Ode to Joy: The Tom Marshall Interview
Over the years, we’ve discussed how your writing partnership with Trey has matured, and how the songs benefited from that. What changed in your current writing process when you and Trey were both very much present in the room, very much in the moment?
Well, it’s funny. I can only really speak to the lyrics side of that question. I remember “Spices,” “Pebbles & Marbles,” “Walls of the Cave,” “Scents and Subtle Sounds,” and “Two Versions of Me,” were all these poems that I had written and spent a long, long time writing and refining.
For Joy, a lot of them were written in the moment with Trey. “Joy,” the song, we entirely wrote together. That was different. The pervading happiness and simplicity about “Joy,” had a ‘fresh start’ feeling, in a way.
Let’s talk about the story behind the title track, “Joy,” and its overall meaning within the context of the entire album.
Sure. Well, where do I start? I have a friend, Joy, and I was hanging out with her at Hampton back in March [at the initial trio of Phish comeback shows]. Trey and I wrote the song “Joy,” after the Hampton shows in mid-to-late March. I was definitely thinking about it on the train, on the way in, Trey had rented a room in a nice hotel, and had filled it, like he does, with musical and recording equipment for us, and he wanted to get some more songs, a couple of additional songs, ready to go for the new album.
So on the way in, on the train, I went through some old lyrics that we hadn’t used. But I also started writing some new ones. I was finishing up a couple of thoughts that I had on the train, and I closed the book. I was thinking about my friend Joy, and also thinking about how cool that name is; you know, when you see a little baby girl, naming her Joy is so obvious—nothing but happiness. And then, how it changes for girls, some more than others; in particular, I was also thinking about my daughter. I had this conversation with Trey before we started writing, or anything—just about daughters, and happiness.
Then, later, we wrote a few songs, including “Ocelot.” We were sitting around and he said, “Do you have anything new?” I thumbed through the newest stuff that I had written, and that little verse that I had written, thinking about my pal, Joy, and my daughter at the same time, was Joy is over there in her incredible clothes, and just for fun, I had written she has rings on her fingers, and bells on her toes [Grateful Dead’s “Scarlet Begonias”]. That was the very, very beginning of the lyrics to that song.
I had also come up with a little guitar riff, so I grabbed a guitar and sang it, and played that little turnaround that goes ding ding ding ding ding din, but Trey took it completely from there. I wrote the first chord, and that little turnaround. Trey liked it right away, and turned it back to our conversation that we had about our daughters. As we were writing it, and it was kind of sad, and sort of transcendent, though, in a good, glowing way- we want you to be happy – we both, I guess, at one point, the whole time we were thinking about Kristy [Manning, Trey’s sister, who would pass away from cancer on April 29].
We almost couldn’t write because of Kristy’s condition, but Trey had just had a wonderful visit with her. We had delayed one writing session, and then we were able to write this one, so he was up thinking…Kristy was good at telling people she was better than she was, but I think Trey had come to a realization of what was about to happen. It was pretty heavy. Writing that song, I remember putting in that line but then somebody leaves you and you’re never the same, and I realized what I had just done by writing that. The puzzle piece line, you know …all of the places and people belong to the puzzle but one of the pieces is gone… and we didn’t talk about it.
Shortly after that, we wrote it, and finished it. It was great. It was about our daughters. But shortly after that, I heard him tell his mom on the phone that we had just finished a song about Kristy. So I agreed. We knew it. We didn’t say it, but we knew it. So…pretty heavy and yet, it was nice and hopeful, in a way, too.
Something like we want you to be happy, come step outside your room could have three meanings. The song is referencing Kristy, of course, almost as if she is speaking to Trey, and letting him know that he offers so much joy to the world. “Just be happy, and go out and do that, Trey. That’s your gift.” Second, it could be a message to everyone that has stayed loyal to Trey, Phish and yourself, Tom—“Please come back. We want to share in the happiness that only you can provide. Do not be cynical, jaded, and mean-spirited, just share in the joy of Phish.” Finally, the lyric could be interpreted as a simple statement to your respective daughters.
(Laughs) Well, it started as a simple statement. No, definitely, when we were writing it, and thinking it, and singing it, and doing the harmony and everything, we were thinking of people hearing that, and their reactions to it, and what a great message—(laughs) what a great message it is.
No, I agree. It’s funny because I think—as you know after having talked to me so many times about my take on the songs, and how I have a tunnel vision, and I know what I wrote—that Trey sometimes pulls me in a different directions, and tells me what it’s really about. Or, what it is about for him. Just then, you reminded me that even turning it around is like Kristy is singing it back to Trey, in a way. I hadn’t really gone there.
I had definitely gone to the audience’s perspective a little bit after it was written. But really to me, it really did start very simply as the daughter statement. Yep, of course, once you sing a chorus like that, you’re singing it to the world. (laughs)