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Published: 2011/07/27
by Dean Budnick

Trey Anastasio: The Jambands.com Reader Interview (2002)

Now that Trey Anastasio has announced some additional fall tour dates, we thought we would revisit this interview from 2002, shortly after the release of his self-titled album, that draws on questions submitted by the site’s readers.

As Trey Anastasio embarks on a month-long tour following the release of his horn-infused, self-titled album, Jambands.com readers were given an opportunity to participate in a collective interview with the musician. All in all, more than eight hundred individuals submitted in excess of seventeen hundred questions. Trey answered all of them in a marathon session that lasted seventy-three hours.

Okay that’s not entirely true although he did set aside time to respond to quite a few of them in a forthright, engaging manner. In fact, given the volume of responses and the range of topics, we’ve decided to split the interview into two parts. This month the conversation focuses on his current band, album and tour while next month we’ll share his thoughts on Oysterhead and a few of the more general queries. And yes, there will be some Phish-related commentary in both installments. So if you want to learn why Trey changed the lyrics to “Ether Sunday” and what he thinks about the “Trey Is Wilson” shirts read on…

Also, in speaking with Trey just prior to the formal Q and A session, he mentioned in passing that he had just spent time recording with his new band at the Barn. As a result, we hogged the first question and asked him

What led you to do that?

We did this Letterman appearance and that was the first time that we played with the band that’s going to be touring. It’s a ten piece band now, last summer it was eight and a lot of things changed by adding Cyro [Baptista] and Peter Apfelbaum. Actually with Peter, I realized that five is the magic number with the horn section. From all this working I’ve been doing I’m starting to learn a little bit more about writing for horns and when you have five you can split the section. You can have a reed section with three notes so you get a full chord, a fully-voiced chord leaving two instruments to write contrary parts that can be harmonized. It gives you so many more options and the sound gets so much bigger. So for instance on “Last Tube” with five horns, two of the people double on flute so we can do the orchestral parts on flute and keep the brass section virtually intact so it’s almost like adding a whole other section and the percussionist just propels the thing.

We got up there the day after Letterman and we had a week of rehearsal and it’s just so exciting to be up there at the barn and such a good vibe that I started cranking out a lot of new material (laughs). I had Bryce [Goggin] come up on May 6 and we did a twelve hour mini-album, not necessarily to put out but just because we realized there was a whole bunch of material that didn’t get recorded for the last album and also a bunch of new material. I found from doing the last album that if you record it you dissect each piece and get inside of it in a way that you wouldn’t if it’s just rehearsal. So whereas last tour I feel that a lot of stuff went out 65% done I feel that this time I think the band will be a lot tighter.

“You recently expanded the band to ten players. Why did you add a percussionist to the mix?”- Megan Richards, Dave Franks

What I felt during the last tour was that the rhythm section was very solid, they’re the picture of solidity. But given Russ’s background as a drummer, I was thinking while we were on tour that it’s the perfect rhythm section for a percussionist. Russ was trained in this band called Zzebra which was a racially-mixed group playing traditional African music with some western musicians. And since I’ve been playing with Russ, I’ve talked to a lot of people about this band, some people will claim it was the birth of World Music because before that there weren’t a lot of groups doing that. In that group there were three drummers and in African music when you do a fill it’s a signal for something to change and the mindset for the set drummer is that you’re supposed to be steady and trance-like. Its all about passion and groove but there’s a lot of cross-rhythmic stuff. So

When we did “Ray Dawn Balloon” Cyro came up to the barn and we had this wonderful night together where it was a big, nearly-full, moon and we had the doors open and we played that track and laid out a bunch of candles and it just had a real strong connection. That was the moment when I knew he had the tour, and that’s been true with all the members of this band. It’s grown very organically.

“Have you ever thought about adding another guitarist?”- Ed Chance, Steve Rollins, Kevin Sanders

The thought crossed my mind (laughs). My mind has shifted into a place where I think the whole thing is very journal-like. Now that the barn is up and running I basically get up every morning and write music or try to play music or collaborate with someone. The reason I didn’t name the band is there’s no telling what would happen the next tour if somebody else wanted to join the band or if maybe some of the people in the band wouldn’t come out even if we’re doing the same material. I haven’t played with another guitar player since we toured with Santana, I guess (laughs). And that was only a couple of songs a night, so it’s been a while since I really played with another guitar player. I’ve had that thought though about, for instance, Seth Yacovone. I think that could be cool thing to do something just with Jennifer, two guitars, bass and drums or something. I don’t know. At this point I’m kind of taking it one day at a time.

“It seems like you’re constantly adding musicians. How difficult has the transition been when you’ve brought in new players? Do you keep rearranging your music?” Steve Gallup, Joe A.

I asked Tony to be in the band first because he was one guy I knew I wanted to play with as soon as the opportunity arose. I talked to him about drummers and I wanted him to be linked to a drummer that he really liked playing with so Russ was really his suggestion. Right off the bat I knew you needed to have a happy rhythm section. Then we got together and I asked Russ what’s the first beat you ever learned, what’s the beat that easiest for you to play, what things were you practicing last week. So he played twenty drum grooves for me and I recorded all of it. Those grooves were the grooves of “First Tube,” “Last Tube,” “Sand,” “Gotta Jibboo,” “Push on til the Day,” “Drifting” I went home with the tape and I started writing based around the grooves. Then as every person joined the band they did the same thing. So as one player joined I’d say, What were you practicing yesterday and what keys can you rip in?’ so I’d try to put them in their best light.

Even to the very end?

Oh yeah, I was doing it last week with Peter, and Cyro. By the time we get on the road I’m sure that at least to some degree we’ll be leading into more traditional Brazilian music because Cyro’s up there in the barn every day teaching us all this stuff. It’s incredible. So the band is an organic, ever-growing thing.

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