Trey Anastasio: The Jambands.com Reader Interview (2002)
“Do you currently write any music that doesn’t quite fit with your current band and you’ve set aside for either Oysterhead or Phish?” Ken Machins
I just had that problem for the first time with this new material. I suddenly had all this new stuff and with a couple of the tunes I did think, “Wow that could be a Phish song.” I was going in the other direction when this whole thing started. Even “Sand” which Phish was playing is clearly a Russ and Tony thing. It’s not really the way that Mike and Fish play. It was a great experience for them and they loved it but it’s a Tony thing, that long deep bass line that just has three notes. Then I went through all this album stuff which was getting to know these guys. But with this last batch of songs I wrote I did think Phish could rip on this one or that one.
But when all was said and done you held nothing back and everything’s going to come out with this band?
I actually talked to them about it. I called them, “Should I just be holding stuff?” But it’s not time right now to be doing that and that’s just not a good way to live your life. You write music and just play it and we’ll see what happens next. It feel like the unbearable lightness of being a little bit and its nice- just get up, write some music and play it.
“Will you be rearranging any Phish songs for the current band?”- Dozens of readers
There’s few songs I suppose I would do, those that started with this band and went over to Phish: “First Tube,” “Gotta Jibboo,” “Sand,” “Bug,” “Heavy Things.” But I really don’t want to play Phish songs with anyone except Phish. Maybe that’s shortsighted for me to say but Phish is the four of us melding together in my mind, it doesn’t really matter who wrote the songs. I think it would just feel weird, so no I don’t have any plans. I would much rather write all new material for a whole other band.
“The first two songs on the album contain the word review’ while the last two mention ether.’ What was your intention in framing it that way?” Lynn Phillips
A lot of thought went into the first song and the last song. The “review” and the “ether” is a coincidence but “Alive Again” and “Ether Sunday” beginning and ending is definitely not a coincidence. And I always like to let people have their own ideas but I will tell you this much, the sequence is very conscious in a lot of different ways. The reason those songs ended up together is because I imagine it as one sitting experience and in my mind it’s divided into two halves breaking at “Gazebo.”
I’ve had this idea about using a horn section in a percussive way but with a little more advanced, sophisticated harmonic language. That’s the whole idea of having it be a meld between the content of a swing band and the content of a King Sunny Ade type band, an African band but completely stylistically within the realm of what I do. In no way are we trying to sound like any of those bands it’s much more from a philosophical standpoint. I’m trying to create a dance band.
On the first half of the album I try to present those musical ideas in a concise way through the last song which to my mind is on side one, being “Drifting.” That is the most pop song on the whole album. But if you listen to the outro, the string quartet is playing in a drum-like way, no one ever lands on a chord at the same time, everything is arpeggiated and the horns are in a drum-like way. This is just a little thing though, it’s not a big deal but you’ve got the string quartet the horns, the guitars, the band all laying in a pattern. Here’s this idea being put forth in the context of a pop song which is what swing bands did. The good arrangers would make it so people could just dance. They were servants to their audience and that appeals to me too. I love putting out music that you can have a great time and dance to but the trick is to have deeper and deeper layers.
The next track is “Gazebo” so now in a completely non-pop song you start the thing that’s supposed to be a musical journey working with the same concept. The horns are going to be playing in a sort of non-hornlike way mixing with the string quartet utilizing a bit more advanced harmonic language and whatnot and then it goes right into “Mr. Completely.” There the ultimate goal is to use all these things to have these same kind of peak experiences that I love to have- it’s just screaming- but you’ve got a full orchestra and everybody’s playing together. The idea is can you use these things to take those moments that all of us love so much and to make those peak moments even more peak? That’s the whole goal, a bigger tube (laughs). And then of course, “Last Tube,” that becomes really obvious and “Ray Dawn Balloon,” it’s all supposed to be one long musical journey. That’s how I thought of it, that’s how I listen to it. But that doesn’t mean you have listen to it that way or think that everything I just said isn’t bullshit (laughs).
“One thing that disappointed me with your Oysterhead shows and last solo tour was the similarity of setlists from night to night. Will you mix things up a bit more this summer?”- Many readers
I heard that a lot on my last summer tour and I understand where that’s coming from but first of all let me say that it was hard for me with Oysterhead as well [Editor’s note: more on this topic next month]. The other thing I would say is that if anybody went back and listened to Phish in the eighties, I remember months going by where there was no way we would go on stage without playing “You Enjoy Myself,” “AC/DC Bag,” or “Possum.” There were five or six songs that were at every single Phish show for the first six or seven years. But that takes time and what I worry about and what I really wonder is at what point are you sacrificing the quality of one show for the ability to tour around and see different stuff every night. I mean I’m not going to think about it, I’ll just go on stage and play what I want to play and I do like to play different stuff but wouldn’t you want to see “Last Tube” if you came and saw us? I would. (laughs)
“To what extent do you take general criticism to heart and to what extent do you feel the need just to work from within?”- Dan G.
I think I have to work from within but that can be hard for me because I do care about the audience, the people who come. I feel a responsibility and I think it’s clear from all he years in Phish that we all do. There wouldn’t be any music if there weren’t people there and I feel like people come out and they want to see a good show, so it’s a little bit of a balancing act. But what I’ve found is that honesty is the best policy and you can’t please everybody so you have to go up there and just love it, whatever that takes. I think that probably the best way to respect the audience is to be honest and myself and that becomes more and more clear.
“I began to see Trey is Wilson’ shirts appearing in the lots last year. What is your response to this perception of the hiatus?”- Lee Enders
You should have read the notes I took off the bus every night, the shirts were nothing. (laughs). Plus I got a bunch of lectures from people. People were sort of put off in a certain way but why? It makes me wonder.
First and foremost let me say I think it’s a riot. I saw the Trey is Wilson shirts and they made me laugh. But I will say that I thought for many years that a certain aspect of what people were interested in was the same thing that I love about playing music which is seeing how far you can go with music itself. That to me is what moves me, the language of music and the emotions it can contain, how deep can you go with that. The last few years of Phish we were riding on some kind of emotion that was really, really deep among the four of us but I don’t think there was a whole lot of new music being written from my standpoint.
So when we took the hiatus, I just assumed that people who were really into Phish would have thought, Oh, well I could have predicted that.’ The fact that we knew enough to take that hiatus at that point in time and that there were no bad feelings among the four of us, made me feel better about everything that is Phish. As a matter of fact there’s been lots of encouragement and I was prouder of being a part of Phish, and feel luckier to be a quarter of Phish six months after we stopped than I had ever had in the whole seventeen years because I thought it was a decision that was made out of respect for what Phish had been to that point. In the last year, if you think about the experiences that everybody’s had, I’ve written far more music than I had in the last four or five with Phish, there’s no question about that. Think about Page, he’s never led a band in his life, not even in high school and he went out and started a band and went on tour and put out an album. I talk to him all the time and he’s really excited. It’s a completely new experience for him and he never would have been able to do it if we hadn’t taken the hiatus. So the four of us are happy about it (laughs) To me it’s all about the music and among the four of us, we’re hoping that we’ll be able to come back together with all these experiences, not to mention, not having seen each other in so long that we’re just dying to play together.
You have to start questioning what everybody’s so angry about and it’s probably because of the impact on the scene but I would rather impact the scene with a whole bunch of new music.
And now you’re probably asking yourself, Why couldn’t you write a lot of new music with Phish?’ [editor’s note: many folks did indeed ask this]. The simplest answer is we just needed a break from all of it. We needed to get away from each other. We’ve been hanging out with each other for twenty hours a day from the age of eighteen to thirty-six, hearing the same jokesThere was a certain kind of stimulation that was disappearing. I just assumed that was clear to people. Was it not? [laughs]