Page McConnell: Closer To Home
Page McConnell returns to the music scene for the first time since Phish’s last show at the Coventry festival in August 2004 with a debut solo album featuring nine self-penned tunes and a new touring band. And three years is a long time to be away in any business, let alone the cruel and fickle field of music which has its arc, pendulum and paradigm shift nearly every six months. Alas, the fate of McConnell and his Phab Phour bandmates appear a little more secure than perhaps most musicians riding the treacherous wave of a rapidly changing scene. After all, the Chairman of the (key)Boards was a member of a colossal touring machine, while also saddled with a heady label by none other Rolling Stone magazine: America’s Most Important Band of the 1990s. This distinct and dense hyperbole defined not only a profound status within the jam community but a loyal and “rabid fanbase”in the words of McConnellthat still exists today.
McConnell’s self-titled solo debut is a warm mixture of past influences and a fresh new beginning, including colorful textures that help in the quest for his own solo voice. Perhaps, most surprising, the former Phish keysmith has crafted nine songs with lyrics that stand completely on their own. There is barely a hint of the invisible burden from such a legacy that will be forever linked with his name. The album features Phish bandmates Trey Anastasio, Jon Fishman and Mike Gordonalbeit never all on the same songand a fine selection of journeyman performers. Jim Keltnera collaborator with John Lennon, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello and the Rolling Stonesplays drums; Adam Zimmon on guitar, also played with the Spam Allstars; Jared Slomoff, fills the role of co-engineer and guitar. On his upcoming cross country tours, Page has enlisted Gabe Jarrett and Rob O’Dea to round out the band.
Jambands.com caught up with McConnell on the eve of the release of his solo debut. We were fortunate to get the musician in a confident passage of his life and he was generous with his time and conversation. He mentioned that any question could be asked and he would decide if he would answer but that was never quite the case. Although, there were some difficult questions and detailed exploratory musings, McConnell was completely candid, humorous, forthright and engaginghallmarks of his iron character and improvisational music spanning over two decades.
Part I And Ride Beyond Until the Waves Have No Glory
“And engagements that paid the bills
with nothing but time to kill” – “Heavy Rotation,” Page McConnell
RR: I’ve been waiting a long time to ask you thishow is Page McConnell?
PM: Page McConnell is doing very well, thank you. (laughs)
RR: Your solo debut was completed in June 2006. Was there a reason for the delay?
PM: Well, I didn’t have a record label. It would have been possible to just put it up on the net and say, “Here it is.” I was really proud of this album. You don’t always get opportunities in life; not every opportunity is always available to you. (laughs) Right now, where I was, I had already worked on the project for over two years so I was done listening to a lot of this stuff quite a while agoeven before June. At that point, the way the business is these days is kind of crazy. There are lots of people doing things lots of different ways. Some people put stuff out on labels; some people do it, themselves. I wanted to shop it around to see if there was interest from any labels and what the interest would be. I had waited that long already to make the thing, to take the time with it, that I thought giving it a proper release was worth it.
By the time I found myself at Legacythat took a few more months, shopping it around, talking to labels, landing therethe record label always wants around five months to get it together, to give it a proper release, and all of the stuff that labels do: talking to the radio people, talking to the sales department and advertisement and they have a way of doing things and it takes a while of lead time. Really honestly, I would have preferred for Page McConnell to come out last summer but I wasn’t going to put it out too quickly and not give it all that maybe it could get.
RR: There was a profound silence and mystique that had built up around you since it had taken three years to release the album. Perhaps that delay has helped.
PM: I don’t think there was anything wrong with leaving the scene for a while. I had been so out there for so long.
RR: Were you searching for a sound on the album? A different voice? Or is it accurate to say it wasn’t done with an intent but later, you saw the overall concept?
PM: Maybe, more of the latter. I just take a long time to write songs is what it is. I don’t do these things quickly and they don’t fly out of me. I’m not as prolific as some. I really spend time with it and that’s just sort of my nature. I’m, maybe, in the studio kind of meticulous, I guess. Hopefully, not to the point of losing an edge in the spontaneity. There’s always a fine line of refinement. I started writing the songs not knowing that it would hold together as an album. Probably around seven songs into it, I began to feel like there is a body of work here and now, I have to start looking towards the end. That was probably around a year into the project and it took me another six months to finish. Some of that I recorded in Brooklyn in those last couple of months and mixed it down there. [Recorded almost exclusively in Vermont, Page McConnell was also tracked and mixed at Phish and Trey Anastasio producer Bryce Goggin’s studio in Brooklyn.]
RR: I’m surprised that you say it took a long time to write the songs because they have a loose feel but are organized properly without too much tinkering. I was most amazed at your lyrical output. As a fellow writer, I was impressed by how many symbols you were able to throw into your songs and still capture a consistent theme.
PM: It’s all relatively new to mebefore I was writing lyrics with Vida Blue and I didn’t really start that until late 2001, 2002and I’d never written lyrics before so I’ve only been doing it for about five years. It’s getting easier for me as time goes on and I’m always working on some new material that I’m pretty excited about but it’s something that is still developing.
RR: What was your process? Did you sit down to develop your songwriting and write a whole batch of lyrics and then try to match music to the lyrics?
PM: Every song had a different process, interestingly. The first song that I wrote was “Beauty of a Broken Heart,” the first song on the album. That one also took the longest. I had tracked that with Phish during the Undermind session. I hadn’t finished the song yet and hadn’t got it in proper form. We did, sort of, take a stab at it. I started writing that song right around the time I was writing “Army of One.” If there were another song that belonged on the album, it probably would have been “Army of One” because it was part of the same batch. Having said that, it took me from start-to-finish with [“Beauty of a Broken Heart”]that is, mixing the final completed version that was on the albumprobably like three or four years. (laughs) It was a long time. I worked on it for quite a while when Phish was still together.
The second song I wrote, “Maid Marian,” took another three months or so until I felt like I couldn’t work on this one, anymore. I still went back and fine-tuned the lyrics as I went along and that’s one of the luxuries of being able to take your time to record an album over such a long period of timeyou really get to live with this stuff and decide how you feel about it.
RR: I think that helps with the imagery, too. “Beauty of a Broken Heart” leads into one of the great jam songs on the album, “Heavy Rotation,” featuring some fine interplay between yourself, Mike Gordon on bass, Jim Keltner on drums and Adam Zimmon on guitar. If you’re wondering where Page is at these days, you’ve got a fine confessional opener that runs right into a strong bit of improvisational playing.
PM: That was spontaneous, too. I was really thrilled the way that came out.
RR: Right. How long did it take you to write the lyrics?
PM: That one not as long. That was one of the later songs, probably the seventh or eighth song that I wrote towards the end. I actually had a version of it that I had been working on up here [Burlington] for a long time. I ended up retracking it at the Brooklyn session; that’s when it sort of became a jam song. The previous version will be out there and released. There will be a couple of demos and bonuses that people can find. I like the original version of it, too. Fish plays drums on it. There’s a lot of electronic drum programming that I did with this album. There’s none of it on the song on the album but the demo has this kind of hip-hop drum thing that goes on and I like that, too.
RR: On “Heavy Rotation,” Mike and Jim Keltner had a good bottom sound while you were gliding over the top. I was wondering about the song’s lyrics like “music that came and went, amusements that paid the rent, rules that were slightly bent but never too far.” Are those lyrics relating to what you’ve experienced in the past?
PM: Absolutely. Absolutely. That one, especially the chorus, ismaybe more literally than somea nod to the old band and everything. They’re lyrics that are stories and they’re words and they rhyme and there are feelingsbut they’re not all literalbut that one maybe, was a little bit more so than some.
Part II The Complex Wind of Jon Fishman
_“But if Shackleton’s people could find their way home
then the only excuse that we got is our own”_ – “Close to Home,” Page McConnell
RR: You managed to include the great explorer, Shackleton in “Close to Home.”
PM: If there is any song that has a political bent to it or slant, it would have been that oneeven though it isn’t really saying anything other than more about personal politics. It’s got no agenda but more of a personal comment or observation, I guess. I don’t even know exactly where that came from but with so many of these songsespecially, that oneI started writing most of these songs by programming drums and working with electronic drums; starting with that and then, building from that up. That one in particular had a cool thing I had going with the drums and then, I had Fishman and Keltner play on top of it, as well. I don’t know where it came from, exactly. (laughs) It just kind of happenedobserving, taking in everything going on around me. Lyrically, I guess if there’s a message, it would be something like, basically, your own perspective is all you’ve got no matter how much you think you can see things. You can really only see things as you see them and no one can really see things as you see them, either.
RR: I do like the existential nature of the lyrics. The referenced material isn’t so topical or specific that the song will be dated in five years.
PM: I thought about Fishman a lot, actually. He was a huge fan of Shackleton; he loves to tell the story. [Author’s Note: Sir Ernest Shackleton led a failed expedition to cross the Antarctic overland in 1914 in the Endurance, before a courageous odyssey return home.] To get him to play drums on that track was a thrill for me. I liked talking about the icecaps melting and Shackleton and it all kind of fits together.
RR: There are elements of “Complex Wind” that remind me of Fishman’s house where he had developed a rather unique, state-of-the-art energy source.
PM: He is the Complex Wind. (laughter) It kind of came fromand I should really get it out there, I supposea picture from the Burlington Free Press a few years back when he was trying to put up his windmill on his house on his property. It was causing some debate among the neighbors and there was a pretty big picture of Fish in the Burlington Free Press, sort of pointing off into the distant, standing in this field (laughs) and the headline said: “A Complex Wind Blows in Shelburne.” They have no idea how complex that wind is. (laughs) He blows. He’s been known to move some air. (laughs) You’re the first one to notice. Most of the references are so inside that if you weren’t one of the four or five people that happened to be in the band or right around it, you wouldn’t even know what the song is about. [Fishman] did have alpaca; he did have windmills; he was trying to do geo-thermal stuff and I’m glad that he likes the song because I meant it in every way, affectionately, towards him but that’s one of his new monikersComplex Wind.
RR: How did you get the rolling windmill sound effect at the beginning of the song?
PM: I started every song by doing synthesizer work, programming synth drums. That was just one of the textures that I developed. A lot of these things I would doturn knobs (laughs) and stuff would happenand I wouldn’t know exactly what I was doing or couldn’t necessarily recreate it but if I got something right, I would record it: “This is something I can use. This is a texture that I like.” Very few of them actually ended up on the album. That one did. The drums that go on through thatalthough, there are some human drums, most of them are synth drums on “Complex Wind”95% of them are actually synth. I had Fish play on top of that, as well.
RR: He played brushes on “Complex Wind,” right?
PM: He played brushes but it’s just little bits of him in there. It’s not primarily Fishman playing brushes; it’s primarily synth drumsmore so than with the other songs where I had synth drums and you can hear the live drums right up there with them. This one I got something that I found to be kind of like a hypnotic groove going with the synth track. I built the song up, piece by piece. First, some melody, put some words on it; this article came out in the paper and there’s the “Complex Wind.” I just grabbed it and ran with it.
Part III The Soundtrack Starts Rewinding
“The crew crept in closer, overexposed as they captured a couple frames more, the shots just got tighter and the reels run despite our last gasp on the cutting room floor” – “Rules I Don’t Know,” Page McConnell
RR: I like the progression of the final three tracks on the album“Rules I Don’t Know,” “Complex Wind” and “Everyone But Me.” I also agree that “Army of One” would have made a fine addition to this batch to make a strong thematic quartet. “Rules I Don’t Know” in tone and sound feels like a sequel to “Army of One.”
PM: There are some (laughs) military references. I try not to dip from the same well too many times (laughter) but, whatever. I know what you’re saying.
RR: The relaxed opening key and tenor led me to that thought. I was also intrigued by the lines “how can I leave this behind me with all that’s around to remind me? How can this road help unwind me when it’s the road I don’t go that defines me?” That passage really made an impression on me“it’s the road that I don’t go that defines me.” Was there anything autobiographical in that line?
PM: You know, I think as much as anythingI’m not exactly sure but it’s probably justas much as you try to make the right decisions in life and you choose your path to some degree, there are other forces at work and bigger picture things that are very difficult to see that might actually be guiding you. You only get one path at a time so all of your points of reference, all the decisions that you’re making are based on what you know and what you’ve experienced. But there’s a whole world out there that you’re not aware of and by not being aware of it or not being able to see that arc or scenethat’s probably what defines you as much as anything.
RR: I couldn’t help but think that the opening line was a direct reference to the events of Coventry; perhaps, the most overt connection to Phish“the crew crept in closerthe reels runour last gasp on the cutting room floor.” I went even further and thought of the emotions during “Wading in the Velvet Sea” at that final gig. Would it be inaccurate for me to go down that specific memory lane?
PM: It actually would. That’s O.K. I don’t know exactly where the words come from. I don’t think you’re inaccurate to think that. It wasn’t necessarily where I was coming from with that but you’ve made that connection. Like I said, I don’t know where these lyrics come from exactly and when I write songs, I tend to write lots of lyrics, pages and pages, as many as I can and then, go back the next day and circle the paragraphs that sort of make sense to me, seem to fit or hold together or an alignment that I like and I see if I can develop that into a different verse. I never really know exactlyI try to write as much as possible in a stream-of-conscious sort of way and not even think about the words that are going down. Half the time, they don’t even make sense; they don’t even make sense, at all. Sometimes, they aren’t even words (laughs); they’re just soundsletters put together because it’s a sound that fits there. I try to refine it and figure out what sounds are working with a song, what words are moving me and then, try to pull it all together.
RR: “Rules I Don’t Know” is track seven and it does fit well in the sequencing. The song appears to be a link to the last moment that the public equates with you at the final Phish gig which was heart wrenching on so many levels. Now, you have this new work and it seems to have collapsed the time in between as if it just vanished. At that point on the album, there is movement forward with insightful lyrics and a nod backat least symbolically in my mindto your past.
PM: I love Phish. I love all the guys. It was an experience that was singular. No one will ever replicate that and for anybody who ever went to shows and experienced it in a positive way, they know. They know that going to one of our festivals is a little different than going to any of the other hundred festivals that are going on, now. I think, anywaythat’s my feeling. I don’t go to a lot of festivals but there’s something really special. There’s something special about the band and there’s something special about the bond with the crowd. I treasure that and I appreciate it.
RR: From my own experience, I would agree that there is a profound lack of community at a lot of current festivals because there isn’t an overriding unified theme or bond with a band to connect me to the event.
PM: Or kind of a soul that seems to hold it together. We were lucky and, like I said, singular and unique to be doing it as one bandto be able to do these festivals and to really be speaking to the crowd and to make it as user-friendly as possible for our fans. We had a pretty large organization and we couldn’t have done these festivals without all of these people working with us and making it possible. But I think, in the end, it was the four of us and the connection with our audience, which is what made it special.
Part IV Elegant Sky Reaching for a Silhouette Peak
_“Your ticket to ride has got you on the run
Ready or not your future’s gonna come”_ – “Runaway Bride,” Page McConnell
RR: I’ve listened to the new album quite a bit and I’m finding areas where I hope the improvisation opens up new avenues to explore when you play live. Have you been finding your own jam passages in rehearsals with your current bandAdam Zimmon, Jared Slomoff, Gabe Jarrett and Rob O’Dea?
PM: Absolutely. In fact, with a couple shows that we had, including the moe.down show. Not so much with the Philly radio show because it was kind of shortjust an hour and we didn’t get to do everything. There were certain things that I really wanted to do in spots during that show and I would have liked to have stretched out longer but, I really wanted to get to a couple of other songs and play them for people. At the New York show [Gramercy Theatre, 4/4/07], we tried stretching out a little more on certain stuff. It’s not so much that we sit down and say, “O.K. Here is where we’re going to stretch it out.” We’re always open to that, hopefully; that’s always a possibility and that’s always on the table. This group that I have nowwe really got together two weeks ago [3/30/07]. The first time the five of us were in a room together was the Monday before that. It’s a young band; we’re really just starting out; there’s a lot of potential here and I’m so excited about how far it has come in the handful of practices that we’ve been able to have together. Once we hit the road and start doing a couple of shows in a row, I have a feeling that it’s going to gel even more.
RR: At the Gramercy Theatre gig, the band opened with “Back in the Basement”the eight-minute jam from the new album. How loose was the studio recording? Was Trey present during the studio jam to record his guitar part?
PM: That was an overdub. It was loose; it was very loose. I wrote that song literally hours before we played it in the studio. I didn’t have that song written when [drummer Jim] Keltner showed up. I didn’t really finish it until he got there that day. (laughs)
RR: It’s very together for such a loose jam.
PM: It’s very together.
RR: There’s a melodic theme, the jam ensues and the theme returns at the end.
PM: I taught those guys ahead and it’s sort of an open jam, an instrumental open jam. There is a loose feel to it. The excitement of playing with Keltner and the excitement of jamming with him was something I had not expected. I knew it was going to be great to play with him and I knew he was going to nail “Rules I Don’t Know” but I didn’t know we were going to track “Heavy Rotation” and I didn’t know how “Back in the Basement” was going to go. I was so excited that it opened up and stretched out and there was a looseness to it and a real connection, communication and listening going on.
RR: I noticed on “Back in the Basement” and “Heavy Rotation” that the jams have a warm, euphoric organic development that is reminiscent of some of the best Phish jams where one felt transported to some other place.
PM: There was an element of a journey, I thought, in both of those tunesmaybe more so in “Back in the Basement.”
RR: There is also an element of your continuous funk evolution as evidenced in some of the more live sounds on “Runaway Bride,” for example. You have some rich keyboard textures on that song. As far as material for the upcoming tour is concerned, there is obviously going to be a great emphasis on your new work. Is there a possibility of any Vida Blue work appearing in the setlists?
PM: If I do a Vida Blue song or a Phish song, it would probably be more just me solo.
RR: Like how you encored solo with “Strange Design” at the Gramercy?
PM: Like I did with “Strange Design.” Actually, I hadn’t planned on doing that. I kind of felt that I wanted to do something else instead of just one more song. (laughs) I didn’t have it rehearsed and I sat backstage and said, “O.K. Now how’s this one go?” I ran through it in my head and said, “O.K. I’ll do “Strange Design.” (laughter) That was a completely spontaneous thing but if I do the Vida Blue stuff, if I do any of it, I don’t think it will be with the band. I talked to Oteil [Burbridge, Vida Blue/Allman Brother/Peacemaker bassist] the other day, when he was in town, a couple of weeks ago and maybe, someday after I’ve done this for a while, we’ll get together and do some Vida Blue things. That is not out of the question, down the road at some point. We’ll have some fun with that, too. That material in the band setting was really so specific and unique to playing with Russell [Batiste, Blue/Funky Meters/Papa Grows Funk drummer] and Oteil that I wouldn’t wantI’m not saying that my band couldn’t play that stuff but I’m not looking to do Phish songs with the band. I’m not necessarily looking to do Vida Blue songs with the band but I’ll probably do some of that stuff by myself.
RR: It’s interesting that you’ve explored three separate and distinct areas with Phish, Vida Blue and the new solo work. With that in mind, on this tour, are you working with material with this new band from the album and the new songs that you mentioned you are currently writing? Will the new materialapart from the albumbe in good enough shape where you can put it into a live setting?
PM: It depends. I don’t have anything quite ready for public consumption, yet, in terms of new material. I imagine we’ll probably pick a couple of covers to supplement the setlists. I’d like to maybe do more than just one song by myselfdo a couple of songs on my own there. Obviously, the tour is about this album, a lot of it, getting it out there. That’s the material that we’ve worked on as a band, so far. We’ve only had around four or five rehearsals to be able to stretch out and to just focus on that song, too.
RR: Will there be dates closer to the West Coast, as well, on another tour leg?
PM: Yes, there will be. There will be more stuff going on. Nothing’s written in ink yet but, I imagine sometime this summer, I’ll be doing a similar sort of thing. I really don’t feel like going out more than a couple of weeks at a time. I do want to try to get around and probably go out again in the fall. I definitely want to try and get all over the country over the next couple of months.
Part V Disrupted by Demons Downstream
_“Try to piece it together, which leads to my demise
and I ask myself, “Should I really be surprised?”_ – “Everyone But Me,” Page McConnell
RR: When I listened and then read your lyrics, the overactive fertile mind triggers a lot of symbols. For example, is “Everyone But Me,” one of your more pointed, accusatory set of lyrics or is it just coincidence that so many images seem to be pulled out of you in that particular song?
PM: UmmmI’m not looking to accuse anybody of anything, I promise you. (laughs) Maybe there are emotions in there. Maybe there are emotions that everybody has felt at some point or other about one person or another for any number of different reasonswhether it’s personal or in the workplace: a sense of frustration or any of those sorts of things. All of those emotions, I think, are in that song but there’s nothing exactlythere’s nothing exactlyI’m not sure if I’m answering your question or not.
RR: It’s not about a specific thing that made you sit down and say, “You know, I’m going to talk about this. People won’t know what it means but I’m going to talk about it, right now.”
PM: You know, probably more than likely, it was probably about three or four different things, different people, actually.
RR: It’s a good, strong and surprising song to end the album. As stated, I also liked the thematic sequence of the trio of songs that close the album.
PM: Thanks. I’m not into harshnesspublic whatever. Maybe, that’s part of the reason that it is the last song; it sits back there. I really like what we referred to as the “flap-and-jap” section of the song, which is sort of a synth and drum thing that goes off at the end.
RR: The end reminds me of some of the studio effects Jimmy Page would insert into the end of Zeppelin songs that add a little flavor and character. Are those sound effects an accumulation of some of the experiments you worked on in your initial drum programming work?
PM: Yeah. That would be something off a piece that I had worked on. Yeah, that was one of those sorts of things that I came up with this thing and I put it down and it was probably just me, a recorder and a synthesizer. I had Fish play a little drums on it, too.
RR: Overall, the lyrical content on not just the final song but also the entire album was surprisingly strong because you hadn’t written a lot of material in the past.
PM: Thank you. The lyrics were the hardest part for me. I worked really hard at it.
RR: When you found your voice on this album, did you think that maybe, you should have done this sort of writing in the past?
PM: No, not at all. There’s no way that I would have been able to do this if I was still going on the road and still doing all of the Phish stuff. In no way was it like “oh, you shouldn’t do this, it’s not the Phish thing to do.” (laughs) Everybody would have totally encouraged me to write songs. They did encourage me. I just didn’t do it. Maybe, I don’t know why it isI didn’t do it. It wasn’t until I was able to take this time. Without this time, I would not have been able to do this record. I know that because I know how long it took me to do it. I really worked hard on it for a long, long time. It’s just the way it happened. I don’t wish I had started doing it sooner. I’m just glad I’m doing it, now. I don’t feel like I found my voice. I feel like I’m still learning, writing and developing made my first record with lyrics and a couple songs with Vida Blue with lyrics. It’s all still coming together for me.
RR: I didn’t mean to sound so definitive by stating that you had found your voice.
PM: No, I know what you’re saying. I appreciate that you feel that way, actuallythat I found my voice. For me, I still view it as a process, part of a process of the next album will haveI hope you like the lyrics on the next album I’m working on, too! (laughs) They’re coming a little bit more easily. I’m happy about that. The process is continuing.
RR: You had mentioned the wisdom of choosing one path at a time and, at this time, this is the path? A time where you have a little bit more freedom to stretch out?
PM: I had the time. I was afforded the opportunity by all of the things I had done in Phish. Without that foothold, I wouldn’t have had the luxury of being able to work on an album for a year and a half. Most people don’t have that and to have that be my focus. All of these things contributed.
Part VI The Phish Legacy
“Can I bring a few companions on this ride?” – “Strange Design,” Anastasio/Marshall (Page McConnell, lead vocal)
RR: When I was thinking about the search for your voice on this new album, I also thought of the latest Phish archival releases of 11/14/95 and 12/1/95. To me, here was a band that had found its voice at that time. The communion between the band and the audience was really powerful. Did the Fall 1995 tour carry a spirit of victories won and journeys well spent? I know, as a fan, I’m part of that process, but the band had built something special by that point in their history.
PM: I don’t know that at the timeI know people are always going to say, “Oh, ’95 or ’93 or ’97 (laughs) those were the Golden Years,” or whatever I hear from people that this happened then. For me, it was really an ongoing process and I was no less proud of the band then, then I was when we had our first big show in Boston. Or not even big showsthe first time I had a jam in the practice room; I felt like we really took off in 1985. It was all a process and it was always growing; it was always moving forward. Even at the end, to mealthough, there were aspects of it where it wasn’t as tight as other yearsthere was still aspects of the improvisation that I felt were pushing new envelopes and new directions. Right to the end, I felt like it was a continuation. There was always progress. I don’t think of it as finding our voice so much as developing it more and more and more. Right up until the end, I still felt, at least in that department, we were doing new and different things and finding new and creative ways to make music and improvise on stage. I always felt there was new ground being covered.
RR: Does it humor you that people will rate your life like a vintage wine. I couldn’t imagine someone coming up to me and saying, “Randy, 1998that was your peak.”
PM: Well, I don’t know. Growing up, I was a fan of the Dead and I understand the fan mentalitylooking at ’74 (laughs). It makes me chuckle to think that I was there, too. I understand. I get it. I know what it’s like to be that fan looking at the band from that perspective on one level. I think all four of us do. Everybody’s going to have their opinions and you know what? I still have my opinions about that band. What years I thought were good and what shows I thought were good so it’s maybe not all that different except that now, I’ve gotten to play with a lot of those guys. (laughter) It’s O.K. I think it’s a wonderful fanbase. I don’t go online and read what people say. I know whether it’s the Dead fans when I was growing up or some of the Phish fansthat there are some people that are highly critical. That’s a part of the audience, too, I guess. People that get so invested in it that they lose sight of the joy that it is supposed to be about and not about: “but they only played “Mound,” or whatever. (laughs) To me, it’s more about the community and more about the group collective experience.
RR: They also miss the enjoyment of the current moment, which is sometimes the whole point of the group collective experience.
PM: Yes, but, again, that’s going to be an element of any rabid fanbase and thank goodness, we had a rabid fanbase. It allowed us to do so many things.
RR: In many ways, that rabid fanbase is still present tense, Page.
PM: Yeah, it is. I know that is the case. I know that people are still listening. I meet kids who never got to see Phish but we’re one of their favorite bands. I’m always so happy about that. It seems to be not drifting away completely and it continues to have a life.
RR: So no possibility of entering a stage with those three musicians, again?
PM: I never said that.
RR: I was trying to be diplomatic and polite.
PM: Did I say that? (laughs)
RR: No, of course not. How do I ask the obvious question?
PM: (laughs) I never said that and I imagine there’s a part of me that always hopes that some day I will play with those guys, again.
RR: Fantastic. Well put. I didn’t want to ask but I suppose I did.
PM: No. No. That’s alright. I love those guys. I’m really happy to be doing what I’m doing now and I talk to all of those guys and I think everybody’s in a good place, now. I hope some day that can happen.
RR: Phish didn’t create music to be listened to on the radio and forgotten when the next record came on the air. The band also wasn’t sold as just imagery on a T-shirt. The body of work affected so many people in such a profound, positive manner.
PM: That’s the nicest thing you could say about it. That may be our greatest legacy. If we can bring some positive energy with the fans because they brought it, too. That’s why it happened. I know we started the thing, practicing and writing the songs but it was certainly the fans that made it special.
RR: You’re writing new material so can we expect another album from you?
PM: Yeah, I hope so. That’s the plan. This deal I’m with now is a three-record deal. They don’t have to come out all in a row or anything but this is the beginning of the next phase of my professional career.
_Randy Ray stores his work at www.rmrcompany.blogspot.com