Trey Anastasio: The Jambands.com Reader Interview (2002)
Bonnaroo 2002 (okay, a few weeks after this interview took place)
So when you write music are you just working on the process organically or you thinking about a particular band where it might fit?- Carrie Thompson
More and more organically. I do it habitually almost. At times I have a hard time engaging in conversations and whatnot. I’d be much happier locked in the basement with a piano and my guitar. It makes me feel at peace in a certain way when I try to put notes in their proper place.
Jumping topics, here’s one that people phrased in a number of different ways- was playing at Jason Colton’s wedding emotional for you or purely fun?
(Laughs) I can tell you what I said to Fish when we came off stage but you have to understand that I always say stuff like this to Fish. I said, “That felt like putting on a used rubber.” It just slides right on (laughs).
No, it was great. You know what’s funny, it may have been the only time that we’ve all actually been in a room together. And it was really great because we couldn’t shut up as soon as we were all standing there together. It goes right back to this feeling that we’ve always had that the rest of the world is kind of outside or something. That sounds wrong because it’s an inclusive thing but we’ve spent so much time together we have a whole language and it was really nice to be standing there with them again.
I can tell you a couple of funny stories. Just before Oysterhead was starting up Stewart came out for the last few shows that last week when we were going from Vegas up to San Francisco. He was in the band room and he just couldn’t believe we were stopping because he said he’s never been around four people who are closer. It was really an emotional week. We didn’t really want to stop. There really was no problem. A lot of it was just things we had to deal with. People had to move and have babies and we were putting off a lot of stuff that just needed to be dealt with and that was part of it too. He was laughing about it every night because we were back there saying, “Five more shows, oh no”
I think things ended a little differently for his other band.
A little(laughs). I don’t think they were talking much. But we still talk all the time. I feel nothing but lucky to have landed in a band with those guys and that’s the way I feel about it more so all the time.
You mentioned earlier that you moved from the alpha dog setting with Oysterhead to your solo project. Can you talk a bit about the process of moving from that democratic process to a situation where it was YOUR band. What were the challenges there and how did you approach it?- Kay Riley
As much as it’s clearly my band, I am the band leader, with that pattern in place I tried to model how I did things after my band leader heroes, which would be most of the swing band era bandleaders. The best of them, the monsters of swing band music or even small combos from that era, created an atmosphere where the musicians were able to fully express themselves as themselves. So I think Duke Ellington was the greatest who ever lived and he would write music based on his musicians strength and weaknesses.
I learned so much about that during the first seventeen years of Phish because we really did think, and still to this day think that we weren’t really very good in most accepted ways (laughs). We weren’t that great singers and we weren’t that great individual instrumentalists. And if that sounds like it’s in the past tense I’m only referring to that seventeen year period. We worked so hard at creating the group sound, everybody kind of kind of knows that and anybody who saw Phish or heard Phish music can hear that I think.
So when I had the opportunity to put a band together I thought, “Wow, I learned so much from my experience with Mike and Page and Fish what if I had known at the beginning of Phish what I knew now.” Now I’ll put that band together with that in mind and I think that to my ear I think that at least to some degree it works. The framework, the basic bed for the songs that appear on the album, began with jams that Russ [Lawton], Tony [Markellis] and I started on the very first day that they came into the studio.
Although in terms of Phish I think one could argue that on a number of levels the majesty has been in the journey.
Exactly, even as you were saying that that was going to be my response (laughs). Really I wouldn’t change a single day of that period. It was really just incredible all around.
To me, quite a bit of the reason that people still feel so engaged in the music and wear those “Trey is Wilson” shirts is that they felt that they were part of that collective journey. It adds another element, and transforms the whole experience of receiving music. To use an example from basketball, this past year the Boston Celtics were in the conference finals and if you were a fan who had been following the team’s rebuilding process from the point prior to adding Antoine Walker when they really sucked, then it really has an additional layer to it. It’s like Rick Pitino said when he took over as coach, “It’s all about the journey.” Of course he wasn’t there for the end of it, but I think it holds true and I think a lot of people feel that way about Phish.
I don't think I completely understood that until I had this mini epiphany. I’ve been so busy since the day Phish stopped and I really got away from Phish which was the whole point. Then he set second set of live CDs that came out. I didn’t have any idea what shows were picked, I didn’t know anything about them at all until somebody stuck them in the car when I was leaving the office one day. They said, “Hey, you’ve got six more albums that came out.” I said, “Really, wow, okay, put them in my car.
And I went through this long drive in the mountains and just listened to them not knowing what song was next and it was incredible. I’m not saying he band was incredible but the experience was emotional to say the least. I was listening to this band like I wasn’t in it, and I thought that the most interesting things about it was the struggle, the visualization of the struggle. It wasn’t necessarily whether it was good or bad but you’re seeing people fall on their face and there’s something very human about it. And maybe that’s what made it interesting for people, I don’t know. That’s what it seemed like that day to me but I don't think that we were necessarily aware of that going on because we were just focussed on trying to make it better.
And maybe it’s okay to see the Celtics do well one year out of twenty, you don’t want them always to suck.