The Dude (of Life) Abides
Steve “The Dude of Life” Pollak has been friends with Trey Anastasio since they played together in the band Space Antelope as high school students. Early on, Pollak wrote the lyrics to Phish classics like “Fluffhead,” “Suzy Greenberg,” “Run Like An Antelope,” “Slave to the Traffic Light,” “Sanity” and “Dinner and a Movie” and the band backed him on the album Crimes of the Mind. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, Pollak was a visible presence at Phish shows as well, often joining the group onstage in crazy costumes with a fake chicken. Though Pollak’s last sit in with the band was in 2003, he remains involved with Anastasio creatively and recently contributed to the new songs “Show of Life” and “Dr. Gabel.” A few days before Super Ball, Pollak brought us up to date on all things Dude.
It has been a few years since you released an album. I heard you were teaching these days. Can you start by giving us some background on your current career and how it ties into your music?
Over the last eight years I have taught elementary education at various schools. This year I taught at a private school working as a S.E.I.T. (Special Education Itinerant Teacher) with kids diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). It gave me tremendous satisfaction to play a role in helping these children turn their lives around and watch them flourish. An added benefit of being in the field of education is that it gives me ample time to work on my songwriting.
The last time I saw you play was with Mike Gordon Band at Brooklyn Bowl this past March. How often is the Dude of Life playing these days?
The Mike Gordon Band is phenomenal by the way. Until recently, doing gigs was on the back burner for me while life was hectic yet fun having and raising my three young children. But now, thank God, my youngest is finally out of diapers and I have begun playing once again and I’m loving it. I’ve recently been doing gigs with The Fluid Druids with my pals Charlie De Saint Phalle, Dave Coats and Mo Haroche. We’re working on some fantastic new tunes. Time to raise the gear shift!!!
Do you have any plans to release a new studio album or live record?
Over the past six months [fellow Phish songwriter] Tom Marshall and I have been collaborating, for the first time, on a new project. We have been having a blast while coming up with some great material. We are looking forward to getting into the studio and laying down tracks.
In 2010 Phish introduced two new Dude of Life/Trey Anastasio originals, “Show of Life” and “Dr. Gabel.” Can you talk a little bit about the sessions that yielded those two songs specifically? I heard you wrote “Show of Life” over sushi with Trey.
Once in a while Trey and I get together for sushi in New York City. Trey was showing me a new app on his phone that served as a four track machine. This is going back two years but it was an awesome new app at the time, and we started messing around with it. “Show of Life” was born in that sushi restaurant. We were singing at the table but we felt we were making a little too much noise in there so we decided to go out onto the sidewalk. We started belting out the song into a tiny microphone and then a crowd began to gather. It was one for the books.
“Dr. Gabel” was a song that Trey and I first worked on almost two years ago. The ultimate goal of the tune is to enable the listener to experience an emotional catharsis by its conclusion. Imagine a song in a single listen that could have the similar impact as months of therapy—without shelling out thousands of dollars! It’s a work in progress. It had a rough first run out of the gate which means it might not get a second chance. It would be interesting if Henrietta [Jon Fishman] were to sing a couple of the lead vocal sections because I feel that would completely transform the song’s dynamic.
You met Trey in high school. Who were some of the bands you first bonded over? At that time, did you share a common love of jambands and the Grateful Dead?
We went to a lot of amazing concerts together in high school. We went to many Dead shows and had some…uh…some very enlightening experiences at that time. We also loved seeing bands like Talking Heads, Pat Metheny, Lou Reed and The B52s to name a few. We also loved listening to old albums together. One afternoon we were at his mom’s apartment in New York City listening to the Beatles’ “White Album.” We played the song “Because” about four or five times in a row, and we were laughing hysterically. (You had to be there.) About an hour later I wound up regurgitating on his mom’s new white rug. I was attempting to clean it up and that’s the exact moment when she decided to return home. Suffice it to say she was not happy. It’s been over thirty years since that episode occurred and I’m still not sure if she’s forgiven me.