bands that are just starting out – bands that have been around for just a couple of years. Bands like the Slip…

Who sound great, by the way! I was blown away by them when we played the Berkfest, man. It was just perfect.

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