The High Watermark with Tom Marshall and Trey Anastasio Part II
Prologue ”Assembled solely by your hand; the secret feelings you unload”
In July, Jambands.com featured Part I of the three-part series focusing upon Tom Marshall, his songwriting with Trey Anastasio, his current project with Amfibian and a spotlight on the release of the band’s new album, Skip the Goodbyes on Relix Records. This month, we continue our conversations with Marshall and Anastasio and include an interview with Amfibian guitarist and songwriter, Anthony Krizana musician who has worked with former Jimi Hendrix bassist Noel Redding, spent a stint in the Spin Doctors and co-wrote material with Lenny Kravitz. Skip the Goodbyes engineer Tommy Camuso is also along for the ride with his own commentary about the recording of the album.
If the theme of Part I seemed to be about the friendly story of a ghost then certainly Part II appears to be almost an exorcism of a few ghosts for better or worse. Whereas the new fresh sounds of an old school record with a modern twist like Skip the Goodbyes offers a variety of warm listening experiences, the parallel history of Marshall and his two writing partnersAnastasio and Krizanprovide a fascinating portrait of what art can become.
Part V A Glimpse Beyond a Nightmare
RR: Undermind didn’t have time to breathe because Trey made the announcement a month before its release that Phish was done and they would be breaking up after August 2004. In a sense, the album was aborted. So many things can be read into the lyrics on that album and yet, fans forgot that this was your life.
TM: Yeah. It was so amazing when you hear those songs on Undermind; how it really appears that we knew that the end was coming.
RR: Not just riding shotgun, you might have been behind the wheel, Tom.
TM: Yeah. (laughs)
RR: You felt Trey quit for the right reason. If he hadn’t, he wouldn’t be here.
TM: Yeah, or someonea member of the crew or band member other than Trey. Collectively, it had gotten really sick. The machine was unhealthy, chugging away at everyone’s expense rather than for anyone’s benefit and the fun and beauty of the music. It was just sort of this big money making thing that you had to feed, robbing everyone of their soulsTrey’s, especially. He had vanished into himself. For a good four years, I didn’t recognize him anymore. I had kind of lost my friend, really had lost my friend. I don’t mind saying that the band quit for the right reasons because they had to.
RR: What about “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing?” It’s sad to me that the song didn’t get the life it should have on stage. I mentioned this to Trey and he agreed but there was the sense on my part that things happen for a reason and stories aren’t always finished.
TM: You know whatit didn’t get the life it should have in terms of longevity. But, it did. That was the one that got the appreciation from the fansno question. There was some vindication for me but you’re right. It is kind of bitter. Like I said, the end of Phish.
RR: “Ten years before the mast, I heard the ocean sing…”
TM: (laughs) A famous maritime novel, right? I think I read a book Ten Years Before the Mast [Editor’s note: Richard Henry Dana wrote Two Years Before the Mast in 1841. It relates his experiences on a merchant vessel, following his graduation from Harvard]. Before the mast is in the front of the ship, where the crew’s quarters were in these old sailing ships. It wasn’t necessarily the best place to sleep. You wanted to be in the aft where it is smoother. That’s where the captain’s quarters were. The work hands, the deck hands and the guys that scramble up the rigging were before the mast. That is what this author wrote about. I love maritime novels. I like maritime movies. The last really good one I saw was Master and Commander.
RR: What’s interesting about “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing” is it is about activity before you go to sleep whereas a lot of your lyrics are about sleeping or that period of time when you have just woken up and you’re still in that dreamy state. How about “Two Versions of Me?” What do you think about that song?
TM: I love it. That’s one of those, again, where Trey will see it and he won’t even see the most obvious meaning. He’ll see the next level down. He’s trying to find mine and doesn’t remember that I don’t have one, really or necessarily. He’s trying to see the level beyond the obvious meaning in my stuff. He finds it, tells me and then, one or two years later, I realize that maybe I was writing about that. He said that one was about dying or losing someone. I didn’t realize; it was like children and to me, it was about counting or counting down to the end. To Trey, it was about counting down to the end of Phish.
RR: Obviously, it’s kind of creepy with the lyric no more fish in the sea.
TM: Right. Right. (laughs)
RR: The duality of it all.
TM: (laughs) I love it. I love how it worked out. It couldn’t have been a better postscript
or the final epilogue.
RR: Nostradamus Marshall has the last word.
TM: It took people a while to realize that those songs, those lyrics were put together six months before the announcement. Sohow did they know? (laughs)
RR: Was “Secret Smile” a complete set of lyrics and Trey took it as is?
TM: Yeah. That was a complete poem. Really, it was just about me and a glass of wine. I wasn’t with a girl; although, it became a sort of couple thing. It was me drinking a glass of wine.
RR: An airborne leaf that landed near, has carried Dionysus here; he’ll slip away but only when he sees our glasses filled again
TM: That one worked by itselfone of the few that worked by itself. There are a couple that happened at the same timeframe. “Discern” and “Spices” can also stand aloneespecially “Spices.” When Trey played “Spices,” I can hear that he had the same musical idea when he wrote it like he did with “Pebbles and Marbles.” He figured out a cool open tuning, a cool picking pattern and adapted it. He was writing in that style for a while and I loved it and he happened to use those two poems.
RR: Was “Grind” something that you wanted to come out and it finally got there in the end on the final Phish album?
TM: (laughter) Ummmnot necessarily. (laughs) I don’t know why there was resurgence in that one. I think they got an older barbershop guy, the best arranger(laughs) They did. They got some amazing famous guy who arranged barbershop quartets. He was like an 80-year-old guyan older guyand you can hear those chords. They are like straight out of the 1940s and Trey wanted something to arrange and he did it. He did it to the song. I don’t know why. I’ve always liked that song a lot but I wrote it a long time ago. If you do the math_I have lived for twelve thousand days_ divided by 365 days, you get 32 or something like that. I don’t know but that’s when I wrote itaround ten years ago. Why did it all of a sudden have to come back? Who knows?
Part VI A Sunday Afternoon with Trey
RR: I enjoyed many of the songs on Shine and I think it holds up really well with the rest of your eclectic catalog. Why did you decide to return to writing your own lyrics for that album instead of working with Tom Marshall?
Trey Anastasio: I had already started Bar 17, right? I was halfway through it and there was justI hadn’t anticipatedmaybe, this is good for me; I didn’t really know that I had lost track of what it all meant to everybody. Clearly, for anybody who was around, something had to give in the last couple years of Phish. It was just kind of spinning. We stopped but then, of course, the organization and there were people with jobs and it was very traumatic for a lot of people. I really have a hard time letting people down, by nature. That was part of what was doing me innot wanting to let anybody down.
RR: Did you ever tell yourself that you didn’t want to be Jerry Garcia?
TA: Oh, yeah. (laughs) I used to think about that all the time. (laughs) At the same, I was probably thinking that I was so obviously in love with his music and him as a person in all of the best ways as a role model in how to continue to play great music that you don’t want to have your life become so tragic like that. I still love his music. There is Bob Dylan wanting to be like Woody Guthrie and having to discard Woody Guthrie at a certain point in his life. It is very common.
As far as Phish, it just all built and built and built and just had to stop and when it stopped, it was more traumatic then, probably, I had anticipated between wanting to continue to be friends with my best friendsMike, Page and Fishand then everybody that worked for us and John Paluska who isn’t managing us anymore. I talked to him for five or six hours a day for fifteen years; we were separating, the Barn [Anastasio’s Vermont recording studio] became difficult to keep open and all of this stuff so I was working on this music at the time for Bar 17 and then, that stopped. Bryce [Goggin, Anastasio and Phish engineer and producer] had to leave to go have a baby, I got a new manager and there was a feeling that maybe I should start a new band. I didn’t have time to really get that together and then, everybody in the audience was starting to mess with my head. (laughs)
In the midst of all of this (laughs), I signed a deal with Columbia Records, which was thrilling, at the time. Donnie Ienner [Columbia chairman] suggested that I should talk with Brendan [O’Brien, Shine producer] because they are friends. I called Brendan on the phone while I was on the road. Brendan said, “Why don’t you come down here [Atlanta]are you making a solo album or a band album?” I said, “A solo album.” He said, “Why don’t you come down here alone?” I said, “Great,” because that is just what I needed. Everyone I knew in Burlington worked with Phish and it was really difficult.
When I went down there, it was in the midst of that. Fish used to call me up a lot during that time and say, “How’s the Trey bashing going?” (laughter) He was laughing about it. Some of the lyrics on that album Shine are a reaction. I was in the middle of a record Bar 17 and I was down there making another record and at that point in time, I was almost in some ways responding to what was going on and what everybody was saying. And what everybody was saying was “I’ll never hear good music, again.” There was all of this feeling that IT’S OVER and that’s not the way it works. Music is so much bigger than any one band or any combination of four people. Music is a giant, endless stream. Some of the songs on Shine were supposed to be on Bar 17. Brendan heard them and liked themsongs like “Come As Melody.”
RR: After years of working with Tom Marshall, you wrote a batch of songs in a short period of time with your own imaginative lyrics. I suppose people did not give you enough credit for that simple fact. How did that writing process go for you?
TA: I always wrote lyrics.
RR: Yes, but not a whole album’s worth.
TA: No, maybe Junta. There might have been one song on there that I didn’t write. A lot of the stuff on Lawn Boy, I probably wrote. I wrote “46 Days” and “Sloth” and others.
RR: “Billy Breathes” stands out as one of your best lyrics matched with music.
TA: Yes, so it wasn’t that hard. It doesn’t really feel all that different to me; it always feels the same but, at the time of Shine, I had something I wanted to say and I said it. I know what you mean about Tom. I remember talking with Tom at the time. I said, “This doesn’t mean anything. I hope you’re not(long pause)” I just think any time you get glued down in the world of music what happens, for some reason, is that people really seem to thrive on comfort and almost a lack of risk. Even though we talked a lot about risk, it was getting less and less risky all the time.
When Tom and I went down to the Cayman Islands to writewhich was Billy Breathes, essentially, other than that one song and we wrote all of those songs including “Swept Away,” “Steep,” and “Prince Caspian”we had never done that before. A songwriting trip was a fresh, new thing. It was amazing. We said, “Let’s do it, again.” So we locked ourselves in that farmhouse for a week and look what came out of it. Most people probably haven’t heard that record but I sometimes wish I had just put that out Trampled by Lambs and Pecked by the Dove. The versions by Tom and I are just so soulful. All of those songs are short but they are fucking amazing. As soon as we did that, well, that’s been done now. I think going down to Atlanta or not talking to Tom for a while or even, in a strange way, just disbanding this big framework that had become Phish, to me, is like that Bob Dylan line, “he not busy being born is busy dying.”
I remember having a conversation with this girl at JazzFest. She came up and said, “What about “Divided Sky?” The shit you’re doing now is not as good.” I was trying to explain to her that it might not be as good but I want to live. I don’t want to decide that I wrote the best song that I’m ever going to be capable of writing on the first Phish album. (laughter) That’s the thing after twenty years. So I wrote an album without Tom and then, Tom and I went and wrote together and it was amazing. I plan on writing for my entire life with Tom. He knows that. This is the quote I want you to use (laughs): of all the relationships in my life, there is something much more long-term and cohesive about my relationship with him than just about any of themeven my family, in a certain way, because Tom is my link to my childhood. In the process of that, you can’t have a rule that you only write with Tom because that will kill me and Tom. I think that Tom knows that because we talk about it enough. I clearly see Tom and I writing when we are 80.
I remember times when it was getting too tumultuous in the Phish world and I was thinking that one of the things that got really weird in Phish was that a lot of the Phish mythology was my mythology and Tom’s mythology and Dave Abraham’s mythology.
Dave actually called me about it once. I was interjecting everything that we did when we were young before Phishwriting “Runaway Jim” at the fountain or Daubs or the Rhombusinto Phish lore. It was being grabbed like Phish was the big thing that ate everything. Phish ate “First Tube,” from Russ [Lawton, TAB drummer] and Tony [Markellis, TAB bassist]. You start to feel like is my entire life going to be Phish? Even my personal relationships? Because Tom and mine is more a personal relationship than a working relationshipa friendship, a lifetime friendship. It feels a lot more normal, now but if I could play you the original version of “Icculus,” you’d die. It is the funniest fucking thing you’ve ever heard in your life. That was long before there was a Phish. Long before Phish. (laughs) It was just me and Tom. The tape deck we had was a wall-mounted 1970s cassette deck and we had this crappy Realistic mike instead of one speaker because you had to plug it in. (laughter)
RR: I’ll follow you around for two days with an old school microphone and record your stories. Let me know.
TA: (laughter) Randy, I’m trying to get my feet on the ground and become a regular guy. I don’t know if I’m ready for that, yet. Tom and I have such a great feeling when we write together. Like I said, it is my last link to childhood. My childhood is slipping away and there are only two things that I feel pull me backTom and my children. I can go bike riding with my daughter and think: “I remember thiswhen bike riding was just about bike riding without getting somewhere or getting in shape.” (laughter) Riding down the road and jumping off stuff? That’s what it is like when me and Tom are together. It is like the world goes away a little bit. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate it. It is one of the greatest joys in my life writing with Tom. No question about it. Sometimes I wish that Phish fans could see us writing because the process is very similar and sounds like the other feeling I had like that when the four of us in Phish got going in a jam. The world slips away and four great friends are connecting in this very special way.
Part VII With a Lot of Help From New Friends
The latest Amfibian album was recorded with a lot of help from some talented friends, including guitarist Anthony Krizan and engineer Tommy Camuso. They discussed their experiences making an old school record with modern touches.
RR: How about your current songwriting relationship with Amfibian band member and guitarist, Anthony Krizan?
Tom Marshall: People need to know about Anthony. I think he is bigger than people know, bigger than he thinks. He’s been in around 20 bands. Plus, he’s also one of those guys where anyone that has a little money and knows anyone in New Jersey gets directed to as someone who doesn’t just have a studio where you can record an album but he will play on your album and make your album sound amazing. He’ll be your bandmate for an album. He’ll rewrite your shit and make it sound good and he does that for a lot of people.
RR: And get your engineer to work for free, too.
TM: Yeahthe best deal in rock.
RR: How did the new album take shape?
Anthony Krizan: Tom and I were writing over the past year and recording on and off. Most of the record was recorded here [at Krizan’s New Jersey studio, Sonic Boom]. We’d get together in the afternoon and start writing. A lot of times we’d put down a skeleton of a song, stick on a drum machine and we’d start to work it out. Then, we’d bring in the guys to track. Once we got the songs together, we’d work them up a little bit and we tracked two solid days with the band. We’d get through five, six, seven songs in a daywhatever was recordedtwo sessions, maybe, one other session to track. We tracked drums, bass and guitars and then we’d end up doing dubs sporadically over the past couple of months.
RR: The record took a while to finish. I asked Tom: “Why finish the record? Why don’t you just keep writing songs?” because things were progressing so well.
AK: We could do that but it’s always good before you get the band together to do shows to have something done, to feel like you’ve finished something within the past year.
RR: Let’s go back to your beginning. How did you get started as a musician?
AK: I started playing drums when I was 8 years old. My brother was a musician and started a cover band when I was 11. We were in high school bands and my cousin, Archie had a Ryder truck full of gear that he used for the club scene and we played high school parties and things like that so I’ve been gigging since I was 11 because of my brother. Today, my brother plays blues every night and records and writes songs and does remakes of Delta Blues songs. He’s the real deal in blues.
RR: When did you move from drums to guitar?
AK: I moved to guitar when I was 13 and I started writing songs. There was a lot of gear around our houseFender amps, guitars, Les Pauls and lots of gear. I hooked up with Steve Pasch in high school, played in bands and we ended up sticking together. We got a record deal right out of high school with Chrysalis playing in a band called NYC, which was like the Black Crowes when we came out in 1988. We got dropped by Chrysalis and Polygram picked us up.
I also played with Lenny Kravitz on the Mama Said record and I wrote the track, “Stand By My Woman.” I was working with Henry Hersch, who is this really great piano player, producer and a smart musician. I was working with him in Hoboken at Waterfront Studios since I was 16 and one day, Lenny came in with Lisa Bonet from The Cosby Show and the label hired him to do the record for 25 grand. Lenny had this stage name, Romeo Blue in those days and was doing the hippie thing. After the first recordI had a publishing deal and I was recording songsand one day Lenny came in and said, “I love this track. Can I write to it?” and he wrote the lyrics for the track. I thought Lenny was totally cool and he wanted me to be in his band but I had a deal with another guy who wanted me to play drums and guitar in his band, Steve Paschwe were tight and meshed together. We had that publishing deal with Polygram at the time.
RR: You played with Noel Redding from the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
AK: I started doing gigs with Noel in the 90s. He didn’t make a lot of money with the Hendrix stuffwhatever deal he had with the publishingso me and Frankie LaRocka [the late, legendary drummer and producer who worked with David Johansen, Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams and produced the Spin Doctors’ album A Pocketful of Kryptonite were lining up gigs to help him out and we became really good friends. Anytime he had a gig, we’d all play together. That was cool. We wrote a couple of songs together but we didn’t finish them. I did the last gig with Noel in the States before he died. I was really close to Noel; we were always trying to help him out.
RR: How did you get the Spin Doctors gig?
AK: I got into playing with the Spin Doctors from playing with Noel Redding. Noel and I were playing a gig with John Popper. The Spin Doctors had just made Turn It Upside Down and they were having a lot of problems. There was a lot of stuff going onpersonality issues. They had a week off so they brought me in and I just jammed with them. I knew all of their songs and I ended up joining the group. I was with them for around two and a half years. I loved it. I got in at a good time when they were headlining good places and we got to open up for the Stones for fifteen dates, too. We got to travel to a lot of places and met a lot of really cool people.
RR: What were your long-term goals when you were in the Spin Doctors?
AK: I was realistic as I am with anything. You don’t know how long something is going to last. The scene has changed a lot since then and you have all of the bullshit politics going on, now. Back then, there was just a little bit more loyalty. Things changepolitics change, record labels change and a jamband like the Doctors were overexposed. They had a pop hit that sold 7 million records right away and just shot up. Not everybody can stay on top for a long time. Some bands can like the Dave Matthews Band and they can keep making records, whether they are getting airplay or not, they are still drawing live. That’s the best way to do it if you can do that because you can’t rely on radio these days.
RR: How did you hook up with Tom Marshall and Amfibian?
AK: I always knew about Phish. Chris [Metaxas] was in the last lineup of Amfibian came over and gave me a disc [an early version of what would become Amfibian’s 2003 release, From the Ether and told me about the band. I didn’t really know who Tom was but I checked it out and I thought it was really cool. I normally don’t jump into bands because I have a studio and that’s where I make my living as well as songwriting with various musicians. I heard this music and talked with some people and I said, “This band, Amfibian is really cool and it has someone named Tom Marshall.” My friend said, “Don’t you know about Tom?” I looked him up on-line and said, “Oh, shit!” But the first thing was that I really liked the music.
Once I knew who Tom was and what he had done, I wanted to be part of the band even more. I like his writing; his lyrics are great. We have the magic chemistry when we are writing songs. We can just sit down, mess around and he has a handful of lyrics and I’ve got song ideas. We wrote “Skip the Goodbyes” pretty quickly. I had the idea in the morning and then, we wrote the song in about an hour. We just sit down and write on the spot. [Author’s Note: Krizan, Marshall and I were sitting in Krizan’s New Jersey Sonic Boom studio during this conversation and at this point of the interview, Krizan turned to Marshall and asked if their songwriting was different from Marshall’s sessions with Phish leader, Trey Anastasio.]
Tom Marshall: Some people I can write with and some people I can’t. Anthony is overflowing with musical ideas and I’m overflowing with lyrical ideas so there is a mesh. Anthony comes up with riffs in a little Radio Shack digital recorder and has around 35 ideas a day and I have around six lyrical ideas. Somehow, now and then, we come together and make these ideas come together and form a song. The lyrics are two-dimensional until the music comes. Anthony is definitely thinking of the melody.
AK: I usually get the music together. I like to let him write the melodies because he writes cool melodies and I’d rather he do his thing to the music I write. An example is “Lonely and Low.” Tom started singing the verse melody and I followed him on it. We weren’t going to put that song on the record and then, Tommy [Camuso, Amfibian co-producer and engineer] heard the song and said, “Man, you’ve got to record this.”
RR: How did the engineering go on Skip the Goodbyes?
Tommy Camuso: I’ve worked with Medeski, Martin and Wood, the latest MMW with John Scofield record, World Party, recorded and mixed the new DJ Logic record and a possible Charlie Hunter project. I work out of Anthony’s studio in New Jersey, mix in Brooklyn and freelance in other studios, which is how I got introduced to Amfibian. I think the new record is definitely more rock. This record was obviously recorded in a more elaborate way than the previous work_From the Ether_. Sonically, it’s a big difference using the old school gear and not such a laptop vibe. Most of the songs were tracked live. We just setup everybody and jammed, recorded everything and went back and fixed guitar solos and vocals here and there. I’m glad it came across like it was live.
For example, we did a lot of mono drum sort of things and put one mike on the whole kit and just wound the mike up to get that sort of older sound. Some of the songs sounds more Beatle-y with the drumsa tight snareor a song is like Zeppelin, a more live drum sound. Depending on the songs, we’d vary the sound. We went back and re-recorded drums on songs that we felt should sound different. We’re looking for a high’ in the mix but not an American Idol high because this is a band; we’re just looking for it to sound right. A lot of the new records have the vocals turned up really loud into your face and it’s usually about one person. With Amfibian, there are some jams and if the vocals were so loud in the mix, you’d sound like you were missing something. I’m happy with the record and there are more songs that we’ll probably finish up some other time. I worked in my off hours on the record as a favor to Anthony and now he’s going to be my slave until the end of time!
Part VIII The Vacation on Yesterday’s Island
RR: Let’s revisit Amfibian’s “Lonely and Low” and talk about its origins since engineer Tommy Camuso insisted that the song be on Skip the Goodbyes.
TM: I wrote if for our session in January 2006 with Trey but I didn’t specifically write it for Trey. I thought he would grab the lyrics and turn it into something right away. It was something that he would have gravitated to in the old days. He skipped right over it because I think he was really liking the fact that he and I were doing well improvising the songs at those sessions, which is sort of a slightly different way than the way we work. We hadn’t worked together in a long time. Actually, Trey was late to the session, which never happens. Usually, we arrive together or I show up and he’s there with [Pete] Carini and Paul [Languedoc] setting up and putting the final touches on the house or Trey shows up at the airport as Paul and Carini are leaving. This was a session where I arrived and someone had put the house together the day before. I showed up and all the instrumentseverythingwere turned on and ready to go. I sat down and recorded that song “Let Me Lie.” [which appears on Anastasio’s 2006 release, Bar 17.] I put the foundation down, waiting for Trey because I knew he would like it. That was off-the-cuff improv. He added words on top of it. I was there for about three hours and began three songs.
“Lonely and Low” is just sort of my take on time passing. You have this vision of the world being covered by water. You know how you find fossils up on the top of mountains? Ocean fossils? I was thinking that water was up there one day and that the peaks of mountains were islands rather than thinking that the mountains were uplifted, which is actually what happened. That’s how the fossils got up there. The peak of that mountain was on the bottom of the ocean one day and got lifted up. I was thinking of it the other way. You see the snowcap mountains and I think of them as beautiful islands and the water was up there one day. The same thing with desertsif you dig deep enough, you’ll find water fossils. That was kind of my thing_tiny shells and coral in your hand, flowing just like water is the sand; the snowcapped mountain rising in our way, that was just an island yesterday_. I was thinking of all the kids on the shore and that some day, they will all be covered with snow. I’ve told you but I haven’t told anyone that. No one has gotten that by listening to the song. They tell me, “What the fuck? Covered up with snow? Why would that lady be covered up with snow?” I bet you would have gotten that.
RR: Maybe. “Thunderclap” definitely has a different vibe compared to the other material on Skip the Goodbyes. How did the band develop the melodic structure?
TM: The “Riders on the Storm”-kind of thing?
RR: Yeah but, I suppose it is cheapening the song to state that. “Thunderclap” seems to echo a great band’s sound but the song goes off on its own journey.
TM: Againit was Anthony. I had the lyrics and I had it done. He took this riff [Marshall hums the hook] and the riff fit the way I was singing [Marshall hums the melody] and the song built itself from there.
RR: What image comes to mind for a thunderclap?
TM: The best thunderclaps are when the storm is right on top of you, when the lightning and thunder happen at the same time and it scares the shit out of you. The whole world illuminates with blue light. You just get slammed with the loudest noise in the world. And that’s the thunderclap.
RR: Here are my album notes for “Nothing New”: “horns give the deep funk an Otis Redding vibe with 60s Motown trimmings. “your numb Achilles heel you can’t feel” is this about someone specific? Nice, snaky Anthony solo at the coda.”
TM: “Nothing New” is one of the few songs on the album that we played live in our old incarnation of Amfibian. The other one is “Graffiti” and, aside from that, I don’t know if there are any others that we ever played live. [Author’s Note: The title track was performed with Marshall on vocals with Trey Anastasio’s band prior to the album release but technically the song had never been performed live by Amfibian prior to the release.]
RR: You played the song live with horns, right?
TM: Yes. That’s why we had the impetus to get the horns on the studio track at the last minute to round out the song. It made all the difference because without the horns, it’s kind of one of those in-your-face songs, in a way. It needed the horns in there. It became a really, really great jam when played live. I felt like it didn’t translate to the studio until we got the horns.
RR: “your numb Achilles heel you can’t feel…”
TM: I had a bunch of friends that went through downward spirals at the same time. One of them was in my band, another was a close friend and another was a friend of my sister and all at the same time, just because of overindulgence in chemicals, turned their lives into shells of their former selves. The lyrics were kind of a reaction to that, an overly obvious reaction to that, I guess. Scott Herman was the impetus at the beginning and wrote the first stanza and it rapidly came back to me because it made so much sense.
RR: Anthony’s solo at the end is especially measured and tasteful and, again, doesn’t sound like anything else on the album.
TM: He wants people to notice that. He does it so well, too. You see him trying to find the exact, right guitar and the right amp and you think, “Why does he do this for every single song?” Trey never really fretted around. He always had his guitar and his amp. I wasn’t used to thatspending an hour before the guitar track is laid down and Anthony is like that. It is because he hears a different sound for every song.
RR: Any future writing projects outside of songwriting? Any novels in the works?
TM: A book? Yeah, I wanted to put together something with my friend who coined the name of my band Amfibian. We wrote a story. We came up with this narrative that was about me but was sort of this fantasy life that I led underground in the subterranean portion of a New York City abandoned subway tunnel sort of existence. I pretended to come out now and then and I tapped into the city tower and had a cool little apartment down there. It didn’t go anywhere and I wanted it to come out before people knew me like a portion of my life that had actually occurred.
We wrote things like “at this point, I wrote this song” and we’d have a part of “Rift” or something. It was sort of for the Phish people and I wanted it to explain who Tom Marshall was, to be completely seemingly autobiographical but completely fabricated. (laughter) I really wanted to fool people but then I realized that there was no way this could happen. It became a work of fiction and then it kind of fizzled. That was my last real writing project.
I thought of doing a movie with a friend a couple of times and we had some really hilarious scenes that we kept talking about but never put down on paper. We had it in our heads. We had five or six pretty intense scenesnot like Monty Python but like the guy who wrote Brazil with Terry Gilliam, very Terry Gilliamesque bizarre crap. There was always something either dreadful or funny happening at the end. It was a movie of vignettes and we had six or seven and we referred to each with a certain title. This was also around ten years ago. That kind of went nowhere. We tried but every time we put pen to paper, the urge vanished, went away. I’d like to see if we could come up with some of those again. Some of them were really good. Now, I’d like to tell someone who does make movies rather than try to do them ourselves. I like writing little stories here and there. I’ve put a couple on the Amfibian blog in the past. I like that. I like writing that about real things that have happened. Those are funny.
RR: Like that New Year’s 1995 story you posted.
TM: Yeah. That was amazing. That was great. [Author’s Note: During the legendary 1995 Phish New Year’s Eve show at Madison Square Garden, Marshall had some difficulty backstage before he was to do a guest spot on the cover song, “Shine,” by Collective Soul.] That was really like how to take advantage of a really struggling person, a person that was really lost. I had no idea what song the band was singing or what song Trey wanted me to come on. It was just a real fog of complete nervousness. It was nervousness to the point of tripping. I was like a different person. I had no idea what was going on. I hope that comes across in the story.
Epilogue: Assembled on a quiet hill; but there are pieces missing still
Tom Marshall’s long, fascinating tale in Part I about the story of the ghost that inspired the title track for the 1998 Phish studio album motivated me to relate an incident that I had heard from my wife. As so often does in Marshall’s magically synchronized realm, this ghost story prompted another stream of thoughts from the songwriter as he shed more imaginative light upon what others cannot see in the dark corners of the mind.
RR: My wife had experiences in St. Paul where she lived in an alleged haunted house. She saw a lamp levitate, float off a table, and then crash on the floor. Her first response was to proclaim denial out loud, “I didn’t see that!” She didn’t have time for them, wouldn’t acknowledge their presence and it worked!
TM: When’s she going to pay the piper and have time? (laughter) She’s postponed a date with destiny.
RR: Definitely. Hopefully, it’s not when I’m around.
TM: It came all the way from being a little tiny kid in bed and thinking these things and all the way to, I don’t know why, I really fell on the science side of religion. I read the Scopes Trial book, Inherit the Wind. I was taken aback by the word-by-word interpretation of the Bible and it sort of opened my eyes to the fact that people still very much take it literally. It always sort of mattered to me, affected me and drive me completely away and yet, somethingnot the voodoo thingbut there’s still some sort of little part of me that is open to my own interpretation of us not just being a bunch of cells put together in the whole universe over millions and millions of years. There’s a little something else; I don’t know what it is. That was sort of high school for me. The song, “Ghost” ends: “maybe he’s still with meI simply haven’t looked.” Every now and then I still kind of look whether he’s still there or not or it is still there. Recently, was one of those times.
RR: You’ve also been influenced by a few key people in your life.
TM: My mom, a long time ago, said that every morning she decides to be happy. She takes the guesswork out of it. Other people probably let it hit them in the head and say, “Oh shitI’m depressed.” She is, she’s the happiest person. She’s never in a bad mood. She’s 68 and she’s the type that works from morning until night. Lately though, I have seen her sitting still, which is unusual for her. But it’s not because she’s mentally overwhelmed just physically at this point.
And Trey always told meand I think he attributed it to Oprahluck is opportunity meeting preparation. That kind of takes the power away from the universe and puts it in you; I kind of wish that it were back in the universe, sometimes.
Coming in September, the final part of “The High Watermark with Tom Marshall and Trey Anastasio” and more conversations about Amfibian and the Phish legacy.
- Randy Ray stores his work at www.rmrcompany.blogspot.com.